Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Bolsonaro Part 3: U.S.-Brazilian Relations

In what in my mind has become a series of posts on Jair Bolsonaro, I write today about U.S.-Brazilian relations (see post 1 on elected extremism and post 2 on his impact on the Venezuelan opposition).

By and large, there is not much high-level engagement between Brazil and the United States. It's not really antagonism, but disinterest on the part of the U.S. In her book on U.S.-Brazilian relations, Britta Crandall offers what she calls a "dual priorities" argument, where the U.S. pays attention to Brazil when both countries are particularly interested in something. Brazilian political scientists Tullo Vigevani and Haroldo Ramanzini Júnior note further that Brazil's foreign policy is focused on South American cooperation and leadership without antagonizing the United States. Lula and George W. Bush got along fine. They just didn't have many common priorities.

Now there are common priorities, or at least agreement on the sorts of issues that should be prioritized. The twist is that these commonalities are not really foreign policy. So for example they both like authoritarian law and order. They both are racist, misogynistic, and anti-LGBTQ. They both have a military fetish. They both enjoy promoting violence or at least winking at it.

Yet when it comes to bilateral relations or partnerships, there isn't all that much. When Donald Trump tweeted to congratulation him, all he could come up with was that they would work together on trade and "military," the latter of which has no meaning beyond just wanting to write "military" because it sounds good and tough. The only thing left, trade, is actually very difficult because both presidents are deeply nationalist, which pits them against each other. When it comes to tariffs on Brazilian steel, you will find little difference between Dilma Rousseff, Michel Temer, or Jair Bolsonaro.

So what will they cooperate on? Venezuela is sort of one. Both presidents seem to like raising the possibility of using military force (remember the military fetish) but neither seems serious about it. But Bolsonaro doesn't care about the Middle East, or Central American migrants, or NATO. He cares about Mercosur, which Trump has likely never heard of.

For now, they mostly serve as a combined model for anti-democratic political change, even though they do not see themselves this way. I am just not sure what areas they would likely care about cooperation.

Update: Maybe they cooperate on China? I am not sure what form that would take and it might require more coordination than they are capable of, but it merits watching.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Bolsonaro Part 2: Will Bolsonaro Boost Venezuelan Fascism?

With Jair Bolsonaro's victory, there is already plenty of speculation about how he will deal with Venezuela. Will he invade? Close the border? Focus on Mercosur? These are important questions, but there is another that bears asking: how will this affect the Venezuelan opposition?

At the moment, the opposition is fractured and lacks direction. Now the two largest countries in the hemisphere have shown a way. Fascism can generate excitement and purpose, even in a country like Brazil where the left had been strong and well-organized for years. Fascism can provide a message that is broad enough to capture what many people want, from pure racism to tax cuts. Trump and Bolsonaro proved that people will vote for fascism if you can just convince them that it won't be as bad as they think.

And you can win.

This must be powerful lure for the Venezuelan opposition. As Quico Toro writes:

Venezuelans today are looking South with a mixture of curiosity, horror and—no sense denying it—jealousy. The reactionary authoritarian vein that propelled his rise in Brazil is powerfully present among Venezuelans traumatized by our own catastrophe. The Bolsonaro phenomenon serves to sort Venezuelan opposition-supporters between those actually committed to democracy and those willing to trade one kind of dictatorship for another.
It is a choice. In Venezuela the choice is perhaps even more tempting than in the U.S. or Brazil given how extreme the situation is. The obvious irony is that it would be the mirror image of the leftist radical rising to power through the ruins of economic shock therapy of the 1980s.

See post 1 on elected extremism.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Eli Saslow's Rising Out of Hatred

Eli Saslow's Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist (2018) is the compelling story of a young white supremacist, the son of Stormfront's creator*, who was an up-and-coming star of the racist world until he went to college and gradually renounced all of his former views. It is both inspiring and less than inspiring, the former because getting an education and getting to know people different from you can make a big difference. The latter because his profile, that of a highly intelligent, open-minded, rational white supremacist is, I think it is fair to say, rare, and so the story is not so likely to be repeated elsewhere. Hopefully I am wrong about that or at least that there are young people who just aren't sure and the college experience helps point them in a rational direction.

There are a few important points of the book. The first by far from my perspective is that the general attack on liberal professors misses the mark entirely. For Derek Black, professors were peripheral beyond just encouraging his continued intellectual curiosity. What mattered was getting out of his bubble and meeting people from very different backgrounds: race, religion, national origin, etc. He was at a very liberal school, New College of Florida, where his family assumed he could get mainstream bona fides while reinforcing his racist views. They were wrong. This is why diversity matters--hearing people other than yourself is transformational.

Along those lines, David Duke (who happens to be Black's godfather) responded by saying he was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, whereby he had been a captive of liberal higher education and now identified with his captors. It is a reminder of how dangerous education is to white supremacists. The truth is that when Black started researching his passion--medieval history--he discovered the vast majority of his assumptions of that era, especially in terms of how race was perceived at the time, were wrong.

Further, Black decided to finally accept telling his story because of Donald Trump's election. He knew he had played some role in making it happen through his previous work normalizing racism by changing and mainstreaming the rhetoric. He heard his own previous arguments come from Trump's mouth, saw his own rhetoric in Trump's tweets. White supremacy has not been this strong and public in a long time and by Black's own words he is trying to warn people.

I shouldn't finish before mentioning the excellent accounts of how Black's renunciation affected his family relationships. His family felt betrayed. Their relationships were based almost entirely on political beliefs. They had other interests but they were all minor. If you didn't agree about white genocide then you had nothing in common. No matter what your family members' views are, this Thanksgiving dinner it might just be better not to mention politics at all.

* with a bunch of misfits his father also plotted to invade Dominica. The stupidity inherent in such a venture is amazing. It reminded me of all the 19th century filibusterers, the William Walkers of the world, whose arrogance and racism led them in invade Latin American countries.


Bolsonaro Part 1: Jair Bolsonaro: Elected Extremist

As news yesterday filtered in that Jair Bolsonaro would win the election, I thought of something that then Scott Mainwaring then articulated in The New York Times:

“This is a really radical shift,” said Scott Mainwaring, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government who specializes in Brazil. “I can’t think of a more extremist leader in the history of democratic elections in Latin America who has been elected.”
Latin America has its fair share of extremists, but they've all taken power undemocratically. You may disagree with a president's policy views but before Bolsonaro I don't think anyone had called for clearly for violence. Patrice McSherry tagged me on Twitter with a recent Bolsonaro speech, where he kept using the word "cleansing" and there are plenty of groups he wants to cleanse.

