Published: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 03:27:07 -0500
Tue, 01 Nov 2016 12:25:00 -0400
Almost a thousand miles south of Houston, the Mexican town of Cheran was once afflicted by gangsters who had branched into the timber trade. They killed, they kidnapped, and they kept cutting down trees that they didn't have a right to take. And so, the BBC reports,
(image) on Friday 15 April 2011, Cheran's levantamiento, or uprising, began. On the road coming down from the forest outside Margarita's home, the women blockaded the loggers' pick-ups and took some of them hostage. As the church bells of El Calvario rang out and fireworks exploded in the dawn sky alerting the community to danger, the people of Cheran came running to help. It was tense—hotheads had to be persuaded by the women not to string up the hostages from an ancient tree outside the church....
The municipal police arrived with the mayor, and armed men came to free their hostage-friends. There was an uneasy stand-off between the townspeople, the loggers and the police. It ended after two loggers were injured by a young man who shot a firework directly at them....
The police and local politicians were quickly driven out of town because the people suspected they were collaborating with the criminal networks. Political parties were banned—and still are—because they were deemed to have caused divisions between people....
Meanwhile armed checkpoints were established on the three main roads coming in to town.
Today, five years later, those checkpoints still exist. They are guarded by members of the Ronda Comunitaria—a militia or local police force made up of men and women from Cheran.
Now that the gangsters are no longer raiding the forest, the locals manage the resource, in what sounds like the sort of community-based system that the late Elinor Ostrom frequently wrote about. Meanwhile, the BBC's writer notes that "in the last year there have been no murders, kidnaps or disappearances" in Cheran, even as such crimes are common in communities just a few kilometers away. The place hasn't declared independence—various sorts of government funding are still flowing, and when serious crimes do occur the attorney general can prosecute them—but the town of 20,000 has achieved a remarkable level of autonomy.
To read the whole thing, go here. To read about some other efforts in the area to battle the cartels outside the state, go here—and to see how the state eventually absorbed those efforts, go here. And even further south, to read about a village in Colombia that kicked out all armed groups, from right-wing paramilitaries to left-wing guerrillas to officially sanctioned soldiers and cops, go here.
Wed, 28 Sep 2016 09:30:00 -0400Great news! American fertility specialists replaced defective mitochondria in a embryo resulting in the birth of a healthy baby boy five months ago. The bad news is that due to a fifteen year Food and Drug Administration ban, the procedure had to be performed in Mexico. Mitochondria are the energy producing organelles in each of our cells which carry their own small genomes and are passed down to children from their mothers. Broken mitochondrial genes cause a wide variety of illnesses from which about 1 in 4,000 people suffer (that is about the same rate as cystic fibrosis among European-descended Americans). In this specific case, the mother carries a mitochondrial mutation associated with Leigh's Disease that causes brain lesions and which killed her first two children. The cure was achieved, as the New Scientist explains: [New Hope Fertility Center specialist John] Zhang ... removed the nucleus from one of the mother's eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg – with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor – was then fertilised with the father's sperm. Zhang's team used this approach to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally. This embryo was implanted in the mother and the child was born nine months later. Hearty congratulations are in order to the parents, the baby, and the team that made it possible! Well, not everyone actually agrees with that sentiment. CNN reports: "It's unfortunate to have people decide they're just going to quite willingly engage in this kind of reproductive tourism -- to go outside of a system that is in place to create the safest, most scientifically reproducible way forward," said Lori P. Knowles, assistant professor, adjunct, at the University of Alberta School of Public Health. "That's the precedent then, that if you think you can do it, then let's just hop the border and see what happens, hope for the best." Cannot bioethicists hear themselves! Having endured four miscarriages and two dead children, this mother had already seen "what happens," so of course, she was hoping for best. So should we all. The parents in this case obviously felt forced to engage in reproductive tourism because the "system that is in place to create the safest ... way forward" has, in fact, blocked all progress in this field for a decade and a half. While headlines around the world hailed this achievement as the first three-parent baby, that's actually not the case. Back in 2000, researchers at St. Barnabas Hospital in New Jersey developed the same technique that Zhang used. As I reported earlier: Researchers hit on the idea of curing mitochondrial diseases by replacing defective mitochondria with healthy ones derived from eggs donated by other women. Back in 2001, fertility specialist Jacques Cohen and his colleagues at St. Barnabas Hospital in New Jersey transferred ooplasm containing mitochondria from healthy donor eggs to the eggs of women experiencing infertility. The experiments resulted in the births of 15 healthy babies. ... When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) got wind of the new development, the agency asserted that it had jurisdiction over the treatments and promptly banned them. And that is where matters have ever since stood, as women continued to endure infertility and more babies were born suffering from mitochondrial diseases. Very ethical. The "safest system" is evidently the system that says take no risks at all. Better more babies born naturally with dread diseases than allowing parents to try to have healthy children by availing themselves of the unnatural methods of science. If regulators and bioethicists don't want "reproductive tourism," then stop banning research here. Instead of better safe than sorry, we will instead end up more sorry than safe.[...]
