Saturday, April 16, 2005

our vices, their crimes

There is an essay on trust and the Mafia by a sociologist, Diego Gambetta, that includes an interesting quote by Tocqueville. Before he travelled in America, Tocqueville went to Sicily. Not much of the manuscript he wrote about this visit survives. But Gambetta quotes this sentence from an imaginary dialogue between a Sicilian and a Neapolitan in which Tocqueville presents viewpoints on corruption. The Neapolitan has been scolding the Sicilian for being ruled by criminal gangs -- mafia. The Sicilian replies: ‘dénaturée par l’oppression, 1’énergie cachée de notre caractère national ne se révèle plus que par des crimes; pour vous, vous n’avez que des vices.

Somehow, that sentence illuminates the relationship between the United States and Mexico. As long as the black market in drugs and labor is a greater churner of revenue than any licit market in Mexico, the political structure is going to be chronically undermined; and as long as the U.S. refuses to accept the market consequences of the vices to which the American people are addicted -- that is, the inevitability of a drugs and illegal labor market -- but tries to "stem" these markets with a regime of punishments, the black market in Mexico will continue to be one of the great, rational roads to riches. Decriminalizing drugs in the U.S. would have beneficial effects not only in the US, but elsewhere.

On another, related note: LI has found a blog devoted to the present situation of Mexican politics run by Michelle Dion, who is currently the visiting Fulbright-Garcia Robles professor at the Centro de Invstigacion y Docencia Economicas, which impresses the hell out of us. We learned, for instance, via Dr. Dion, of an incident in the Congress yesterday that involved a PAN legislator spitting in the face of a PRI legislator.

Unsurprising, actually. In spite of the American press’ presentation of PAN as a harmless, democracy loving party, PAN was started as an openly fascistic party in the thirties.

It often goes unremarked that the roots of fascism are not simply described by the love of force. The most successful anti-mafia program in Italy’s history was implemented by Mussolini. The petit bourgeois distaste for corruption is genuine. Remember, it was, of all people, Jesse Helms who was most vociferous about the corrupt ties between the S&Ls and the Senate in the early nineties – Helms was the prosecutor of the Keating Seven. This isn’t to say that the ultra-right will always, itself, be above corruption – the chance of a legislator being corrupt depends more on the ability of that legislator to accrue a vendible power than on any ideological slant. LI assumes that personal integrity, here, is a very minor variable, and not one that is usually part of the make up of those who become politicians. Institutions forge character, and character accumulates in institutions to press the limits of institutional possibility to ever greater extremes.

However, the appearance of non-corruption is a very important fascistic draw. Since the left sees all too clearly the similarity between gangster organizations and ultra right organizations – Brecht made this the whole basis for dramatizing Nazism – it interprets struggles between fascists and organized crime as a struggle between two equally criminal groups. However, this use of “criminal” extracts the word from its pragmatic context, and so blurs the everyday way people look on such struggles. This is a topic LI will someday return to.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

sympathy for marat

First: my source for the rumor about the NYT reporter in Mexico tells me that the reporter in question has gone back to the States. So the curious non-participation of the Times in this story has nothing to do with lack of Spanish. Second, to get a bead on the culture of our governing class – always an excursion into the farther reaches of psychopathology – LI urges our readers to scan the Daily Telegraph’s interview with Jack Welch. It is a marvel: unintentional black humor competes with mouth-aching sucking up to create the perfect caricature of the way we live: reactionary politics teetering on the edge of the unimaginable in the age of Bush. If this article were published in some socialist journal, it would be dissed as an unrealistic Marxist caricature of the uberrich. Ah, but those caricatures are, unfortunately for the rest of us, real, and they ride mankind. Here’s how the thing starts: “Jack Welch is calling for his housekeeper. ``Maria! Maria!'' he cries, until she appears at the kitchen door. ``Maria, can you describe, without giving away any of the details, what we did in there last night?'' he says, pointing towards the dining room of his Boston mansion.
``Last night,'' says Maria, a little nervously, ``I had an evaluation. And, er, it was very nice.''
Welch, arguably the world's greatest corporate leader, is telling me how to get the most out of one's domestic staff. The method is to write a point-by-point memo and talk them through it carefully. ``Everyone who worked for me at GE got one of those. Boom, boom, boom,'' he says. ``Just do it.''