Elected presidents on the right haven't talked quite like that. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada is wanted in Bolivia for ordering security forces to attack protesters, but murder and cleansing wasn't his actual goal. Alberto Fujimori was on the right wing fringe (though in fact many of his years in office were not from free elections) but he'd be at least a solid comparison. Otto Pérez Molina was implicated in serious human rights abuses before he was president, though as president his mano dura policies did not seem on the same scale as Bolsonaro's rhetoric. There are more examples, but I think the basic point is that the elected right in Latin America has at times been very violent, and Bolsonaro's own rhetoric is even worse.

In short, the way he talks and the things he advocates seem much more akin to the unelected military dictators that have plagued the region. Those are the dictatorships we discuss in class to highlight concrete examples of genocide, torture, murder, coups, etc. and the people of Brazil decided that's what they prefer.

Now we will have two months of speculation. On January 1, 2019 we will find out what the most extremist elected leader in Latin American history will do.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Race 12: Runway 5K

In my year of running I did the Runway 5K (here is the first post), which literally goes around runways at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. It's quite a novelty, with planes constantly taking off not far away. It is, as you might guess, a very flat race. Unfortunately, it was a cold (in the 40s) and windy morning, so it was chilly before the race and there was a headwind during it.

We do this race mostly because my son is into planes--they even have walkers start just after runners because so many people walk and take pictures. If you're in Charlotte, it's a fun and very low key race.


Friday, October 26, 2018

Trying to Change the Lopsided UN Cuba Vote

The Cuban Foreign Minister says that the US delegation to the United Nations was circulating amendments to the annual resolution condemning the embargo, intended to attach something about human rights.

I find it curious that the Trump administration cares about the resolution, which every year is approved by the vast majority of the earth with only Israel, a Pacific country or two, and the U.S. rejecting (except when President Obama famously abstained). It's been going on for almost three decades, is all for show, and has little impact beyond emphasizing how isolated the United States has made itself. Getting pissy about it seems like a waste of time. In any event, the U.S. lacks diplomatic legitimacy now anyway so the effort is in vain to begin with.

Plus, it is a bit of ammunition for Miguel Díaz-Canel to use the U.S. bogeyman. By my count, 16 of his 96 tweets (17%) are about the "bloqueo" and one of the most recent is precisely about the U.S. maneuvers. So, as with much of U.S. Cuba policy over the years, U.S. actions get us nowhere.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Fake News and the Brazilian Election

Folha de S. Paulo has an article about a study done on fake news and the Brazilian election. They don't mention it, but my colleague Fred Batista here in Political Science is one of the people working on that study.

A primeira parte da pesquisa, feita em maio, com notícias falsas sobre o PT mostrou que, entre aqueles que acreditam nas informações inverídicas, a correção, mesmo vinda de veículo profissional de imprensa, teve pouco impacto.
The really troubling thing here is that fact checking and correcting don't matter. People will continue to believe false--even outrageously false--news stories, I imagine they are simultaneously convincing themselves that they know how to spot fake news when they see it.

In Brazil this is centered in large part on WhatsApp:

Many of the fakes portray Haddad as a communist whose Workers Party would turn Brazil into another Cuba, convert children to homosexuality and plans to rig voting machines.
Again, it's not just fake, it's crazy fake. And people eat it up. It is helping Jair Bolsonaro, just as fake news in the U.S. helps Donald Trump. This doesn't mean that Bolsonaro is only winning because of it, as there are plenty of reasons Brazilians might vote for him. But it undermines the election process and erodes public discourse. Further, the lies don't stop with the election when you have an unhinged president so the campaign simply sets the stage for more waves of falsehoods later.

There is almost no way for Bolsonaro to lose, and so both in the United States and in Brazil you have a large swath of the public believing crazy things while the president says things even crazier. We need to correct it, if only for our own sanity, but people persist in ignorance.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Boston Group Tries Dialogue in Venezuela

I am quoted in this article by Josh Goodman at the Associated Press on the under-the-radar efforts by the Boston Group to facilitate mediation in Venezuela (for background see this post from June). This time they are bringing in a professional mediator from Harvard (who once negotiated his own release from Recompa guerrillas!). Caleb McCarry, an aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is leading the effort.

Some thoughts:

--this is good news. There is a good chance nothing will happen but it establishes some precedent and there is at least some chance of progress. At this point, there is no progress at all, with all sides hunkered down while Venezuelans suffer.

--will the Trump administration sign on? We need that to give it more weight. Trump is always unpredictable but he has a drum beat of punitive measures from all around him. Marco Rubio will be all over this and I expect a critical tweet at any moment.

--If Trump signs on, this means the U.S. is actually playing a constructive role in Latin America for the first time in his administration. Low bar but still, that's also good news.

--But what happens when Bob Corker is out of the senate in just a few months? McCarry has a long history as a conservative political advisor on Latin America (check out his LinkedIn page) but someone else will be taking over as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Cuba's Sugar Problem

For the first time, Cuba is importing sugar in large quantities. That fact on its own is not automatically problematic if the economy is so diverse that other sectors are picking up the slack. But they're not. Cuba is a net food importer and remains dependent on agricultural goods (and thus weather).

With the new constitution, there is talk of bringing in foreign investors, which for Cuba is akin to Mexico bringing foreigners into the oil industry. These are sectors that are deeply tied to nationalism and sovereignty, both nationalized from U.S. companies. Handing them back is an admission of state-run failure.

Sugar remains Cuba's leading export, at 31% of total exports in 2016, followed by rolled tobacco (22%) and hard liquor (8.8%). There is even "human or animal blood" in there at 2.1%. Cuba imports just about everything so no one product dominates: poultry meat is first at 2.7%. Meanwhile, the country is saddled with debt, faces Venezuela's collapse, is dealing with severe hurricanes, as always has the embargo, and of course a state-run economy that cannot sustain itself. Taken together, the Castros have handed only a shell of an economy to their successors.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Trump Lies About Immigration Caravan

Donald Trump lied about the so-called immigration "caravan," saying there are "unknown Middle Easters" in there. Where did this lie come from? Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star and a must-follow on Twitter for his coverage of Trump rallies, has the answer. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said that in some unspecified time period, his government had arrested close to 100 possible terrorists, including some from ISIS, and they had all been deported. That may or may not be true. Right wing media combined it with the caravan, then Fox News reported it as fact. Then Trump watched Fox News and tweeted it as fact. That's where we are in 2018.

