AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kidnappings and Congress

Back in the sunny old days of 2006 when only Oaxaca of among the 32 states seemed to be on the verge of social collapse, a political joke made its rounds. A rich kid says to his friend, "Boy, I really hope López Obrador wins the election this year." The friend, incredulous, responds, "Why?" And the friend explains: "Because my daddy said that if he wins, he's going to take us all to live in Miami!"

Now its 2008, and the rich are going to Miami. And to Houston. And to Spain. And not because of López Obrador, but because they are no longer safe from kidnappings wherever they go, whatever they do to protect themselves. 13-year old Fernando Marti, son of a wealthy businessman, is kidnapped and killed even though he was traveling in a bullet-proof car with escort and bodyguard and even though his father paid the kidnappers a six-million dollar ransom. Police are alleged to have been involved. María de Jesús Delgadillo, 27 years old and ten weeks pregnant, is kidnapped in the State of Mexico when she goes out to visit friends, is kidnapped and held four days, 150 thousand pesos is charged for her release but she is killed anyway. An ex-police office is arrested in relationship to the case. In the state of Jalisco, an anti-kidnapping agent is arrested along with six accomplices for the kidnapping, extorsion and execution of a family; in Baja California, a series of anti-kidnapping agents are under investigation; in Ciudad Juárez, the federal police arrested a city police officer along with five accomplices for allegedly being part of a gang of kidnappers. Here at home in Oaxaca, a network of delinquents made up of police and members of the gang "Los Zetas" are being accused of a number of kidnapping and killings. Kidnappings in 2007 were up 35% over 2006, and it is estimated that for every reported kidnapping, of course, two or three more go unreported. According to a study at the Tec de Monterrey, approximately 400 professional kidnapping gangs are currently active in Mexico. A true growth industry in a time of decling profits.

Meanwhile, Congress is due to reconvene on the 1st of September, and besides considering whether or not to get tough and raise the penalties for all those kidnappers (useless if they are never caught, useless if the police who are supposed to catch them are involved in the first place, useless if the gap between rich and poor continues to rise), the issue of oil privatization will be right back on the front burner. Stalled in the spring due to public demonstrations, the oil privatization measure has been repackaged and rechristened as the "Beltrones" proposal, for the PRI senator proposing it. A close look at the list of ingredients, however, proves that the products are pretty much the same, and where not the same, even worse. Though this new and improved bill has been touted as a compromise which removes the most objectionable of Calderón's original proposal, turns out that ol' Senator Beltrones (himself a top name on the DEA's list when he was governor of Sinaloa for alleged involement in drug activities) copied his buddy's homework: 28 of his bill's 49 articles were copied directly from the original proposal. The privatization of exploration and development would proceed apace, but now the "sharing" of national oil profits would not only occur with private companies, but with the Mexican states (dominated by PRI governors the likes of Mario Marin and Ulisses Ruiz), as poor PEMEX would find itself being divied up into a series of decentralized, state-level companies, all financed with public capital. These chopped-up PEMEX companies could then contract out the construction of refineries, etc. and clearly, in the future, be simply bought out outright: much easier to sell off a series of small regional companies on the sly than one, big, prominent national entity. In fact, the bill specifically provides, in the future, for the "desincorporation of the descentralized organizations...without being bound by the Federal Law of State-Owned Entities" As El Fisgón points out, that is code for privatizing in parts once the protests die down. The war shaping over this issue for the fall should prove to be very interesting, indeed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Calderon: The Region 4 Bush

For those of us of American descent living in Mexico or naturalized as citizens, the most depressing thing about having to live under the Calderon junta is that, well, we have seen it all before. We have seen it all exactly before. In fact, Mexico's current agonizing descent into chaos is such a precise replay of what Americans have - with heroic stoicism (to be fair) or resigned passivity (to not be) - had to endure since 2000 that one can only wish that the world was such that we would be able to qualify for an exemption the second time around. Or that, as with DVDs, what plays in Region 1 wouldn't work in Region 4. Unfortunately, it looks like we were all fed a pirate version that plays on all machines, however jerky the image or shrill the sound (jerky and shrill: the modern right in a nutshell, ha!).

So here's the script: Bush and Calderón, both mediocre men piggybacking to prominence on the shoulders of their famous fathers (Bush Sr., himself son of a senator*, head of the CIA and one-term president; and Papa Calderón, one of the founders of the PAN, the political party set up in 1939 by oil interests in order to - yep, oppose the nationalization of the oil industry by Lazaro Cardenas). Both boasting of Ivy League degrees of more-than-questionable value (see my post: So Where Did You Go to College, Presidente?). Both rising to power through fradulent elections, using voter-roll manipulation (Florida and the Hildebrando connection in Mexico), vote-rigging (Ohio and the IFE), and the complicity of the judicial branch (the US Supreme Court on one side and the Federal Electoral Tribunal here on the other), beneficiaries of smear campaigns based on exploiting fear and dividing the population (Swift-Boating, for example, vs. 'Peligro para Mexico'). Both, to be blunt, installed in office by energy interests, for energy interests and of energy interests (through the invasion of Iraq and privatization of its oil, and, in reverse order, the privatization of Mexican oil followed by potential US invasion through the Plan Mexico to safeguard its future new holdings), each coming personally from a background replete with energy interests personally (Bush, failed oil man bailed out time and again by the Saudis, Calderón, failed Energy Secretary bailing out family members with contracts). Both the puppets (peleles) of far stronger men (Cheney) and women (Elba Ester) behind the throne. Both, in their puppet/pelele status, serving the interests of counter-revolutionary right-wing movements who see no positive role government can play in society except that of lining their pockets and those with 'preferred partner status' (Haliburton, Repsol...), using free-trade ideology as a convenient smoke screen to cover the construction of ever-more corporatist states (a highway bailout here, a Bear Stearns bailout there; some institutions are just "too important to fail..:"). Both, boxed in by that very ideology, criminally negligent when it comes to situations where government is indeed necessary (Bush in New Orleans, Calderon in the Tabasco flooding). Both flaunting their essentially-fundamentalist religiousness for political gain. Both kept in power through the complicity of a compliant corporatist media. Both presiding over the lower-growth, higher-inflation economic decline of their respective countries. Both benefiting the rich (tax cuts for the rich and tax breaks for the oil industry in the States, tax exemptions and enormous give-backs to individuals and corporations in Mexico) at the expense of the poor (an ever-more regressive tax structure, higher unemployment and price increases on staple goods). Both masking with tough rhetoric the increasing insecurity of their countries (in Mexico, the obvious rise of drug killings and kidnappings; in the US, the long-term, largely-ignored deterioration of its urban areas). Both subject to impeachment, if the ineffectual Congresses supposedly keeping checks on them would ever fulfill their respective Constitutional roles.

