Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kerry On Colombia

John Kerry published on op-ed on the Miami Herald about U.S.-Colombian relations in anticipation of Juan Manuel Santos' visit. The main thrust was that the Obama administration would be unveiling a successor to Plan Colombia.

In my opinion, the many terrible warts of Plan Colombia are already being erased in a positive PR blitz. Maybe I'll write that post some other time. But let me say a few things I like Kerry's article:

1. He mentions the 6+ million displaced. Owning up to that reality is important (though I would argue Plan Colombia sometimes exacerbated it) and it annoys me when "rah-rah" accounts of Colombia pretend it doesn't exist.

2. He publicly mentions the fact that the Colombian government bears responsibility for how innocent people got trapped in the middle, sometimes targeted their own authorities.

3. The United States appears to be ready to have a post-conflict plan, rather than just claiming victory and leaving, which is a hallmark of U.S. policy around the world. That was the Bush Sr./Clinton strategy with Central America. We "won" the Cold War and now we'll just have free trade, which would solve all problems.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

10 Year Blog Anniversary

As of today this blog is ten years old. A decade, and 3,978 posts. When I started on January 30, 2006 I was in my first year as a tenured associate professor and thinking about what kinds of new things to do. Blogging was one such idea. It grew naturally out of reading news and blogs to use as current events discussion in class. Over time I became dissatisfied with only reading and not writing.

Scattered thoughts:

I've written a number of posts on the benefits of blogging so I won't spend much more space on that. Suffice it to say that blogging satisfies a creative urge, has sparked research ideas, helps me disseminate research, supplements my teaching, leads me to meet a lot of interesting people, connects me to the public and the media, and is a really fun hobby. There is no downside.

Steven Taylor used to have a blog (PoliBlog, which seems gone from the interwebs) and as I remember it his subtitle was "a rough draft of my thoughts." I like that idea, and it is exactly how I see my own blog. (And he is one of many people I've met--first online and then in person--only because I was blogging).

Two Weeks Notice: the name doesn't really mean anything. Every so often I've had people ask me about that, I guess expecting a profound answer related to losing your job. The honest answer is that I had been thinking of starting a blog and was focused solely on how to set it up. Once I got it all set, I suddenly realized I didn't have a name. On the spot, I decided to do a play on my last name, and since I wanted to get started I didn't spend much time coming up with it. A year or two later I added "A Latin American Politics Blog" to make it clearer when people were searching.

I've been largely unsuccessful at getting colleagues to blog. Fewer people in general than I thought would start actually did, and I know a lot of people who started and stopped. (One exception is my dad!). I've talked to lots of people who see it as a chore, too hard, too time consuming or just don't understand it. Even as blogging became more widespread, that didn't change. In political science, the Monkey Cage blog has become a great way for scholars to write a single-shot post, but even that is hard for a lot of people. This is an unusual writing form, I guess, and you either take to it or don't.

The most popular post of all time is this one on the images of Che Guevara. It's deceiving, though, because I had used some pictures I found online, and gradually realized people were searching for the images. This bothered me because of course these images belong to other people, so I removed them. That has greatly slowed traffic to that one post, so it's not the real most popular one.

The real most popular post of all time is this 2012 post on Otto Pérez Molina talking about drug legalization. I don't see it as particularly remarkable, so I think it is just so happened that it got mentioned by some more prominent blogger or someone who was heavily followed on Twitter. There is never any way to predict when/why these things happen.

Twitter has been great for blogging. My comments come mostly from there, and my posts get more attention than they would otherwise. I've also routinely linked to tweets, both my own and others', in my blog posts. I feel like it's symbiotic.

I've been on Blogger this entire time, and have not yet seen any reason to change. I've read so many accounts of people getting hacked, going down, getting errors, etc. and I've never had a single problem, and have never paid a dime. That seems worth it to me.

I intend to keep doing this as long as it remains fun, and when it's no longer fun I will stop. For the past ten years I've had a great time.


Friday, January 29, 2016

U.S. Policy Leverage in Latin America

I've been thinking about leverage and write a piece for Latin America Goes Global about it. The basic idea is that if you jump straight to draconian reactions, you make it even harder to achieve your policy goals. You need some creativity.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Unaccompanied Minors Infographic

The Washington Post has an infographic about what happens to unaccompanied child migrants as they come to the United States. It makes it all sound...placid and easy. You take this train, happens to be called La Bestia, and it winds through Mexico. Then there is a series of people who will help you, and you'll be checked up on.