LI immediately got down to it and called our domestic staff (Maria, Snoopy Dogg Dogg, and Tatiana) on the carpet, and boom boom boom we proceded with the strip search and the video (which we will put up later, only $19.95). But to continue...

Having been wrongfooted by this Ruling Class intro, Melissa Whitworth, the interviewer (who seems more familiar with “one’s domestic staff” than with anything so banal as business – she apparently believes that when Welch took charge of GE it was an “ailing US corporation”) digs a lot of fascinating fascism at the micro level out of old Neutron Jackypoo, as he encourages Maria to call him on her off hours:
`This book is not bulls--t,'' he says bluntly. ``It is not about work/life balance in the language of the company brochure: `We'll allow you so many flexi-days, this and that' '' - Welch blows a raspberry - ``It's about real life, and that's what I'm talking about.''
The trick, Welch explains, to managing your cleaner or au pair is to master the communication skills a successful manager would use in the workplace. Just last night, he and his wife went through a written work appraisal with their own staff: Maria and the Welches' driver, Vincente, sat down together and talked things through. ``We wrote down what we really love about them and we said some things that we thought they could improve,'' says Welch. ``But we always start with all the things they do right.''
There are those who claim that capitalism reflects merit – the best rise to the top. How, then, do you explain the porcine nature of Wentworth’s interviewee? I prefer Acton’s explanation – power corrupts, and absolute power over one’s domestic staff corrupts absolutely. The article actually gave us hope that revolution isn’t dead – after reading about Welch’s power point personality, the idea of putting the heads of a few CEOs on pikestaffs takes on a strangely attractive quality.
Excuse us, now, as we explain to Tatiana the finer points of getting down on her knees and scrubbing the kitchen floor.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


The rumor in Mexico, right now, is that they are going to lock Lopez Obrador up in some very remote place – remote, at least, from his political base. Like somewhere along the border – a place where inconvenient politicians and journalists have a habit of getting whacked.

Meanwhile, the great vials of American indignation about the foreclosure of democracy in Mexico remain capped. Harold Meyerson’s op ed piece, in the WP, is great. But where is the attention that was mobilized in the case of the Ukraine or Lebanon, for instance? This is a rhetorical question about a rhetorical problem. The U.S. does not have, never did have, and probably never will have a policy of implanting democracy in foreign places -- unless that democracy can be controlled by the U.S. A cursory glance at U.S. history – from the fixing of Italian elections in 1949, via the CIA’s Jim Angleton (at that time, an O.S.S. officer in Rome) all the way up to the narrowing of options in Afghanistan and Iraq last year and this winter. Another story in the LA Times makes up for the LAT editorial dismissal of the “backwards looking” mayor of Mexico City. Another rumor LI has heard – heard while in Mexico – might explain why the New York Times is more industriously playing the parish weekly (“Alien meets with Saint John Paul in Heaven!”) than reporting the news in Mexico. The NYT’s former reporters, Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, while pro-Fox to the gills, knew their way around the language and the cultcha. I believe they still live there, in the ritzy Chapultepec Heights area. Supposedly, NYT’s main man in Mexico City has a sophomore’s knowledge of Spanish.

Note: In the February, 2005 issue of the Latin American Review, there’s an interesting article by Jonathan Hiskey entitled (snoringly) THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF SUBNATIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY
IN MEXICO. It is, however, not a sleep inducing piece. Hiskey promotes the study of subregions within developing countries, thinking to find some correlation between recovery from economic setbacks in developing economies and the transparency and legitimacy of electoral-based local institutions. We were struck by this passage:

“Furthermore, the paths followed by the two principal opposition parties in the early years of Mexico's long transition were quite distinct, with
the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica's (PRD) marred by conflict with the PRI, and the Partido Accion Nacional's (PAN) characterized by
cooperation with the ruling party (Bruhn 1996; Bruhn and Yanner 1995;
Guillen Lopez 1995; Lujambio 2001). The very distinct relations between these two opposition parties and the PRI in turn resulted in markedly different transition experiences across Mexico's thirty-one states, depending on the dominant opposition force in a state. In PRD-opposition states,the transition was one where town hall takeovers, street protests, election boycotts, and violent clashes between PRI and PRD supporters followed electoral outcomes that rarely went uncontested by one side or the other. These disputes often lingered long past election day and in many ways undermined the governing legitimacy of whichever party ultimately gained office. In PAN-leaning states, conversely, acceptance
of electoral outcomes and alternation in power at the state and local levels
relatively quickly and painlessly became the norm.

