La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Friday, September 30, 2005

In my inbox

In the last 24 hours, number of reminders that the deadline for proposals for the MPSA meetings in Chicago is October 10: 4

Update: #5#s 5 & 6 arrived in my inbox today. (10/4/2005)
Update: #7 arrived today, via POLMETH. (10/5/2005)

posted by Michelle @ 6:40 PM, 5 comments

Thursday, September 29, 2005

International news of the wierd (and gruesome)

Religious statues in Bogota bound for Miami found to have 4-5 month old fetuses inside. Eeew.

posted by Michelle @ 3:53 PM, 0 comments

At 31, I am now OLD

Last night, Coldplay had a show in Atlanta, and several of my graduate students skipped stats class to go. (They turned in their homeworks and research paper questions first, though.)

I admit: I did not know who Coldplay is or what songs they sing. I googled them, and that was no help. The picture and album names on their website meant nothing to me. The students who were in class told me that Coldplay provides the WB most of its soundtrack. Still, no help; I hate even the ads for the O.C. [oops, that's on Fox] most shows on WB except Reba.

Brian, who I normally credit with keeping me up to date with pop culture, said he knows about Coldplay but never thought they were worth mentioning. [That is telling in itself.] Today, he sent me this. I guess it's ok that I missed Coldplay if they are already "played out."

But, I still feel old. I remember that when I was in high school, my dad did not "get" In Living Color, and I swore I never wanted to be so old, middle-class, and white that I didn't get it.

I guess that's what a PhD and working too hard will do that to you. Makes you old and out of touch before your time.

posted by Michelle @ 10:14 AM, 3 comments

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Misc Mexican news roundup

Today, there are several items that relate to news topics I've mentioned before.

They've found another murdered woman in Ciudad Juarez. That brings this year's total to 30. Read my earlier posts.
[Updated: There's a NYTimes article and multimedia slideshow about the femicidios this week.]

The Supreme Court will hear a case brought by the Executive regarding sugar cane industry legislation. This relates to an earlier observation (and follow-up) that I made regarding the increasing importance of the Mexican judiciary for resolving political disputes.

Subnational units of the social security union are mobilizing against the proposed reform to their labor contract and the 2004 legislation. The previous posts about the conflict are too many to list. Also notable is the subnational alliances mentioned in the article which reflect changes in the union movement post-2000. For the complete story on that, you'll have to wait until I write that article.

And finally, representatives from the PRI and PRD are putting together an initiative to legalize abortion. [This is actually a new topic, though I posted some links to the heated debate about the day-after pill this summer.]

posted by Michelle @ 12:00 PM, 0 comments

We're hiring

In political economy. Economists welcome. No blog necessary.

posted by Michelle @ 11:57 AM, 2 comments

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Another case of discrimination

Against a person living with HIV in Mexico.

posted by Michelle @ 10:24 AM, 0 comments

The one to beat in 2012

Enrique Pena Nieto is now governor of the state of Mexico, but watch for him in 2012 for President. He's got the charm of Clinton and the backing of very powerful people (methinks he doth protest too much).

posted by Michelle @ 10:17 AM, 0 comments

Monday, September 26, 2005

New SPSA deadline for January meeting in Atlanta

Following up on Chris's updates about the January SPSA meetings, I just wanted to mention that the Association is accepting additional proposals through October 15.

So come visit me in Atlanta!

posted by Michelle @ 2:09 PM, 4 comments

Salinas confirms meeting in his home

In a national TV interview, Salinas confirmed that a meeting PRIistas occurred in his home to discuss fiscal reform.

posted by Michelle @ 1:51 PM, 0 comments

Independence of the Mexican Congress, redux

Recently, I suggested that legislative independence in Mexico is weakened by the branch's lack of access to information and the technical expertise necessary to independently formulate policy and/or propose alternatives to the executive's proposals.

Matthew Shugart has taken up the theme and insists that the legislative branch is able to act independently. As you might expect, Matthew points to the institutional incentives that legislators face, including several that I mentioned in my original post and comment thread. While I continue to agree that the institutional arrangements continue to make legislators highly responsive to the party, I think my main point is a different one.

(And, if I recall Joy Langston's paper presented at the UCSD conference, which I discussed at length with her privately, it's not always so clear who are the legislators' principals--sometimes it's the central party, but other times it may be the governors....and even then, there's not a perfect fit, but I digress.)

My claim is that the ability to independently evaluate or formulate policy in the legislature is hindered by two information problems: 1. access to information collected by the bureaucracy of the executive branch and 2. technical expertise to evaluate or process information. The first issue was mentioned in the newspaper article that led to my initial post; legislators could not get raw data from the executive about petroleum receipts and expenditures. The second issue is something I have witnessed first hand in the area of pensions, but it is related to the first issue.

Without information and the expertise to process it, legislators cannot formulate viable alterantives to executive proposals. Instead, their opposition must be based upon ideological stances without data or analysis to back them up. [Let me finish....] Yes, they do "oppose" policy, but often not effectively if they can't debate the information (because they can't get the raw data or don't have experts available to process the data) nor formulate an adequate alternative.

Let's use an example from a policy area that I know well: pensions. Pensions are data intensive and highly technical. To evaluate existing policy and propose new policies requires a lot of data. You need data on demographic factors including future projections, the implicit pension debt, and general models of economic growth, to name just a few types of data. Technical expertise (actuarial) is needed to calculate the life tables, risk premiums, and estimate the costs of current policy and proposed reforms. [As an aside, such expertise is scarce in Mexico.]