You'll fly in a plane!

It's all good.


Pettiness and U.S.-Latin American Relations

Chris Sabatini has an op-ed in the Miami Herald about how petty vengeance in Congress is getting in the way of U.S. policy toward Latin America.

Raising policy criticisms is a legitimate function of the Senate, but hobbling broader and more weighty U.S foreign policy interests to those narrow policy squabbles — especially with small countries — not only makes us look small-minded and non-strategic, but also undermines our national interests. Superpowers and those who aspire to lead them shouldn’t behave that way, on either side of the aisle.

Read more here:

Hard to argue with that. One point to make is that we can add election-year posturing. Rubio believes such a stance will pick up some votes--which he really needs these days--as he portrays himself as a security hawk. In general, during a presidential campaign foreign policy gets reduced to laughably simplistic bullet points, not much more than "I am tough and I will act tough with tough countries."


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stopping Pregnancies in South America

Yesterday I wrote about the Salvadoran government telling women not to get pregnant for two years because of the Zika virus. I hadn't known that Colombia and Ecuador had done the same, as did Brazil. I'm still trying to get my head around the long-term implications, assuming the calls are actually heeded (which is open to question). If so, then at a minimum you'll end up with demographic "dents" (for lack of a better word) which will be felt later when the size of the working-age population is smaller.

But this scary stuff:

Nearly 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil since October, compared with fewer than 150 cases in the country in all of 2014.

Incidentally, the role of mosquitoes in Latin America would be a great topic for research. Their effect on the development of the Panama Canal is legendary, and in general fighting them has been a highly political activity. This current Zika virus crisis shows how pervasive (and political) they continue to be.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

El Salvador Wants to Stop All Pregnancies

This is astounding.

When in human history has an epidemic become so alarming that a nation feels compelled to urge its people not to have children for two years?
 Grappling with a mosquito-borne virus linked to brain damage in infants, El Salvador is doing just that, advising all women in the country not to get pregnant until 2018 — the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass that, to many here, only illustrates their government’s desperation.

They quote several experts as saying they've never heard of such a thing. The article doesn't even mention that the demographic effects would be significant. Messing with reproduction will have unintended consequences.

But also:

Others are more conspiracy-minded. Veronica Velásquez suggested that the government’s recommendation to avoid having children was really an effort to stem population growth. Already, El Salvador is so densely populated that leaders might want to thin the ranks, Ms. Velásquez argued.

As conspiracy theories go, this is not so unreasonable, and actually popped into my head as I started reading the article. Regardless, this is a huge decision for a government to make.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Holding Off Shock Therapy In Argentina

The Latin American left is lambasting Mauricio Macri for being too conservative, but this Bloomberg article shows how he's holding the crazy free marketers at bay:

“I would fast-forward the whole damned lot and do it all in six to nine months - go for shock therapy,” said Tim Love, investment director for emerging-market equities at Gam UK Ltd. which manages $130 billion in assets. “They’re missing an opportunity and running a bigger risk.”

Thank you, Mr. I Don't Have to Learn From History Because I Don't Give a Crap About Actual Argentine People. Crazy free marketers already had a go at Argentina and it didn't work out terribly well.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Venezuela's Dues Blues

Via Caracas Chronicles: The UN has told Venezuela that it must pay its annual contribution or it can't vote.

This is an especially big deal for the Venezuelan government, which has always seen the UN as an important venue. Who can forget Hugo Chávez flamboyant denunciation of George W. Bush? Or the intense maneuvering to gain one of the rotating seats on the Security Council (which they finally got in 2014)?

But that was then, this is now. It is a stark reminder about what has changed over the past decade. Symbolically, it's a blow. Obviously, though, Nicolás Maduro has more important things to worry about.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Latin America Coughs, Miami Gets A Cold

Here's globalization for you. The Chinese economy slows down-->commodity prices drop-->Latin American economies contract -->rich Latin Americans have less disposable income-->Miami Dade unemployment rises.

