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Monday, August 23

Mexico: If it walks like an insurgency and quacks like an insurgency, is it an insurgency?

For the answer, U.S. citizens can take this quiz:

1. Name two states in Mexico.

2. In what state is Mexico's capital city located?

3. What is the full name of Mexico's president?

4. Does Mexico have a vice president and if so what is his or her name?

5. What countries border Mexico?

6. What are Mexico's major political parties?

7. What type of government does Mexico have?

That's right, fellow citizens of the United States of America: We haven't the faintest idea whether Mexico's government is dealing with drug wars or an insurgency because of where Mexico is situated:

On the far side of the moon.

See that little blotch where the arrow points to? That's the precise location of Mexico on the moon's far side.

I don't want to hear readers in Tucson or San Diego tell me that's not true. Do your cities produce an English-language daily newspaper on Mexico?

Does Mexico produce an English-language daily? Not according to Wikipedia's list of Mexico's newspapers, which shows there is not one single English language newspaper produced in Mexico, even though Mexico is part of NAFTA.

Now why is that, do you think?

You can come up with a truthful answer, or you can use the graceful explanation I've provided.

If you say, 'Oh Pundita it's expensive to produce a good newspaper' -- who's talking about a print edition?

And I don't want to hear that a good English-language website about Mexico's daily affairs would be expensive to produce. The Iraq Slogger website was expensive to produce, which is why the owners of the site finally had to make it a subscription site. That's because they had to pay informants who were risking their lives to bring them news of what was going on in Iraq. They had to pay for good English translations, summaries and analysis of Arabic-language Iraqi daily newspapers. They had to pay for summaries and analysis of the best daily mainstream English-language press reports on Iraq. And they had to pay for good original reporting on the country.

But a factor in the amazing turnaround in the situation in Iraq is that Iraq Slogger, which got off the ground around the time of the Iraq 'surge,' provided Americans, including the U.S. government and news media, with the first comprehensive picture of what was happening in the country.

CNN took out subscriptions to Iraq Slogger for its news team, and surely every other major TV and print news producer followed suit. And through a grant every desk at the U.S. Department of State had access to Slogger. In addition, any academic or non-profit blog or website with a serious interest in Iraq received a free subscription on request.

Slogger wrapped up when the major phase of U.S. operations ended in Iraq and the U.S. public turned its attention away from the country. But it's hard to explain in a few words just how useful Iraq Slogger was. Before Slogger it had taken professional research outfits, bloggers, reporters, U.S. legislators' assistants, civil servants, and even military analysts hours of scouring the internet daily to scrape together tiny snapshots of the situation in Iraq that never added up to a clear picture.

Everything changed with the introduction of Iraq Slogger, which was started by Eason Jordan and Robert Young Pelton. With a few keystrokes to log onto the site, the important daily news from the country was all there, along with all the news from Washington related to Iraq, right before your eyes.

Daily visits to Slogger, particularly when combined with daily readings at Bill Roggio's Long War Journal website (which focused on the U.S. military's kinetic operations in Iraq), finally provided a clear picture of the war effort, and how it intersected with Iraq's resurrection from the ashes of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The upshot was that within six months of Iraq Slogger's existence the quality of mainstream reporting and analysis on Iraq skyrocketed -- and with that, so did public and government understanding of the situation in the country, not only in the United States but in Europe and the Middle East, as well.

The American public and official Washington desperately need a Mexico Slogger but we have nothing like it. Yet such a site would be easy for a group of bilingual American (or Mexican) bloggers to put together because all it would require would be English translations of news, analyis, and opinion in Mexico's newspapers and TV. No original reporting or analysis would be necessary; that would simply be icing on the cake.

As to why Americans don't have such a website, I don't know. I do know that those on both sides of the border who have the most invested in cheap Mexican labor and remittance transfers to Mexico don't want Americans to have a clear picture of what's going on in Mexico.

So take the explanation I offered. Far side of the moon. Because let me tell you; there is no sound reason why an oil rich next-door neighbor to the world's lone superpower nation should be such a basket case that millions of its people have to leave their country to get a day's wages, or because they get tired of dealing with corruption and years of red tape just to secure a small business loan in Mexico.

That means you shouldn't be fooled by U.S. labor unions, immigrant rights groups, and politicians that claim Mexico's downtrodden are just trying to feed their families when they slip across the border.

