28 December 2007

Suspiros cortos para silencios largos

Suspiros cortos para silencios largos: short sighs for long silences. It could be the turning phrase of a poem, or a whole poem intact. Instead it is the title of the newest exhibition by Oaxacan artist Santiago Martinez, featured here in El Imparcial.

Bien echo, Santiago. Felicidades!

Brattleboro, USA

Last year Brattleboro, VT made news for all that nudity in the aptly named Harmony parking lot. Today it's the would-be arrest warrant aimed at the highest levels of government.

A group in Brattleboro is petitioning to put an item on a town meeting agenda in March that would make Bush and Vice President Cheney subject to arrest and indictment if they visit the southeastern Vermont community.

"This petition is as radical as the Declaration of Independence, and it draws on that tradition in claiming a universal jurisdiction when governments fail to do what they're supposed to do," said Kurt Daims, 54, a retired machinist leading the drive.

As president, Bush has visited every state except Vermont.

Ah, Brattleboro. Last year I described Vermont as "the greenest state with the most gun racks," and I stand by that observation yet.

Juan Cole

Here's Juan Cole on Pakistan, overnight:

The seriousness of the situation in the streets of some of Pakistan's important towns and cities doesn't seem to me to be being reported in the US press and media. In contrast, Pakistani newspapers are giving chilling details of large urban centers turned into ghost towns on Friday morning, with no transport available, hundreds of thousands of persons stranded far from home, shops closed, and banks, gas stations, police stations and automobiles torched. Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur, Jacobabad and many others in Sindh Province fell victim to the violence (Bhutto was from Larkana in Sindh but had a residence in Karachi). The police seemed to be AWOL for the most part in these cities, allowing the rioting and looting to go on unhindered.

Here is a tally of violence in the major port city of Karachi (population 8 million) overnight, resulting from riots to protest the killing of Benazir Bhutto:

Number of vehicles burned: 150
Number of streets where tires were set afire: 26
Number of banks set on fire: 16
Number of gas stations torched: 13
Number of persons shot dead: 10
Number of persons injured: 68
Number of PIA flights coming in: 0
Number of shops and businesses closed: Most

He concludes:

Folks, I've seen civil wars and riots first hand, and revolutions from not too far away, and this situation looks pretty bad to me.

20 December 2007

The Price of Admission

From Mexico Solidarity Network, via Oaxaca Study Action Group:

The US State Department announced this week a 31% increase in the cost of temporary visas, to take effect in 2008. The price will increase from US$100 to US$131. Mexicans applying for a visa must deposit the funds in a bank in advance of a required interview, and the money is not refunded in the case of a failed interview. Nearly two-thirds of Mexicans who apply for visas are denied after the interview process. Mexicans who schedule a second interview appointment to present additional information must pay an additional US$131.

Emphasis mine. And it gets worse. According to the U.S. State Department website, applicants who have already paid their original $100 visa application fee and scheduled their interviews will still have to pay the $31 difference if their interview isn't held before after January 31, 2008. That's just poor sportsmanship, changing the rules in the middle of the game. Not sure what the logic is here, but obviously the State Dept. has figured how to squeeze the most from people. Want to take bets on how many interviews are scheduled for the month of January?

The government states that the current fee does not actually cover the cost of processing the applications, and claims the increase will pay for "costs of security and other enhancements to the non-immigrant visa application process." I wonder, though, if the State Dept. might be making up for lost revenues as a result of Congressional investigations into passport costs for American citizens?

More on rising visa costs here.

18 December 2007

Fallout From Supreme Court Ruling in Puebla

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, in a country so dominated by macho culture, Mexico has a Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women. At least, Mexico did have a Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women, until this week.

Anna Maria Salazar reported Monday:

And the Supreme Court’s decision practically absolving Puebla governor Mario Marín in the Lydia Cacho case continues to spark discontent.The Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women, Alicia Pérez Duarte, resigned saying she could no longer continue with her work after the ruling by the Court. And a group of children and adults threw eggs at the Supreme Court also as a protest in the Mario Marín ruling.

For background on the Lydia Cacho case, read this from Mexico Reporter. As for egg throwing, you've got to love an activist culture.

17 December 2007

Following Up on Teachers, Sort Of

A quick scan of the headlines tonight at Noticias offers nothing new on the subject of teachers' bonuses, so I resort to sharing what I've got. What follows is hardly responsible journalism, but I've yet to make that claim here.

Among the random stuff in my inbox: this today, from somewhat known sources, acquaintances through the Oaxaca Study Action Group, a Yahoo group open to anyone with a Yahoo username. I don't know who added the English text summarizing each paragraph, but I figure it's worth a read. If nothing else, it's sort of fun to observe how information moves in this community. See for yourself:

14/12/2007 12:56:06 PM
Autor: Rebeca Luna Jiménez

Oaxaca, México. Diciembre 14- El Secretario General de Gobierno, Manuel García Corpus informó que el gobernador Ulises Ruiz logró canalizar recursos por el orden de los mil 350 millones de pesos para el pago de los salarios de los más de 70 mil trabajadores de la educación, luego de sostener reuniones de trabajo con los titulares de Gobernación y Hacienda del gobierno federal en la ciudad de México. He managed to find the money to pay salaries.

Dijo que el mandatario destrabó la problemática derivada de la insuficiencia de recursos económicos para el pago de salarios y el correspondiente al primer pago del aguinaldo de los maestros. But there's not enough to pay the bonus

En tanto, los maestros por segundo día bloquearon tres partes de la capital oaxaqueña, además que maestros de la región de la Cuenca cerraron la carretera federal en Tuxtepec a la altura del puente El Caracol con la finalidad de exigir el pago de su aguinaldo. Therefore the teachers blocked three fourths of the city of Oaxaca and closed the highway in Tuxtepec

Ruiz Ortíz logró el pago correspondiente a las dos quincenas de diciembre, por lo que a partir de las 14.00 horas estaba subsanado el problema, sin embargo a las 15.00 horas las manifestaciones continuaban con sus bloqueos por trabajadores administrativos y educandos.

Había bloqueos sobre la carretera federal Cristóbal Colón frente al Instituto Estatal de Educación Pública de Oaxaca (IEEPO), en el puente del Tecnológico, la gasolinera Bautista, la Secretaría de Finanzas. Dos puntos fueron desbloqueados el del monumento a la Madre y de la Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (UPN).

García Corpus dijo que el gobernador sostuvo entrevistas con el titular de Gobernación, Francisco Ramírez Acuña, y el de Hacienda, Agustín Cartens para que de acuerdo a la normativilidad se les pagará el aguinaldo a los maestros el próximo martes, en tanto que los salarios del mes a partir de las 14.00 horas de este viernes. Pay the aguinaldo next Tuesday, is what the secretary general of government came up with

Se hizo la inmediata gestión a efecto de cumplir en términos generales con el magisterio en su conjunto, por lo cual destacó que el jefe del Ejecutivo local así como los titulares de la SEGOB y la propia SHyCP, acordaron canalizar recursos por el orden de mil 350 millones de pesos.

No hay un tema tan sensible que tiene que ver con el salario", razón de ello, subrayó, la atención inmediata del mandatario con los servidores públicos del Gobierno Federal quienes en una actitud de corresponsabilidad con la administració n estatal, hicieron una negociación extraordinaria para cubrir los adeudos por concepto de salarios y aguinaldos". So Ruiz is doing right by negotiating for the release of extraordinary funds

I couldn't easily offer the English in red, as it appeared in my inbox, so I bolded it. Lack of terminal punctuation is faithful to the original.

U.S. Fires Teargas into Mexico

From the AP, via 9News.com: Border Patrol fires tear gas into Mexico.

16 December 2007

Christmas Cheer, Teachers Demonstrate

UPDATE:My friend Adam tells me that, as of Friday, the government scrambled up some money, borrowed from next year's budgets, to pay the teachers and get them off the streets. So crisis averted, for now.