Fri, 16 Sep 2016 17:30:00 -0400Marking the occasion of Mexican Independence Day (which is not Cinco de Mayo but is actually celebrated today, September 16), David Frum of The Atlantic has an interesting look at the successes and problems plaguing the Mexican people and their government as the country enters its 207th year as an independent state. Frum has a point to make here—which I'll get to in a moment—but libertarians and anyone who takes an interest in comparative analyses of government will find that the most interesting part of the piece has to do with how Mexico and the United States took divergent courses in the two-ish centuries since their respective tossing-offs of European powers. The Mexican Revolution was nothing like the American one. It failed, at least as a populist movement. The agitators of the revolution—Mexico's equivalent of Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the rest—were captured and executed shortly after the September 16, 1810, uprisings that are celebrated today. Mexico actually achieved its independence from Spain more than a decade later after a long process of colonial reforms were approved by the imperial government in Madrid. Suppose there had never been a Declaration of Independence drafted in the summer of 1776, but that the 13 colonies had gained independence by an act of Parliament sometime in the late 1780s—perhaps our national myth would be built around the armed uprisings in Concord and Lexington and we'd celebrate our Independence Day on each April 19. That's basically what Mexico does. In Mexico, ties with Spain were finally severed because Mexican aristocrats—think the bad guys in any Zorro flick—decided to rebel against the Spanish throne rather than risk losing their high economic and social status as liberalizing reforms spread across the Atlantic from a post-French-Revolution era Europe. A decade after putting down a populist revolution, they became the revolutionaries—not for high-minded ideals like many of the revolutionaries of that era, but rather to preserve their system of cronyism built atop an imperial edifice that subjugated native Mexicans (and many of their fellow settlers too)—and then constructed a founding myth that eulogized the failed 1810 rebellion. As Frum puts it: "Imagine that it had been Benedict Arnold who achieved American independence, pronouncing himself Emperor Benedict I, banning all religions except the Church of England, and concentrating land ownership in the hands of a few grand Tory families." The differences in the two nations' origins are reflected in the last two centuries, during which Mexico has struggled to shake-off the control of crony elites. Frum takes note of how that dynamic has prevented Mexico from taking the same path towards freedom and prosperity followed by the United State and Canada. Even after the last 50 years, when Mexico began to loosen state controls over the economy, it's still burdened by disincentives to competition that benefit a handful of ultra-rich at the expense of the rest of the country. "Overcharges by the country's telecommunications monopoly are estimated to cost 2 percent of Mexico's total economic output. That monopoly earns profits almost double those of its U.S. and Canadian counterparts," Frum writes. "Unsurprisingly, the monopoly's owner, Carlos Slim, ranks among the world's richest men. The Mexican state-dominated energy industry also remains staggeringly inefficient, paralyzed by privileged labor unions and starved of investment by a Mexican government that demanded the energy monopoly Pemex pay its profits into the national treasury, rather than use them to maintain fields and modernize equipment." Those aristocrats who rebelled against Spain to maintain their high standing in Mexican society never really went away. Instead of owning vast stretches of land worked by poor peasants, today they run the country's telecommunications companies, energy monopolies and government contractors. There's plenty of other examples, like Elba Esther Gordillo. She's the "pre[...]