I'm guessing Venezuelans and Brazilians in particular aren't throwing around dollars the way they used to. I'm not sure how easy that it is to track.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Happy Colombians

Simplistic happiness indices are painful to read about. Here is a WaPo article about how Colombians just shrug problems off and go with the flow. What a happy people! Even Telesur reports on it.

No one mentions that approximately 12% of the Colombian population is displaced. But they're cool with it. Just chillin'. Some of them are so happy that they move illegally to Ecuador.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

No to NL Designated Hitter!

This is truly alarming:

At an MLB owners' meeting on Thursday in Coral Gables, Fla., Commissioner Rob Manfred said the idea of the designed hitter coming to the National League is "gaining momentum." What's more: Deciding whether to implement a unified DH rule could happen this year and then get rolled out for the 2017 season. 

I like the pitcher hitting. I like the strategy of how to deal with the pitcher in the lineup. I like how some pitchers actually can hit and therefore help their team even more. I am too young to remember the DH rule starting (1973) and so I actually like the fact that the two leagues are not identical.

I am not excited about players with no defensive skills only hitting. I do not know if that puts me in the minority.


Reassessing Thomas Mann's Latin America Policy

Thomas Tunstall Allcock, "Becoming 'Mr. America': Thomas C. Mann Reconsidered." Diplomatic History 38, 5 (2014): 1017-1045.


This article provides a new perspective on Thomas C. Mann, a Foreign Service officer best known for serving as Lyndon Johnson’s assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and coordinator of the Alliance for Progress. Mann is commonly portrayed as unsympathetic toward aiding Latin American development, often accused of dismantling John F. Kennedy’s idealistic aid initiative, the Alliance for Progress, supporting repressive regimes, and vigorously promoting U.S. private investment throughout the hemisphere. By focusing on Mann’s early career, up to and including the Kennedy–Johnson transition, this article seeks to undermine the common image of Mann, revealing instead a dedicated Latin Americanist who consistently advocated aiding hemispheric development. A more accurate understanding of Thomas Mann can provide a starting point for rethinking assessments of the Alliance for Progress, a crucial presidential transition, and Lyndon Johnson’s Latin American record.

This article caught my eye. Mann is universally criticized, including by me in my textbook, as anti-democratic and friendly toward dictators in Latin America. Allcock places Mann within the context of the tension between LBJ and Kennedy advisors:

Misjudging the depth of the antipathy toward him, Mann failed to pay sufficient lip-service to the more unrealistic promises of the Alliance, leading to the creation of the “Mann Doctrine” and reinforcing the view that he sought a dramatic shift in the U.S. approach to dealing with rest of the hemisphere. What was for Mann a simple statement of U.S. goals, the Mann Doctrine would cement his new reputation and the narrative of the presidential transition.

Allcock points out that Mann assured LBJ that his words were taken out of context, that he was being attacked unfairly, and that he had clearly expressed support for democracy in Latin America. In general, he argues, Mann was not good at political maneuvering and actually had a stronger commitment to non-intervention than generally assumed.

Interesting narrative. It's always fun to get long-held assumptions challenged.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jeb Bush's Outdated Take on Latin America

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I get tired of the "losing" or "ignoring" Latin America argument, which usually refuses to engage actual evidence. Now Jeb Bush is bringing it up.

His timing is not great. The Obama administration was bold with Cuba, used Thomas Shannon extensively in Venezuela, and otherwise is very involved in the region. Meanwhile, Bush cites China's rise precisely at a time when the Chinese economy is cooling. Its influence has been overstated to begin with.

If you really want to talk about poor relations with Latin America, then you mostly need to look to his brother, who was incredibly unpopular. Obama had to work to turn that around. Perhaps more importantly for Jeb Bush, this is not something primary voters care much about, particularly since he is not an immigration hardliner. So as an argument it is largely inaccurate empirically and useless politically.


Cuban Success vs. Emigration

At Latin America Goes Global Gabriel Salvia asks a very logical question. If, as we hear from both international agencies and the Cuban government, the country offers a very high level of services such as in health and education, why do so many people want to leave and why do other Latin American countries block those migrants?