I've been pretty swamped this week between grad school applications, teaching and tutoring, and running around to all the holiday parties that have sprung up in Oaxaca this Christmas season. So when I read today that there's a teachers' demonstration in Oaxaca this week, I'm not exactly surprised that I didn't hear about it.

Demonstrations are not taking place in the zocalo, as did the strike of 2006. This article from Saturday's Noticias only says:

Las manifestaciones originaron un enorme caos vial en la ciudad capital, al establecer bloqueos en seis accesos carreteros y calles de la capital, algunos de los cuales se mantenían hasta anoche.

In a nutshell (and my translation is always questionable): "Demonstrations brought enormous chaos to the capital city, establishing blockades along six access roads and streets in the capital. Some protesters have been out since last night."

I didn't observe this "enorme caos" during my workday Friday, which took me from the south end of the Periferico at 20 de Noviembre, through the center, back out to Cinco Senores, passing by the road to the airport, and down Universidad to Plaza del Valle and Simbolos Patrios. As of 4:00 pm Friday I didn't have a sense that anything unusual was happening at any of these points, but that easily could have changed in the evening or during the day Saturday. If anybody knows where the demonstrations are happening, comments would be welcomed and appreciated.

I received this English language summary of events from Ronald Waterbury, of the Oaxaca Study Forum:

Conditions have indeed returned to “normal” (at least in the statistical sense) in Oaxaca. The government does not fulfill its obligations, and in response the teachers’ union blocks the streets and produces vehicular chaos. In this particular example of the ritual, the federal government (which provides the vast bulk of the money to pay teachers) didn’t release funds for the regular December paychecks nor for the first installment of the traditional Christmas bonus (due December 8). At least the state government appears to have learned a lesson from the 2006 conflict because rather than crack heads, as it did on June 14, 2006, it simply returned to the years-long practice of ignoring the protests. They didn’t even send out traffic cops to help the besieged motorists maneuver through the mess. This way the government hopes that the public will blame the teachers for the inconveniences, and from my own very unscientific survey of vendors in one of the public markets, the government was successful. Even people who sympathized with the APPO movement of last year, in frustrated anger used phrases like: “the teachers are at it again!”

Emphasis mine. Nancy Davies offers this, via the Oaxaca Study Action Group:

. . . we have another situation here with the teachers, who have been blockading the roads for two days to demand their pay AND their usual annual "aguinaldo", the Christmas bonus. The bonus for most workers is part of the
pay package, not a nice gesture at the will of the employer. In this case, the governor-employer URO says he's so sorry but there's no money to pay it.

Emphasis mine. Jill Freidberg, of Corrugated Films, adds:

In addition to concerns people have about traffic and losing money, there may be some hard feelings left over from 2006. Folks might feel like the teachers are willing to mobilize on a large scale when it comes to them getting paid, but not when it came to sticking with the "fuera URO" mobilizations in the last couple months of 2006, after the teachers had lifted their strike. This is a long-standing complaint - that the teachers are usually only acting in their own interest when they take to the streets, not in the interest of civil society in general. I think it's important to remind people that, during 2006, thousands of
teachers who DO place civil society's demands and needs above the teachers' union demands, saw the formation of the APPO and the subsequent mobilizations as an opportunity for teachers to finally rebuild that tie with civil society. But not all 70,000 teachers feel that way, and there are quite a few of them who really are much more likely to hit the streets over their salary than over any other demand.

Emphasis mine. Okay, that's a lot of information to digest. And here I am oblivious to all of it until I wake up Sunday morning and check two days of mail in my inbox.

Let me throw my two cents in, both of which might be highly uninformed at any given moment. It seems to me that Ronald Waterbury has it right, that Governor Ruiz would rather wait for public opinion to turn against the teachers than to send in troops to clear the streets. Especially now, when tourism is on a gentle but sustained uptick, and the festival season creates commercial opportunities for so many businesses. Even for a guy with his record, Ulises Ruiz can't want images of police in riot gear and protesters with bloodied heads on the news pages of the Mexican papers during the holiday season. I've heard (wildly) unsubstantiated speculation that Calderon may consider removing Ruiz from office before the end of his term, and another round of violence in the streets won't bode well for the governor's political future, assuming he even has one.

Nancy Davies points out that the Governor says he's "sorry but there's no money" to pay for teachers' bonuses this year, which are part of a negotiated pay package and not a true bonus in the first place. The issue of bonuses aside, the way I read Ronald Waterbury is that December 8 salary checks haven't even been issued, so we're not merely talking about a bonus problem but an actual failure to pay teachers what they are owed for work completed. Imagine a similar problem in, say, Michigan, two weeks before Christmas. I think we'd hear an uproar, and nobody would suggest that the teachers were in the wrong. As far as the "no money" thing goes, I point you to this article in today's Noticias, wherein the state reveals it has invested "tres mil 11 millones de pesos" in roadway improvements in 2007. (Can this possibly be right? 3,011,000,000 pesos? Over 300 million dollars toward roads in the second poorest state in Mexico!?) Some of that money has been used to tear up the existing streets in the center of town and replace them with historic looking, pedestrian friendly streets that don't appear to make anybody very happy, least of all shopkeepers who have lost all their drive-by traffic and deal with the daily construction process.

Finally, Jill Freidberg's observation that public opinion may see teachers as more likely to mobilize on their own behalf--and on their own bottom line--than that of the greater human rights sweep in Oaxaca, seems like a no-brainer to me. Teachers didn't come to the capital in 2006 to demand the removal of the governor. They came, 70,000 strong, to ask for wage increases, better health insurance, and more government support for impoverished students. While addressing human rights violations in Oaxaca has become the order of the day for many, it is preposterous to assert that this should be the teachers' main objective. That perception, however, plays nicely into what Ronald Waterbury points to as the government waiting for public opinion to turn against the teachers.

There is much to consider today in Oaxaca. Stay tuned.

13 December 2007

Good Reading

Iraqis fleeing to Mexico? And my favorite Oaxacan food actually migrated from the Middle East?

All that and more in this very interesting post from The Mex Files.

12 December 2007

Welcoming the Dawn

My wife and I live in the centro, so it's bound to be noisier outside our apartment than in, say, San Felipe de Aguas (a beautiful suburb nestled among green hills just north of the city).

That said, can somebody please explain to me why there are firecrackers going off every day this month between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning? Is there some Oaxacan-Christmastime-welcoming-the-dawn-festival about which I am completely unaware?

10 December 2007

Courting Hispanics

The major '08 Republican presidential candidates gathered in Coral Gables, FL, to address Hispanic voters.

"The sky's the limit for Hispanic Americans but you know something, the sky's the limit for all Americans if we have the right kind of leadership," said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Uh, good one, Rudy, and way to stay on message.

Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, campaigning on an unrelenting platform of zero tolerance for illegal (and possibly legal) immigration, was notably absent.

08 December 2007

Will Work 4 Food

Want an idea how the Oaxacan economy is doing? Noticias reported Friday that the state has yet to recover some 21,000 jobs lost as a result of the teachers' strike and ensuing social unrest of 2006.

On the upside, says one government employee, "this year there has been more calm and peace."*

Thanks to Oaxaca Study Forum for the link.

*My translation.

Human Rights Worker Assaulted in Oaxaca

CORRECTION: In the text below, I refer to a group of poinsettia flowers as "buenas noches," in Spanish. That should read "noches buenas."

Here's a post that ended up in my box (you may need a Yahoo account to click through, I'm not sure). In a nutshell, Mexican human rights worker Nancy Mota Figueroa was abducted on December 2, forced into an unmarked vehicle, blindfolded, harassed at gunpoint, interrogated about her work, and threatened with further assault, rape, and murder if she continued her activist work. She was then released in an abandoned lot.