The administration has access to all of this data and the expertise necessary to formulate a proposal. The administration may, however, have an ideological preference for a certain type of reform. For instance, according to the technical data, a parametric reform may be cheaper than a privatizing reform, but since the administration prefers privatization on ideological grounds, the administration may choose to ignore that data and present data in support of privatization. [In an interview, a Mexican bureaucrat actually told me this happened with a particular reform.]

If opposition parties hope to prevent the privatization (even for ideological grounds), they need the data necessary to independently evaluate the claims of the administration, and they need the expertise to analyze the data to expose methodological problems or formulate alternative solutions. If they do not have the data or the expertise, they cannot effectively counter the claims of the administration.

Thus far, democracy is creating more access to the types of information and data that are necessary for policy-making in Mexico. There is now an equivalent to the Freedom of Information Act. However, as the article I originally cited makes clear, legislators still don't feel that they have access to all the information that they need. My point is that more transparency is still needed.

My other point is about expertise. Yes, the Commission for Social Security in the Chamber of Deputies has ONE actuary. That one actuary must advise the commission on pension privatization plans for at least two current pension debates: the ISSSTE and the IMSS workers' union. That one actuary is nothing compared to the teams of actuaries that work at ISSSTE and the Secretary of the Treasury that formulated the ISSSTE reform proposal, with additional technical assistance from the World Bank. That one actuary is nothing compared to the teams of actuaries at IMSS working on the workers' union pension plan analysis.

Yes, opposition parties can take an ideological/rhetorical stance against pension privatization, but they cannot fight claims about the costs of current policy or privatization options made by the administration in the press without the necessary data or expertise. This might mean that parties begin to devote more of their own resources to investigate policy options (by hiring their own actuaries, as some unions have begun to do), but if the administration keeps a monopoly on information, then having the technical expertise will be of no help. Clearly, legislators are also beginning to demand more data and transparency from the executive, which reflects not only a certain degree of current independence but will also increase future independence.

Based upon these observations, I still hypothesize that degree of legislative independence will vary across policy or issue areas, and that legislative independence will be weaker in highly technical or data intensive policy areas within the same institutional context. And, that last bit about institutional context is important, so I thank Matthew for pushing me on this point. Yes, the Congress is more independent now than it has ever been since the Revolution. On the other hand, I still think there is probably a lot of variation in that independence across issue areas.

In the future, I suspect that legislators will use their growing independence to demand more information and resources for policy making in the future, and this unevenness across policy areas will work itself out. The size of the independent policy office in Congress will probably expand. There is probably some analogous process (increasing need for data and expertise to formulate policy) that led to the creation of the GAO in the U.S., though that's not my area of research.

posted by Michelle @ 12:04 PM, 1 comments

Another casualty of urban growth

First, Les Amis, now Putt-Putt. Old putt-putt closes in Austin.

posted by Michelle @ 11:56 AM, 0 comments

Makes me smile

Gotta love this charming man.

posted by Michelle @ 11:42 AM, 0 comments

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I'm not so sure....

You are a

Social Liberal
(81% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(18% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating


posted by Michelle @ 11:14 PM, 6 comments

While I'm busy, the dog naps

posted by Michelle @ 2:23 PM, 0 comments

Saturday, September 24, 2005

AIDS discrimination in Mexico

A child in Chihuahua is being prevented from attending school because his mother is HIV+. If he can provide proof of a negative test, his teacher says he can attend class, otherwise he is not welcome.

There will be a hearing with government human rights representatives next week.

[Insert disbelief or rant here.]

posted by Michelle @ 10:04 AM, 4 comments

Mexican press still obsessed with helicopter crash

Most stories still about who, what, where, when, and why.

posted by Michelle @ 10:03 AM, 0 comments

Friday, September 23, 2005

Anticipating shortages or price gouging

The Georgia Governor is suggesting that Georgia public schools take early snow days on Monday and Tuesday to conserve fuel in anticipation of disruptions of supply due to Hurricane Rita. In response to last month's price gouging the Governor issued an executive order against gouging and is considering extending the order beyond the end of September.

Georgia Tech, however, will be open.

posted by Michelle @ 5:36 PM, 0 comments

Venezuela's Chavez

Today's Latino USA program has a segment on Hugo Chavez and his visit to New York.

posted by Michelle @ 5:12 PM, 0 comments

Recordings of pre-Katrina conference calls

From NPR's Morning Edition.

posted by Michelle @ 1:50 PM, 0 comments

PAN-Gordillo alliance?

At least one PANista thinks it's a good idea.

posted by Michelle @ 10:54 AM, 0 comments

Separation of powers

During many of my interviews with business, labor, and party leaders in Mexico last year, interviewees stressed the importance of Congress for policy-making. Several leaders stressed that policy is now made in the Congress, and that's why the composition of party lists and getting representation of their interests in Congress is becoming even more important.

The fragmentation of power in the legislature among the three main parties was also an important theme and explanation for why Fox has had difficulty with his reform agenda. With three parties, building a coalition in support of reform is more difficult, even with relatively strong party discipline. (Mexican parties control campaign funding and PR lists are closed.)

At the same time, the Congress in Mexico will continue to have a hard time demonstrating its independence from the Executive as long as the Congress lacks the resources and staff to research or develop policy positions. Most members of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate have small staffs, usually one receptionist and a personal secretary.