Fri, 09 Sep 2016 07:00:00 -0400
Thu, 01 Sep 2016 15:50:00 -0400Donald Trump's hard-line immigration speech on Wednesday night included plans for hiring more border patrol agents, deploying bio-metric scanners to catch illegal immigrants and establishing a new "deportation force" to round-up and eject many of the estimated 11 million people in the United States without documentation. Of course there will also be a wall. An "impenetrable, physical, tall, beautiful, southern border wall" that would be paid for by Mexico, as Reason's Ed Krayewski reported. Cracking down on illegal immigration is the central plank of Trump's campaign, but if he's serious about shutting down the flow of undocumented workers across America's southern border, he might want to consider an idea more radical than giant walls and an expanding immigration police force: letting more people into the country legally. As David Bier, an immigration policy analyst for the Cato Institute, notes in a blog post this week: historically the best way to reduce illegal immigration has been to increase legal immigration. That's because one of the biggest impediments to legal immigration is the federal government's quotas on certain categories of workers. Those quotas are arbitrary totals completely disconnected from the economic forces that drive immigrants to seek work in the United States. Those quotas "are the definition of an unreasonable immigration policy," writes Bier. "They are no different than Soviet manufacturing quotas, and they have the exact same effect: discord in the free market—surpluses where workers are unneeded, shortages where they are needed, and black markets that inevitably results when government makes movement illegal." For example: the federal government issues about 150,000 visas annually for temporary farm workers — a number that doesn't even come close to the estimated 2 million seasonal workers on U.S. farms and ranches. When government policy allows more lesser-skilled guest workers in the country, there are fewer illegal immigrants, Bier argues with this graphic: In an op-ed for CNN on Wednesday, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson explained why this approach would do a better job of reducing illegal immigration than Trump's proposals (or current U.S. policy). "Our politicians, both right and left, have created a system for legal immigration that simply doesn't work. We have artificial quotas. We have 'caps' on certain categories of workers that have no real relationship to the realities of the free market," Johnson wrote. Instead, Johnson favors a system with no caps, no categories and no quotas. "Just a straightforward background check, the proper paperwork to obtain a real Social Security number and work legally," he wrote, calling that "a reliable system to know who is coming and who is going." Note that he isn't calling for open borders or amnesty for illegal immigrants. People coming to the country still have to follow the rules, but he says the government should make it easier for them to do that. Under Trump's plan (and current U.S. policy) there are essentially two groups of people coming across the border: legal immigrant and illegal immigrants. The first group is fine, but the second group consists of de facto criminals because they are breaking the law to enter the country, the argument goes. Immigration policy requires a bit more nuance than that. Let's assume there are actually three groups of people coming across the border: legal immigrants, illegal immigrants who want to come here legally but cannot because of quotas and actual criminals who are coming to the United States to traffic drugs or fulfill any of the other fevered nightmares of the so-called Alt-Right. Current immigration policy forces the second and third groups to cross the border illegally, but for very different reasons. Members of the second group are seeking economic opportunities and are forced into breaking the law by nonsensical government policy, but would be able to pass a basic bac[...]
Wed, 31 Aug 2016 22:55:00 -0400Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump visited Mexico today, in a trip his campaign described as a "relationship builder," before speaking at a rally in Phoenix in the evening, where he talked about his immigration plans, largely involving the border wall, deportations, and other police state measures. The speech was reportedly written by Stephen Bannon, formerly of Breitbart.com, and Stephen Miller, a former aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who has taken a hard-line on immigration. In Arizona, Trump told the crowd that immigration reform meant "amnesty, open borders, lower wages" and that the "fundamental problem with the immigration system" was that "it serves the needs of wealthy donors, political activists, and powerful, powerful politicians." At the rally, Trump painted a grim picture about immigrants overwhelming government services and contributing to higher crime rates (not true). Trump also noted the attention paid to his immigration plans in recent weeks and said he'd make his plans clear to the crowd. "We will build a great wall along the southern border," Trump said to great applause and chants of build the wall, "and Mexico will pay for the wall, 100 percent." He said the wall would be "impenetrable, physical, tall, beautiful, southern border wall." Trump said his ten-point plan also included an end to "catch and release" (praising Dwight Eisenhower's Operation Wetback) , "zero tolerance for criminal aliens," two bills named after victims, hiring 5,000 new border patrol agents (the number of border patrol agents has doubled since 2004), President Obama did), establishing a deportation task force ("maybe they'll be able to deport" Hillary Clinton, he said), ending the acceptance of refugees from Syria and the Middle East, stricter screenings, "ideological certification," turning off "the jobs and benefits magnet," and a litany of other severe measures that will require an expansion of government power and government spending. Trump insisted his plan would earn a "peace dividend" that could be spent on other government programs. Earlier in the day, at a joint news conference with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump claimed he and Peña Nieto discussed the border wall but that "we didn't discuss payment of the wall." Peña Nieto tweeted afterward that he had made clear his position that Mexico would not pay for a wall across the U.S. border. The Trump campaign said the meeting was not a negotiation, which would have been "inappropriate." Trump and Sessions and Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor, met with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto for about an hour before the joint press conference. In Mexico City, Trump pointed to five "shared goals" that would increase "prosperity and happiness" in both countries: stopping illegal immigration to the U.S. and to Mexico, a secure border, which he called a "sovereign right and mutually beneficial," dismantling drug cartels and "ending the movement of illegal drugs, weapons and funds across oru border," which would require "cooperation, intelligence and intelligence sharing, and joint operations between our two countries," improving the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), "a 22 year old agreement that must be updated to reflect the realities of today," and keeping "manufacturing wealth" in the Western hemisphere. Trump called the migrant routes from Central America to the U.S. a "humanitarian disaster" that had to be solved. "It must be solved, it must be solved quickly," Trump said, "not fair to the people anywhere worldwide you could truly say, but certainly not fair to the people of Mexico or the people of the United States." Deportations by the United States and by Mexico have gone up in recent years, with the Obama administration ordering more deportations as recently as this spring. Trump, of course, didn't mention ending the war on drugs, one of the surest ways to dismantle the drug cartels, as m[...]