Nancy Mota Figueroa, who is a leader of a women's organisation in Oaxaca and an activist with the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, APPO), was temporarily abducted by unknown armed individuals on 2 December. She was questioned about other APPO activists, threatened with death and rape and was told that she could be abducted again. Amnesty International is gravely concerned for her safety.

According to Nancy Mota, she was walking in a street in Oaxaca when a white SUV vehicle with tinted windows and without number plates stopped next to her. Two men who had their faces covered, got out of the vehicle, forced her in and then blindfolded her. The blindfold was impregnated with a liquid that irritated her eyes.

According to her testimony, while the vehicle was circulating Oaxaca's streets, the two men questioned her about what she knew about other APPO activists, some of whom are currently in detention. They forced her head between her knees, then pulled her hair and pointed two guns at her head. She heard them pull the trigger and say they would shoot her. They told her to stop her activism or they may abduct her again and rape her. She was also hit in the stomach. She was held for one hour and then freed in an empty lot near the city centre with the warning that she could be abducted again. The abductors also reportedly downloaded all the telephone numbers saved on her cellular phone.

Nancy Mota filed a complaint with the Oaxaca State Attorney General's office (Procuraduría General del Estado de Oaxaca) and has spoken out about her abduction in a press conference.

Walking through the zocalo last night to meet a group of bilingual Christmas carolers, I caught part of a small protest under the pavilion at the center of the public square. There were signs posted on behalf of Nancy Mota Figueroa, broad red flags waved above the gathering crowd, and the amplified speech of human rights proponents and political activists competed with flashing Christmas lights, government sponsored holiday concerts, and local mariachis playing for pesos to diners at sidewalk tables. Flower beds in the zocalo have been planted with poinsettias, or buenas noches, en espanol, from one end clear to the other, a red sea of holiday fervor.

El Enemigo Comun has more, and here is Nancy Mota Figueroa's statement, in Spanish.

07 December 2007

Party Lines

Planning to vote Republican or Democrat? Why limit yourself? In Mexico, for instance, one has a choice between PRD, PAN, PRI, PT, Convergencia, Alternativa, Greens, plus many smaller, lesser knowns which we can loosely label Zapatista, Maoist, and Stalinist; and almost any combination therein, given the ever-changing, coalitional political landscape of Mexican politics.

The Mex Files offers a rundown on how to read between party lines, and how the latest round of practical alliances could play out--or not--for the next federal election.

06 December 2007

Mass Exhumations in Mexico

So is it a good idea to exhume as many as 4,000 bodies for DNA testing and identification purposes?

I'm torn. On the one hand, if it leads to an investigation of police tactics, as the article suggests, solves some old murders, improves future law enforcement training, and is helpful to anti-corruption campaigns within Mexico's political and law enforcement bureaucracies, then I can see the benefits. Also, it's not a bad thing to resolve mysterious deaths, and hopefully give families opportunities for closure.

At the same time, I read this article and immediately think of the massive opportunity to bungle the results (my wife calls this line of thinking the "Plavnick family optimism"). Mislabeled remains, mistaken identities, and misinformed families all strike me as possible problems in an endeavor such as this. That doesn't mean I'm against it, I'm just not sure I'm for it. In the end, I want some confirmation that the process will serve to help bring justice to the poorest of the poor in Mexico (which strikes me as the project's unstated goal, as represented in the article), whom I suspect are often the victims in these unsolved crimes, especially crimes against women as the article details.

I'm curious about the costs of exhuming, identifying and reburying so many victims. To my mind these could go a long way toward combating the causes of poverty, which also inherently helps bring a measure of justice to poor communities.

05 December 2007

Election Season Follies

This is a little dated already. From La Politica, I find both these remarks interesting, and offer them without comment.

Last week, Howard Dean issued a statement regarding Hispanic, [sic] which included the following:

“Today Democrats are building momentum across the country, and building stronger ties than ever with the Hispanic community. The Democratic Party shares the Hispanic community’s values centered on family, faith, and hard work, and our candidates offer the new direction the American people want.

Today, Hessy Fernandez who is the Republican National Committee’s Director of Hispanic Communications sent me the following statement in response:

“Actions speak louder than words, and the Democrat Party [sic] have failed to put forward accomplishments that resonate with Hispanic working families. The reality is that Democrats would say and do anything to win political points and will conveniently forget their promises. Hispanics will continue to reject their policies, which propose dramatic spending increases, massive government growth and higher taxes for hard working families and small businesses. On issue after issue the GOP and the Hispanic community share the same values and priorities”.

Emphasis mine.

Pork Chops?

Today's riddle provided by Laura Martinez. And no, I don't know the answer.

03 December 2007


Blogging will be light as I meet deadlines for graduate school applications. Please continue to check back.

01 December 2007

In New Orleans, a New Kind of "Waiting"

It's never been so breathtakingly clear where Samuel Beckett's reknowned absurdist play "Waiting For Godot" should be performed: in New Orleans, where the levee broke.

30 November 2007

Oaxaca Governor Survies Copter Crash

I'm quite late to this and still muddling along through the Spanish, but Noticias reports today that Governor Ulises Ruiz survived a helicopter crash on Wednesday evening outside San Felipe del Agua, a neighborhood in northern Oaxaca City. As far as I can tell, there were no fatalities and no grave injuries.

It is unclear to me whether these are the men I saw from my window several times last week.

Photos courtesy of Noticias.

More From Puebla

Here's an English language version of events unfolding this week in the case of reporter Lydia Cacho v. The Man. In a nutshell, the governor was recorded in a compromising phone call, but the recording was made without a warrant, so the whole thing is a wash. Headline reads "Cacho's rights not violated enough."

Porous Borders

Via The Mex Files, I had heard about this incident but it sort of passed me by. Now count on Tom Tancredo to use it as more proof of our border's insecurity.

New Development in Puebla Journalist Case

Cancel the hooplah about the Mexico Supreme Court stepping out for reporters' rights and, by extension, human rights. Mexico Reporter tells us there appear to have been some second thoughts.

My question: if the court has concluded that there will not in fact be any investigation into the governor of Puebla:

Reports just breaking say that the Mexican Supreme court has concluded that Puebla governor Mario Marin will in fact NOT be investigated following accusations from investigative journalist Lydia Cacho that he was part of a child pornography ring.

then is is possible there was a misinterpretation regarding the previously announced guilty status of the governor and his associates?

Puebla state authorities have been found guilty by the Supreme Court in Mexico of violating the rights of investigative journalist Lydia Cacho, who was arrested by Puebla police in December 2005 after publishing a book about a pedophile ring in Cancun.


The Supreme court found that Governor Mario Marin and 29 other state officials played a role in the events that took place in December 2005, in which Cacho was arrested by police from Puebla in Cancun, taken to a pier and told to jump and then illegally detained. During that detention she says that she was subjected to torture and attempted rape.

The language is unclear to me. In the first instance, "Puebla state authorities have been found guilty . . . ." That's pretty decisive. In the second, however, the language is less specific. " . . . Marin and 29 other state officials played a role in events. . . ."

Either way, I'm not sure what the penalties involved in this sort of thing could be. Is there really any chance to prosecute corruption in Mexico? Seems slim.

More on this to come, I'm sure.

Shock Factor Zero

In a war that has lacked foresight, accountability and effective planning since invasion day, does is come as a surprise to anyone to read that Iraq lacks a plan to absorb returning refugees? Plan for returning refugees? I think there was never a plan for the outpouring of refugees in the first place, just as there was no plan for political asylum for those who actually worked with the US.

"I jeopardized my life every day to get low-fat yoghurt for Americans. And I was a target," said Ihab Rifaat, who was a supply manager for USAID in Baghdad — but had to flee the country after repeated death threats from militants.

I was thinking more of interpreters and the like, but that's okay, because low-fat yogurt is important too.