The Commissions (analogous to U.S. Committees) have more staff and support, but not necessarily all the resources to develop policy papers and information. There is a small research area analogous to the GAO, and it does contract some external, non-partisan studies of policy. But these resources are not enough for technically complicated or complex policies, like pension or energy sector reform.

In contrast, the Executive has entire ministries filled with specialists in various areas. When the Executive presents a reform proposal, the Executive ministry that elaborated the proposal often has a monopoly on the information necessary to evaluate the impacts of reform. This means that Congressional leaders are often unable to effectively evaluate a proposal because they have no independent or impartial sources of data and no staff with the skills to evaluate the Executive's position. The Congress cannot effectively "check" or "balance" the power of the Executive.

I have observed the effects of this asymmetrical information in the area of pension reform, but it was this article about petroleum revenue and reform that made me think about it again today. The Senate has asked the Treasury for the data and information about the methodology used to estimate petroleum revenue. According to one (PANista) Senator:
"Aunado a ello, el Ejecutivo federal argumentó que las observaciones realizadas obedecen en su totalidad a que los ingresos públicos federales se verán mermados, lo que va en detrimento de los recursos que pertenecen a los estados y municipios. Por ello, esta comisión considera necesario e impostergable contar con la información completa y detallada, a fin de valorarla, y, en su caso, realizar las adecuaciones a que haya lugar."

Democracy in Mexico has had a significant impact on Congress. It has become a more important player in decision-making due to divided government, and it has also become an important place of contestation among the main political parties. But, its ability to effectively check presidential power and increase its independence from the Executive in the future will require that it have the resources and access to information necessary to develop alternative reform proposals.

posted by Michelle @ 10:21 AM, 5 comments

Nuevo Laredo getting safer

In the last three months, executions have been reduced by 97% in Nuevo Laredo, as the feud between drug cartels has played itself out. Well, the military takes some credit, too.

In another story, the Mexican government estimates that about 10% of the local, state, and national police have criminal records.

posted by Michelle @ 10:16 AM, 0 comments

Turning up the heat

The Director of the public sector workers' social security system is making the rounds to create pressure to privatize ISSSTE pensions. It's an explicit political strategy designed to massage public opinion to increase public support for privatization. By prominently discussing the problem in the media, reformers hope to create the sensation that privatization is necessary and the only viable reform. Then, when the privatization proposal is submitted in Congress, the administration can use public support to pressure unions to accept a more extreme reform. [Sound like a familiar strategy? In Mexico, however, the need for reform is more pressing, though actuarial studies suggest that a parametric reform would be less costly than the privatization proposed by the administration.]

Unions, on the other hand, are waiting until the full proposal is presented in Congress to present their alternatives and attack the administration's plan.

posted by Michelle @ 10:05 AM, 0 comments

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Yet another Harvard blog

This time on political behavior.

posted by Michelle @ 1:55 PM, 1 comments

The Privilege of Ruling

The AJC ran a story yesterday about a political satire show (a la SNL) called the Privilege of Ruling in Mexico. To hear this version would make it seem that the show is the next SNL or Daily Show. Not likely.

According to a Mexican journalist, the show is banal, uncritical of government, uninspired, and has poor actors. The acting is so bad (or Mexicans are so unaware of what politicians look like) that the show has to include the names of the characters at the bottom of the screen. Or, maybe the network just does that because technology makes it easy and possible.

Fox embracing AMLO

I never watched the show while in Mexico, even though the show debued in January. As you can see, the actors use elaborate make-up to resemble the politicians they portray. You can watch various videos on the show's site, including this snippet about Bush and Fox post-Katrina.

I've watched a handful of the online skits. It seems the writing is pretty good, but the acting is over the top. And so some lines that are funny are played poorly.

On the other hand, I can see why the show is popular because it is consistent with a lot of Mexican variety shows. (You know, grown men dressed as bees and school boys.) Don't forget that one of the most popular morning news programs was hosted by a clown; he interviewed the First Lady about whether she would run for President in 2006.

posted by Michelle @ 1:45 PM, 0 comments

Social security reform news

Looks like I may need to revise this paper under review for publication. The Fox administration will try, with the support of the PRI, to push its pension privatization proposal for government employees through the legislature in its last session before the 2006 elections. I still think the new independent federation of government workers' unions will put up a fight, so it should make for an interesting process.

From left to right: The Director of the government workers' social security institute (ISSSTE); the Chair of the Social Security Commission in the Chamber of Deputies, a leader in the teachers' union, and PRDista who is strongly opposed to the reform; another Deputy I don't recognize; and finally, the leader of the social security workers' union (SNTSS), who has his Deputy seat thanks to the PRI.

The workers (SNTSS) of the other social security institute (IMSS) have left talks with the administration of the IMSS. Their negotiations are also about the union's pension scheme. The SNTSS Secretary for the Exterior, who is quoted in the article, is suggesting that a strike in October is likely.

posted by Michelle @ 10:15 AM, 0 comments

Helicopter crash in Mexico

The Secretary of Public Security, a member of the Human Rights Commission, several other functionaries, and the pilots of a helicopter all died when their helicopter crashed yesterday. Preliminary reports suggest it was an accident. Not surprisingly, the leftist press is pointing out that some of those killed in the crash had been threatened by drug lords, and one was threatened within the last month. There are several stories about the crash and those involved at La Jornada and El Universal .

posted by Michelle @ 9:56 AM, 0 comments

Gage A. Griffin

It's nice to be an Aunt.

posted by Michelle @ 9:50 AM, 0 comments

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Shooting in all directions

Elba Esther gave a lively press conference yesterday, during which she said things like:

"[Madrazo] es un seductor" but "¡Con Madrazo no me vuelvo a reunir! ¡No quiero verlo! ¡Se acabó! ¡Es más, dejaré de hablar de él!" [and then proceeded to discuss him for the remainder of the meeting]

"¡Estoy harta de que me pongan el sello de salinista!".