Tue, 30 Aug 2016 23:35:00 -0400
(image) Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says he's accepted an invitation from Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, tweeting that he was looking "very much forward to meeting him."
The announcement comes after the start of a flip-flop (pivot?) on immigration last week. After making hay of well over a dozen other candidates for the Republican nomination largely by taking a hard stance on immigration, Trump appears to be softening his position. As with many of Trump's policy positions, this one is still a series of contradictory positions superimposed on each other, indicating support for mass deportations and for a path to legalization.
In 2012, Trump blamed Mitt Romney's loss in part on a "mean-spirited" position on illegal immigration. "The Democrats didn't have a policy for dealing with illegal immigrants, but what they did have going for them is they weren't mean-spirited about it," Trump told Newsmax then. "They didn't know what the policy was, but what they were is they were kind."
Four years later, Democrats still don't know what their policy is. The Obama administration has attempted unilateral reform, deferring deportations for some while ramping up deportations for others. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has been nebulous about specifics on immigration reform, while Bernie Sanders called open borders a right-wing conspiracy during the Democratic primaries.
Democrats also failed to act on immigration reform when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2009 and 2010, while Republicans helped scuttle efforts during President Obama's second term. Democrats and Republicans teamed up at the end of President George W. Bush's second term to scuttle efforts then as well.
With more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in the country, some kind of immigration reform (more border controls or a path to legalization or goodies for everyone) is set to be on the legislative agenda in 2017 irrespective of who wins the elections. Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson argues that Trump and other politicians are lying about immigration and that the best way to deal with illegal immigration was by "making legal entry efficient," a conclusion that shouldn't escape many legislators even if they find posturing on the issue and thwarting actual reforms more politically lucrative.
Thu, 25 Aug 2016 12:05:00 -0400Marc Thiessen, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, and current Washington Post columnist and American Enterprise Institute resident fellow, is so repulsed by Donald Trump's lack of moral fitness for the White House that he recently analogized voting for the Republican to pulling the lever on a runaway train to save five innocent nuns but kill a beloved family member in the process (no really, he did). Thiessen has called Trump a 9/11 "truther" and a liberal pretending to be conservative, and made jokes after Trump sealed the GOP nomination about going to Canada. So what's a proud member of the Trump-hating conservative establishment to do? Why, slam Libertarian vice presidential nominee William Weld for being soft on drugs! Over at the AEIdeas blog, Thiessen has written a post with the headline "Jesse Helms was right about Bill Weld." In it, the columnist recounts—accurately—that the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman opposed the then-Massachusetts governor's 1997 nomination as U.S. ambassador to Mexico largely on grounds of what Thiessen characterizes as "Weld's abysmal record on drugs." That record included supporting medical marijuana and needle-exchange programs for heroin addicts, as well as (in Helms's view) obtaining too few drug convictions during his stint as U.S. attorney. Such a record, then or now, is anything but "abysmal." Half of U.S. states currently allow medical marijuana, three out of four Americans think medicinal pot should be legalized, and more importantly, they're right: It is neither wise nor conservative to put law enforcement between individual adults and their non-lethal medicine. As for needle-exchange programs, there is substantial evidence that they reduce the spread of such blood-transmitted diseases as HIV/AIDS. What's more, Thiessen's preferred prohibitionism has been particularly godawful for Mexico. The Mexican Drug War, which somehow raged despite the world dodging the bullet of a Weld ambassadorship, has killed scores of thousands of people. About the only U.S. policy shown to have affected the behavior of the Mexican drug cartels is—wait for it—legalizing marijuana. And don't just take libertarians' word for it; here's a headline from Thiessen's own newspaper: "Legal marijuana is finally doing what the drug war couldn't." You can find similar coverage in such non-hippie venues as The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and, uh, Partnership for Drug Free Kids. Thiessen goes on to quote from articles showing that Weld has had his mind changed by Gary Johnson in favor of legalizing recreational pot, and then concludes, "Jesse Helms was right." But why go after the obviously less-enthusiastic drug legalizer on a Libertarian ticket headed by a former cannabis company CEO? Probably because of a wee little fact that the author left out of his prohibitionist rant: Marc Thiessen, you see, remembers the Helms-Weld spat particularly well, because back then he was the spokesman for Jesse Helms. Thiessen was mad, then as now, that Weld waved off Helms's drug-policy objections as a smokescreen for broader "ideological extortion" over abortion, gay rights, and other social issues. ''Weld is using his appointment as a tool to start an intra-party battle for the soul of the Republican Party," Thiessen complained to The New York Times back then. "And he's using Jesse Helms as his foil. That's an abuse of the confirmation process, and an abuse of the U.S. Senate.'' Some contemporaneous accounts support Thiessen's interpretation. But even if Thiessen was 100 percent right on tactics and tact, he continues to be 100 percent wrong on the underlying policy dispute. Weld's "record on drugs makes him unqualified for the post," he told the L.A. Times in 1997. Now, nearly two decades and 100,000 Mexican drug-war deaths later, Thiessen would rather settle old parliamentary scores a[...]
