Friday, May 31, 2019

AMLO Remains Cautious With Trump

Donald Trump announced tariffs on all Mexican goods, starting at 5% and getting up to 25% unless undocumented immigration goes to zero. That it is a bad idea goes without saying but I am actually more interested in AMLO's response. He wrote a measured letter (text here) that ended by asking respectfully that representatives from the two governments meet.

I wrote back in February in Global Americans about AMLO's cautious foreign policy. He wants to avoid confrontation (he actually says that explicitly in the second sentence of his letter).

Contrary to expectations, AMLO is no leftist firebrand in foreign policy. He has an ambitious and contentious domestic policy agenda and his current inclination is to avoid foreign policy conflict that distracts too much from advancing those. His approval rating is a stratospheric 86 percent, so for now the strategy is working. But a number of his foreign policy audiences have opposing views and over time he will find it harder to reconcile them.
This last point is the one I wonder most about. How long until his domestic audience tires of his caution when Mexico is under attack? It's also entirely possible that Trump reads caution as weakness, so is apt to attack even more. I assume AMLO was immediately on the phone with Jared Kushner, who he's already met with before. He doesn't have a lot of good options.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

Democratic Candidates and Immigration Reform

Beto O'Rourke has an immigration reform plan. It is good to see candidates laying out detailed plans even though they are rather pie-in-the-sky. It serves as a constant reminder that there is important business that Congress has shirked for decades. But there is a big question:

How will he or anyone else get such a thing passed?
On the campaign trail, O’Rourke has acknowledged that previous attempts at immigration reform have failed, but he’s confident that he would be more successful because he could rally public support in a way that former president Barack Obama could not. 
“There seems to be among people, regardless of party or geography, a real interest in doing the right thing now for Dreamers. I say that we capitalize on that . . . create the political pressure at the congressional district level to force the kind of change that we’ve been waiting for now more than 30 years,” O’Rourke told reporters in New Hampshire last month. “It cannot simply be a president proposing legislation or making the case nationally.”
I know, this is a campaign, and you don't start by talking about what compromises will be necessary to get the thing passed. Instead, you want people to get the flavor of your position. Fair enough.

But it's something I think about given the many failed proposals over the years.* I don't think any of the candidates will rally public support better than President Obama. And that matters. This will be really hard to pass and at some point you have to face the fact that many, including your own party, are not on board.

This matter politically because many Latinx voters no longer believe the Democratic Party is truly committed to substantive reform. It's not good enough just to mouth support for reform--that's been done to death. Instead, you need to show how you can get it passed. The last time we were even remotely close was 2013-2014.

As an aside, stuff like "Real change will require their full engagement and, as President, Beto will demand it" when referring to Central America is really a terrible idea.

* Back in May 2006, my first year of blogging, the Senate announced a deal was brewing and the Bush Administration said it wanted to pass it by Memorial Day.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Where Should LASA Be Held?

Once again, the U.S. government blocked Cubans from attending the Latin American Studies Association conference in Boston. As a result, LASA president Lynn Stephen announced that the organization would not hold any more conferences in the U.S. until that changed. LASA imposed this self-restriction before. As I wrote seven years ago, it's an untenable decision.

Let me say first that I agree completely that blocking Cuban academics is petty and absurd. They pose no threat to anyone, and if anything we should want more Cubans traveling to the U.S.

The biggest problem with the decision is that it really hurts U.S. graduate students as well as many U.S. faculty with small travel budgets. It's just too hard to attend when it's in, say, Brazil. The flip side is that it is good for Latin American academics who might not be able to afford getting to the U.S. But this should be something that rotates.

There are other problems. Should we judge the optimal location for LASA based solely on access for Cubans? What about discrimination in the country against other groups? You certainly should not have it in Brazil these days, for example.

Finally, it is an important symbolic measure but is only symbolic. Ideally, it should get the attention of whoever makes the policy you dislike, which in this case won't happen. Last time LASA did this, the U.S. government ignored it (as you would expect) and eventually it was given up even though Cuban scholars were still denied entrance. It's quite likely the same will happen this time around.


Exporting Agriculture to Cuba

It's well known, or at least should be, that U.S. farmers sell a lot of food to Cuba. Many of these farmers are in red states, so Republican state lawmakers have taken countless trips to the island. Marc Frank at Reuters has a good summary of how those transactions work, but more importantly how Trump's activation of Title III of Helms-Burton--which allows lawsuits for nationalized properties--imperils that trade.