I guess the only thing I wonder is whether anybody in the US government actually believes that the Iraqi government operates at a level functional enough to think about tomorrow. I mean, the US government doesn't always even do that.

As Iraqi refugees begin to stream back to Baghdad, American military officials say the Iraqi government has yet to develop a plan to absorb the influx and prevent it from setting off a new round of sectarian violence.

If I read the subtext of today's article correctly, does this actually say "Violence rises as US surge draws down"? Stay tuned.

28 November 2007


Is the Mexican Supreme Court getting serious about protecting human rights? From Mexico Reporter, a story out of Puebla about the illegal detention, torture and attempted rape of reporter Lydia Cacho in 2005 may have state governments feeling a little, well, nervous.

On a side note, I did not know that Reporters Without Borders ranked Mexico the second most dangerous nation for reporters in 2006, behind only Iraq.

NYC Purse Dragnet: Don't Pick Up the Bag

Seriously? This is New York City police work? I know Josh Marshall mentioned homicides are down in the city, but this is something else.

27 November 2007

Quiet Anniversary Weekend

Nancy Davies on anniversary weekend events, and, perhaps more interestingly, the current state of the APPO.

26 November 2007

URO: Tourism Down in Oaxaca

I regularly reveal my ignorance of the Spanish language when I work from Spanish-only sources, so take this with a grain of salt. I may have to publish a correction before the day is up.

If I read this correctly, overall tourism earnings are down in Oaxaca by 23% from last year, but the overall number of visitors is up some 4% as a result of governmental initiatives within Mexico to lure visitors back to the state. Additionally, according to the article, 95% of visitors in 2007 were Mexican and only 5% foreigners. The government claims an estimated 4,285,406 visitors to Oaxaca in the past year but gives no indication how that tally is counted.

These numbers come from the government itself, so I remain skeptical that the tourism industry overall is only down by 23%. Float that number among hotel and restaurant owners and see whether their profits are only down 23% compared to 2005.

Here's the thing, though. Forget for a moment the government numbers and how they are made. The real question, in my mind, is not about tourism in 2007 compared to tourism in 2006, but to pre-conflict tourism. In other words, what does the state say annual tourism earnings looked like from, say, 1995 - 2005? Now contrast with 2007 and let's see the real difference in Oaxaca's economic health.

24 November 2007

Analysis: Ceci Connolly's Dangerous "Oaxaca: One Year Later"

UPDATE: Jill Freidberg of Corrugated Films shares her thoughts on Connolly's article, and they are not kind.

It's a big weekend for Oaxaca in the major newspapers back home. Yesterday I saw the 36-hour Oaxaca tour itinerary in The New York Times travel section, and today I encounter Ceci Connolly's special to The Washington Post.

I've already posted an alternate 36-hour itinerary, so let me move straight ahead to Connolly's piece titled Oaxaca: One Year Later (and lengthily subtitled The Riots Are Over, and the Streets Feel Safe. But Can a Battered City Find Its Lost Soul?).

There are a number of things that Connolly gets right in her article. Chief among these is her characterization of how Oaxaca feels today. There are all the shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars one hopes to find while traveling, and, for the most part, they are all open for business--tenuously. Through her conversations with local business owners and residents, Connolly captures the tension and uncertainty hanging over the city's historic streets and open squares. Chic restaurants attend to their nightly preparations for the dinner hour, yet a majority of tables sit empty while waitstaff and owners, without enough patronage to keep busy, peer hopefully into the streets.

Connolly also, through her acquaintances here, transmits especially well the feel of the historic center of town, where the zocalo and pedestrian friendly Alcala form the hub of tourist activity.

Officially, Oaxaca is back to normal. And as if to prove it, the government has taken a more active role in some of the city's most beloved festivals, which once had been ad-hoc community affairs.

But a more nuanced truth comes out when you share a coffee or a shot of mezcal with Oaxacans or with those, like my friend John Rexer, who have adopted the city.

"It feels antiseptic," he remarks as we walk through the Zocalo and the adjacent square known as the Alameda.

And he's right, her friend John Rexer. Although another of the author's friends cautions early in the article that Oaxaca "is not Disneyland," these government sponsored cultural festivities, aimed at boosting tourism, generally come off in the same hollow vein one may observe on a stroll through "Mexico" at Disneyworld's Epcot Center. There's much of the sound and color, but an absence of real depth, tradition or joy.

Connolly takes us through Oaxaca's largely empty bars and restaurants, she talks with the owners who still don't know how it's all going to pan out. She interviews artists who fled last year because working in the city had become impossible, and who now struggle to reestablish exhibition spaces and a clientele base.

That's what Connolly gets right. A pretty good sense of the fragile peace that exists in Oaxaca, temerity on the part of residents to get too comfortable, and the possibility, looming just out of view, that everything could go to pot again in a heartbeat and this time people will really be hard up for options.

Now here's where she misses the boat completely. First off, and most glaringly, she uses the term "riots" like George Bush uses the phrase "War on Terror." Rarely, in her piece, do we read about conflict, civil unrest, protests, demonstrations, or civil disobedience. Instead we get:

. . . I have returned to Oaxaca on assignment: Find out if, one year after deadly riots crippled the city, it is again an attractive destination for visitors seeking language schools, colonial history, craft markets and art galleries.

. . . The city (population before the riots: 258,000). . .

. . . Before order was restored in December, the riots claimed the lives of at least nine and as many as 20 people, including American activist/journalist Brad Will.

. . . Before the riots, Oaxaca had a thriving art scene . . .

Fans riot after football games. Los Angelenos rioted after the verdict in the Rodney King case. Oxacans defended themselves with sticks, rocks and slingshots when police resorted to force to break up otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Connolly's use of the word "riots" throughout her article frames this struggle in such a way as to nullify efforts by the people of Oaxaca who peacefully protested for 7 months, from May 22 to November 25, against an oppressive government with a history of human rights violations. This is especially evident where Connolly gives a shoddy explanation of Oaxca's recent, tumultuous history.

Protest is as much a part of Oaxaca's tradition as its black clay pottery and hand-woven tapestries. So when the city's teachers announced their perennial strike in May 2006, it barely caused a stir. But unlike in previous years, the dispute escalated into a broader conflict over social justice.

Let's break this down. Oaxaca, like much of Latin America, is no stranger to incendiary politics and active, anti-government demonstrations. And yes, the teachers' strike is, if not a perennial condition, certainly an annual affair. Every year teachers from all over the state come to the capital to renegotiate the terms of their employment with an eye on better wages, better health benefits, and better conditions--books and supplies, and in some cases meals, uniforms and modern buildings with flush toilets--for impoverished students.

"But unlike in previous years, the dispute escalated into a broader conflict over social justice." Unlike in previous years, when the government responded at least by hearing grievances and offering token gestures, in 2006 Governor Ulisez Ruiz refused to bargain at all.

Anti-government demonstrators stormed local radio stations and occupied Oaxaca's famed Zocalo. The city once known for picturesque cathedrals, graceful laurel trees and colorful marketplaces was coated in graffiti and strewn with the charred remains of vehicles.

Now this is where Connolly--or her editors--leave out extremely pertinent information. It should be noted that anti-government demonstrators did not storm local radio stations until after city and state police raided the teachers' planton at 4 am on June 14, 2006, firing teargas canisters from shoulder launchers directly into the crowds and beating people out of sleep with rifle butts and billy clubs. Police also attempted to destroy the independent FM radio station installed there, Radio Planton, which had become the voice of the resistance broadcast across Oaxaca.

It should be noted that this is when the teachers' strike "escalated into a broader conflict over social justice." After the government refused to even hear the teachers' arguments, after the government attacked men, women and children in their sleep, after the government attempted to seize the people's radio access, and after families and friends across the state heard about the government's reprehensible actions. Then, yes, the dispute escalated from a list of teachers' grievances to a dramatic and widespread call for change on the part of more than 300 different people's organizations across the state of Oaxaca.