He dismisses the argument that the embargo has something to do with it, which I assume would be the primary answer for someone defending the advances of the Cuban Revolution. It would be useful, however, to explain that part more. Like many other Latin American countries, Cuba is heavily dependent economically. If it's blocked off from the U.S. market, that hurts. How much is an empirical question rather than an ideological one.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Maduro Can Play The Game

Daniel Cadena Jordan at Caracas Chronicles has a really interesting take on the Maduro administration. He sees Maduro maneuvering pragmatically in a way that facilitates negotiation with the opposition while marginalizing Diosdado Cabello, who wants more conflict. And Maduro seems to be doing it pretty well.

We all know the military matters. But what also matters is that Maduro does not appear to believe that an autogolpe is a viable alternative. At least for now he does appear to like the image of being the pro-democracy president who can accept losing an election. Meanwhile, the opposition is working with him. In other words, as usual you need to dig beneath the heated rhetoric and see what they're actually doing.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Granma's View of Cuban Migration

Granma has a bizarrely straightfoward story on the Cubans trying to get to the U.S. via a convoluted trip through Ecuador and Central America. It notes all the agreements different countries had to make, almost as if it doesn't recognize it's talking about its own citizens.

Their objective is to reach the United States, where the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy and Cuban Adjustment Act remain in force, policies which encourage the illegal migration of Cubans.

Well, true, but only half the picture since it doesn't mention why all those Cubans want to get the hell out in the first place. I suppose that would also be fault of the United States. For Cuban state media, U.S. immigration policy works in a vacuum unrelated to the sending country.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Middle vs. Working Class in Brazil

Celia Lessa Kerstenetzky, Christiane Uchoa, and Nelson do Valle Silva, "The Elusive New Middle Class in Brazil," Brazilian Political Science Review 9, 3 (Sept/Dec 2015).


Against the background of the generalized reduction of poverty in the world, and particularly in Brazil, this article intends to gauge the socio-economic profile of Brazilian households that emerged from poverty and have been identified as integrating a "new middle class". Using indicators of standards of living from the 2008-2009 Survey on Family Budgets (POF/IBGE), we found out that, in contrast to what has been assumed on the basis of average income criteria, this social stratum is markedly heterogeneous, most of it being similar in their consumption patterns to the economically vulnerable or outright poor strata. So, we conclude that, from a sociological perspective that demands additional conditions besides income levels to identify social classes, it is a category mistake to call this social stratum a new middle class. We conjecture that this may be consequential in terms of policy priorities and choices.
Very interesting academic article on how the new Brazilian "middle class" is more of a working class.

A first approximation to the data shows that the households in the income bracket that correspond to the so-called "new middle class" amounted, in 2009, to 31.6 million, or 55% of the Brazilian households. The sheer width of the income bracket that has been identified as the "new middle class" is very large, and this suggests that different situations may have been considered uniformly when we look at the income bracket as a whole. 
In fact, a preliminary analysis indicates that this segment is characterized by a strong inequality within it, and the predominance is of dwellings in the lower NMC income segment, where apparently the largest growth occurred in recent years, be it in absolute terms or in percentage points. This lower NMC sub-segment alone accounts for almost one-third of all households in Brazil and about 60% of all NMC households

This is especially important in the context of the country's sharp economic slowdown. Last year there were countless media articles about how the middle class was slipping. Among other things, these authors argue that a very large proportion of that group was really struggling to begin with, and shouldn't be called "middle class" in the first place.


How Sean Penn Failed

Sean Penn says his Rolling Stone article failed because it did not foster the conversation he wanted, which was the uselessness of the drug war.

I argued last week that glamorizing El Chapo is a terrible way of calling attention to the problems of the drug war. Now Penn says:

"Let's go to the big picture of what we all want," Penn said. "We all want this drug problem to stop. We all want them -- the killings in Chicago to stop. We are the consumer. Whether you agree with Sean Penn or not, there is a complicity there. And if you are in the moral right, or on the far left, just as many of your children are doing these drugs."

Yet what he achieved was to make El Chapo exciting. People are talking about him and not at all about the bigger picture. The interview was a bad idea. Exciting for him, I guess, but counterproductive.