Under the current system of imports to Cuba, a U.S. exporter contracts food sales with Alimport, the state-run food importer, which then issues a letter of credit from a third-country bank. When the U.S. company receives the Cuban payment through the bank, it releases the food to Alimport. 
A western banker, who like other businessmen and diplomats interviewed for this story requested anonymity, said that lawyers for financial institutions were increasingly wary of approving transactions in Cuba, even if their clients were not contravening sanctions. 

This is what the administration wants from this policy, and it's the same logic as always. Squeeze Cuba as hard as possible. These days the goal is not just regime change, but also trying to compel Cuba to bring all its personnel home from Venezuela.

One thing to note, however, is that this trade has decreased over time. From the American Farm Bureau:
The continuing restrictions on trade financing, such as no export credit, inhibit sales growth. Cuba has not purchased any U.S. wheat since 2011, buying instead from Canada and the European Union. They have not purchased any U.S. rice since 2008, buying instead from Brazil and Vietnam. The added costs of using third-party banks and requiring that transactions be made in cash only make the U.S. less competitive in export sales.
So this might hurt a bit, but Cuba has other options.

Incidentally, Republicans in farm states even sponsor legislation to allow more exports. There is bipartisan support and it's been there for years. But it has not been a high enough priority to go against the powerful Florida contingent.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Lindsey Graham's Threats

I was in China with a pretty packed schedule so I did not keep up with a lot of Latin America news recently. Looking at U.S. policy toward Venezuela suggests that the Trump administration has not come up with anything new. I noticed that Lindsey Graham is making a big deal about needing to threaten invasion.

“Trump said rightly, Maduro’s not the legitimate leader of Venezuela. The entire region supports the Trump approach, that Guaidó is the legitimate leader,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday. “I would do exactly what Reagan did. I would give Cuba the ultimatum to get out of Venezuela. If they don’t, I would let the Venezuelan military know, you’ve got to choose between democracy and Maduro. And if you choose Maduro and Cuba, we’re coming after you. This is in our backyard.”
This is classic Trump and I assume Graham is doing it on his behalf. Trump loves ultimatums and threats--he wants to scare the Venezuelan military into overthrowing Nicolás Maduro. The problem is that Trump keeps doing this over and over. He's been doing it for months and it hasn't worked. Unable to think of something else, he just repeats himself.

Meanwhile, negotiations are underway and hopefully have some substance. The string of threats with nothing behind him will only marginalize the Trump administration, which at this point is not showing it has anything to offer.


Monday, May 13, 2019

Guaido Asks for US Military Help

Juan Guaidó's ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, tweeted that at Guaidó's request, he had written a letter to U.S. Southern Command asking for assistance. Here is the letter:

He wants "strategic and operational planning." This means publicly crossing over a sovereignty line and asking for the United States government to take military action. Does that necessarily mean U.S. troops? Maybe not, though it's hard to imagine how else it would work. The U.S. trained Cuban exiles and former Nicaraguan National Guardsmen and those didn't work out so well.

I've written plenty about why Trump might invade and why it's a bad idea, so I won't rehash that. But a core part of Trump's Venezuela policy is aimed at a domestic audience. Can he maintain that domestic audience, which is already getting restless, if Guaidó asks for military action and Trump doesn't give it?

Guaidó is actually now pushing the administration in a direction it currently seems unwilling to go. But Trump has painted himself into a corner with Florida politics and the question is whether he can withstand the pressure.


Friday, May 10, 2019

News Coverage of Latin America

Kathleen Searles and Kevin K. Banda, "But her emails! How journalistic preferences shaped election coverage in 2016." forthcoming in Journalism.