These distinct paths taken by the two major opposition parties were products of both intemal party strategies conceming relations with the ruling party and a conscious effort on the part of the PRI to target what it viewed as its biggest threat: the PRD. As Victor Alejandro Valle remarked,
"There can be little doubt that this 'selective democracy' [was] the result of the ruling party's calculated generosity toward the PAN, a strategy designed to undermine the threat from the Left" (1999,78). Jorge Alcocer (1994) summarizes the very different approaches to the PAN
and PRD pursued by the PRI in the early 1990s:

The government has followed a two-pronged approach in dealing with its opponents. With the PAN it has maintained cordial relations (even open alliance), and it has either recognized the PAN's legitimate victories or taken drastic actions to remedy grievances, as in the cases of Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi.

With the PRD the government's position has been one of aggression: slander campaigns orchestrated by the president's press office; tolerance of continued fraud against the PRD; indifference toward the physical abuse and murder perpetrated by regional caciques. The litany of injuries is long (152-53).

What happened last week in Mexico was the product of this systematic, historically entrenched, but – until now - well disguised, process.

Additional, Montesquieu-ian note: the currently fashionable thesis about the need for legitimate electoral institutions in developing economies is better than the old thesis about the difference between totalitarian and authoritarian governments. However, ourselves, we think that there must be the (theoretic) possibility of curbing such institutions by means of an autonomous judiciary, one that is not an instrument of the executive branch. Unfortunately, such curbing often gets done, in the end, by the military -- a perversion that arises from a legitimate lacuna in governance.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The rule of law in Mexico

The editor of a paper located in a petro town on the Gulf was murdered yesterday. He'd been investigating contraband diversions of oil. This is from the LA Times:

“Mexico is among the more hazardous places in the world for journalists to ply their trade, said Carlos Lauria, coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It ranks 11th among countries in the number of journalists slain over the last decade, with nine killed. Iraq, Algeria and Colombia top the list.”

And this is from the Washington Post, last week, concerning the recent vote in the Mexican congress to strip Lopez Obrador, mayor of Mexico City, of his immunity:

“President Vicente Fox has said the case shows that the rule of law is working in Mexico and that anyone who breaks the law, no matter how popular or powerful, will be prosecuted. Fox, who was traveling Thursday to Rome to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II, had no immediate comment about the vote in Congress.

Interior Minister Santiago Creel, the leading presidential candidate from Fox's National Action Party, acknowledged Thursday night that there had been many critics of the process but said it was worth the effort. "Mexico is at peace," he said. "It is a country of institutions and laws."

As is well known, a firm hand is required to make sure a country has the institutions and laws – or law enforcement – it needs. We are pleased that Fox and his interior minister are on the case. In furtherance of which, we thought we’d make a quick web survey of mayoral behavior in Mexico. Obrador’s crime was, apparently, disobeying a court order (which there is no proof he even knew about) blocking the completion of a road to a hospital in Mexico City, which is of a nature so serious that the congress had to investigate.

This, apparently, is a jail time crime. Here’s a more fun crime.

Meet Jorge Hank Rhon, the man who is Tijuana’s PRI mayor. While running, last year, the San Diego paper worked up a little profile of him. Deep in the profile were a few things that, were Hank to be running in, say, San Diego, might have been fronted to the first grafs:

“The most persistent accusation involves the 1988 killing of Héctor Félix Miranda, an editor for the Tijuana weekly Zeta; the newspaper has since devoted a page in each edition to accusing Hank of being the mastermind.
With last month's assassination of another Zeta editor, Franciso Ortíz Franco, Zeta is again pointing the finger at Hank as a possible suspect, as Ortíz had been delving into the state's investigation of Félix Miranda's murder on behalf of the Inter American Press Association.

Hank denies any role in either killing and says he does not believe that two of his bodyguards who were convicted in the Félix Miranda case were involved in that assassination. A spokesman for the Baja California attorney general's office said "any political motives that might be linked to Jorge Hank Rhon have not been ruled out," but Hank has not been called in for questioning.”