Whiny Latin America Diplomats

Two former diplomats have an article in the Miami Herald, arguing that the United States needs to punish Latin America more. For example, we need to punish Bolivia for kicking out the DEA and the ambassador: "the Obama administration has shown mostly patience, offering meager assistance to those seeking democratic change." I was unaware that expelling U.S. officials was undemocratic. That Evo Morales is democratically elected also goes unmentioned. Patience, meanwhile, is apparently a vice.

This is the Bush years doing their best to bubble back up. It's amazing, really, because that era was tremendously unproductive and damaging to U.S. interests.

But we do have aid programs and preferential trade agreements in place and we can suspend or alter many of them. We also could work to create a hemispheric free-trade zone for those countries that subscribe to and practice good governance. 
And we could speak out, unabashedly, from the White House and State Department, about our belief in basic liberties, human rights, and democracy. If that makes us unpopular, or if it leads to the bankrupt charges of Yankee imperialism or interventionism, so be it.

Read more here:

Sheez, people. They rail against Ecuador and Bolivia but they've long been out of the Andean Trade Preference Act. Nicaragua is part of CAFTA but there is no simple mechanism for targeting one country within it for punishment, even if you thought it would be a productive move. As for good governance, what about Mexico? Its governance is worse than Bolivia's. As for the FTAA, remember how that worked out. But even if you really like FTAs, there are major initiatives going on.

As for "speaking out," Obama does it all the time. He even imposed sanctions on officials in Venezuela. That's pretty "unabashed."

In sum, their arguments consist mostly of empty whining. U.S.-Latin American relations are stronger than they've been for a long time. Incumbents are getting nailed in Latin America because democracy--while imperfect--is working. The last thing we need is a return to the Bush years.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Venezuela Lurching But Moving

Perhaps I am feeling pollyanna-ish. I thought it was good news that the Venezuelan government accepted a major electoral loss. Its efforts to block three legislators, which conveniently avoids a supermajority, is ridiculous. But I also think it's good news that the opposition chose to set that issue aside temporarily rather than launch major protests or otherwise escalating the situation.

For opposition views, Caracas Chronicles is the place to look, with for example a proposal to have clearly focused legislative agenda, then make it more obvious that the packed judiciary is the problem. This makes sense to me. The government is hoping for an opposition reaction that will be viewed negatively, and remember that voters were often more anti-Chavismo than pro-opposition. Pushing #lasalida right now (as opposed to an eventual goal, which is openly there) is not the way to gain support and keep the military neutral.

Military intervention is what everyone should want to avoid, because it becomes a) violent; and b) unpredictable. This is a tenuous situation, though. If the government decides to completely annul the three candidates' victories entirely--and with the stakes high it may well do so--then I am not sure what'll happen. For now, the can has been kicked down the road.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

SOTU and the Cuba Embargo

It's remarkable to hear a president ask Congress to lift the Cuba embargo during the State of the Union:

Let me give you another example. 
Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, it set us back in Latin America. That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. 
So, if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo. 

Lots of people, including me, have been making this case for many years, so it's nice to hear it from a president. The embargo defies all logic.

Update: here is the mention from the 2015 State of the Union. It was more forceful this year.

In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  (Applause.)  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.  (Applause.)  And our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere.  It removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba.  It stands up for democratic values, and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.  And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo.  (Applause.)


Monday, January 11, 2016

India's Stake in Venezuela

Here's an view you don't see much: the Indian perception of political change in Venezuela. Venezuelan stability matters to India, which imports 11.4% of its oil from there, a number that has been increasing in recent years. Indian companies are also having trouble getting their money out.

Indian pharmaceutical companies are also present in Venezuela. They have leveraged the shortage of basic medicines in that country, which the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated to be as much as 70%. The implementation of much-needed economic reforms, particularly the devaluation of the local currency (the Bolivar), will impact Indian companies that do business with Venezuela, like Dr. Reddy’s, Glenmark and Claris Injectables. These companies export so much to Venezuela, that its politics have an impact on their share price. Already, the shares of Glenmark pharma and Dr. Reddy’s fell by roughly 5% and 2% shortly after Venezuela’s elections, due to expectations of a currency devaluation. Indian pharma, which exported more than $140 million to Venezuela in 2014-15, has been unable to repatriate funds from their Venezuelan subsidiaries for about two years now. 
There is little the Indian government can do to resolve this issue, and the issue is likely to persist until the economy further stabilises and currency controls are lifted. Unlike China, which loans billions to Venezuela and arranges currency swap deals to safeguard bilateral transactions, India’s relationship with Venezuela is cordial but lacks the vigour to arrive at similar deals. Even if such reforms are passed by Caracas, they are unlikely to affect India or the India-Venezuela bilateral much, since our engagement is limited mostly to oil. India is a major buyer; Venezuela is a major seller. For now, that supersedes everything else.