Region 1 Bush; Region 4 Calderón. Aren't we lucky to have one foot on both sides?

*Clarification: In my original post, I referred to Bush Sr. as son of a "censured senator", this in reference to his father, Prescott Bush. Prescott Bush was never, in fact, censured by the Senate in the manner of Joseph McCarthy. The controversy swirling around his legacy - and the reason he is often referred to as having been "censured" - is that four of his business interests, the Union Banking Corp, Holland-American Trading Corporation, Seamless Steel Equipment Corp, and Silesian-American Corp, were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Brown Brothers Harriman, for which Prescott Bush was a managing director, was the principal US banking partner for Fritz Thyssen, the top Nazi banker, and continued to do business with the regime even after the United States' post-Pearl Harbor declaration of war. Bush was never charged - the war was on and there were other priorities - but it remains an embarrassing black mark that the family has never fully been able to expunge.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Rupture

The Calderon regime is in the early stages of advanced decomposition. Incapable of governing, haunted Hamlet-like by the ghosts of his electoral illegitimacy, propped up only by the US, Spain and Televisa, little Lipe and his band of incomptent blunderers reel from one issue to the next, turning everything they touch into dross, and converting the nation in the process into an economic wasteland, kidnapper's paradise, and drug-traffic battlefield strewn with the cadavers of a dozen dead a day. And every day, with every assassination, social restiveness gets ratcheted up one step further. "There does not exist one single measure taken by the current government nor an agreement made among all of the political forces that will diminish these pressures," writes José Agustín Ortíz Pinchetti. "On the contrary, a series of crises are converging at once: crime is on the increase and the security apparatus is crumbling. No response has been given to the agricultural deficit. We are entering into a recession. Inflation is increasing and growth decreasing. Every social and economic indicator is on a downward slope. The oil reform touted in such an irresponsible manner has thrown the whole country up in the air."

Calderón makes cosmetic changes in his cabinet by replacing his Finance Minister, a Fox lackey (Eduardo Sojo) with a lackey of his own (Gerardo Ruiz Mateos) who, incidentally, has no experience in the field whatsoever. But who needs experience when you can just improvise? Meanwhile, prices soar on practically everything that has a price to soar with. Gasoline is up, for the second time this month alone, to 7.32 pesos for a liter of Magna and 9.13 for Premium. Diesel is up eight centavos on the liter. Gas LP, used by 80% of Mexican homes for heating hot water and for stoves, is up 7 cents in August - a little 20 kilo tank now rounds out at just about 200 pesos. Electricity is up ten percent since this time last year. And these are all prices controlled by the federal government, mind you (now I thought the surplus produced by high oil prices was supposed to be subsidizing the price of imported gasoline, which is why there supposedly wasn't a surplus at all, but now that gasoline's going up too, what happened to those subsidies after all? Where did the FUCKING SURPLUS GO, CARSTENS, YOU FAT FUCK? Sorry, sometimes it just escapes me.). Food prices, of course, are up globally, and Mexico - ever more dependent on imports to compensate for its NAFTA-induced agricultural crisis - is in no way an exception. According to the Bank of Mexico, any salary gains won by workers in 2007 were completely wiped out by the price increases in April, May and June of 2008 alone, and are now lagging behind. Running faster just to stay two steps back, that is (see:. The only figure that is headed down, besides economic growth, is remittences from Mexicans living in the United States.

Here we see the travesty of the neo-liberal economic model at work. In the name of keeping inflation under control (thus protecting the value of the financial assets of the haves), genuine, broad-based economic growth is hamstrung and worker salaries are eviscerated. This of course, knocks the engine out of things, because poor people can't buy anything, except on credit. So flood the market with credit cards and keep people buying - for a while. Meanwhile, inflation goes up anyway for reasons - energy and food, primarily - that have nothing to do with worker salaries, but in Mexico at least, everything to do with poorly-timed tax increases and handing over of national economic sovereignty to the globalization taskmasker. And who gets nailed again by the consequent higher interest rates used to fight this inflation? Yes - the workers! Higher inflation, lower purchasing power, no credit (except those credit cards at 60% interest). Mexico, not dissimilar to the United States, is settling into a worst-of-both-worlds situation: deflating economy with inflation to boot. And situations like that, once mired into, become very hard to get out of.

I don't suppose Calderón has much time to really grapple with this, however, because he is too busy simply trying to save his scalp. "Before I thought the rupture was possible," writes Ortiz Pinchetti, "now I think it's probable. It is impossible, however, to predict how close it is. Years may pass before it arises, or it may strike in the near future, around the symbolically-charged elections of 2009-2010. We also can't discard the possibility that things, and the country, will just keep stumbling along in agonizing decadence. The deterioration has no limits."