I first blogged about the paranoid rants about Iran's presence in Latin America a full 10 years ago. They are no more true now than they were then. Fear fosters belief in falsehoods. The specific claim varies: you get some Iran, some Hezbollah, some ISIS. You used to get some Al Qaeda but that's out of fashion. The story is eternal: there are bad Muslim foreigners out there trying to hurt you, and I will protect you. Especially in the case of Latin America, there is rarely anything more than a few anecdotes strung together to back up the claims.

What do counterterrorism officials in the U.S. government think?

“We do not see any evidence that ISIS or other Sunni terrorist groups are trying to infiltrate the southern U.S. border,” said an American counterterrorism official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about confidential government threat assessments.
The only people who repeat these claims are those that want to use fear for their personal/political benefit or those who don't understand they are being lied to. Fear is pervading all of this. Fear of foreigners. Fear of non-whites. Fear of different languages. Fear of terrorism. Fear of Muslims. Fear. Fear. Fear.


Monday, October 22, 2018

Piketty on Brazil

Thomas Piketty has a blog post on Brazil, arguing that the country was just starting to address major inequalities, all of which is now in jeopardy. He looks especially at suffrage as critical for changing Brazil's political dynamics, where people with less formal education and with darker skins gained more influence. However, he argues that bolder reform are needed to really tackle inequality (including in the United States).

When in power the PT put in a credible performance. Thanks to the rise in minimum wage and the new system of family allowances (Bolsa Familia), economic growth was accompanied by an unexpected fall in poverty. The PT also set up schemes for preferential access to the universities for the working classes and the black and mixed populations. But for lack of reform in the electoral system, the PT never succeeded in attacking the structural fiscal backwardness of the country (indirect taxes rise to 30% on electricity bills, whereas top inherited wealth is taxed at 4%). The result is that the reduction in inequality has been made at the expense of the middle classes and not the richest categories (see this research by Marc Morgan on the evolution of inequalities in Brasil, from which the figures reproduced on this post are extracted).
When the progressive forces have succeeded in reducing inequalities in the 20thcentury, it is because they fought for an ambitious, egalitarian agenda based on political reforms while at the same time implementing fiscal and social reforms. In the United States the 1913 constitution had to be amended to create a federal income and inheritance tax, which became the most progressive of its kind in history and enabled the financing of the New Deal. In the United Kingdom, the veto of the House of Lords had to be ended, and in France that of the Senate, failing which the social reforms in 1945 would never have seen the light of day. Today, the progressive forces refuse any sort of ambitious discussion on the democratisation of American, European or Brazilian institutions. However, it is not by leaving the monopoly of breaking with the past to the nativists or the reactionaries that equality and democracy will be saved.
He does not specify what reforms he has in mind, though his book seemed to focus a good amount on taxation. He also does not discuss how to do it politically. A major problem in Brazil is perception of corruption--politicians asking for more money is much less feasible as a result. But his overall point is interesting, in that the lack of structural reforms mean that the middle class, not the rich, are bearing the brunt of the reduction of inequality, and that creates even more political problems.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Race 11: Rocktoberfest Half Marathon

In my year of running (here is the first post about work/health) I just added the Rocktoberfest Half Marathon. I ran OK but it was brutal. The weather was unseasonably warm and humid. But it was also hilly. Really hilly. My pace varied quite a bit as a result and I did not go as fast as I hoped.

The race starts at Central Piedmont Community College near downtown and then goes all around. There are long straight stretches, generally through residential neighborhoods. The "Rocktoberfest" refers to the speakers set up every few miles playing music.

Next up: Charlotte Runway 5K


Friday, October 19, 2018

Facts and Myths About Mexican Immigrants

Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova at the Migration Policy Institute have an article on Mexican immigrants that is worth your time.

Is there a surge of Mexican immigrants? No.

After four decades of strong growth, the Mexican immigrant population in the United States hit a turning point in 2010. While the overall number of immigrants in the country increased every year between 2010 and 2017, the number of Mexicans first flattened out and then started a slow decline in 2014. Between 2016 and 2017, the Mexican immigrant population shrunk by about 300,000, from 11.6 million to 11.3 million.
Is there a crisis of Mexican immigrants at the border? No.
More Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico than have migrated to the United States, and apprehensions of Mexicans at the U.S.-Mexico border are at a 40-year low. Mexico is also no longer the top origin country among the most recent immigrants to the United States.
Are the immigrants "bad hombres"? No.
In addition, newer immigrants from Mexico are more likely to be college graduates and have stronger English skills than those who arrived in prior decades.
Are Mexican immigrants lazy? No.
Mexicans participate in the labor force at a higher rate than both the native- and overall foreign-born populations.
And yet just yesterday we have this:

All we can do is keep repeating facts to get them as widely spread as possible.


Chávez, Maduro, Trump: Three Peas in a Pod?

Eva Golinger, a steadfast Hugo Chávez supporter and confidante who broke with Nicolás Maduro, wrote a curious op-ed in The New York Times, the same publication she has attacked for its "shameful history when it comes to Venezuela" while publishing extensively in it. Her argument is that Nicolás Maduro is an authoritarian disaster and Donald Trump is going in the same direction. Further, Hugo Chávez was different because he cared about the poor. But then she admits that Chávez was also becoming more authoritarian.

Did he have authoritarian tendencies? His military background left him with a firm belief in hierarchy. The longer he remained in power, the more entrenched he became, which is why term limits and checks and balances are essential to a healthy democracy.
True, he made many mistakes. Mr. Chávez aspired to make his model sustainable, but died without achieving that goal. His habit of choosing loyalty over competence was a fatal mistake. So was entrusting multiple responsibilities to a closed circle of people who were unprepared and unwilling to make hard choices. It nurtures a climate of secrecy and unaccountability, which can be a danger to democracy.
In other words, Chávez was like an ideological mirror image of Trump, with the sole exception of actually caring about people as he increased his control over them. That second paragraph in particular is Trump. In the past, she had said that there was "collective leadership" of the people in Venezuela with "a different kind of democracy."