Some 4,000 federal police descended, erecting barricades and military-style encampments. Masked protesters countered with guerrilla tactics, hurling burning tires and rocks collected from the cobblestone streets. Before order was restored in December, the riots claimed the lives of at least nine and as many as 20 people, including American activist/journalist Brad Will.

Holy smokes. If I read this right, Connolly collapses seven months' worth of outcry, public despair and extreme police intimidation tactics into 3 short paragraphs before laying blame for the deaths of "at least nine and as many as 20 people, including American activist/journalist Brad Will," on "the riots," and by extension applauds the government effort to "restore order." Police raided the zocalo on June 14 and federal troops didn't reclaim Oaxaca City until November 25. Connolly makes no mention of the city as it lay under siege between these dates. She does not mention the formation of APPO, a coalition dedicated to organizing the myriad voices in Oaxaca in an attempt to create change. The article makes no mention of the roadblocks erected nightly by neighborhood patrols of concerned citizens intent on protecting teachers, activists and families from threats, intimidations, beatings, disappearances and assassinations.

Furthermore, there is no mention of the peaceful protest marches, first 200,000 people in solidarity with the teachers' organizations on June 16, and when that didn't earn an audience with the government another march of 500,000 people took place on June 29. Then there was the 3,000 person march in September of that year, from Oaxaca City to Mexico City, a trek of some 21 days over nearly 500 kilometers, to attract attention to the struggle in Oaxaca, to demand the removal of Governor Ulises Ruiz from power, and to restore justice to the streets of Oaxaca.

Yes, demonstrators engulfed the zocalo. Yes, graffiti covered most every available space. Yes, protesters blockaded the road between the city and the airport in an effort to frustrate the flow of tourism dollars into government coffers. That's exactly what is, to my thinking, so uniquely impressive about the conflict of 2006. When repeated calls for change went unrecognized, unarmed protesters effectively shut down the economy of a city of a quarter million people without resorting to violence and thus captured the attention of the government and the world.

This is just some of what Connolly's piece is missing. And all this missing background is exactly what makes it so hard to tell whether Oaxaca can rebound or not. As of November 25, 2006, when federal police quashed the last of the demonstrations and forcibly "restored order" to the city, not a single compromise has been made regarding any of the original demands made by protesters. That these issues have been silenced by an iron fist makes all the more difficult any assessment of what churns beneath the surface. Oaxacans are still frustrated and oppressed, but now they may simply be more submissive than they were a year ago.

One year later there is still not enough accurate, reliable information circulating about what has happened, and what may yet happen, in Oaxaca. Connolly's piece further serves to frustrate efforts to advance such information about the struggle in Oaxaca to the rest of the world. Oaxaca needs help reaching a point of comprehension and accountability regarding these events, and this will not be achieved through half-representations of recent history.

A Laptop for Every Child (On Earth)?

It could be closer than we think. An article today in The Wall Street Journal about MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte explores the hits and misses of a plan to deliver $100 laptops to schoolchildren in impoverished communities worldwide. The article also addresses how big businesses, including Intel and Microsoft, threatened by the very feasability of Negroponte's nonprofit program, One Laptop Per Child, have rolled out their own lines of basic, affordable, ready-to-connect notebooks targeting developing and underdeveloped school systems.

While the $100 notebook is not yet in production, several inexpensive models (ranging in price from $188 for Negroponte's product to $300 for Intel's Classmate), are ready for delivery. It seems only a matter of time before Negroponte figures out how to reach his goal.

At the same time, corporations such as Intel and Microsoft may have a desire to thwart the plan in order to sustain their own profits, and we'll have to see how all this pans out. As I read the article I am excited and puzzled by these ready-to-connect devices for "emerging markets worldwide" (Intel's language). Having the computer is great. But do connectivity infrastructures exist yet in the places these machines are destined to go. That will be the next step: making information itself available to everybody, regardless of their place on Earth.

23 November 2007

And in Mexico Today . . .

Two items of note in today's news summary, courtesy of Mexico Today. First:

President Felipe Calderón said México has a strong economy and won’t be affected by the problems in the United States.

Wait--there are problems in the United States?

And second:

In other news, former president Vicente Fox said in an interview broadcast in Spain, that U.S. president George W. Bush and former secretary of State, Colin Powell, could testify in his favor to prove that he did not accrue illicit wealth during his term…

According to Fox, Bush and Powell could testify that the San Cristóbal ranch has undergone no change since 2001, when they visited…

And George Bush's word is good enough for me, so it ought to be good enough for the Mexican people, dammit.

36 Hours in Oaxaca

For those of you planning to visit this year, Beth Greenfield offers her suggestions on how to spend 36 hours in Oaxaca.

We hope you'll stay longer than a day and a half, and we've assembled this alternative itinerary, tailored to those earning pesos instead of dollars.

For a taste of authentic Mexico right out of the gate, we'll head up to our old neighborhood, Colonia Reforma, for tacos al pastor (4 pesos each, or roughly 40 cents) at a streetside table in front of Tacomiendo on Manuel Ruiz. A stroll on the Alcala will certainly be in order afterward, to take in all the street activity and vibrant culture regularly on display in front of Santo Domingo or down in the zocalo. A nightcap perhaps on the quiet rooftop of Tapas y Pisto overlooking the city? Sounds great, especially because they almost always have a 2 for 1 running on some variety of cocktail or beer.

While the rough and raucous Abastos market is certainly the place to find whatever you're looking for at bargain rates, we prefer to stay a little closer to home, shopping at our neighborhood mercado Juarez at the corner of Aldama and Flores Magdon. Here you'll find crafts, flowers, vegetables, raw meats and fresh fish, not to mention some of the best quesillo we've tried since we got to Oaxaca.

Many nights of the week there's music for free in the city center, or try a free show at cineclub el Pochote. Some nights they show movies in English, but we've recently had the opportunity to see films in Chinese and Hindi, respectively, with subtitles en espanol. A must-do for the immersion thirsty traveler.

Pochote is also the site of a small, organic farmers' market every Friday and Saturday during the day. A favorite lunch stop, you may never know for sure what you end up with on your plate but you can bet it will be delicious. Afterwards, try a cup of the cafe oscura, rich and dark, from one of two local highlands coffee farms, before sampling (and buying--these make great housewarming gifts!) hand crafted mescals available in cups of bored-out sugarcane, conveniently located along the aquaduct on your way out of the garden.

Thus fortified, the galleries and museums of Oaxaca open themselves as elaborate treasure troves, complete with unexpected alcoves, hidden gardens and sweeping staircases in the colonial fashion. Just don't forget that Oaxaca's artwork also comes alive in some of the most cluttered, crowded, and out of the way boutiques and craft stands.

It's true that you have to taste the moles while you're here in Oaxaca, and this is one area not to skimp. We heartily recommend dinner at La Olla, on Reforma, or La Biznaga, on Garcia Vigil. If it's La Olla, make sure someone at the table orders the chile relleno; if you should find yourself at La Biznaga, don't miss the house michelada, a cold beer (Victoria or Indio, please) served over salsa pica, limon, and ice in a salt-and-chile rimmed glass. And don't forget dessert at either location; the fruit and chocolate plates are not to be missed.

Well, that's a rough guide to the first 36 hours of your trip. Thus acclimated, the city will only begin to feel more comfortable, inviting, and, dare I say, familiar. We look forward to your visit!

A Day Late and a Thank You Short?

Sarcastic and informative, Jon Swift on Thanksgiving.

What Would Jesus Buy?

Via The Washington Post: What would Jesus buy? Ask Reverend Billy.

Buy Nothing Day

If living in Mexico through the holidays this year has its downsides (missing the family, missing the great food and festive time together, missing the annual Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day loss), then it also comes with some great perks, number one on my list this year being that we won't see a whole lot of this in stores here today.