While existing work explains how journalists use news values to select some stories over others, we know little about how stories that meet newsworthiness criteria are prioritized. Once stories are deemed newsworthy, how do journalists calculate their relative utility? Such an ordering of preferences is important as higher ranked stories receive more media attention. To better understand how stories are ordered once they are selected, we propose a model for rational journalistic preferences which describes how journalists rank stories by making cost-benefit analyses. When faced with competing newsworthy stories, such as in an election context, the model can generate expectations regarding news coverage patterns. To illustrate model utility, we draw on a unique case – the US 2016 presidential election – to explain how reporters order newsworthy stories (e.g. scandal and the horse race) by observing changes in the volume. Our content data captures coverage featuring Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on major broadcast and cable networks over 31  weeks. We find that the rational journalistic preference model explains the imbalance of scandal coverage between the two candidates and the dominance of horse race coverage. In 2016, such preferences may have inadvertently contributed to a balance of news stories that favored Trump.
The authors posit a straightforward argument about what stories journalists choose. Here are some underlying assumptions:
Journalists are motivated to maximize professional and economic benefits like attention for their work and minimize the associated costs like time. Even though journalists may be influenced by nonmaterial benefits, like influencing public discourse, their decision-making is still self-interested (Zaller, 1999). We assume that this ordering of preferences affects the rational journalists’ actions (Riker and Ordeshook, 1968), which allows us to explain aggregate patterns of news coverage as the product of journalists making strategic decisions, motivated by costs and benefits, regarding their story preferences.
They go on to discuss how in the U.S., trailing candidates get attention but not for their scandals, while leading candidates have their scandals scrutinized.

In the context of news stories on Latin America, we could generate plenty of testable hypotheses. Here are a few:

1. Stories that emphasize Latin America's policy problems (esp. related to violence)  predominate over successes.

2. Disaster stories will receive more (even the overwhelming majority of) attention for countries the U.S. government has labeled an adversary.

3. Economic success stories will be reported primarily for market-led policies rather than state-led policies, while negative stories will be the opposite.


Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Review of Fletcher Knebel's Night of Camp David

Fletcher Knebel's Night of Camp David was a best seller in 1965, telling the story of a president who became paranoid, with delusions of grandeur. It was re-released in 2018 for obvious reasons. The fictional President Mark Hollenbach imagined cabals against him while devising secret plans to create a union with Canada and Scandinavia while wiretapping people whenever he wanted. Gradually people, starting with an Iowa senator (who himself is a selfish, sexist guy, but I guess he might've been seen at the time as a sympathetic character), start noticing erratic behavior and try to figure out what to do, especially since a summit with the Soviets is coming up.

I found it entertaining, both for the topic and as a period piece (lots of 1960s slang, for example). And it does offer food for thought about how to deal with a president whose own cabinet doubts their capacity to govern. The 25th amendment was ratified the same year the novel was published, but has not been put to the test.


Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Venezuelan Refugees and Sanctuary Cities

You can't compartmentalize policy. Laws aimed at one issue touch other issues as well. In Florida, lawmakers' desire to attack undocumented migrants by prohibiting sanctuary cities ran straight into the need for undocumented Venezuelan refugees to be safe from deportation. Despite all the talk about humanitarian assistance, the Trump administration has refused to provide Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan migrants. So if they get caught up in any kind of law enforcement, they will be deported.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of Venezuelans in the U.S. went from 216,000 in 2014 to 351,000 in 2017, and we know it continues to grow. The state with the largest Venezuelan population by far is Florida.  Many Venezuelans have visas, but then will eventually overstay them. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the number of Venezuelans deported nationally is small in comparative terms, up from 248 in FY 2017 to 336 in FY 2018 (if you're wondering Mexico was at 141,045 for FY 2018). But that will also grow.

From a purely strategic domestic standpoint, this undermines the administration's effort to gain votes by being tough with Nicolás Maduro. It's a state law, of course, not a federal one, but the administration has been clear that it also intensely dislikes the idea of sanctuary cities. Problem is, sometimes they protect your political allies.


Saturday, May 04, 2019

More on U.S. Invasion Rationale in Venezuela

Andrés Oppenheimer posits four reasons he thinks U.S. invasion of Venezuela is possible, though still unlikely. The first two are actually points I made back in January and February, and which I have come to doubt. The last two seem more far-fetched.

I feel like we're once again seeing increased invasion talk, including from Congress, and I feel less sure now it might happen even though on the surface it seems like a strong possibility. And yet I could wake up tomorrow and find it happening.

First, the Trump administration is escalating its rhetoric following the Venezuelan opposition’s courageous but unsuccessful April 30 attempt to spark a military rebellion. 

Yes, though the rhetoric really hasn't changed much from past instances. I wrote this back in January when rhetoric was heating up and have come to believe that we need to focus more on what Trump says, not his officials. His language is more careful. Pompeo and Bolton talk endlessly.

Second, the Trump administration may increasingly be worried about not being taken seriously about its vows to help topple Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. 