I got the very strong impression from the op-ed that underlying this is the notion that Chávez died before his worst instincts overwhelmed him, and had he stayed in power he would have ended up quite similar to Maduro and Trump, but perhaps a little more popular and a little more compassionate.

Amazing what a few years will do. The Venezuelan revolution and Chávez's own image are completely in tatters. An op-ed like this shows there are few believers anywhere anymore. It's funny how Trump himself contributes to this phenomenon just from his mere existence. The parallels between him and Chávez, while imperfect, are just numerous enough to highlight Chávez's worst aspects. That hits even the truest of believers.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

NC Candidates With Bad Immigration Ideas

There was a debate between two candidates for North Carolina's 9th congressional district* and the mention of immigration caught my attention.

The border: McCready said he would secure the border with the kind of technological surveillance he saw employed while he served as a Marine in Iraq. Harris said he agreed with President Trump’s position. 
“The only way you’re going to secure the border is ultimately build the wall,” he said.
The problem is that the positions of the candidates of both parties are doomed to miserable failure. The reason is that they dehumanize the issue, reducing it to a technocratic discussion of a particular place--the border--that they consider the core. But the border itself is only a tiny part of the issue.

North Carolina's economy depends heavily on immigrants. Jobs in agriculture, construction, poultry, and many others would suffer without them. Further, in Charlotte the immigrant community now has roots and collectively we all benefit from their entrepreneurship, buying power, etc. It has been fascinating for me to talk to native Charlottean students whose parents were born in Latin America and in some cases are even undocumented. These students are southerners. So you have to start there.

The two responses, then, start from the wrong premise and then get worse. I've written before about the technology fetish with regard to immigration. It defies all common sense and wastes enormous amounts of money. Technology is but one tool of many. And even worse than that, the U.S.-Mexico border is not Iraq. Ugh. I don't have much more to say about the wall, which will cause far more problems than it solves. Both of the candidates answers are quick and meaningless. But if too many members of Congress actually think that way, and we know many already do, then real and lasting policies will never be constructed.

* It used to be my district but no longer is. Lines here have a tendency to move.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Lenin Moreno Wants Assange to Do His Chores to Get His Allowance

Ecuador's Codigo Vidrio leaked a document from the Ecuadorean government to Julian Assange. The main idea is to more tightly control his visitors and communication while  making him spend his own money, though it also details what he needs to do to monitor his health.

Point #32 has raised eyebrows:

A fin de precautelar las condiciones de salubridad de las instalaciones de la Embajada, el señor Julian Assange y sus visitantes conservarán la limpieza e higiene del cuarto de baño y otro espacios que utilicen dentro de la Embajada. Por las mismas razones, el señor Julian Assange se encargará del bienestar, alimentaciónm, aseo y cuidado adecuado de su mascota. Si no se prestara la atención debida a la mascota, el Jefe de la Misión solicitará al señor Assange que entregue la mascota a otra persona o a un refugio de animales fuera de la Misión Diplomática.

Clean the bathroom and feed the cat. Just as you would address a teenager with chores.

Rafael Correa was already tiring of Assange, and Lenín Moreno has even less patience. His presence there does not seem very tenable--apparently they even tried to get him to Russia. Once a symbol of Ecuador's resistance to U.S. hegemony, he is now mostly a pain in the butt.

However, Correa (who, if you haven't been paying attention, hates Moreno) weighed in on this on Twitter, saying that it was humiliating for Ecuador rather than Assange. I don't know if it's humiliating per se, but it does seem petty. Moreno inherited a weird situation and he is trying to think of ways to extricate himself from it.


Summarizing Venezuela's Implosion

Moisés Naím and Francisco published an article in Foreign Affairs on Venezuela's national suicide. The message: it's not socialism and it's not oil. It's kleptocracy with a Cuban foundation. And there is very little that can be done about it since most actions will make everything worse.

Given the scale of these obstacles, Venezuela is likely to remain unstable for a long time to come. The immediate challenge for its citizens and their leaders, as well as for the international community, is to contain the impact of the nation’s decline. For all the misery they have experienced, the Venezuelan people have never stopped struggling against misrule. As of this summer, Venezuelans were still staging hundreds of protests each month. Most of them are local, grass-roots affairs with little political leadership, but they show a people with the will to fight for themselves.

Is that enough to nudge the country away from its current, grim path? Probably not. Hopelessness is driving more and more Venezuelans to fantasize about a Trump-led military intervention, which would offer a fervently desired deus ex machina for a long-suffering people. But this amounts to an ill-advised revenge fantasy, not a serious strategy.
What Venezuelans can do, they argue, is keep protesting. But there is one other thing they can do. They can organize. I am surprised the state of the opposition gets no mention but the point (which I put in bold) about "little political leadership" is a big deal. Scattered protests, even in the hundreds, won't serve as a catalyst without some semblance of unity. What would it take to bring all the disparate opposition groups together? What are the main obstacles to doing so? I don't know the answers but it seems they are the most important to ask right now.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Democrats on Immigration

A strategy memo co-authored by the Center for American Progress and Third Way -- two Washington-based think tanks -- recommended that certain Democrats speak about the topic as little as possible and instead focus on topics that will better resonate with their voters.
Navin Nayak, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action, said that even though the memo was sent to a broad set of districts, it excluded ones with large Latino populations or particularly diverse districts because it’s not intended to provide blanket advice.
Lots to unpack here.

First, the party establishment has feared immigration for a long time, before Donald Trump. President Obama did not expend much political capital on it. Before him, Bill Clinton passed sometimes harsh anti-immigrant bills, more so than George W. Bush, in the hope of grabbing the median voter.

Second, you can claim to be aiming your message only at certain districts, but this gets heard nationally. The accompanying message is that if a Democrat is elected in 2020, the establishment will not be pushing for immigration reform. The tiptoeing will continue. The only way out is the candidate her/himself wanted it, just as Trump is forcing establishment Republicans in certain directions they wouldn't otherwise go.

Third, I just wrote about how the Latino population is lukewarm on the Democratic Party, and this message reinforces the notion that Democrats want to assume their support will continue with a lukewarm message on the suffering of immigrants.

Fourth, racism is right under the surface here. The signal is that you don't use this message in "particularly diverse districts." If the districts are white, however, you downplay the fact that your party wants to help non-whites.