Hank comes from one of the great PRI families. One that happens to have been investigated, during the Clinton administration, for its ties to narco millionaires. As is not well known (although it should be), the Clintonistas treated the Mexican government with the policy of two eyes shut that it also applied to Yeltsin. Thus, it was an embarrassment when a unit of the Justice department, under Janet Reno, issued a report about the Hank family that put into government sponsored print what everybody already knew. Drug politics -- you can go to jail for selling or smoking marijuana in this country, but the Federal government reserves a large leaway of helping supply Americans with that marijuana if they feel it serves the interest of our allies, whoever they may be. Thus the famed Cocaine Coup in Bolivia under Reagan, and thus the stifled curiosity about who was on the narco payroll in the Zedillo government under Clinton.

This attitude spills over into the American press. That Jorge’s bodyguards got a little over-enthusiastic about shutting up journalists (which might be the logical extension of the Hank family habit of suing journalists in the U.S. for defamation every time the bothersome narco accusation came up) should have been fronted in the SD article about the man -- but a little matter of a corpse here and there was shunted way down to like the tenth graf.

Ah, but in the land of laws and institutions, under the benign rule of Fox, threatening journalists, or killing them, is definitely secondary to those crucial due process hearings that Lopez Obrador so criminally ignored. There are priorities, after all.

This is from the IPI’s review of press freedom in Mexico

“It was a bleak year for Mexico's journalists, who continued to suffer harassment, death threats and violent attacks. In particular, journalists investigating drug trafficking and official corruption in the northern states bordering the U.S. were targeted by those seeking to prevent the media from exposing their activities.

Four journalists were murdered in 2004.

On 19 March, Roberto Javier Mora García, editorial director of the daily newspaper El Mañana, was stabbed at least 20 times by an unidentified attacker outside his home in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. El Mañana is known for its reporting on the Golfo drug cartel and the alleged involvement of local police in drug trafficking activities. None of Mora's belongings were taken, ruling out theft as a motive, police said. On 28 March, police arrested two of Mora's neighbours, Mario Medina Vázquez and his partner Hiram Olivero Ortiz. Police said Medina, a U.S. citizen, confessed to killing Mora in a crime of passion, but Medina later said he confessed under torture. On 13 May, he was killed by a fellow prisoner in Cereso Prison in Nuevo Laredo.

Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, co-founder and senior editor of the weekly news magazine Zeta, was killed on 22 June by unidentified gunmen in the border city of Tijuana, Baja California state. He was driving his car through the city's Marrón district when masked gunmen in a pickup truck pulled up to his car and shot him four times with an AK-47 automatic rifle, police said. His children, who were also in the car, were unharmed. Federal prosecutors linked the murder to the Arellano Félix drug cartel in Tijuana.
Zeta's coverage of drug trafficking and official corruption has made its editors frequent targets of violent attacks. In 1987, the weekly's plant was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Zeta editor and columnist, Héctor Félix Miranda, was murdered in 1988. In 1997, Zeta's publisher, J. Jesús Blancornelas, narrowly escaped assassination when he was severely injured in an attack that left his bodyguard and friend, Luis Valero, dead.

On 31 August, Francisco Arratia Saldierna, a hard-hitting columnist for El Imparcial, El Regional, Mercurio and El Cinco, among other regional publications, was killed in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas state. Saldierna, who had been beaten and tortured, was found outside the local offices of the Red Cross and brought to a nearby hospital, where he died of a heart attack later that day. On 24 September, police arrested Raúl Castelán Cruz, a member of the Golfo drug cartel, who confessed to participating in Arratia's killing.

On 27 November, Gregorio Rodriguez Hernández, a photographer for the daily newspaper El Debate, was gunned down in Escuinapa, Sinaloa state. Rodriguez was dining with his wife and children at a restaurant when unidentified gunmen shot him at least five times. One arrest was made in December, but the motive for his killing remained unclear.

Irene Medrano Villanueva, a journalist for the daily newspaper El Sol de Sinaloa in Culiacán, Sinaloa state, reported receiving several deaths threats via telephone, beginning in December 2003. Medrano believed the threats were linked to a series of articles she published about child prostitution in Culiacán that criticised local authorities for not taking sufficient action against the abuses. On 8 December 2003, Medrano found the word "death" had been painted on her car. Three weeks later, while driving to work, she tried to stop at a stop sign, but her car's brakes did not work and she crashed into a taxi. A mechanic at an auto repair shop told her that the brakes had been tampered with.

