Saturday, June 28, 2003

The 'Weak' in (National) Review AND Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Two for one, how 'bout that! The National Review Online has a rare piece on Latin America written by Guest Commentator Mike Krause. As a specialist myself on Mexican Politics, I must say that I found the article to be perplexing, if not misleading. As far as I can tell, Krause seemed to be railing on the PRI, lamenting the ex-ruling party's possible comeback, and hoping for some good electoral fortune for current Mexican President Vicente Fox's conservative National Action Party (PAN).

First, let me start with Krause's characterization of the current day PRI. He paints the PRI as a party of the "grassroots," allied with the Greens (enviros), and still true to its "socialist roots." By this description, one would get the impression that the PRI is a lefty (perhaps center-lefty) party. Actually, the party is much more complex and cannot be described in such simplistic terms. It is true that the PRI has had its socialist moments, but it has also been very corporatist and conservative, too. Defining the party by ideology - any ideology - is a wrong-headed way to think of the PRI. A better way is to think of the party's operational characteristic as opportunist and cooptive - communists and capitalists have all been able to find a home in the party. In point of fact, since the 1980s, the dominant wing of the PRI has been more properly economically neoliberal and socially conservative (at least by Mexican standards) than perhaps even the current PANista Fox Administration. After all, it was the PRI of de la Madrid, Salinas, and Zedillo that led Mexico to embrace neoliberal economic reform. And one should not forget that the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was created and led by the more socialist-leaning members of the PRI, who - one might say - were "purged" from the PRI by the ascendant conservative, neoliberal, technocratic wing of the party. So, if ideology were relevant in characterizing the PRI of today, it would in my opinion be more a party of the center right rather than one of the center left.

Second, Krause relates his drive through the countryside of Mexico as being dominated by the PRI propaganda machine. Krause should recognize that the PRI is not the currently ruling party, and so its "campaign investments" in the countryside cannot properly be considered the result of graft or corruption emanating from some misuse of state funds. This was certainly true in the past, when the PRI controlled the Presidency and the state treasury, but doesn't make much sense under a PAN presidency. If it is true that the Fox administration is doling out federal money to the PRI-dominant countryside states (and state budgets are almost exclusively dependent on federal executive largesse), then it would be folly to assume that Fox would allow such state resources to be used for the political gain of his electoral opponents. Thus, one must assume either that the near exclusive PRI-presence that Krause notes in the countryside is because the PRI is concentrating its own legitimate campaign resources in these areas or that it is because Fox is a fool. I don't think the latter, so I must then go with the former. For Krause to thus conflate past PRI misuse of state funds to its current campaign strategy is somewhat dishonest. Besides which, if Krause believes that Mexico's is experiencing a vibrant nascent democracy, even a PRI victory at the national level in the next presidential election is not likely to witness a return to the blatant misappropriation of state funds for party use that characterized past PRI behavior.

Third, I don't know what Mexico Krause has been to recently, but in the Mexico that I've visited recently, Fox is nowhere near riding a wave of popularity as Krause suggests. There is more disillusionment among Mexicans about Fox and his inability to deliver what he has promised than at any point in his presidency to date. Fox's honeymoon with the Mexican people ended a good while ago. And my money is that this will be reflected in the recent upcoming elections.

Finally, If PAN does make any gains in this election, it will likely be in spite of Fox rather than because of him. Fox may fashion himself a PANista, but let's not forget that it is his own party that has raised some of the most vocal opposition to many of his policy initiatives.

I happen to think that the answer to Octavio Paz's question will never truly be answered until the PRI can come back to power through a free and fair election, and can demonstrate that it is truly committed to playing by the new rules of the game.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Blog Banter - As a hardcore liberal, I agree with Andrew Sullivan's position regarding sodomy laws and gay marriage, and it goes without saying that I was none too fond of Strom Thurmond; but even I think Andrew's gloating comment about the coincidence of Strom Thurmond's death and the SCOTUS decision striking down sodomy laws is a bit too much. In my opinion, Sullivan went way over the top. Frankly, I did not find his comment to be funny at all. I found it to be tasteless, obscene, disrespectful, and disgusting. I think Andrew should nominate himself for his own Sontag Award.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