"[Madrazo] Es el político de las ces: ''Lo promueve Carlos Hank, lo financia Carlos Cabal y lo hace gobernador Carlos Salinas, mientras, ¡qué paradoja!, hace exactamente lo contrario por lo que luchó su padre, Carlos A. Madrazo: la democratización del PRI"

"es fácil esconderse detrás de las faldas de una mujer, pero hay que ver si en los pantalones hay lo que hace falta"

"¡Estoy hasta la madre de la actitud de Roberto [Madrazo]!"

"Me costó mucho dejar mi cargo, pero sería estúpido de mi parte seguir donde no me quieren." [...and so many are wondering what took her so long to wise up....]

posted by Michelle @ 9:43 AM, 2 comments

Elba Esther and the PAN?

Oh my. The PAN leadership says it's important for candidates to maintain good relationships with leaders like Gordillo, and the President's office admits that Gordillo is a friend of the President.

Many who have whispered about La Maestra's ties to Fox can now openly say, "I told you so."

posted by Michelle @ 9:27 AM, 0 comments

Here we go again

The PRI and PAN are planning to take up the issue of labor reform, again. I would put the probability of success at less than 30%.

posted by Michelle @ 9:18 AM, 0 comments

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire trailer


posted by Michelle @ 10:24 AM, 0 comments

Social security & union follow-up

The Secretary of Labor discussed the social security conflict at a meeting of the Telmex workers' union, another of the founding members of the UNT.

posted by Michelle @ 10:18 AM, 0 comments

Elba Esther, destroyed but not defeated

La Maestra finally stepped down from her PRI post, saying that she could be destroyed but not defeated, to quote Hemingway. This article has a very good history of her conflict with Madrazo over the last 5 years. Madrazo is relieved. Other PRIistas are relieved. And the PRI leadership has already been reorganized.

Meanwhile, La Maestra has not ruled out her own presidential bid, though finding a registered party that doesn't already have a candidate may be a challenge. She's not ruling out a small party, however. She had much more to say, and most of her statement is reprinted by La Jornada.

If I were a Mexican politician, I think I would be more worried now that she's untethered to any one party. At least if she's in your party, you can try to reason with her. On her own, who knows what trouble she can cause.

posted by Michelle @ 10:08 AM, 0 comments

AMLO PRD candidate by default

The PRD will submit the paperwork to officially make AMLO its candidate for President in 2006. (Though the exact timing of the submission will be delayed because of election rules and legal concerns.) They will forego the open primary that was planned. Lopez Obrador is the only candidate that registered with the party for the nomination.

How's that for democracy?

posted by Michelle @ 9:53 AM, 4 comments

Capital flight?

Between January and July of this year, Mexicans have sent over 1 billion US$ abroad for safekeeping. Moving your money abroad before an election is nothing new in Mexico, especially given the devaluation after Salinas left in late 1994. (Although, in 1994-95, a lot of the capital that left was foreign in the first place.) This year, however, Mexicans have already sent more money abroad than they did in 2000, which should give you a good sense of public sentiment and uncertainty concerning the 2006 elections.

posted by Michelle @ 9:40 AM, 0 comments

Monday, September 19, 2005

From my inbox....

Need a place to send that manuscript of non-results lying dormant in your bottom drawer? Try this new journal this new journal. (Thanks for the correction, Chris.)

I wonder, what would Munger think? Would a publication in the Journal of Spurious Correlation be better than no publication at all?

As a Popperian social science, I often wonder why major political science journals only publish results that support hypotheses and few that falsify them. Since political science is a Popperian social science (in general), why do major journals in the discipline only publish results that support hypotheses and few that falsify them? Maybe this is one step in that direction.

posted by Michelle @ 11:38 AM, 7 comments

No campaigning in the U.S. in 2006

The Mexican Federal Electoral Institute finally issued some guidelines for absentee voting by Mexican nationals living abroad and campaign activities abroad in 2006.

According to La Jornada
Estas opciones, impulsadas en principio por el PRD, permitirían subsanar la ausencia de campañas que por disposición expresa de la legislación operará en el proceso electoral de 2006. En el documento que este miércoles habrá de aprobar el Consejo General del IFE, se establecen prohibiciones mas allá de las campañas y se alude incluso a las actividades ordinarias:

"Durante el proceso electoral federal, en los plazos establecidos por el Código Federal de Instituciones y Procedimientos Electorales -en cuanto arranque del proceso electoral, en octubre próximo-, los partidos políticos no podrán erogar recursos provenientes del financiamiento público o privado, en cualquiera de sus modalidades, para actividades ordinarias en el extranjero", definidas éstas como todas aquellas que no estén comprendidas en las actividades de campaña.

Ello, además de ratificar las disposiciones de ley, subrayando la expresión "en ningún tiempo", que fue el supuesto que argumentaron para sugerir al aspirante perredista, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, no salir a Los Angeles. En el artículo 2, se cita que "se entienden como actos de campaña las reuniones públicas, asam-bleas, marchas y en general aquellas actividades en las que los partidos políticos, sus candidatos o voceros se dirijan al electorado para promover sus candidaturas" a los diferentes puestos de elección.