Mon, 25 Jul 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) A Mexican judge has ordered the government to begin a criminal investigation into Taxco police for beating and torturing Ronald James Wooden. Wooden, an American who moved to Mexico to set up a blacksmith's workshop, says he was beaten by police officers after refusing to pay protection money to one of them.
Sat, 07 May 2016 08:00:00 -0400Soda taxes, which are uniformly awful, have made national and international headlines in recent weeks. Despite a ballyhooed soda tax, it seems soda sales are rebounding in Mexico. Soda tax supporters appear flummoxed, but undaunted. Their argument: it was hot. Really. Since 2015 was warmer than 2014, tax supporters argue, that can help explain the increase in soda consumption in Mexico. Earlier this year, I discussed data that suggested Mexico's soda tax had reduced consumption by roughly 10 percent. Tax proponents seized on this data. Bloomberg News—headed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, without question the world's leading advocate for soda taxes—published an editorial cheering Mexico's soda tax. (If the editorial reads just like a canned Michael Bloomberg speech, it's worth noting that the Bloomberg View editorial board includes among its members Mayor Bloomberg's former mayoral speechwriter.) "One of the world's highest soda taxes appears to be working," the editors wrote. And then they dropped the other shoe. "Other governments—including in the U.S.—should be encouraged to impose similar taxes and take other strong actions to curb soda drinking." Unfortunately, with funding from Michael Bloomberg—who also bankrolled the efforts to adopt taxes in Mexico and Berkeley, California—some American cities are considering their own soda taxes. Oakland voters will decide in November whether to tax soda sales in the city. But it's Philadelphia's proposed tax that's generating the most headlines. Mayor Jim Kenney has proposed a three-cents-per-ounce soda tax as a way to pay for his promised universal pre-K. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sparred over the issue, with Clinton hailing Philadelphia's proposed tax and Sanders rightly panning it as regressive (just one of the many flaws inherent in such taxes). A new study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, released last week, is being used to bolster prospects for Philadelphia's tax. Study co-author Steven Gortmaker calls Philadelphia's proposed tax "just a total winner of a policy from a public health perspective." But the news out of Mexico is not good for tax supporters in Philadelphia and elsewhere. A policy that was being hailed as a total winner just a week ago now looks about as promising as a Sam Hinkie rebuild. City councilors appear anywhere from quietly opposed to openly hostile to the mayor's proposal. This week, the Philadelphia City Council indicated it might reject a soda tax—or pass one far smaller than what the mayor had sought. While cities consider soda taxes, it's worth asking whether the new data out of Mexico mean the country's soda tax—a model for any U.S. tax—is a bust. Economist Tyler Cowen is unwilling to call the country's soda tax experiment a failure, arguing that "it can take a very long time to discover whether or not policies are working well." But I'm willing to go there right now. If the ultimate purpose of Mexico's soda tax were simply to reduce soda consumption, then I might be willing to entertain the notion that the jury's still out. But the purpose of soda taxes, as I've written time and again, is not to make soda more expensive or to reduce soda consumption. The ultimately purpose of soda taxes—the only relevant policy—is to combat obesity and other health problems. There's no evidence to date showing soda taxes can or will reduce rates of obesity or diabetes. There is a large and growing arsenal of facts, though, that show soda taxes don't work. Complicating matters is the fact there's also a significant army of public health activists who tell us facts just don't matter in the debate over soda taxes. But facts do matter. And opponents of soda taxes have no better weapon than to constantly repeat and amplif[...]