On 16 January, after officials from the Sinaloa Public Prosecutor's Office traced the threatening telephone calls to the Office of Mayor Jesús Enrique Hernández Chávez, Medrano publicly denounced the threats in a press conference. The mayor called for a thorough investigation into the matter and for those responsible for the threats to be punished, but refused to speculate who the perpetrators might be.”

Medrano’s work is reviewed more specifically in this letter, sent by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

”The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York­based independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned about Mexican journalist Irene Medrano Villanueva, who has been threatened and harassed during the last two months in connection with her journalistic work.Medrano, a reporter with the daily El Sol de Sinaloa, based in the state capital of Culiacán, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, received several death threats after she wrote a series of reports on the proliferation of child prostitution in Culiacán.From August to October 2003, Medrano wrote a series of reports alleging that some local brothels and massage parlors were employing minors and criticizing local municipal authorities for not going after brothels and massage parlors that employ minors.On December 6, 2003, Medrano published the series’ last report, claiming that minors were being recruited in public and private schools to work as prostitutes. Her stories contained testimony from the victims and information from the National System for the Integral Development of Families, the government agency for the protection of minors and families, which also criticized local authorities for not taking action against the abuses. The same day the last report was published, the threats began. An anonymous caller phoned the newspaper and told a security guard that Medrano was going to die. Later that evening, an anonymous man called the journalist at her home and told her that she had signed "her death sentence." On December 8, 2003, after finding that the word "death" had been painted on her car, Medrano filed a complaint with the Sinaloa Public Prosecutor’s Office (PGJE). That evening, an anonymous caller phoned the journalist at home and told her that she was an informer who had caused her own death sentence. The PGJE then assigned Medrano a police agent to escort and protect her for five days.On December 13, 2003, while Medrano was driving to work in the company of the police agent, a car without license plates came from behind, hit her car three times, and fled. On December 14, after discovering that her car’s windshield had been smashed, she called the state police, who inspected her car the next day to search for evidence. Medrano was again assigned a police agent.Feeling pressured, Medrano told CPJ, she then took a few days off from work. While she was driving to return to work on December 28, 2003, Medrano tried to stop in front of a stop sign, but her brakes did not respond and, as a result, she crashed into a taxi. She then took her car to an auto shop, where a mechanic told her that her car’s brake lines had been tampered with.In early January 2004, the threatening phone calls intensified. On January 8, PGJE agents installed caller ID and a recording device on her home phone to trace the threatening calls. On January 12, after an initial call from a public telephone, another threatening phone call was registered. According to Medrano, PGJE agents told her that the calls came from the office of Jesús Enrique Hernández Chávez, the mayor of Culiacán. Because the investigation into the threats is still in its preliminary inquiry phase, the PGJE is not allowed to disclose any information except to the parties involved.On January 16, Medrano denounced the threats in a press conference she held with the support of Sinaloa’s two main journalists’ associations. According to the Mexico City daily El Universal, on January 19 Hernández Chávez came to the PGJE offices in Culiacán to deliver his testimony in writing regarding the threatening phone calls made from his office. The mayor is not a suspect in the investigation, but officials have questioned him since the calls originated from his office, according to local news reports. The Sinaloa newspaper Noroeste reported that Mayor Hernández Chávez has called for a thorough investigation and for those responsible for the threats to be punished. He has also expressed his support for Medrano’s work, according to Noroeste, but has not made any statement to the press regarding the incident, saying he refuses to speculate.”

Fox, however, is unmoved by such irritations on the body politic – he is a straightshooter who goes for the heart of the matter. A little prosty solicitation among fifth graders in Sinaloa? Peanuts. A little journalist killing in Tijuana? Ho hum. Mexico is, after all, a nation of laws and institutions. The interior minister himself, a Pan-ista and future presidential candidate, has assured us of this. We all feel so much better.

Coup? What coup?

Monday, April 11, 2005

saint sartre

The ultrachic grad student who writes Infinite Thought has been writing some nice things about Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason – which is the world’s greatest monument to speed (runner up is Dylan’s Blond on Blond).