In an effort to ask our fellow humans to step back, consider our collective values, and return respectability, thoughtfulness and good will to the holiday season, our household is celebrating Buy Nothing Day today. For the following 24 hours we join a worldwide campaign to create awareness of just how toxic our consumerist frenzy has become to our social, spiritual and environmental health.

22 November 2007

Sosa Brother Freed

UPDATE: Horacio Sosa calls his imprisonment "psychologically torturing."

I'm still looking for an accurate tally of Oaxacan political prisoners currently held in Mexican prisons, but today the Sosa family can be thankful there's one less. Horacio Sosa, brother of prominent APPO figurehead Flavio Sosa, was released from police custody this week after nearly a year in prison.

The Sosa brothers were arrested along with two others on December 4, 2006. According to Noticias, the group was accused of carrying out crimes of sedition, attacking communications channels, and inciting violence, resulting in their detention in a maximum security facility in Altiplano, Mexico.*

Flavio Sosa remains in prison.

*My translation.

21 November 2007

Specifically Vague

Over at Slate John Dickerson observes that despite the immediate sensation created on news tickers across the country yesterday, Scott McClellan's big bombshell announcement really amounts to . . . nothing we didn't know already.

It's not that his frankness in copping to passing along incorrect information isn't a big deal. It's that McClellan, by apparent design, has done so rather innocuously. To wit:

. . . McClellan said the five administration officials had been "involved" in putting out the bogus information. The word was too vague. It could have meant many different things. With respect to Rove and Libby, McClellan was already on the record saying that they'd mislead him. But was he now saying the same thing about Bush, Cheney and Card? If so, why didn't McClellan just say so? I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration knew it. That would be big news, indeed.

Indeed. Emphasis John's. There you have it. The nickel version of what didn't happen yesterday.

Whirlybirds: A Correction

CORRECTION: A line in an earlier post, Whirlybirds, reads, "Explanations might include narcotrafficking . . . ." This should in fact read "Explanations might include counter-narcotrafficking . . . ."

Apologies for any confusion.

Plan Mexico and the "Arm Everybody" Agenda

There's been a whole lot written in the past couple of weeks about the Merida Initiative, aka Plan Mexico. The basic premise of the plan is for the US to pump a whole lot of money, some $550 million, into Mexican coffers--and some Central American countries as well--to combat narcotrafficking and improve security (more TSA agents?) throughout Latin America.

I am not very educated about all this, so I'll leave the serious policy discussion to those who are. This caught my attention, though, and I wanted to share it here.

On the subject of arming and training Mexican law enforcement to bust drug dealers, patrol the border and increase surveillance throughout Mexico (have I mentioned the cute helicopter that checks in my windows several times every day?), Congressman Tom Lantos appears underwhelmed by the Bush/Calderon plan.

. . . Congressman Tom Lantos, the Democratic chairman of the [House Foreign Affairs] Committee, says the Merida Initiative is flawed. While calling increased security cooperation between the United States and Mexico “long overdue”, Lantos says the Bush administration’s emphasis on targeting the supply of drugs in Mexico may simply push the drug trade to somewhere else in the region.

He also questions the wisdom of a cornerstone of the proposal — counter-drug training for Mexican security personnel — without addressing Mexico’s longstanding battle with corruption. “Training can be dangerous because it can make corrupt forces more effective,” he said.

Emphasis mine. This is one of the more important issues we'll need to assess over the next several years. A key component of the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda appears to be "Arm Everybody." We see this mindset today in Iraq, we see it in Pakistan, and now we see it in Mexico. I haven't decided yet whether I think Lantos is being reflexively pessimistic, but he's definitely got a good point. I'm willing to wager, based on what I see here in Oaxaca, that if we strengthen and increase the police presence in Mexico then we will see a corollary rise in ruthlessness and intimidation acted out against political dissidents, not simply by uniformed police but by paramilitary patrols (party loyalists, off-duty police, corrupt politicos) acting with the blessings of the state and federal governments of Mexico. Look at the history of human rights abuses in Colombia and Guatemala concurrent with US military aid to those nations to combat narcotrafficking.

As to the other key aspect of Lantos's observation, that training corrupt forces makes for really effective corrupt forces, I have to wholly agree. And this is one of the unknowns that gets at a bigger picture we'll struggle to sort out over the next couple years (decades): has the Bush administration chosen wisely in supporting unlikely allies in some of the most geopolitically unstable environments in the world in order to get quick results?

20 November 2007

Insult to Injury

This is appalling. Via Steve Bennen via Andrew Sullivan
via, well, just about everybody:

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.


“I tried to do my best and serve my country. I was unfortunately hurt in the process. Now they’re telling me they want their money back,” Fox said.

If this isn't a shameful day for the Pentagon and those to whom they answer, than there clearly never will be.

Read the original here.

More Monkey Business

UPDATE 2: Arrrrggghhhh. I'm going to bed.

For example, I'm messing around with the html for my block quotes, to get them to do this automatically.

UPDATE: Ah, not quite, I see. Bear with me.

With the blog, that is. I'm hoping to fine tune some of the adjustments I've made over the past week, to make them easier for me to use and keep up the growing charm of Plavwriter.

For example, I'm messing around with the html for my block quotes, to get them to do this automatically.

Now I hit publish to see how it looks.

Tengo Gripe

That's hard G, roll the R, I like an E, P-ah! Greep-ah! Tengo gripe. It feels like a scratchy throat, stuffy head, runny nose, occasional sweats and chills, general aches, cruddiness, and an overall malaise.

My answer: hot noodle soup with an egg boiled in, hearty leaves of kale (with stalks), four cloves of garlic, half a jalapeño pepper, and copious amounts of green habanero salsa and black pepper, all served too hot to eat and then slurped down fast enough to make me sweat. The idea is to make the internal environment so unaccommodating to other life forms that I wake feeling much better tomorrow.

I'll let you know how it goes. Tomorrow is my first day teaching at the university, 7 a.m. class. If anyone wants to Skype me at 5:30, I'll be up.

McClellan on Plamegate

UPDATE: It's not clear to me what all this amounts to. The guy says he passed along false information. From what little I've found online, the general reaction is "Yeah, who hasn't?" The prevailing idea is that McClellan wants to sell his book, so he says something grand to get people's attention.

What strikes me is how few words have been exchanged on this topic today. I haven't seen any political fallout type discussions going on. So here I go betraying my political naivety once more: Is there something I just don't get? Is this actually a non-issue?

Holy Political Whiplash, Batman!

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan blames President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of a CIA operative.

In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, McClellan recounts the 2003 news conference in which he told reporters that aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were "not involved" in the leak involving operative Valerie Plame.

"There was one problem. It was not true," McClellan writes, according to a brief excerpt released Tuesday. "I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president's chief of staff and the president himself."


White House press secretary Dana Perino said it wasn't clear what McClellan meant in the excerpt and she had no immediate comment.

Unlike Dana Perino, I think it's exactly clear what McClellan meant. I am, however, still trying to get my head around what it might mean in the immediate future. Count on hearing a lot of people ask a lot of questions.

"Un poquito de tanta verdad"

Al Giordano on "A Little Bit of So Much Truth":

The new documentary brings the viewer on a 93-minute rollercoaster ride alongside the dramatic six-month occupation of the state capital and other cities and towns. The focus of “Un poquito de tanta verdad” turns the lights on, what this reviewer agrees is, the most significant advance to come out of the popular assembly movement in Oaxaca: the citizenry’s reclaiming of the broadcast airwaves from those that have monopolized and abused them.

I'm still waiting to see this one, and I've heard only good things. And it's subtitled in English, so there's no reason for non-Spanish speakers not to see it.

Giordano's review goes so far as to establish much of the context of 2006 conflict in Oaxaca so that the viewer may have a greater understanding of events chronicled in the film.