Tue, 03 May 2016 09:30:00 -0400Among the relics tucked into the Sauza Family Museum in Jalisco, Mexico is an old liquor bottle labeled "Mexican whiskey." The liquid inside it wasn't what we'd call whiskey today. It was a spirit distilled from agave, presented in the guise of something more familiar to appeal to American drinkers. That may have been a smart tactic initially, but popularizing the spirit eventually required consumers to understand it on its own terms: Not as some south of the border whiskey knock off, but as a distinct category of spirits with its own culture and traditions, which we all know now as tequila. In recent years Americans have added another, much older word to their spirits vocabulary, "mezcal." If you've been into a fancy cocktail bar lately, chances are good that you've seen a mezcal cocktail on the menu or a row of mezcal bottles lining the back bar. You may have also heard a bartender give the standard elevator speech for mezcal: that it's the name for the broader category of Mexican agave spirits of which tequila is merely the most familiar, much as cognac is the most famous style of brandy; that mezcal is more rustic than tequila, boasting wildly assertive flavors; that the spirit is becoming incredibly popular among the cocktail cognoscenti; and perhaps that the future of mezcal is threatened by a new law currently under consideration by the Mexican government. That legislation is NOM 199, a proposal that would place additional restrictions on some of the least advantaged producers of agave spirits just as just as mezcal is finally beginning to receive the global acclaim it deserves. These distillers are already forced to compete without using the word "mezcal" on their labels; the term is governed by Denomination of Origin (DO) regulations that limit its use to just seven states in Mexico. Producers outside of those regions make spirits historically and informally known as mezcal, but they're not permitted to call it that on their labels or when exporting. Instead, they must market their products as "destilado de agave," or agave distillate. This is a truthful description of their product, though many producers resent being excluded from the mezcal DO and make the case that use of the word has precedent in a much larger area than current law recognizes. But all definitions of spirits by geographic borders involve some arbitrary demarcation, and if this were only a debate about where to draw the line for where the word "mezcal" can be put on a bottle, it would be a less interesting story. NOM 199 goes even further, banning producers not only from calling their product mezcal, but requiring them to abandon use of the word "agave" as well. A new word, "komil," would be forced upon them. Critics assert that this would further marginalize the producers of these spirits, many of whom are poor and live far from the central Mexican government. Their first objection is to that problematic label "komil," a Nahuatl word presumably chosen for its lack of cultural context or relevance to traditional Mexican spirits. The Tequila Interchange Project, a non-profit organization that works to preserve traditional Mexican spirits through advocacy and education, objects that there "is no connection anthropologically, biologically, historically, and above all socially, between the word 'komil' and agave distillates. This Nahuatl word meaning 'intoxicating drink' or 'alcoholic drink' could etymologically refer to eggnog or tequila." It's a vague and meaningless term, no more descriptive than "liquor" or "booze." Forcing the word "komil" on distillers outside the mezcal DO would surely disadvantage them, but the liquor industry is no stranger to educating consumers about the ins and outs of spirits classification. It's possible to imagine komil following the same path as [...]
Wed, 27 Apr 2016 11:50:00 -0400
(image) Practically the first campaign promise that Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump made was that he would deport all 11 million undocumented migrants living in the United States. An interesting new study looks at why so many migrants came and, but more crucially, also at why they chose to stay. Their conclusion: Ratcheted up border enforcement played a big role. The article, "Why Border Enforcment Backfired," published in the American Journal of Sociology looks at how ever greater attempts to close down the border led to decisions by those who made it across to stay here rather than risk returning to their home countries.
The researchers argue that rising "border enforcement emerged as a policy response to a moral panic about the perceived threat of Latino immigration to the United States propounded by self-interested bureaucrats, politicians, and pundits who sought to mobilize political and material resources for their own benefit." From 1986 to 2010, the U.S. government spent $35 billion on border enforcement. The result was to essentialy militarize the border, making it ever harder for migrants to travel back and forth. This policy unintentionally transformed "undocumented Mexican migration from a circular flow of male workers going to three states into an 11 million person population of settled families living in 50 states."
"Greater enforcement raised the costs of undocumented border crossing, which required undocumented migrants to stay longer in the U.S. to make a trip profitable," explained researcher Douglas Massey, a sociologist at Princeton University to Phys.org. "Greater enforcement also increased the risk of death and injury during border crossing. As the costs and risks rose, migrants naturally minimized border crossing—not by remaining in Mexico but by staying in the United States."
Also over at Phys.org Harvard University sociologist Mary Waters (who was not involved in the research) further noted: "This is a very important article that looks at a long sweep of history and provides the very best data and analysis to lead to a conclusion that most Americans would find very counter-intuitive. Throwing money at militarizing the border led to the growth of undocumented immigration and if we had just done nothing, undocumented immigration would be much lower."
As it happens the flow of undocumented migrants from Mexico has significantly slowed. Border enforcement may have played a role, but so did the lack of economic opportunities in the U.S. subsequent to the Great Recession, and even more significantly sharply falling Mexican fertility is producing a labor shortfall in that country.