The 'Weak' in National Review - Byron York goes off on the growing chorus of criticism of Bush for how he made the case to go to war with Iraq. York specifically addresses the lengthy piece written by John B. Judis and Spencer Ackerman at The New Republic. But for all of York's bluster, he never once addresses the real point of Judis and Ackerman's article: the minimization by the Bush Administration of uncertaintly and ambiguity within the Intelligence community about Iraq's possession of WMDs. York seems to think that if WMDs are found, then the critics will have to eat crow. But I think the argument that Judis and Ackerman are making really does not rest on the outcome. It is rather an argument about the transparency of process. The central point is that Bush failed to relate to the American citizens that the intelligence community had some division and uncertainty about the subject. There was no clear intelligence on Saddam's actual possession of WMDs to justify going to war on that reason. That fact will not change regardless of whether we eventually dig up some WMDs - precisely because if we do find WMDs, it will be IN SPITE OF our intelligence, not BECAUSE OF it.

Blog Banter - Andrew Sullivan expresses his disgust with Maureen Dowd's column that attempted to address what she believes to be a bit of hypocrisy in Clarence Thomas's anti-affirmative action position. Dowd's argument is suspect in the sense that it attributes the success of every black person to affirmative action. I find this hard to believe. In any case, it does paint successful minorities into the corner of having no way to argue that their accomplishments can be attributed to something other than their race and racial preference policies. However, Dowd does make a good point that Clarence Thomas is oh-so-willing to use the race card himself, whenever it suits his interests and can contribute to his success. The fact that he DID equate his contentious Senate Confirmation hearing to a "high-tech lynching" clearly demonstrates both this point and the fact that Thomas himself believed his confirmation hearing was less subject to ideological politics than it was to racist politics. Some could argue that this is precisely the problem with affirmative action policies - that it creates a culture of playing the race card for preferential effect, even among such figures as Clarence Thomas. But one would expect Clarence Thomas, of all people, to rise above this. It's certainly an understandable position, and many liberals would even sympathize with this interpretation of the confirmation hearing. But it just doesn't suit Clarence Thomas to resort to it. This, I think, is the larger point that Dowd was making - not just regarding Clarence Thomas, but also about the Bush Administration's penchant for considering race as one factor among many in its decision-making processes, too.

Lagniappe - Sorry for the long delay in posting. I've been on the road quite a bit and working on other projects. I simply haven't had the time - and sometimes even the internet access - to post. I am afraid that this pattern will continue at least through August; but I will make an effort to put something up as regularly as possible for the very occasional reader that might pass my way.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano - Andres Oppenheimer laments the new low in U.S. government interest in what is arguably the most important region of the world to the U.S. economy. I simply don't understand it.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - Free range chicken! Update in the Times Picayune.

Chickens will be able to continue roaming free in Louisiana after legislation to prohibit fowl or poultry from running into a neighbor's yard was defeated Monday in the House. HB 1930 by Rep. Gregory Fruge, R-Eunice, said that anyone who "knowingly, willfully, or negligently" allowed poultry to run at large on public or private property could be fined between $25 and $100, as well as being held liable for any damage the bird caused. Despite the chorus of chicken imitations when he came up to the podium, Fruge tried valiantly to persuade his citified colleagues that chickens running amok without proper senses of boundaries pose a serious problem. "They scratch in your flower bed, they eat vegetables in your garden, they eat your dog or cat food," he said. "If you have them, you should keep them on your property." The debate raised questions both practical and philosophical. Rep. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, wondered if chickens were branded, so the owner of the invading bird could be identified easily. Rep. Dan "Blade" Morrish, D-Jennings, asked, "If a chicken crossed the road, would he be in violation?" In the end, the bill failed, 38-56, prompting DeWitt to declare: "The chickens won."
Wrong! The Chick-fil-A cows win!!

Monday, June 02, 2003

Kingfishery and Kingcakery - Call the Chick-fil-A cows!! Seems like the Louisiana legislature is intent on thwarting their noble "Eat Mor Chikin" campaign.