Fifth, this means Republicans own immigration. Democrats are largely ceding it to them, playing a reactive and defensive role that does not seek to frame their own values. You will also hear a lot of Republicans with the classic reverse psychology "oh I hope they bring up immigration" meme even though it is not at clear that undecided voters will automatically have any problem with talking rationally about the topic. But a lot of Democrats will fear it.

This will become a major issue in the Democratic presidential primaries, where you have stronger pro-immigration reform voters. The risk is that Obama sought in vain to appease the mythical middle, where he deported people like crazy while claiming to be empathetic. The result was that everyone was unhappy, which is the worst of all outcomes.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Podcast Episode 58: Support for Same Sex Marriage in Latin America

In Episode 58 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with with Michelle Dion, who is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at McMaster University. Her research interests include three broad themes: the political economy of social policy in Latin America; sexuality, attitudes, and policy; and diversity, methodology, and the profession of political science. She just published a co-authored article in Latin American Research Review on “New Media and Support for Same-Sex Marriage,” which we discuss. You can access that Open Access article for free here. Spoiler alert: we end on a good note, unlike so many past episodes.

Production note: apologies about the recording, as you hear each of us speaking in one of your ears/speakers.

And remember the podcast is now available on Spotify.


Miguel Diaz-Canel on Twitter

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is now on Twitter, which got attention globally from the press. Amusingly, the Cuban state press lauded it as a campaign promise fulfilled.

The Cuban president had announced at the last Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba that before December he would be on the social network Twitter, and precisely at this historic date fulfilled his promise.
Good job crossing that off your promise list!

Just today, minutes ago in fact, he tweeted critiques of U.S. policy toward Cuba, emphasizing the role the U.S. embargo has on the Cuban economy.

One interesting part about dictators tweeting is that they open the door to criticism because of course people are all over each tweet. I imagine that takes some getting used to.

Twitter is unusual diplomacy. World leaders tweet frequently, often about other countries, but rarely engage. For example, Donald Trump periodically tweets about Venezuela, but never says anything directly to Nicolás Maduro or even mentions his name. Indeed, for Trump Twitter is not about dialogue, it is entirely monologue, mostly aimed at a domestic audience. Nonetheless, Maduro is careful not to sound too aggressive about Trump on Twitter, instead referring a lot to dialogue, perhaps hoping Trump might respond. Note that Díaz-Canel criticizes the policy and not the person. They want his attention, but want it to remain on its hinges. Daniel Ortega, who falls in the same category, has never joined Twitter.

Five years ago I wrote a post about Latin American presidents on Twitter. Sometime I will update that.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Race 10: Hit The Brixx 10K

I've been focusing a lot on running this year (here is the first post of my year of even more conscious work-health balance) and today race 10 was Hit the Brixx 10K. I actually set an all time personal record with an 8:15 pace, two seconds per mile faster than I ran a 10K way back in 2000 (incidentally, if you run races and want to see old times, go to, which finds the old ones). Weather was a huge factor: high 50s and low humidity makes for great running.

Hit the Brixx is the best race in Charlotte. It is well organized (even with postponement because of Hurricane Florence) and friendly. It is downtown but parking is close and easily validated, and you can actually go into Brixx Pizza before the race for warmth and bathroom. After the race, there is free pizza and pasta, plus good beer from a variety of local breweries. Yes, pizza and beer on Sunday morning. It works when you've just run hard.

It is a hilly course. I pushed hard on downhills to make up for the inevitable uphill, especially between miles 3 and 4, not to mention the uphill end of the race. There are some switchbacks where you suddenly have to go up as well.

Next up: Rocktoberfest Half Marathon


Friday, October 12, 2018

How Much Will the Latino Vote Matter for the 2018 Midterms?

Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, it is worth asking the eternal question. Will Latino voters bother turning out? I want to focus on North Carolina since that is where I live. At the time of the 2016 presidential election, I wrote that the sleeping giant would likely keep snoozing. I said further that we would have to wait until the 2020 election for that vote to be decisive in any way. That still makes sense to me.

In North Carolina, the percentage of registered Latino voters has grown only slowly. Here are some numbers from the NC Board of Elections:

Today: 2.75%
Start of 2018: 2.58%
At time of 2016 election: 2.39%

We have similar slow growth in Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is.

Today: 4.27%
Start of 2018: 4.06%
Time of 2016 election: 3.8%

Now, in Mecklenburg County there was a spike in Latino primary turnout because of a sheriff primary that hinged on the 287(g) program, which directly hits home for people locally. But that does not automatically mean they will vote again in the midterms. By the time we get to the 2020 presidential election, we might be at 5% of the electorate, which starts to become a more decisive amount. But people have to come out.

But there's more. If they turn out, might it be for Donald Trump? From León Krauze:

While Trump was enacting his anti-immigrant agenda, Latino voters seemed to have slowly warmed up to the president. In last week’s NPR/PBS/Marist poll, 41 percent of Hispanics approved of Trump’s performance (black Americans? 12 percent). This is no outlier. Another recent poll put Trump’s approval among Latinos at 35 percent. An average of both would put Trump—again, an overtly nativist president—within about 10 points of Barack Obama’s 49 percent approval among Hispanic at roughly the same time in his presidency. 
This does not mean Donald Trump is a popular president among Hispanics. He is not. But he is not repudiated, either, not by a mile. In a recent interview with Vox, University of Southern California professor Roberto Suro explained that while Latino voters “hold negative views toward Trump,” they do so “by a much smaller margin than Democrats overall.” Suro suggests that Latinos more closely resemble independent voters rather than “a steadfast Democratic constituency.” The polls, says Suro, also dispute “the presumption that Trump’s immigration policies have alienated large numbers of Latinos.”
The most important point to take from those observations is that it is a mistake to assume Latino voters make their decision primarily on immigration. In conversations or at talks I get push back on that but the data and outcomes support it. Donald Trump is unrelentingly attacking immigrants from Latin America, but voters are deeply concerned about jobs, wages, and health care.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Nikki Haley and Latin America Policy

An article in the Miami Herald laments Nikki Haley's resignation, saying it is a loss for U.S. policy toward Latin America. I find this curious as.