En este supuesto se considera que los partidos políticos que realizan actividades de campaña a través de sus candidatos, dirigentes, militantes, simpatizantes, empleados, e incluso personas ajenas a estos organismos, si los actos de estos últimos inciden en el cumplimiento de las funciones del partido político, así como en la consecución de sus fines. Asimismo se estipula que los partidos tienen prohibido contratar en México o en el extranjero, por sí mismos o por interpósita persona, mensajes o propaganda electoral que se difundan fuera del país, cualquiera que sea su duración, contenido o formato.

I guess that means that we won't get any campaign stops in the U.S., nor we will get to watch campaign ads on Spanish-language television in the U.S. On the other hand, I wonder how this will affect parties with foreign offices, like the PAN. Will they have to close?

posted by Michelle @ 11:23 AM, 1 comments

Calderon "feels like a winner"

At an impromptu news conference (that, not incidentally, was covered in the leftist La Jornada), Calderon said he already felt that he had won the PAN nomination and was looking toward the elections in 2006.

He said that Creel's problems had to do with his strategists and that Cardenas Jimenez sought to divide, rather than unite, PANistas.

When asked about whether there was a place for Elba Esther in the PAN if she is expelled from the PRI (see related story about procedures to expel La Maestra), Calderon said he didn't think La Maestra was looking for another party and that he wanted to "dialogar con los maestros de México, encontrar las diferencias y resolverlas por el bienestar de la educación nacional."

This is fairly consistent with the PAN's strategy toward teachers in general; try to talk directly to teachers without engaging the union. Such a strategy seems more feasible in the post-2000 world, where the teachers' union, too is being pulled this way and that by political alliances with the PRI and the PRD at different levels of organization.

posted by Michelle @ 11:14 AM, 0 comments

Fighting fire with fire

As I've mentioned before, the workers of the Mexican Social Security Institute, which is the largest public health care institution in Mexico, have an on-going conflict with the Institute's administration.

This week, the union plans to submit a counter-reform proposal to the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in order to overturn the August 2004 reform. Essentially, since all its legal options via the Mexican courts have not stopped the reform, the union has decided to try fighting the reform in Congress.

As the article points out, the union will need to get support not only from the PRD, but also smaller opposition parties like the PT and Convergencia and a section of the PRI. The Congressional committee that will need to vote to pass the reform initiative to the flow is chaired by a PRDista and leader in the teachers' union. Several of the committee members are PRDistas, who are more likely to support the union's counter-reform proposal since they voted against the August 2004 initiative. On the other hand, most of the PRIistas on the committee voted in favor of the reform in August 2004, even though they are union reps themselves. I'd give the initiative a 50-50 chance of getting out of committee, though the union official cited in the article talks about it as a sure thing. If it does make it out of committee, I'd say pre-election politics have a lot to do with it.

The strike deadline for the new contract expires in mid-October. The union could shut down the public health care system by striking and maybe even rally enough support for a general strike. In the past, the union leadership avoided such measures, in large part because its leadership was closely associated with the PRI. At the same time, the union is technically an "unofficial" union (i.e., not formally allied with the PRI) and is one of the founding members of the UNT, an organization of "independent" unions.

In August 2004, the main leader of the union was roundly criticized by the rank-and-file and other independent union leaders for not standing up to the social security administration and mobilizing the full weight of the union. Since then, delegations and sections of the union have been cozying up to the PRD, and the umbrella organization to which it belongs (the UNT) has formalized its alliance with the PRD in 2006. It's not likely that the union leadership will be able to maintain its close ties with the PRI if it's being pressured from above and below to rethink that alliance. Further, it's not likely that the PRI would consider credible any union promises for future electoral support of the party. (See also: Some say Elba Esther can't promise the PRI the teacher vote either.)

All this leaves me wondering whether the union leadership will indeed strike in October and try to force the administration's hand. The current political context makes it seem more likely than ever.

posted by Michelle @ 10:43 AM, 0 comments

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Viva Mexico Cabrones!

Go to story from El Universal.

Today is Mexican Independence Day. Tomorrow, everyone will be crudo and sleep in.

posted by Michelle @ 11:16 AM, 2 comments

If you want to smear your enemy....

Say they hang out with Salinas. At least, that strategy works in Mexico.

posted by Michelle @ 11:12 AM, 0 comments

Lopez Obrador cancels campaign stop in L.A.

As I mentioned before
, now that the government has approved absentee voting, politicians have an incentive to court the 1.5 million voters (of an estimated 3 million citizens) who reside in the U.S. AMLO was going to visit a Mexican Independence Day celebration tomorrow in L.A., but cancelled it due to warnings from IFE that it might violate election law.

posted by Michelle @ 11:06 AM, 0 comments

Belated Mexican politics update

Last Sunday, the PAN held its first stage of the internal election to determine its presidential candidate for 2006. The forerunners were Santiago Creel (Secretary of State under Fox) and Felipe Calderon. Caleron won with 45.6% of the vote, while Creel came in second with 35.5%. (You can listen to audio of the press conference online.) Creel had been criticized for his involvement with the desafuero of Lopez Obrador and more recently, his approval of gambling concessions that were ultimately rescinded.

Since the elections, some have asked what high levels of abstention mean for the democratic process within the PAN. You can visit Calderon's website and read a summary of his experience.

Updated to add: You can visit the PAN's election website and view a map of the remaining elections.