We hear the frightened but continuing voices of Radio Plantón hosts in the predawn hours of June 14, as state police come storming into their studios, destroying the equipment as the station goes off the air. The station was the first target of the police raid. We watch the teargas bombs shot from helicopters above the city, and the wounded testify from hospital beds of how direct hits from the canisters ripped off human skin, now in bandages.


The documentary also brings us to the terrible events of November 25, 2006 when the boot came down and hundreds of social leaders and citizens were beaten and imprisoned by the federal government. The national TV screamed, “there is no repression” as the governor’s own pirate radio station broadcasted home addresses of APPO participants urging assassination and violence against them, as well as against members of the press including, by name, Nancy Davies, who has chronicled the movement from the start with her commentaries on Narco News and the book, The People Decide.

It all sounds very dramatic, but then again events in Oaxaca in 2006 were very dramatic. Read Giordano's article for a greater sense of what has happened in Oaxaca, and then, if you can, see the movie. I'll be looking for my opportunity presently.

Whirlybirds: Update

UPDATE, 11:07 am: I see and hear the helo for the fourth time this morning. When it goes over our house all the windows rattle in their sills. Each time it circles twice and then goes away again for a little while, presumably to spy on another part of the city.

I could do this all day, furtively watch the sky from my front door like a character out of "Good Fellas", but really I've got to go to work.

UPDATE, 10:15 am: Make that three passes.

It's 9:19 am, and the police helicopter has overflown the city center twice. There are three armed men standing on the landing skids, surveying the streets.

Incidentally, November 25 is the one year anniversary of the federal army's forcible eviction of demonstrators from the city center.

19 November 2007


Can anybody tell me why there's been a police helicopter circling central Oaxaca the past several days with armed gunmen standing strapped to the outside of it?

My three guesses all boil down to the same thing: increased military presence. Explanations might include narcotrafficking, which is government-speak for increased military presence; intimidation, surveillance, and apprehension of political opposition figures, which is repugnant yet a slightly less dissembling way of acknowledging an increased military presence; and increased military presence, for its own sake, plain and simple.



From the AP:

The presidents of Venezuela and Iran boasted Monday that they will defeat U.S. imperialism together, saying the fall of the dollar is a prelude to the end of Washington's global dominance.

Posted without comment.

Calling Crap Crap: Part 2, Pakistan

From the folks who brought you the Iraq War:

We do not intend to be fear mongers. Pakistan’s officer corps and ruling elites remain largely moderate and more interested in building a strong, modern state than in exporting terrorism or nuclear weapons to the highest bidder. But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late.

Moreover, Pakistan’s intelligence services contain enough sympathizers and supporters of the Afghan Taliban, and enough nationalists bent on seizing the disputed province of Kashmir from India, that there are grounds for real worries.

The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Now I would be way, way out of my league to suggest that I know anything about Pakistan, but I do believe I can responsibly point to what sounds like crap to me and share that with my (small but loyal) band of readers.

"We do not intend to be fear mongers." This is completely disingenuous. Fear is exactly what Kagan and O'Hanlon mean to sow. That's how the architects of the Iraq War cowed a traumatized nation into happily supporting whatever the next thing was after capturing Osama, never mind that that mission is as yet incomplete.

In 2003 it was WMD, vials of white powder and the off-handed idea that, if Saddam didn't go, there'd be no telling what American target might next fall victim to (generally Islamic) terrorism. Now it's a fear of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, fear of an "extreme Islamist movement" that would fill the power vacuum in a destabilized Pakistan, fear of Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers who would turn the country into a state sponsor of terror (as opposed to being merely a safe haven for terrorists), fear of a resurgent, post-Cold War Cold War, wherein "we are both safer, day to day, and in greater peril than before."

What? Don't worry, we're safe, but worry, because we're in more danger than ever? The American military industrial complex has been looking for a Cold War since the Cold War ended, and it's not enough to have opened up a 30 years' quagmire in Iraq, there's got to be an imminent threat beyond. And what does this mean: "But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late." Is this for real? Don't forget, we supported the shah until we didn't, just like we'll support Musharraf until we won't, and then we'll remind everybody how fragile and dangerous we've been saying Pakistan is all along? WTF?

I read this op-ed after reading Kevin Drum's post about the decision by the New York Times to run a story this Saturday on U.S. efforts over the past six years to protect Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The post itself is pretty unremarkable, but this exchange in the comments section between the author and a reader strikes me as extremely relevant:

The question is: why did the White House suddenly decide it wanted this information public? I figure it's because they were taking heat for not helping secure Pakistan's nukes and got tired of it. And as we all know, this administration feels that selectively leaking classified info is perfectly OK if it's politically useful to them.

I'm going to go out on a limb and take Kevin's line of thinking one step farther. I get the feeling, after reading the Kagan and O'Hanlon piece, that we'll hear more in the coming days and weeks about threats to the security of the Pakistani arsenal, and therefore threats to American security at home and abroad. Keep in mind the order of events, as we now know them, from 2003. The government had already decided to invade Iraq and topple Saddam. They just needed an appropriately alarming reason to get the mainstream establishment on board with the idea of going to war: to wit, WMDs. And if Americans thought that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, so much the better.

As far as I can tell, this op-ed reeks of specifically vague, intentionally confusing, inflammatory rhetoric aimed to soften up the ground, as they say in Washington (they say it on the West Wing, anyway) for whatever decisions about the Middle East and South Asia that have already been cooked up. Now we read that the U.S. plans to arm Pakistani tribesman against Al Qaeda in an effort control the long border with Afghanistan, and it all starts to make sense to me. Well, it doesn't make sense, but I see a pattern emerging.

Let's assume the U.S. government has already been arming Pakistani tribesmen, and pretty soon it's going to be obvious that nobody has any idea where all that U.S. equipment has gone or who's using it against whom. Now we've got a real problem, because not only do a lot of different interests want to get their hands on some real and confirmed weapons of mass destruction, but we also can't say for sure that they won't use American military inventory to gain their objective. The U.S. may have
to do something, militarily, and the public isn't going to like it, seeing what a mess has been made already in Iraq.

I do not want to suggest that instability in Pakistan is not a terrific problem, and one that we have to consider against the backdrop of an increasingly messy Middle East. There are countless splinter groups, jihadists, and, I fear, a growing number of capable guerrilla armies (with great equipment!) drawn along sectarian lines, not to mention sovereign nations, that desperately want to get at what's cached in Pakistan's nuclear bunkers. I just want to encourage extreme care and thoughtfulness as we evaluate our news sources--and op-eds masquerading as news sources--and that as a nation we manage to learn from the lather whipped up in advance of the Iraq invasion in 2003. I do not know what the specific motivation is behind the Kagan/O'Hanlon op-ed, but it requires a healthy skepticism to discern the smoke from the fire, a skepticism I think it is incumbent upon us to read with today.

18 November 2007

Calling Crap Crap

LATE UPDATE: Rereading the entry, I realized the earlier update ought to be punctuated like this: "Glenn Greenwald and I are of like minds, only his boasts a greater historical perspective. Check out his take on today's Friedman."

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald and I are of like minds. Only his boasts a greater historical perspective, so check out his take on today's Friedman.

Today's Tom Friedman: Barack Obama will be a great diplomat if he takes Dick Cheney with him to meet Tehran.

When negotiating with murderous regimes like Iran’s or Syria’s, you want Tony Soprano by your side, not Big Bird. Mr. Obama’s gift for outreach would be so much more effective with a Dick Cheney standing over his right shoulder, quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm.