We are happy about that. Last week there was one of those thought infections that hit the big blogs. There was a David Brooks column about the difference between the left and right in the good old U.S.A. Brooks made the point that the lefties no longer have a philosopher – he called up some lefty think tanker and asked him, hey, who is your philosopher, and the think tanker evidently couldn’t think of anybody. This got commented upon all over the place. Matt Yglesias wrote a post claiming that liberals are all about policy, nowadays, and have dispensed with the superstitious retention of philosophical mascots.

Now the standard Crooked Timber reaction to Brooks challenge is to reach for “A theory of justice.” Rawls, it is true, does codify a certain dimension of liberal thinking. But if there were one thinker who encoded the fundamental difference between classical and contemporary liberalism, that thinker has to be Sartre.

Sartre? Mr. Cockeyed French supporter of the soviet invasion of Hungary? Yeah, that guy. Contemporary liberalism – post New Deal liberalism – depends on a philosophic anthropology that departs radically from the old contractual myth of the relation of the individual to society. For the classical liberal, the contract – whether construed by Locke or by Rousseau – was the warrant for a political order founded on individual liberty that still maintained a hierarchical order. For the contemporary liberal, however, freedom has another dimension – a dimension of human identity – from which the contract is distantly derived. If, that is, one wants to continue to think in terms of that hoary myth. The dimension of human identity is revealed by human situations. The philosopher who put this all together – sloppily, with massive misreadings of Heidegger thrown in to add some spice, and those bennies to keep him awake at night – is Sartre. Like Freud, whose vocabulary so permeates the way we talk about consciousness that even his critics talk blandly about “repression” and the “unconscious,” that freedom is defined by action, and that it is a measure of situations preceding any economic measure – the Sartrean contention – has become part of folk anthropology. The triad at the end of Being and Nothingness – to have, to do, to be – is the basic triad of contemporary liberalism. This is why the separation of politics and culture is conceptually impossible for contemporary liberalism – that separation reflects the older, contractual view of the individual. Situations cut across the segregated zones of the socius, ultimately putting in question the justification of those segregations. In this, of course, Sartrean existentialism joins the classical Marxist critique of ideology – but without endorsing class struggle as the motor of those segregations and their uses.

The engrossment of such as Yglesias in policy issues, at the moment, reflects the dearth of movement politics on the left side of the ledger, and the dominance of a class of political parasites – the party apparatchik. The party – Labor in the U.K., the Socialists in France, the Democrats in the U.S. – are a sort of institutionalized death drive, sucking out the libidinal energies of the true left and turning them into terms of office for white male non-entities with expensive hair or hair transplants. It isn't that these people aren't going to be there, regardless. The point is to have some gun to point at their heads -- a variety of movements that push them.

Unfortunately, the direction of momentum is backasswards. The mark of this is the way in which the defense of liberal issues is now conducted entirely in terms of economic cost benefit – ultimately, a very silly and defeatist way of looking at the issues involved. The larger demands should be put in terms of a larger definition of freedom – the iron rule of necessity has long been lifted in the West, and its continued effect is wholly the result of preserving, like some saint’s relic, an absurdly archaic slaveholding structure, with the wealthy holding down the role of our Simon Legrees, and the natural producers of wealth being alloted an insanely small portion of it.

Remember -- no slave revolt has ever succeeded by pennypushing.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The congregated roar of corruption

How exhausting it is, the Sunday paper, after the pious filler that has rendered American newspapers almost unreadable for a whole week. What is there to say after the Pope, the Pope's will, the mourners, the Pope's successor, the greatness of the Pope, his gallant struggle against communism, the Pope as a good man, the Pope as a great humanitarian, the Pope salad, the Pope's favorite daytime tv show, the Pope's dressing tips? What is there to say? The Tom Delaying of America (a land of bigotry and superstition, with DDT for all) goes on apace. Other news stories have shyly peeped out from the bottom of A-7: a 300,000 person demonstration in Baghdad, here, a riot in Beijing there. What rivets us is the sad spectacle of the Gringo’s favorite democrat, Vincente Fox, operating just like it is 1988 – that magic time for power in Mexico when the presidential election was resolved by an open fraud, instead of recourse to the usual methods of covert suppressions, bribes, and threats, all of which made up the tissue of the PRI’s electoral power. This has provoked some sighing in Yankee editorial departments. The LA Times writes:

“Once merely disappointing, the state of Mexico's democracy in the era of Vicente Fox has become alarming. It's hard to believe that only five years after the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party's inspiring defeat at the polls, the PRI and Fox's National Action Party are conspiring to bar a popular leftist candidate — Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — from the ballot in next year's presidential election. It's a foolish move that is tarnishing the credibility of the political system and is bound to backfire, enhancing Lopez Obrador's popularity.”