The remaining stages include votes in the North and South and the D.F., but it's likely that Calderon will stay in front. Creel is unlikely to garner a larger margin in many of those states, and will certainly do worse in his home district, Mexico City. His performance as Secretary of State and participation in the desafuero has not endeared him to many, including many PANistas (who in the past voted for the PAN as a vote against the PRI). Cardenas Jimenez is a very distant third, and while he may do well in his home state of Jalisco (where he was governor), Calderon also has yet to compete in his home state of Michoacan (though his ties to the state are perhaps weaker than Cardenas's ties to Jalisco). I think Cardenas Jimenez will have a difficult time overcoming Calderon. Calderon has had a high profile in the party (former President of the Party in the late 1990s) and publicly, but has also avoided major posts with controversy (with the Secretary of Energy being a possible exception), which gives him legitimacy without all the baggage of Creel.

That Calderon had already begun distancing himself from Fox and Creel will only be to his advantage, now that some claim that Fox is trying to interfere in the internal struggle tearing apart the PRI.

Essentially, as I have explained before (but am too lazy to dig through the archives to find the links), the President of the PRI was Madrazo and the Secretary General (#2) of the PRI was La Maestra or La Profesora or Elba Esther. Madrazo wants to be the PRI candidate for President of the country, but to do so, he must step down as President of the PRI. The statutes of the PRI dictate that the Secretary General would automatically take his place. Since La Maestra is such a polarizing figure and many PRIistas do not support her, this has caused many problems. Non-Elbista PRIistas fear, and perhaps rightly so, that once in control of the PRI as President, she would control the PRI with an iron-fist as she has the teachers' union for decades.

This means that since April, the PRI has been trying to figure out some way to allow Madrazo to step down without allowing Gordillo (Elba Esther) to entrench herself in the PRI Presidency. Talks were made of a pact allowing a short-term transition and then the election of a new PRI President and CEN (National Executive Committee), but few of the PRIistas trust each other to not defect from any pact, and again, probably rightly so. [There's probably a really neat game that could be used to model the interactions, and since the PRI institutions are weak, defectors are probably not likely to be punished, making cooperation that much more difficult.]

It seems that the PRI figured out a way to get a new President without allowing La Maestra to take the post, but it involved calling a meeting and making some changes and decisions that didn't necessarily follow the letter of PRI statutes. And, unfortunately for the PRI, there is now external oversight of internal party processes, including a court designed to resolve conflicts and hear disputes, to which La Maestra filed a petition contesting the decision to replace Madrazo with Mariano Palacios Alcocer. The tribunal has decided only some of the issues under review, granting a small procedural win to the PRI, but the main claim by La Maestra has yet to be reviewed. I wouldn't bet on the remaining cases filed by either side.

Madrazo is now saying that Fox has been working with La Maestra to undermine the PRI and is especially interested in supporting the Elbistas now that his horse in the PAN race has lost. (There have been other instances where the media have suggested that Fox and La Maestra have formed pragmatic alliances. Again, too lazy to look up my previous posts, but they exist.) There's talk of expelling her from the Party, but she won't go without a fight. (Though she has had several health problems in recent years that may make it more difficult.)

The other five pre-candidates for the PRI (remember Todos Unidos Contra Madrazo, TUCOM?) are notably quiet during this fracas. I'm thinking it can only hurt Madrazo and make him even less likely to "win" the PRI nomination, though I wouldn't be surprised if he was still nominated.

(What's the difference? Well, I think this public struggle with La Maestra will only hurt even more his public image and he will lose any waning public support he might have had. Since internal PRI election procedures are closed to registered members of the party and the potential for fraud is still real, I wouldn't be surprised if Madrazo was still "elected" to be the PRI candidate. I think he's one of the weaker PRI candidates in a race against Calderon and Lopez Obrador, though.)

In a Calderon, Lopez Obrador, and Madrazo race, I would put my money on either Calderon or Lopez Obrador. I think Jackson would be a poor choice, too, given his role in the desafuero. It's going to be an interesting election year.

posted by Michelle @ 10:17 AM, 2 comments

Number of spam in my mailbox this morning?


You might think that teaching at a Tech school with a top ranked CS department would mean that your IT department would filter this stuff better than gmail or hotmail, but it doesn't.

posted by Michelle @ 9:43 AM, 1 comments

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Favela tourism

See Rio the way thousands of favela residents see it:
"In a very central part of the city (Laranjeiras/Santa Teresa), inside Rio´s most beautiful and tranquil favela, the unique Hostel "Favelinha" welcomes travelers from around the world. It gives backpackers and other interested tourists the opportunity to discover what life is like for a great majority of Rio´s inhabitants. You will be amazed at how friendly you will be welcomed by the people in the favela and you will not believe your eyes when you step out on your balcony and start to overlook the bay of Guanabara, the sugar loaf and some of Rio´s famous beaches like Botafogo and Flamengo."

Favela where Pousada Favelinha is located.

According to this story in a major Brazilian news magazine, only 20% of Rio residents live in favelas.

Favela tourism has been around for a while, though the local guide we used for our study abroad trip in 2003 told us that it was too dangerous to visit the favelas at that time. (And, maybe it was too dangerous to take 20 young U.S. students. On the other hand, he took us to see live, street capoiera in an area crawling with paint-huffing street children, so it's all relative.)

Here's a satellite photo of Rio's largest favela (Rocinha), which is less than a kilometer from the beach and very close to some of the most expensive real estate in Rio.

If I remember the geography of Rio correctly, you can see the favela Rocinha in the background of this Ipanema beach photo. It's the area sloping up the hillside.