Massey suggests that if the U.S. government were to grant some kind of legal status to the 11 million undocumented migrants lots of them would return home secure in the knowledge that they could come back.
Ultimately, Trump's border wall is "solving" a "problem" that is well on its way to solving itself.
For more background, see my article, "Immigrants Are Less Criminal Than Native-Born Americans."
Tue, 05 Apr 2016 10:14:00 -0400One of the great questions of the 2016 election—apart from, where's Adm. Stockdale when you need him?—has involved exactly how GOP frontrunner Donald Trump would get Mexico to pay for a "beautiful wall" on our southern border that would keep Mexicans out of the United States. Now we know. In a two-page memo sent to Wash Post Bobs Woodward and Costa, Trump says he would threaten to disallow remittances to Mexico, start of trade war with Mexico, yank visas and/or raise the cost of same. Writes the billionaire xenophobe: We have the moral high ground here, and all the leverage. It is time we use it to Make America Great Again. Trump says that if Mexico makes one easy payment of "$5-10 billion" to pay for the wall, our long-term NAFTA trading partner will continue to receive the $24 billion in remittances that get sent south of the border annually. How can we lose? (The Government Accountability Office estimates about $54 billion worth of remittances are sent out of the country every year, with more than half that total going to Mexico.) There's a lot to take in regarding all of this, and none of it is good or sound or humane. For starters, there's the simple fact that Trump (and his Republican and conservative amigos such as Ted Cruz and National Review, who criticize him for being as soft and fluffy on Mexicans as freshly made tortillas) is fighting a phantom menace by his own definitions. Forget for a moment that Mexican immigrants are NOT a drain on America's welfare state (forget, too, why conservatives are suddenly so concerned about protecting America's welfare state rather dismantling it). The number of illegal Mexicans in the United States peaked nearly a decade ago, in 2007. Build a wall now and you're only trapping folks here who are moving en masse back to a country that's offering them a better life than the sluggish U.S. economy. Of course, start a trade war with Mexico and help kill its economy, increase joblessness, and...Mexicans will start heading north again....That sounds about right for government, doesn't it, whether it's directed by conservatives or liberals? Address a problem that is declining, implement policy that reverse that decline, and then declare your stupid, pointless intervention is exactly what was needed! On a more fundamental level, though, Trump's proposal reveals a mind-set that is hardly limited to Republicans and alt-right conservatives terrified of the Reconquista. It's the same consciousness that all protectionists and statists instinctively hold. Everything Trump and the "fair trade" Republicans and Democrats propose is built on the assumption that the government has the right to unilaterally stop people from spending the money they earn and possess; that the feds have a right to tell you where you can and cannot go or even send checks. As Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told Reason during our trip to Cuba, "It is a very, very disturbing trend that we're seeing in the Republican Party against free trade. It's always been there but usually confined to a few isolated members, the Jeff Sessions of the world and others, but now it seems to be spreading. Obviously, it's being given voice by people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who has come out saying that he would not favor TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership." Indeed, free trade is not simply about goods, but a larger worldview that promotes literal and figurative commerce and peaceful engagement with the world. "When goods don't cross borders, soldiers will," as Frederic Bastiat once put it. Or, same thing, soldiers will need to patrol not just the border but all other aspects of life. In his memo, Trump openly relies on various "Know Your Customer" Patriot Act provisions governing banking and commerce that[...]