The last sentence says everything. India needs Venezuela for oil, and that drives policy.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sean Penn and Moral Relativism

The Sean Penn interview with El Chapo is the hot topic. There is plenty to be bothered about with this interview. One thing that bothers me the most is the moral relativism (which he's very open about) that he uses as a rationale for doing the interview in the first place.

Here is his logic:

As an American citizen, I'm drawn to explore what may be inconsistent with the portrayals our government and media brand upon their declared enemies. Not since Osama bin Laden has the pursuit of a fugitive so occupied the public imagination. But unlike bin Laden, who had posed the ludicrous premise that a country's entire population is defined by – and therefore complicit in – its leadership's policies, with the world's most wanted drug lord, are we, the American public, not indeed complicit in what we demonize? We are the consumers, and as such, we are complicit in every murder, and in every corruption of an institution's ability to protect the quality of life for citizens of Mexico and the United States that comes as a result of our insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics.

This logic claims it's OK to glamorize El Chapo because all of us are complicit. Je suis Chapo. What utter nonsense.

If you really oppose the U.S. war on drugs, then you should glamorize nothing. If you feel complicit, then find ways to help victims. El Chapo isn't a victim; he creates them. Don't pretend that bad U.S. foreign policy is an excuse for letting others off the hook. And definitely don't do so by pretending you're Hunter S. Thompson.

This is similar to the logic that we should not criticize human rights abuses in Latin America as long as, say, there are inmates at Guantanamo. No--you criticize it all.


Friday, January 08, 2016

The Leftist Response to Current Change

In general I've found it interesting to see the leftist response to the elections in Argentina and Venezuela. Very often, it buys into the mainstream perception that the left is somehow suddenly done and the right is ascendant. I am not sure why.

But as this example from Counterpunch shows, buying into that simplistic vision is problematic because it completely discounts what Latin American voters think, versus what intellectuals believe they should think.

Latin American revolutionary leaders were given a mandate by the people, and they have no right to back up, to betray.

You have no right to change your mind and express that in elections! You bastards! Even corruption is viewed as a fascist conspiracy.

Corruption!!! That is the new battle cry of the elites and their lackeys. 

To be fair, this particular example is pretty extreme because it wants armed rebellion of some kind, or leftist authoritarianism, or something like that. What's abundantly clear, though, is that Latin American voters are more pragmatic than the left or the right want to admit. For whatever reason, many intellectuals and politicians alike are stuck in the binary way of thinking. That's a very bad place to be for incumbents. If you want to stay in power, break out of that and reconnect to your voters. Don't pretend real problems are imaginary.


Thursday, January 07, 2016

I had been meaning for a long time to start uploading my stuff to and have finally been updating my profile there. If you're interested go check it out, follow me, and I will follow back.


Executive-Legislative Relations in Venezuela

I'm quoted in this Bloomberg story on the hubbub of the first day of the new opposition-led legislature in Venezuela. My comments are based in large part on my thinking in this December 2015 post about overwrought rhetoric. This is what I wrote then:

There is a lot of flap trapping going on, which is pretty inexcusable for people in the highest political positions of a country. It does mean, though, that their current statements must be measured by their past flapping. I have a hard time seeing an autogolpe happening in Venezuela. The election made clear that the domestic response would be violent, and the military has little appetite for such a scenario. I doubt a shadow congress will matter, even if it actually ever exists, but transferring power to it would be an autogolpe.

I still think that's true (not surprising, since it was only two weeks ago!). In the Bloomberg article I simply noted that this happens in presidential systems. The difference in Venezuela is that several prominent politicians, including the president and the former speaker, say lots of crazy things they don't actually follow up on.

The dynamic is very similar in the United States, where executive-legislative polarization is very high. My own member of Congress just called President Obama a "monarch." Take that out a bit more to the fringes, then have Obama say something crazy back, and you're Venezuela.