I was only in Rio 4-5 days with our study abroad program, but I was amazed at the extent to which the violence and poverty associated with drug running and the favelas was kept away from the touristy areas near the beach (where our study abroad was centered). The order in the Copacabana and the Ipanema areas belied the poverty and dangerousness associated with urban Brazil. Whereas, even when you're in 'nice' parts of the D.F., you can still sense the poverty and disorder and feel that the city is living on the edge of chaos.

For a Amores Perros-like look at life in the favelas, you can watch City of God. (I admit that I haven't seen this one yet. We missed it on the big screen, and then didn't really want to watch it while living in Mexico City. Just like I wouldn't watch Amores Perros while living in the D.F. It would just heighten anxiety about living in the city.

For a Hollywood-esque look at life in the favelas, you can watch Orfeu, with music by Caetano Veloso.

For a sense of the optimism of the late 50s when economic prospects looked good for Brazil, I recommend Black Orpheus. (Orfeu is a bad remake of the classic.)

Thanks, Elena Mary, for the suggestion.

posted by Michelle @ 9:49 AM, 2 comments

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New site on Brazilian politics

. Not much content yet, but it has the potential to grow.

According to an article in the Comparative Politics section newsletter, five percent of all comparative dissertations are about Mexico. Maybe I should start a Mexican politics site. Any takers?

posted by Michelle @ 10:44 AM, 4 comments

Privatizing Pemex?

Mexican President Fox had a substantial reform agenda when he took office in 2000. Among the proposed reforms were privatization of government employee pensions, complete fiscal reform, and privatization of the energy sector, including both Pemex and electricity. So far, the administration hasn't made much progress on its neoliberal reform agenda; competitive politics seems to keep getting in the way. With just one legislative session left in his administration, Fox has stepped up plans to privatize public sector pensions and allow private investment in the petroleum sector.

Essentially, revenues from the state-owned oil company, Pemex, have been used to support the government and too little has been invested in the petroleum infrastructure. (Petroleum is largest source of GDP in Mexico. Tourism is the second largest source of GDP, though some estimate that remittances from Mexican workers in the US may move into second place sometime this year or next.) Now that the Pemex infrastructure needs significant investment, some politicians are calling for private investment in petroleum development. Some on the left want to allow private pension fund administrators (Afores) to invest in domestic petroleum. Others want to open it up to both domestic and foreign investors.

It appears Fox is making one last push to get a reform that would allow some private investment and participation in the petroleum sector in Mexico. Opposition will be fierce, and some say it's the beginning of a slippery slope to privatization. There's also a proposal to develop the natural gas market, as well.

posted by Michelle @ 10:30 AM, 0 comments

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Social Statistics Blog, led by Gary King

According to the email sent to the POLMETH list, the new blog has been:
...created by a group of graduate student affiliates of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard and me [Gary King]. The graduate students represent a wide range of academic disciplines, and plan daily posts intended to make public some of the hallway conversations about social science statistical methods and analysis at the Institute. We plan to cover a wide range of topics including current methodological trends, ongoing research results, papers presented (and discussion at) recent conferences and seminars. Some of the first posts are about the summer meetings of the Society for Political Methodology just held at FSU. Comments posted from those interested are encouraged.

I wonder what Tribble (via) would think of a Harvard grad student that blogs? Would they hire a Harvard blogger? Do Harvard bloggers get special permission to be creative, interesting and blog, while mere mortals must blog for all the wrong reasons? That a leading political scientist would organize a group of graduate students into a blog suggests, to me at least, that the Tribbles of the academic world may eventually be proven wrong.

posted by Michelle @ 8:55 AM, 7 comments

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What? APSA meetings boring?

Or, so the article in The Roll Call suggests.

The article, At Poli Sci Conference, Even the Wonks are Bored [sub required], begins thus:
Only an hour into the start of last week’s annual gathering of the American Political Science Association, Henry Kim, a doctoral student at the University of California at San Diego, is already playing hooky.

It’s “5 a.m. to us,” harrumphs a bleary-eyed Kim, as he hunches over his Starbucks coffee in the lobby of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. After a cross-country flight and little sleep, Kim has no intention of attending any of the morning’s first slate of panels. Nor for that matter do his buddies Justin Phillips and Nathan Batto....
...But back to Kim and his buddies, who don’t appear that enamored with their fellow political scientists, either.
“It’s a boring crowd,” says Phillips, an assistant professor at Columbia University. “It can be a little on the dry side.”

Case in point: When Batto, a classmate of Kim’s at UC San Diego, points out a late-morning session on “Advances in Roll Call Analysis,” Phillips just rolls his eyes and laughs. “I will not be going to a panel on roll call votes,” he cracks.

Their sentiment is shared by prominent political scientist Stephen Wayne, who first started attending the 101-year-old conference in the 1960s as a graduate student. “I’m a glutton for punishment,” he quips, adding that he has no intention of going to any of the “proliferation” of mainly “boring” (and often sparsely attended) panel discussions, opting instead for a roundtable on political psychology... Paul pointed out, we're poorly dressed in addition to being boring. From the Roll Call:
When it comes to the cool department, [Jeremy] Elkins says, most political scientists are woefully lacking, opting for spectacles and conservative suits. The wannabes, Elkins says, “dress in all black” or wear “workshirts” like his pal Norris. “You can be cool in political science and in the rest of the world you are just a big dork,” he adds. “Here, if your pocket protector is mauve you are cool.”