As I wrote in February, " My worry, as I've said before, is the Trump Factor. He has been reticent to use force, but is also highly sensitive to being viewed as weak." I just don't know if I believe that anymore or to the same degree. Trump's modus operandi is to talk tough even when failing and ignore the failure. The argument makes perfect intuitive sense, but Trump doesn't operate this predictably.

Third, Latin American diplomats tell me there are ongoing private discussions within the Organization of American States to invoke the 17-country Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance of 1947 — TIAR — also known as the Rio Treaty.

This is an interesting scenario, and although he doesn't say so, I assume the common enemy is Russia. Who else could it be? The problem is that Trump denies that Russia is meddling in Venezuela. He is so cozy with Putin that he might not want to antagonize him this way.

Fourth, a military rebellion to restore democracy in Venezuela may be more difficult now after the Trump administration’s blunder in revealing the names of three top Venezuelan officials — including defense minister Vladimir Padrino — who it says were secretly vowing to turn against Maduro on April 30.

I tend to think now that Trump doesn't care about this too much. Talk tough while the crisis goes on and on.


Friday, May 03, 2019

U.S. Corporate Media on Venezuela

From Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

A FAIR survey of US opinion journalism on Venezuela found no voices in elite corporate media that opposed regime change in that country. Over a three-month period (1/15/19–4/15/19), zero opinion pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post took an anti–regime change or pro-Maduro/Chavista position. 
From my own anti-regime change Washington Post opinion piece on March 25, 2019:
Because of its relative power and its historical interest in the region, inevitably the United States becomes deeply involved in Latin American political crises. This is not likely to change anytime soon. Research tells us that the policy options most conducive to democracy are nonviolent, multilateral and consensual. If democracy is the true goal, then attacking Venezuela is unlikely to lead in that direction.
And there were more than just mine. So that survey must've been pretty sloppy.



Boomer Retirement and Immigration

Via Immigration Impact about retirement and declining birth rates in the United States:

It is in our economic best interest to ensure that our population continues to grow. Immigration alone will not address all the fiscal issues facing our social welfare programs and economy more broadly, but they play an important role in reducing the economic effects of our aging population. Baby boomers are increasingly dependent on them to help pay for their retirement and buy their homes as they retire.

From Irresistible Forces: Latin American Migration to the United States and its Effects on the South, the 2010 book I wrote with my dad:
Young immigrants, however, can help fill the demographic gap.  As Myers points out, immigration can alleviate other related economic strains like an insufficient labor force and too few young home buyers to satisfy the number of older sellers.  The demographic fit therefore offers part of the solution, since there is a ready pool of workers able and willing to contribute to the U.S. economy and pay into the Social Security system, providing the income stream for older retirees.
This is not new. It has been entirely foreseeable for many years. Simply put, we need immigrants.

Put a different way, roughly half the countries of the world have birth rates below replacement rate (below 2.1 births per woman) and at 1.8 the United States is one of them. Therefore it is inaccurate to say of the United States, or many other countries, that it is "full."  If you managed to stop immigration right now, the population would shrink. And if that happens, who is going to support retirees?

Actually, forget the Boomers and let's think about Generation X, my generation. Heck, we want to retire too. So we need immigration!


Thursday, May 02, 2019

UNC Charlotte Shooting

Given that writing is a fundamental way I express myself, it's been curious that I have not felt much urge to write about the shooting that took place on my campus two days ago. It's been an intense emotional time. I wasn't even on campus when it happened, and so for many people it is even more intense. I had to drop my daughter off somewhere and then I planned to go to the gym on campus. I saw the emergency text message and hoped (or maybe tried to convince myself) it was a false alarm or just the police being careful. Then the news got worse and worse.

I went to the vigil yesterday evening, and seeing our Chancellor break down while talking might have been the most emotional moment I've experienced in my 19 years as a professor here. My eyes are welling up now as I think about it.

With campus closed, I stayed home yesterday but was unproductive, and I expect that was the same for most people. When I thought of the victims, I kept thinking about how even though I don't know them, they're my students too. But I also think about my own children and the news the victims' parents had to get, and I can only barely imagine what that must be like.

As the Chancellor wrote and also said, "This is the saddest day in UNC Charlotte's history." Right now we're just doing our best to move forward, but it's hard to focus on anything else.

Update: Adam Johnson, the instructor of the class, just wrote about the experience here. Not easy reading.


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