First, the point all the interviewees make is that she "brought attention" to Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela. Nothing really else. As an example, the article says she met with Bianca Jagger. The bar here is ridiculously low, especially given nothing in particular has been accomplished. Perhaps even to the contrary. Just two months ago Haley went to Colombia:

Latin America analysts say U.S. pressure such as Haley’s border visit may draw international attention to the spreading crisis, but may also play to Maduro’s narrative that he and his country are under siege from Washington.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Second, the reporter speaks to zero Latin American diplomats. Do they care about her departure? Maybe it's a well kept secret, though that's not something I have ever read about.

The takeaway is just that the bar is terribly low. There is practically no foreign policy apparatus in the United States and Latin America positions sit vacant forever. Having someone just meet with Bianca Jagger is therefore considered an accomplishment.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Democratic Party and Immigration

Really good long-read article in the New York Times Magazine by Robert Draper on immigration and the Democratic Party. The party has done a poor job of addressing immigration reform. The reasons:

  • Fear that it will turn off voters, many of whom falsely believe that immigrants are taking jobs, committing lots of crimes, etc. In this view, voters see immigration as a major issue.
  • Meanwhile, others believe voters really are focused on jobs and therefore do not want to send the message they are focused more on immigration.
  • Across the board, the Democratic leadership said the right things while either doing nothing or, in the case of Barack Obama, deporting record numbers of people.
  • The Republican Party repeatedly boxed Democrats into a corner by forcing resolutions or other votes intended to splinter them.
  • Alienating both activists and immigrants through inaction.
So nothing gets done, even when Democrats have majorities. There has never been a time when they are willing to expend sufficient political capital on it.

Abolishing ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) is a nice slogan but has no real meaning. You have to change the nature of the machine itself.
From the article, that is clearly the view of many Democrats. But this is something I am still really chewing on. The dilemma is that criticizing the idea contributes to more inaction, but pushing it makes it sound like you want no immigration controls of any kind and dooms the bill. In fact, what you really want is change the nature of the bureaucracy itself, its programming in the machine analogy.

In the midst of this, the President of the United States is lying in ever more profound ways. Just today:

Today’s Democratic Party is for open-borders socialism. This radical agenda would destroy American prosperity. Under its vision, costs will spiral out of control. Taxes will skyrocket. And Democrats will seek to slash budgets for seniors’ Medicare, Social Security and defense.
The argument is too absurd to really comment on, but having a president say it gives it meaning to a lot of people. Even more importantly, it makes it impossible for any congressional Republican to accept even a tepid bill because he or she would have to go head to head with the president. Trump desperately does not want any bipartisan work to occur.

All that's left is winning elections. The president has to spearhead changes to the executive branch bureaucracies and use executive authority to direct them. Congress needs to make immigration reform a priority and explain why it is good for the country. That's when real change is possible, though even then it's not guaranteed.


The Horrors of MLB and Cuba

Take a listen to this NPR story on MLB and Cuba, which anticipates an article in Sports Illustrated about the deep corruption involved in getting Cuban players to the United States. The basics have been well known for a long time. I wrote a post about it in 2014. The difference here is apparently that there are documents, which the FBI also has, that will implicate MLB teams specifically, and that could lead to legal action. That's all to the good.

The situation could hardly be worse. Repressive Marxism meets voracious capitalism, which then gets together with bad U.S. policy (the embargo is the center of the problem). Getting out of Cuba is difficult and by necessity includes corruption--especially in terms of granting large percentages of your future salary to buscones, whose sole goal in life is to suck you dry.

As the journalist notes in the interview, when you watch the playoffs now and see Cuban players, you have to realize they are in a different position from everyone else, not just in terms of background but also how much of their salary they actually will ever receive. But as always we need to remember the vast majority who will never make an MLB team, who will risk their lives, leave their families, get taken advantage of, and then wash out.

There should be a reckoning by MLB. The more concrete charges, the better, at least to clean up the process a bit since it is not likely the U.S. and Cuba will find a way to deal with this bilaterally. During the Obama administration, Raúl Castro suggested renting players to the U.S., which has its own problems. The point here is ideological. MLB embodies capitalism, and the Cuban government will not just let it in. Now, the Cuban government is not averse to reaping the benefits of capitalism, even at the expense of people, but the U.S. government won't allow that to happen.

In short, don't expect this to get a whole lot better too soon.


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Podcast Episode 57: AMLO and Mexican Business

In Episode 57 of Understanding Latin American Politics: The Podcast, I talk with my former student John Hyatt, who is an international business development professional, having spent the last 10 years in Mexico City assisting international firms with their market development projects in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. He is also co-editor of a book I posted about a while ago on Mexican business culture. The topic is Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Mexican business (at least in Mexico City). What has been their reaction been? How does Donald Trump fit into this?

Note: you can now subscribe and listen to the podcast on Spotify along with all the other subscription services. I got that suggestion from a listener--if you want to listen to it on a service somewhere that currently does not list it, please shoot me an email or leave a comment.


Hot Latin America Links

Some Latin America links to get your day going.

--I am quoted in the Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad about Latin American elections, especially Brazil. I think it comes off sounding like I am saying Latin American presidents are incredibly powerful, though the point I was trying to make is that the electorate is anti-incumbent and the president ends up bearing a lot of the blame.

--Steven Hyland talks to Amy Erica Smith on the Historias podcast about the Brazilian election. Glass half full: Brazil's democracy may be withering slowly rather than quickly.

--the Congressional Research Service published a short report comparing NAFTA to NAFTA 2.0. More use of the word "reportedly" than you might like.

--the National Security Archive published declassified documents showing that Augusto Pinochet did not plan to accept the results of the 1988 referendum, and instead wanted to use violence to justify staying in power. Neither the Reagan administration nor his own junta was on board with this.

--the Venezuelan government is extremely violent.

--Mark Feierstein on why there are no good options in Venezuela.

--Nicolás Maduro correctly notes that Jair Bolsonaro is anti-democratic and intolerant, though fails to mention that this also describes him.


Monday, October 08, 2018

Jair Bolsonaro's Triumph

Roughly three weeks ago when I talked to Fred Batista on my podcast, it seemed like Jair Bolsonaro was hitting a ceiling and Fernando Haddad was moving up. But over that span of time, almost the opposite happened and Bolsonaro came much closer to a first round win than people thought possible.