Downtrodden Mexicans can't feed their families in Mexico because Mexico's government won't enforce tax collection among the country's well off. The downtrodden can't feed their families in Mexico because the entitlements for the country's poorest aren't there, due to the crummy tax base. They can't feed their families in Mexico because rather than collect taxes already on the books, Mexico's government went on a campaign to 'persuade' even the poorest émigrés in this country to ramp up remittances to their families back home and told the families to depend on the remittances.

In other words, the remittance monies were largely not used by Mexicans as disposable income and to get a leg up in the society; they were used to subsist on.

Thus, 2005 found Pundita blog snapping that Mexico's then-President Vicente Fox was going straight to hell for pushing remittances as the solution to Mexico's problems. I demanded to know what was going to happen to the remittances if the U.S. economy went into a downturn.

I learned what happened, soon enough. On July 1, 2009 Michael E. Miller at Bloomberg wire service reported for Business Week that Mexico remittances had plunged in the worst drop on record
... Money sent home by Mexicans working abroad fell by 19.9 percent in May, the biggest monthly decline on record as the U.S. recession slashed jobs.

Remittances dropped to $1.9 billion from $2.4 billion in May 2008, the [Mexico] central bank said on Wednesday. The amount of money sent home in the first five months of 2009 fell 11.3 percent to $9.2 billion compared with the same period last year.

Remittances are the second-biggest source of foreign currency after oil exports in Mexico, and their decline has contributed to the country's own economic downturn.

Mexico's economy shrank by 8.2 percent in the first quarter from the same period last year, putting it on track for the worst recession since the so-called Tequila Crisis of 1995. ...Mexico, the world's third largest recipient of remittances after India and China, has seen them fall since late 2007. ...
Another Bloomberg report on the same day brought the really bad news:
... Diminished savings of immigrants, the impact of the swine flu outbreak and slowing migration from Mexico to the U.S. caused the drop in [remittance] transfers, said Greg Watson, remittances specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington.

“Since the beginning of the [financial] crisis, we knew immigrants were tapping their savings, and the big question was how long those coping mechanisms could last,” Watson said in a telephone interview. “We could be seeing now that those coping mechanisms have run their course.”...
Run their course they did. When the U.S. economy crashed and stayed on its back, families in Mexico that depended on remittances to put food on the table were facing starvation.

Rather than starve, many went to work for the drug cartels. You can trace a line between the plummeting remittance payments during the deep U.S. recession and the escalating violence in Mexico.

So here we are today, with the U.S. press suddenly alarmed that Mexico's "drug violence" had surged into Monterrey, Mexico's business capital and richest city.

And here we are, with Reuters reporting that Mexico's main opposition party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, is "vowing to oppose extending the country's value-added tax to food and medicine after shooting down the proposal when last hatched by Calderón in 2009."

As to why a country such as Mexico would have a value-added tax at all, which forces struggling small businesses and even the country's poorest to pay through the nose for purchases -- go ask Mexico's oligarchs, the International Monetary Fund, or the U.S. Department of State.

You can also trace lines between the U.S. banking rules created to make remittance transfers cheap and easy; the spike in illegal immigrants coming from Mexico to work in the U.S. home construction industry; the spike in speculation in the U.S. housing market, and the explosion in the crazy mortgage and derivatives markets accompanying the speculation -- that is, until the huge speculative bubble burst.

If you really like playing with tracing paper, you can draw lines between burgeoning agribusiness in U.S. regions that have to depend on the critically important Ogallala aquifer for mega-farming operations; the rise in illegal immigrants coming from Mexico to work for agribusiness in those regions; and the fast-depleting aquifer, which is being stripped of water reserves faster than they can be replaced.

When you're finished with tracing lines you'll be staring at the truism that there is no such thing as a free lunch, no more than there's such a thing as dirt-cheap Mexican labor.

Both Mexico and the United States have paid a catastrophically high price for the desire to get something for next to nothing. Yet with rare exceptions the U.S. news media have been silent as the grave about the price.

And so we arrive at Mexican President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa's increasingly desperate flailing, as he contemplates turning the clock of Mexico's judicial system backward to allow for anonymous prosecutions of drug criminals, launches a verbal offensive against the United States for American drug use and weapons smuggling into Mexico, and asks Mexican legislators for fresh ideas on how to stop the drug lords' march on Mexican society. Which for some unknown reason he doesn't see as an insurgency.
Finally, someone says it like it is! Kudos Pundita.
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