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Obama's Deportation Surge

Steven Hyland writes about the undocumented immigrant roundup going on in Charlotte right now, which is part of a broader deportation plan by the Obama administration, which focuses quite a bit on families.

Obama is big into deporting people, doing so in massive numbers.

And yet Obama somehow gets criticized for being soft on immigration. If deporting kindergartners is soft, then I don't even want to imagine "hard."


Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Responding to the Venezuela Controversy

I'm quoted in this story about how the Obama administration is responding (or might continue to respond) to the decision in Venezuela to block some legislators until unspecified concerns about the election are decided. The main question was how the OAS would react, and I think the answer is weakly. By and large, it wants to reward the Venezuelan government for a clean election where it accepted a stinging loss. Invoking the democracy clause--meaning even possibly suspending a government--is very unlikely.

For now, we're waiting to see what the final response is. If the legislators are blocked, thus conveniently avoiding a 2/3 opposition majority, then it's a lot more serious but I still can't see the OAS doing much beyond Luis Almagro making a statement.

What can/should the Obama administration do? You have the choice of a strongly worded statement and some kind of sanctions. I don't think either one will affect the situation much. If the governments of Latin America sit back, there is little way to pressure the already desperate Venezuelan government. We can only hope that even those governments are quiet publicly, they are pushing privately, and that may be the case.


Monday, January 04, 2016

Trump's Crazy Ad

This is no joke. This is actually Donald Trump's first TV ad. In a mere 30 seconds it manages to be amazingly offensive and stupid.

“That’s why he’s calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until we can figure out what’s going on. He’ll quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. And he’ll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for.”

What? We already know "what's going on," there is no ISIS head to cut off (and anyway, remember how much killing Osama bin Laden has eliminated all our problems!), whatever oil they might have doesn't actually belong to us, and Mexico is not going to pay for a wall. The main result of trying to do such things would be to alienate a lot of people (at home and abroad) unnecessarily, look foolish, and damage U.S.-Latin American relations.


Dealing With Corruption in Latin America

Jorge Castañeda has an article in Foreign Affairs about how Latin Americans are getting tired of corruption and are holding their leaders more accountable. Two things come to mind, one he mentions explicitly and the other he doesn't.

First, he mentions the importance of international influence. This is not just CICIG, but also the U.S. press, which investigated Mexican corruption. I think this should get even more attention than it does now. There are multiple ways that international actors, including the U.S., U.N., and media, can contribute significantly to accountability.

Second, he only alludes to it, but corruption and accountability are not correlated to ideology--countries with scandals and/or court cases are all over the ideological map. I am already tired of the "post-populist," "post-pink tide," and the like, and the response to corruption demonstrates that ideology is often a distraction.


Sunday, January 03, 2016

Comparing Venezuela and Colombia

An article in Telesur notes that 21 local elected officials haven't yet taken office in Colombia because of charges of irregularities. The explicit purpose of the article is to equate that with the situation in Venezuela. If it is not criticized in Colombia, the argument goes, it should not be criticized in Venezuela.

On the surface, this is true, and such situations are well worth noting. But similarity is not the same as being identical. The stakes of the two elections bear no resemblance to each other. The level of polarization is also very different. The incentive to block a specific number of legislators is present in Venezuela and not in Colombia.


Friday, January 01, 2016

Why Consciously Remain In A Silo?

An English professor at NC State argues that academics shouldn't necessarily bother to connect to a broader public. He says that--especially for those in the humanities--we don't know what will become relevant and why.

So academics, stay in your offices. Write books that few people will read. The results might be more significant than any of us first recognise.

As you might guess, I don't agree. At least for me, it is a lot of fun to articulate what I do to a broader audience. At UNC Charlotte, my dean (also an English professor) has created programs that, for example, involve events with faculty discussing their new books to a public audience, and these are really well-attended. I always read English professor Miriam Burstein's (aka The Little Professor) blog, which is all about her work on Victorian fiction. I don't know anything about the topic, but you can sense the enthusiasm.

In other words, you can have your cake and eat it too. Write about whatever topic you're passionate about and that passion should be infectious when you're communicating it to the rest of the world. Why only communicate with a select few other scholars if you don't have to?


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