The results:

Right now the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral has Bolsonaro at 46.03% and Fernando Haddad at 29.28%. The remaining 24.69% was scooped up by 11 other candidates, the highest of which was Ciro Gomes with 12.47%. Marina Silva only got 1%. Meanwhile, 8.79% of the votes were blank or void. Not a whole lot of Brazilians voted from abroad, but a majority (58.68%) went for Bolsonaro and Haddad came in third. Not too surprisingly, the PT is not so popular with Brazilians who left.

Bolsonaro's party, the Social Liberal Party (PSL) won 51 seats in the lower house (I've also seen 52 so we'll see). His son Eduardo reportedly received the most votes of anyone in history in the lower house. It's notable that the PSL only got 4 seats in the Senate. It looks like a total of 20 different parties will be represented in the Senate and 30 in the Chamber of Deputies.

The Brazilian center evaporated. The PT is a popular party but a troubled one. It got enough votes to be competitive but also drove many to vote for another extreme. Why they did not choose a more moderate option is something that people will likely be studying for some time. Like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro promises easy answers to hard questions, and that can be seductive.

The second round is going to be difficult for Haddad. Bolsonaro is so very close and the remaining 25% of the electorate will see their choice as bad and worse. It is a choice between a party many see as corrupt and a maniac. As with the first round, Brazilians in particular but those of us interested non-Brazilians will be consuming polls voraciously. The runoff is October 28 and three weeks is a long time.


Friday, October 05, 2018

Brazilian Presidential Election Context

Mac Margolis looks at Sunday's presidential election, noting that the "winner" is none of the above. Voters seem to be mostly rejecting everything. I have never seen a political context so eerily similar to the United States. Voters are tired of the established parties. One candidate is a crazed right wing populist while the other is overloaded with political baggage. I was listening to The Brazil Report podcast, where they also mentioned that people hear Jair Bolsonaro's rhetoric and think he's just exaggerating. He wouldn't really do that! The country is polarized so that politics is zero sum. People are eagerly and uncritically consuming and disseminating fake news through social media.

One paragraph caught my attention in particular. A rather dangerous one.

Some analysts argue that the current fury can’t last. “Everyone is on the anti-establishment train,” said Monica de Bolle, head of Latin American and Emerging Market studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “People are going to get tired of it. This isn’t who Brazilians are.”
Basing an opinion on national identity is dicey. Perhaps more importantly, political crises do not tend to end because people "get tired of it." The examples where you hear of two sides being "exhausted" from conflict are those that involve thousands and thousands of violent deaths--La Violencia in Colombia, say, or the Salvadoran civil war.

Go back to 1935 and the publication of Upton Sinclair's It Can't Happen Here (which I reviewed here). Not long ago, we said certain things couldn't happen here and yet they are. They can also happen in Brazil. We should not assume things won't happen or that people will get tired of things when they happen.


Thursday, October 04, 2018

Does Maduro Have More Support Than We Think?

A new poll from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello gives a sense of how complex and counterintuitive the Venezuelan political scene is. For example:

--62.9% support the currency conversion.
--only 29.1% say the situation in the country is "very bad."
--36.5% are either somewhat satisfied or satisfied with the government.
--only 30.9% self-identify with the opposition.
--56% believe that scarcity is caused by commercial hoarding.

In short, the government is in the strongest position it's been in a while. From an interview with the professor who oversaw the poll:

Luis Pedro España, a UCAB professor who conducted the poll, told Venezuelan media that the reason so many citizens believe Maduro’s explanation of the crisis is that, “The opposition has somehow disappeared from the public scene.” Also, the absence of a united opposition leadership has allowed Maduro to impose his own narrative, he said.
We have to put the poll in the proper context, e.g. several million Venezuelans have emigrated and therefore have not answered any poll except with their feet.

But it does serve as a reminder that there is hardly anything that specifically constitutes an "opposition." There is nothing but an anti-Maduro message getting through and it is not convincing enough people.

From an international perspective, it tells us that military intervention will not be welcomed. Remember that the core assumption of the Bay of Pigs was that Cubans were waiting for the opportunity to rid themselves of Fidel Castro, which was not true.

Finally, it tells us that no end to the misery is in sight.


Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Why Central Americans Migrate

Jonathan T. Hiskey, Abby Córdova, Mary Fran Malone, and Diana M. Orcés, "Leaving the Devil You Know: Crime Victimization, US Deterrence Policy, and the Emigration Decision in Central America." Latin American Research Review 53, 3 (2018): 429-447. It's open access.


Following a sharp increase in the number of border arrivals from the violence-torn countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in the spring and summer of 2014, the United States quickly implemented a strategy designed to prevent such surges by enhancing its detention and deportation efforts. In this article, we examine the emigration decision for citizens living in the high-crime contexts of northern Central America. First, through analysis of survey data across Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, we explore the role crime victimization plays in leading residents of these countries to consider emigration. Next, using survey data collected across twelve municipalities in Honduras, we evaluate the extent to which knowledge of heightened US immigration deterrence efforts influenced respondents’ emigration decision. Though a vast majority of these respondents were aware of the stricter US immigration policy regime, this awareness had no effect on their consideration of emigration as a viable strategy.
It's been clear this summer that deterrence does not work--August numbers went up. Crime victimization--at least in El Salvador and Honduras--overwhelms any concern about what might happen to you once you get to the United States. Meanwhile, Guatemalans leave more for economic reasons, but are also not deterred.

But the crime angle is the focus here, and the one that we need to incorporate into immigration policy because it affects not just the questions of deterrence but also asylum. U.S. immigration policy right now is specifically aimed at making suffering worse, in the mistaken belief that if you reach a certain level of suffering, you will return home and cease to be a "threat" to the United States.

For now, sadly, we can expect the false argument that deterrence is something that can actually work, and that harshness is the answer.


Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Lars Schoultz's In Their Own Best Interest

You can think of Lars Schoultz's In Their Own Best Interest: A History of the U.S. Effort to Improve Latin Americans (2018) as the third in a trilogy starting with Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America (1998) and That Infernal Little Cuban Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution (2009, my review is here). All three books use archival sources and extensive primary sources (even Nixon tapes) to get at what policy makers in the United States were thinking, with a high level of detail. I wonder whether at this point there are any boxes of files that Lars has not seen.