The editorial drenches itself in perfumed empathy for the struggling masses, yearning to be free (as in, free enterprisers). The Mexican poor, according to the orthodox North American interpretation of the law and the profits, have merely to be surrounded by the monuments of privatization to break out of their hovels and start singing If I were a Rich Man in Spanish:

“We should hasten to add that Lopez Obrador, who leads in the polls, is not a particularly appealing candidate for the presidency. Capitalizing on widespread disenchantment with Mexico's experiment with freer markets, Lopez Obrador threatens to take Mexico on a journey back in time, to a more socialist orientation that would seal the fate of his low-income supporters. He offers a great deal of messianic rhetoric backed by ill-advised policy prescriptions, including adamant opposition to privatizing Mexico's oil and electricity sectors, which are in dire need of outside investment. More worrisome is Lopez Obrador's penchant for incendiary demagoguery that seems to echo the likes of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. He also has surrounded himself with pols entangled in corruption scandals.”

Ah, that little word, “outside”, is such an interesting word. If one takes it away, you have: “in dire need of investment.” Money can actually come from a lot of places. The state itself could do the investing, n’est-ce pas? They certainly came up with the bucks for the banking billionaires, with Fox’s compassionate support – 62 billion, in fact, to float them after the collapse of their schemes at the end of the nineties. It is in these little, teeny words that creep and creep in, little scratches and noise on the logical surface, that you can hear, if you are a backwards looking socialist, the distant underground sound of class warfare.

The congregated roar of the Mexican congress has upheld the rule of law, at least as it applies to a third of a mile of road. A golden future beckons – in a century or so, the rule of law might even apply to the massive bribes that went to the PRI and the PAN in the past, or the rampant corruption of police departments in the North that allow both for the serial killing of poor women and long term cooperative ventures with the narco-rich. One wonders how the honorable dino-legislatures from Tijuana voted, and who they had dinner with afterwards. Since the LA Times is so sure that a little foreign investment will just hit the spot to help “unseal” the fates of the poor, we wondered how the Mexican poor were doing under the liberty loving rule of neo-liberalism. Here’s a nice summary from an article, in February of this year, by El Universal.

Two stories that raised questions about Mexico's economic sovereignty made headlines here last week. One was a corporate control story about bankers; the other was more of a human interest story about migrant workers. At bottom, the stories were both about global financial flows and they told us much the same thing. The bankers: A few days ago, the directors of the Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), owners of 60 percent of Mexico's largest bank, Bancomer, let it be known they would spend US4.1 billion to buy out the mostly Mexican shareholders who owned the remaining 40 percent. The buyout would leave BBVA as the bank's sole owner, removing Bancomer shares from public trading on the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BVM). BBVA's move would leave foreign capital in control of some 90 percent of the Mexican banking system: Currently, the major players are the Spanish bank Santander Central Hispano, the British Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC), the California-based Bank of America and the New York-based Citibank, sole owner of the country's second-largest bank, Banamex. But Bancomer is the giant; it owns some US50 billion dollars worth of assets, about 25 percent of the value of all banking assets in Mexico. The workers: A few days before BBVA's intentions were publicized, the Bank of Mexico announced that remittances from Mexican workers abroad, money sent home by Mexicans working in foreign countries, mostly the United States, had reached a record US13.3 billion dollars in 2003. This 13.3 billion earned outside the country by mostly low-paid workers exceeded by some two billion dollars all the direct foreign investment received by Mexico in 2003 and amounted to some two percent of the country's 2003 GDP. Above all, the stories about the bankers and the workers both aroused the ever-present uneasy feeling in Mexico that the economy is being kept afloat by flows of investment, wages and entrepreneurial activity that originate elsewhere. There is a nagging worry that a broad based entrepreneurial class neither exists nor is coming into existence in Mexico. Beyond that tiny sliver of the population that controls the powerful holding companies and travels with bodyguards, one is hard pressed to identify a significant part of the population that has the ability to invest in the country, provide jobs and spur development. This worry is not alleviated by the fact that the number of firms listed on the BMV has been steadily declining. In 1998 there were 195 non-financial companies listed on the Mexican bolsa; today there are 170. Aside from the state firms Pemex and Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the Mexican economy is now dominated by foreign companies. The country's largest private-sector company is General Motors. The next four (ranked by sales) are Telmex (Mexico), Wal-Mart (USA), Daimler-Chrysler (Germany) and Delphi Automotive (USA). Of Mexico's 25 largest private, non-financial firms, the corporate headquarters of only nine are in Mexico; eleven are in the United States, two each are in Japan and Germany and one is in Korea. And beyond the oligopolies, the country's stillprofitable maquila sector is virtually wholly owned by nonMexicans who repatriate profits to their home countries. Many in Mexico rightly worry that the Mexican economy is fast becoming a subsidiary of foreign, mostly transnational companies, companies with no particular commitment to the recovery of the country's domestic economy, much less to the movement of large numbers of people out of poverty. And now the southward flow of corn from Kansas and Iowa can be added to those financial flows we spoke of earlier as a source and symbol of the loss of sovereignty. Mexico's campesinos are being gradually displaced by industrialized agriculture, much of it based outside the country, and the broader Mexican economy has thus far been unable to absorb them. As the Mexican campo slowly collapses as a source of livelihood, many campesinos have joined the army, eight to 10 million strong, of Mexicans who are seeking work in the United States. The U.S. economy, it turns out, can happily absorb minimum-wage labor. The Secretariat of Work and Social Forecasting (StyPS) reports that Mexico's formal economy generated only 1,817 jobs last year.”