Within minutes, as if on cue, another friend, Joe Mink, a professor at Mount Holyoke College who hails from Texas and is clad in all-black, heads over to shake hands with Elkins. Mink describes his style as “alt-country” and shows off his stingray cowboy boots. “They sparkle in the sunlight,” he notes proudly.

But Mink appears to be in the minority when it comes to shining shoes.

The attendant of the hotel’s shoe-shining stand, Perry Ross, sits idly, with few immediate hopes of a customer. There may be no scarcity of shoes “that need service,” Ross says, but “they won’t come over. It’s the worst [conference] I’ve ever seen. ... I don’t think I’d be a political scientist after seeing them.”

posted by Michelle @ 11:39 AM, 3 comments

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Conference fun

I didn't attend APSA last week but will be attending a smaller conference this week. I've recently decided that smaller, focused conferences are more fruitful for disseminating research and networking than the big APSA-style events.

Just think, how many times have you heard someone complain at APSA that everyone walks around staring at everyone else's name badge to figure out if they are worth talking to or acknowledging?

Well, I've come across (thanks to Brian) name badges that could make staring at everyone's chest at conferences even more interesting.

Essentially, the badges have 4 LED lights that light up when you get within infrared range of other attendees with similar profiles. So, if Paul was standing in line to use the email stations at APSA and another public opinion researcher was waiting in line behind him, their badges would light up. And, Paul would automatically download all of that person's contact information into his badge!

How creepy cool is that?

posted by Michelle @ 10:00 AM, 2 comments

Monday, September 05, 2005

Mungowitz for Gubner?

Possibly, but only if NC will allow the Libertarians to appear on the ballot. Chris's MungowitzWatch notes that Munger published this piece criticizing NC policies that effectively shut out third party or independent candidates. At the end, it indicates Munger's intentions to run if the Libertarians are allowed on the next ballot.

NC is certainly not the only state with restrictive ballot rules. Kinky is also facing an uphill battle to get on the ballot in Texas.

posted by Michelle @ 5:05 PM, 2 comments

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Mexican social security news

Considering the tendency in Mexico to use social policies for political gain, the Secretary of Health, Julio Frenk, insisted this week that Seguro Popular , a program providing health insurance to those not covered by social security, would not be used for political purposes by the president's party, the PAN. The criticism would be that benefits are targeted to current PAN supporters or selectively given to potential PAN supporters, rather than being distributed according to objective criteria of need or eligibility. In general, since Zedillo, most targeted poverty programs have received better marks for not being so obviously politically manipulated, but recent studies, including an on-going one by a Berkeley student, suggest that programs are still targets for political manipulation, at least at the margin. (I would link to her work, but it's not online, that I know of.)

As a follow-up to my on-going coverage of the conflict between the social security union and the social security administration, there are two important items to report. You can find background on the conflict at these posts.

First, as many of the people I interviewed predicted, the courts rejected the union's petition for an injunction against the law passed in August 2004 that changes the pension system for all new social security workers. The union can appeal again, but it is more likely that the union will look for new ways to fight the administration's attempts to curtail their benefits and cut labor costs.

Second, the union's claim that failures of the administration to efficiently collect and handle resources may represent that new strategy. The union is claiming that mismanagement has cost social security $1,500 million pesos (about 1.3 million US$). The claim was made at the presentation of a new book by the union:
En la presentación del libro La lucha de los trabajadores del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social 2003-2004, de Eduardo Pérez Saucedo, actual secretario del exterior del sindicato, los expertos hicieron una recapitulación de lo que ha significado la administración de Levy para el deterioro del instituto y el menoscabo de las relaciones laborales.

Pérez Saucedo hizo ver que el propósito de la investigación es dejar una memoria de la batalla que han librado los trabajadores para defender sus derechos laborales; evidenciar y documentar la política anti laboral del actual director del IMSS, así como la intentona por privatizar este instituto, entre otros de seguridad social.

Pérez Saucedo was one of several union leaders that I interviewed in May or June, and he was finishing this book at the time of our interview. I think it's interesting that he is quoted as arguing that one of the intentions of the IMSS administration is to privatize the institution, something I have suggested may be a motive for confronting the union.

Others at the book presentation included a former Director of the social security institute in the 1980s, whom I have also interviewed before.

One researcher who consistently criticizes the social security administration was also there to point out that salaries and labor costs of the administration have increased by 400% over the last few years.

The court decision and the union's criticisms of the administration are all going to color the upcoming labor contract negotiations that will occur before October.

posted by Michelle @ 10:46 AM, 0 comments

They've got to be kidding

But they weren't. Some of my students last night told me that lines at local gas stations were long and that prices had topped $5 in some places in Atlanta. I was incredulous, of course, as I am with most things students tell me.


But, it appears to be true. Some gas stations raised prices, and rumors were spreading via email in Atlanta that Katrina would make gas scarce. So, everyone rushed to fill up their SUVs so that they could commute at least two more days between their suburb and central Atlanta.

In response, the Governor issued an executive order to implement price gouging statutes.

According to the announcement:
“We will not tolerate the exploitation of Georgia consumers as we recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “Violators of this price gouging statute will be punished to the fullest extent possible.”

Citizens are asked to report any suspected incidences of price gouging to the Georgia Office of Consumer Affairs at (404) 651-8600 or (800) 869-1123. Any violators of Georgia’s price gouging statute will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

The gas pumps in my neighborhood didn't have this problem--maybe because fewer of my neighbors have access to the internet.

posted by Michelle @ 9:58 AM, 5 comments

Mexico City slideshow

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