The detail alone makes this book a valuable source. He lays out the chronologies precisely, explain who the policy makers are to better understand their motivations (looking at all sorts of obscure memoirs, for example), and in general provides a clear context for what's going on. So, for example, you had a great history of how the foreign aid bureaucracy--a major uplifter--developed and grew.

All three books deal in some manner with U.S. policy makers' firm belief in the inferiority of Latin Americans. In Their Own Best Interest examines the desire to "uplift." Latin American needed uplifting, clearly, as they were living in squalor and had few prospects without U.S. assistance. Improvement was the name of the game. As Secretary of State Elihu Root said about Cuba in 1907:

First. We do not want to take them for ourselves. Second. We do not want foreign nations to take them. Third. We want to help them (p. 39).

The thread continues over decades and decades, though the emphasis changed. The uplifting was about economic development, building political institutions, instilling human rights, bringing in "modern" values, (sometimes) promoting democracy and the like. It got expensive after Nelson Rockefeller established foreign aid as a tool under FDR but was never really all that successful. Latin America never seemed quite uplifted enough for our taste.

The book is consistently laced with humor and considerable sarcasm. If you just skim, you'll miss out.

"Students of culture--ethnographers--explore how norms regulate the thinking of groups of people when they hunker round a campfire to discuss their problems and decide what to do about them.
There are campfires on almost every corner in Washington DC. They are called 'meetings'" (p. 5). 
On a former U.S. Ambassador to Chile and Mexico: "he taught his German shepherd to growl whenever it heard the word 'Greaser'" (p. 74). 
On Herbert Hoover: "One of the unluckiest of presidents, Hoover ranks just behind those who were shot" (p. 106). 
On Spruille Braden: "he had married a Chilean and become fluent in Spanish, which served primarily to increase the number of people he could offend without a translator" (p. 169). 
"If LBJ's successor, Richard Nixon, was interested in promoting democracy, he hid it better than he hid most of his secrets" (p. 238). 

The uplifting business is so big that no one knows how big its, and it is carried out by a sizeable army of contractors.

Clearly the uplifting does not work well. Just look at Nicaragua, which the U.S. has been uplifting for over a century without achieving much of anything beyond the imposition of suffering. Basically, the U.S. government keeps claiming it needs to help Nicaraguans improve upon what the U.S. has helped to damage. This becomes a sick sort of perpetual loop.

So why keep doing it? More importantly, why do altruists keep doing so? He concludes by asking us to consider the basic question of self-interests. The realists in the U.S. government fund the altruists, who may disdain the source of the money but take it anyway (he even puts LAPOP in that category). So many people benefit from uplifting that the only way it will ever stop is if Latin Americans says it should.


Can Latin America Lead Without the United States?

I don't tend to agree with Jackson Diehl's op-eds very much. Here's one, though, that merits pondering. The argument is this:

As hundreds of thousands of desperate Venezuelans flee their country, in many cases on foot, their Latin American neighbors face a critical test: whether they can respond effectively to a crisis that threatens their own stability without the leadership of the United States. 
So far, they are flunking — and they know it. “The answer is, we can’t,” says Colombia’s ambassador in Washington, Francisco Santos. “It’s sad to say, but we can’t.”
This is one person's opinion, and from someone close to the United States. He was Vice President under Alvaro Uribe (and in the tangle of Colombian family politics he is also Juan Manuel Santos' cousin). But this is not a new refrain.

It is in fact something that I've heard informally from foreign policy makers. What often happens, they say, is that in times of crisis Latin American officials come to them privately, asking for the U.S. to do something. Publicly, they keep up a face of non-intervention and Latin American agency.

It would be easy to dismiss this as ideological but I always remember what Hugo Chávez said about Honduras:

Even Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, made a rare call to Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr. on Friday to directly make an appeal he had issued earlier on television.
“Do something,” Mr. Chávez had said to reporters. “Obama, do something.”
For all the talk of losing influence, which is nonstop, the Latin American left and right feel free to keep asking the United States to take action in the region, even as they argue that solutions should come from within. The power imbalance is so great, and the history so deep, that sometimes there seems almost no other way. Further, every single institution that Hugo Chávez put together to unify Latin America has gone effectively defunct. There is no mechanism for regional action.

The question for U.S. policy is where to take this. Diehl wants the U.S. to lead a multilateral humanitarian intervention, whatever the hell that is. I want Latin America to build institutions that work. For them to be legitimate, the U.S. must step aside and let Latin America build them, but if Latin America doesn't build, then you're stuck with the U.S. taking the lead.

As I wrote last year, Latin America just refuses to unite. The Venezuelan crisis literally touches every part of the region, from Mexico to Chile. What does it take to get the region to work together? I don't have answers.


Monday, October 01, 2018

Supporting Trump and Needing Undocumented Labor

Ryan Lizza has a long article in Esquire that perfectly highlights the hypocrisies of immigration policy. It was about Devin Nunes and how his dairy farm actually moved from California to Iowa, but that fact has been hidden. That's mildly interesting but the bigger point is that in rural Iowa, two things collide: support for Donald Trump and dire need for undocumented labor.

Devin Nunes' family panicked when a reporter looked into this, not necessarily for the political fallout but because a story on undocumented immigrants could destroy everyone.

In every conversation I had with dairy farmers and industry insiders in northwest Iowa, it was taken as a fact that the local dairies are wholly dependent on undocumented labor. The low unemployment rate (it’s 2 percent in Osceola County), the low profit margins in the dairy business, and the global glut of milk that keeps prices low make hiring outside of the readily available pool of immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala unthinkable.
The truly depressing thing about this quote is that the anti-immigrant argument is that "Americans will do those jobs" while the pro-immigrant argument is "immigrants should be paid legal wages" but the reality may be that fixing the current situation could in fact bankrupt the dairy industry. Both arguments require wages to go up from current levels, but if there is a global milk glut, then wages will price U.S. milk out of international markets.

Incidentally, this is why Trump has been hitting Canada so hard on milk. It is an industry in trouble, where large scale production has led to razor thin profit margins.

So what do we do? I don't have a ready answer but clearly we cannot move forward without more honesty. Everyone in Sibley, Iowa knows that their town will cease to exist without the same immigrants their preferred candidate is attacking. As a country, we need to have honest and public conversations about how Americans are simply not filling certain jobs. They just aren't. And let the discussion go from there. Let farmers talk about their realities, which are different from the idyllic rhetoric we often hear.


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