Wow, 1800 jobs. Talk about the capitalist wave of the future. Talk about those backwards lookin’ socialists. It is hard to understand why the populace would embrace those demagogic populist types when the wave of the future is so clear it knocks you off your feet, isn’t it?

colosio's bleeding (not so's you'd notice)

As our readers know, LI has farflung correspondants around the world to bring you...up to the minute... information. Sorry, we copied that from the last fund drive on NPR. LI is actually a sad drunk imbibing a two day old malt liquor by the side of 7th street even as we speak. However, our far flung correspondants love us anyway.

So we asked M., in Mexico City, to report on the situation there. Here's what she wrote back:

"I'll try to be brief but concrete as to your question (sorry, I've got to go).
I guess one way to describe what happened is complete breakdown of anything akin to a democratic process... even though that idiot Fox has been telling the press at the Vatican quite the contrary -- that the decision taken by the senate shows that the Mexican justice is truly blindfolded and does not show preferences for anyone). Basically, the PRI and the PAN agreed to quit Lopez Obrador's immunity so he can be tried for minor bureaucratic offenses, and thus not be eligible for candidacy in 2006. The other very serious consequence of this is that Lopez Obrador, overwhelmingly voted mayor of DF in 2006 might be replaced by one designated by this highly reactionary and anti-democratic congress. it still needs to be decided whether he will have to step down or not. In the meantime, he is not "going to work".

There are two important considerations in what happened on Thursday. They are independent of each other, though many people tend to confuse them:1. there are many who don't like Lopez Obrador and do not agree with what he's done for DF. Therefore, they are pleased that he will not have a chance to win in 2006. (In reality, if he does have a chance to run -- once he is tried,etc. -- obviously, he's become a martyr with a huge following.)2. This is not the point. One would want to be able to choose and not have the choice made by others. One would want to be able to -- when faced with ballots with his name and someone else's -- say "no" to him if one believes it is the right thing to do. The way the PRI and the PAn have chosen to get rid of him is in keeping with a whole host of practices which have pervaded Mexican politics since Independence. On the other hand, maybe it's preferable to having the guy killed, which is what happened to Colosio in 94. By the way, Thursday morning, Colosio's statue "bled" in light of the machinations. Someone spattered red paint on it.What to do now? People are very divided. In Polanco you'd think that nothing happened. On the other hand, it was very refreshing for me to go to the unam last night... people were very upset and are organizing marches, protests, etc. I don't know what will come of this but the mood is foreboding.. there are enough people who fear the military might intervene.... I used to think this was too alarmist but I don't anymore. I think anything is possible.

The other thing I might add is that the debates in Congress (in reality, called the legislative house) were televised and t was very embarrassing to see the waging of an ideological war (waged by all sides), demagogic, overly simplified, .... and not be able to scream something in their faces, have to swallow down one's frustrations.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...