Thu, 03 Mar 2016 09:00:00 -0500To understand how drug cartels work, we should consider the industry as we would any other that has to deal with regular business problems–how to hire the best personnel, how to handle the competition, how to deliver product to customers, and so on. That is what Tom Wainwright sets out to do in his new book, Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel. "Regulatory approaches that in the ordinary business world would be discarded for their ineffectiveness have been allowed to endure for years in the world of counternarcotics," says the author, a former correspondent in Mexico for The Economist. He cites an example from the Andean countries to illustrate how the supply-side fight to reduce drug consumption is absolutely useless. The cost of the coca leaf is so low compared to the high price of cocaine in consumer countries that even if intervention in South America were to double the price of coca, it would have only a negligible impact on consumers in the United States or in Europe. While travelling two weeks ago in the Mexican state of Sonora, local businessmen told me several people were recently executed in the nearby city of Ciudad Obregón–allegedly, a settling of scores between drug dealers. They confirmed what Wainwright observes: Violence in Mexico tends to be higher in those states bordering the United States and in those with major ports. Drug dealers fight to control these few points of entry and exit. Since supply-side restrictions have almost no impact on drug consumption, the author recommends opening more points of entry on the northern border. At least that would reduce the violence considerably. In an illicit industry, recruiting low-skilled workers is challenging because the jobs require discipline and a high level of trust. Prisons in Latin America have made drug traffickers' lives easier, since these have turned into virtual business schools, where the most experienced people in the business are put in touch with those interested in illegal activities. This is also where gangs gain strength, among other ways by requiring their members to get conspicuous tattoos to reduce the dangerous possibility of them leaving the organization. More than a decade ago, the Dominican Republic implemented a penitentiary reform recommended by Wainwright. The country has jails where gang leaders are separated from the rest of the inmates, fewer criminals are imprisoned, and real jobs are given to inmates, who are also allowed to keep a percentage of the earnings to share with their families. All of this reduces the convicts' dependence on gangs and helps them maintain contact with the legitimate outside world. Under the new system, only 3 percent of those who are released from prison are likely to commit another crime in the following three years, whereas there was a 50 percent recidivism rate under the old system. Wainwright describes how the homicide rate dropped by two thirds in El Salvador when the maras (gangs) reached a truce in 2012 so as to be able to collude in the domestic marketsomething that was undone when the next president withdrew his support, thus increasing violence once again. He also describes how drug cartels practice corporate social responsibility (church charity, providing public services, etc.) to maintain a certain level of support among the local population, and how the new competition resulting from marijuana legalization in parts of the United States is already taking away a significant amount of business (up to three quarters of the their current revenues, according to Mexican experts the author cites). Wainwright also predicts that when fully legalized, American marijuana companies will move to Mexico to export their pr[...]
Wed, 17 Feb 2016 06:00:00 -0500On February 28, 1882, Sen. John F. Miller of California introduced a bill to exclude Chinese immigrant laborers from the country. For two hours, the former Union general presented his case. The Chinese, Miller said, posed an imminent danger, in part because they came from a "degraded and inferior race." Other senators jumped in, calling them "rats," "beasts," and "swine." Oriental civilization, they claimed, was incompatible with the United States and threatened to corrupt the nation. Chinese immigrants also posed an economic danger to white workers, Miller said, through their "machine-like" ways and "muscles of iron." The U.S. laborer, whether on the farm, the shoe bench, or the factory floor, simply could not compete with these low-paid counterparts. A vote for Chinese exclusion was thus a vote for both American labor and the public good. There was minimal opposition to the law. Former Radical Republicans, such as Massachusetts Sen. George Frisbie Hoar, decried the act as "old race prejudice" and a crime against "the great doctrine of human equality affirmed in our Declaration of Independence." But most members of both the Senate and the House agreed that the Chinese needed to be stopped. "The gate...must be closed," Rep. Edward Valentine of Nebraska succinctly declared. Just over two months later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 became law. Today, as the debate heats up over the economic and security implications of immigration, particularly with regard to Muslims, it's worth looking back at America's first law to single out an immigrant group for exclusion. 'American Manhood vs. Asiatic Coolieism. Which Shall Survive?' Americans were first introduced to the Chinese through reports from U.S. traders, diplomats, and missionaries, who tended to describe the foreigners as crafty, dishonest heathens. When significant numbers of Chinese immigrants started coming to the country, they were the largest group of nonwhite immigrants to the United States. Almost as soon as they arrived, questions were raised about whether they should be welcomed or expelled. Demagogues such as Workingmen's Party leader Denis Kearney blamed Chinese laborers for unemployment and low wages, capitalizing on a deep sense of economic insecurity during the depression of the 1870s. Anti-Chinese activists drew on earlier debates over Asian indentured labor in the Caribbean and Latin America, and they charged that the capitalists employing the Chinese were creating a new system of quasi-slavery to degrade U.S. workers. Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, framed the issue with a pamphlet titled Meat vs. Rice—American Manhood vs. Asiatic Coolieism. Which Shall Survive? Industrialists, meanwhile, praised Chinese immigrants as an ample source of cheap, available labor to build the transcontinental railroad and to help develop the lumber, fishing, mining, and agricultural industries of the West. Many restrictionist arguments stressed the sexual danger that both Chinese women and men allegedly posed to the country's morals. Chinese prostitutes were accused of causing "moral and racial pollution" through their interracial liaisons; Chinese men were said to lure pure and innocent white women into dens of vice and depravity. The men were also seen as undermining acceptable gender roles by engaging in the "women's work" of cleaning and cooking. 'Filth, Immorality, Diseases, Ruin to White Labor' Nineteenth century popular culture helped spread these caricatures. One cartoon titled "A Statue for Our Harbor," published in 1881 in the San Francisco–based magazine The Wasp, encapsulated white California's fears about Chinese immigration. It depicted a statue of [...]