Essentially, Friedman is saying that sticks and carrots should continue to be the modus operandi of American diplomacy, especially in the most delicate situations such as relations in the Middle East. The problem is that the pendulum has already swung in favor of developing nations to stand against the US: Iran, North Korea (we still can't tell where that's going) and Venezuela. Friedman's suggestion that a "bad cop" Dick Cheney lurking in the shadows just over "good cop" Obama's shoulder reveals that the author himself has failed to recognize the larger, world-wide assessment of America's falling star. Though American diplomacy still holds some clout--and it can only improve in 2009, unless we hire Rudy Giuliani--watch for fewer rogue nations to really care what America might offer or threaten.

In the meantime, the notion that Democrats are waiting for a candidate who can "dial up" the appropriate level of Dick Cheney as they assemble their foreign affairs teams is preposterous. One big beef against Hillary among liberal Dems is that she's playing this game of keeping "all options on the table," (one of the more painfully overexposed phrases of our decade). In the meantime, both Jimmy Carter, to whom Friedman specifically points as an example of what Obama does not need to bring to the negotiations table, and Al Gore are enjoying terrific resurgences in popularity for their unapologetic commitment to improving the human experience on earth--a claim few, if any, will ever make about Dick Cheney.

So my response when I read Tom Friedman today is "Why am I still reading Tom Friedman?"

Google Wireless

Tim Wu has a new article in Slate that pretty well sums up what Google's recent bid for wireless access means for the future of mobile communications and information access. Wu, with the erudition of a Columbia legal scholar*, humbly reaches the conclusion that Google's new Android platform could be great, or it could bust.

Referring to "the principles of openness," Wu points out that Google's particular challenge in this venture will be to confront head on one of the most historically controlling companies, Ma Bell (and her offspring Verizon and AT&T) over one of the most closely held communications resources, spectrum. While the airwaves are publicly owned--as a reader recently reminded me--access to the airwaves most definitely is not. And whomsoever controls the access sets the rules by which we all must abide.

So what's the implication for the consumer when Google, which has made a killing by giving away products people want, enters the wireless market with a Google-powered phone? Nobody seems to know. Wu breaks the jargon down here:

Let's start with what, exactly, Google is doing. In Google's words, its recently unveiled "Android" is the "first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices."


Google and its allies are now trying to make the principles of openness—the commanding ideology of the Internet—the conquering principle of the wireless world, and the Android announcement is just the first step.

Android is, in form, another of Google's giveaway strategies, a Linux-based operating system for mobile phones that comes with a free set of tools that should make it easy for any programmer to write applications for a mobile phone. It's clear that any Android-based Gphone will be far more "open" than any cell phone the world has yet seen. That means any developer, anywhere, will be able to build whatever functions they think make sense for a mobile computer, and users will be able to install whatever they want. In comparison, today's cell phones, smartphones, and the Apple iPhone are closed and controlled platforms. We have no idea what the killer apps for a Gphone might be, and that's what makes Android truly revolutionary.

Emphasis mine. It sounds so dramatic like this, but then again "to Google," a verb that didn't exist a few years ago, is now a mainstay of the daily lexicon. So I think Wu gets it right when he suggests that the "killer apps" could make the Android platform truly revolutionary. From a layman's view, the rate of information exchange over the past 20 years has been exponential. Trying to figure out what effect Google's newest toys will bring to that equation is like trying to predict what physicists might dazzle us with next. If it works--whatever it is, we'll soon quit puzzling over how it works and simply fall into the daily use patterns that characterize the digital age. And if it doesn't, well, something else will, even if we don't yet know what that will be, either. Regardless which way Google's grand plan breaks, the whole article is worth a read.

*Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School.

16 November 2007

Newsweek Getting Fair & Balanced?

This makes me smile, wryly:

Newsweek has hired Karl Rove as a contributor for the 2008 election. On Tuesday, the magazine announced that it had hired Markos Moulitsas, founder of the liberal blog The Daily Kos, in a similar role.

Thanks to mediabistro for the tip.

15 November 2007

More TSA in the News

While the TSA has been busy making life hard for Retired Major General Vernon Lewis, the Washington Post reports today that you can still get a bomb through US airport security.

Agents were able to smuggle aboard a detonator, liquid explosives and liquid incendiary components costing less than $150, even though screening officers in most cases appeared to follow proper procedures and use appropriate screening technology, according to an unclassified version of a report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress's audit arm.

I'm betting they just showed a driver's license and everything was fine.

14 November 2007

Mexico: The Candidates and the Media

From Mexico Reporter:

A new electoral reform goes into effect in Mexico today that aims to redefine the relationship between the country’s major broadcasters and the government, and to level the political playing field.

The changes to the constitution could help improve the quality of media editorial in Mexico, and help it to become more politically independent than it currently is.

In a move which has been labeled an ‘attack on free speech’ by Mexico’s two major television stations, Televisa and Tele Azteca, political parties have been banned from buying ads on television and radio stations.

Protests from the country’s two leading broadcasters are more likely due to the fact that they stand to loose [sic] millions of pesos of advertising income as a result of the reforms, rather than concerns for the right to free speech.

Constitutional amendments mean that television and radio stations are now obliged to broadcast 48 minutes a day of free political advertising, forbidding parties from buying their own airtime. Presidential campaigning will also be limited to within three months before election day, and bans political parties from mud-slinging or insulting other political institutions and candidates.

I'm not even sure what to think about this. It's certainly an improvement in many ways over the current barrage of propaganda that Mexico's reigning political parties pump into the popular media, and thus the entire atmosphere with every election cycle (sound familiar, America?). On the other hand, who's to say in a "free market" that corporations, media outlets, political parties and individual candidates don't get to sell what resources they have, buy what resources they can afford, and let the market decide what it wants? Of course public monies should remain neutral, but should governments legislate how individuals or entities spend their own pesos or dollars?

Here's what I really want to know: will this reform genuinely "level the playing field?" Don't get me wrong. The current system is corrupt, busted, morally bankrupt, and far from democratic. In my increasing skepticism, though, I find it hard to take anything at face value. What's the motivation behind this new amendment, where does it come from, who are the players? I find it hard to imagine that anything ratified by Mexico's politicians is designed to help the little guy.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Decorated Army General Delayed by TSA's No-Fly List

Retired Major General Vernon Lewis, Jr. has served in two wars, commanded troops and holds a top-secret security clearance. However, 9Wants to Know has learned the Transportation Security Administration keeps confusing him with a terrorist.

"My credentials are impeccable," said Lewis. who has been decorated four times for valor and received the Army's highest medal for service, the Distinguished Service Medal. "It burns me up to be treated like a terrorist."

He is now retired from the U.S. Army after serving more than 30 years during Vietnam and Korea with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 82nd's 319th Field Artillery.

Lewis started getting delayed at airports three years ago because he shares a name with a terrorist on the TSA's No-Fly list.

The frequent flier has been delayed more than 40 times. Each time, he has to stand in line and check in with an airline attendant, who then takes his drivers' license and determines he's not a terrorist.

Wait a minute. Emphasis mine. You mean a gate agent can tell he's not a terrorist by looking at this driver's license? Does the Department of Homeland Security know this?

Breaking Down the Big Time

From Huffington Post via mediabistro:

Newsweek has just announced that Markos Moulitsas, namesake and founder of the Daily Kos website, will be a contributor for the mag's 2008 election coverage.

And my wife says "blogging is fine but when are you gonna get a j-o-b, Plavnick?"

13 November 2007

Test Post: Block Quotes

UPDATE 3: Sorry folks. There's really not a much better way to test this.

Ah. Much better.

Trying to highlight block quotes by installing a different color background behind the quote. Take this clip from the AP via Yahoo News, for example:

Iran has met a key demand of the U.N. nuclear agency, handing over long-sought blueprints showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads, diplomats said Tuesday.

Didn't work so well, that.

Trying to highlight block quotes by installing a different color background behind the quote. Take this clip from the AP via Yahoo News, for example:

Iran has met a key demand of the U.N. nuclear agency, handing over long-sought blueprints showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads, diplomats said Tuesday.

Alright, can't wait to see it online.