Happy 50,000th!

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This blog has just hit the 50,000 visits mark since I first started writing it. Coincidentally, it happened on the same day as my 10,000th tweet from @arjanshahani

Traffic is erratic and different people from different countries gravitate here for different content and different reasons, but on any given weekday, anywhere from 200 to a 1000 of you grace me with a visit to this space where I can share web content I find entertaining and amusing, provide you with my own bit of personal humor and satire and/or share my true opinion through Op-Eds or sociopolitical essays.

It’s developed into a nice little personal corner of mine on the web and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I appreciate your comments, ping backs, visits, retweets on Twitter, re-posts and shares on Facebook and any other ways in which you have helped bring more people to the site.

I truly hope that through these little over 50,000 hits I’ve been able to at the very least, provide you with some entertainment. At best, I hope your visit here has become a starting point of a deeper conversation and my “True Opinion” articles have inspired you to think or act differently.

Anyways, cheers to all of you and the humblest of thanks for your visits and input. You kick ass.

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News Flash: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita says…

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Game theorist and Political Scientist from NYU Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, famous for outpredicting the CIA’s future international scenarios 2 to 1, has just predicted that Newt Gingrich will take the GOP nomination in the end but Obama will be re-elected.

Just thought I’d let you know in case you’re putting any money down on Presidential Election bets.

As Gabby Giffords steps down…

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As Gabby Giffords steps down from Congress, I would like to honor her decision by exposing and remembering that religious extremist fanaticism is behind much of the hatred that is ruining civil society not only in the US, but worldwide.

We have made great progress in spreading tolerance among much of our youth. Technology has actually helped bring people together and one would think this would mean it has allowed us to create a more peaceful, worldview. Unfortunately, technology  has also given the crazies a soundboard and allowed them to congregate and cluster.

This creates a hard but necessary decision. While I am all for tolerance and free speech, I have to conclude that tolerance must have its limits. Paradoxically, we cannot be tolerant towards intolerance. When I see something like the following video, I can’t bring myself to saying “it is Mr. Phelps’ right to spread hatred like this.”

Maybe it is his right. Maybe there’s no legal way to stop these nutjobs from saying their crap. Maybe the only resource we have against them is the same free speech that allows him to reach an audience with such stupid remarks. If that is the case, then let me go ahead and exercise my free speech: SCREW YOU WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH. Thanks for listening.

A letter from Mitt Romney – By Andy Borowitz

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Today’s Borowitz Report was so amusing, I had to share it with you. If you like it, I highly recommend suscribing to Andy’s site: http://www.borowitzreport.com/ (Don’t worry, it’s free).

A Letter from Mitt Romney

About My Finances

SOUTH CAROLINA (The Borowitz Report) – Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has released the following letter to the American people:

Dear American People:

Over the past several days, my personal finances have been distorted into a grotesque caricature by the mainstream media, pundits, and other people who can count.  I am writing to you to set the record straight by explaining my finances in terms the American people can relate to.

Let’s say you bought a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982 for $5,000.  A couple of years later, what do you know, you sell that same bottle for $10,000.  So you just made a profit of $5,000 through your own hard work.  How much of that should you pay to the government?  I’d say fifteen percent.

Now let’s say you have a fellow mowing the lawn at your 7,000 square foot home in La Jolla, and he turns out to be an illegal.  You say, “No way, Jose” (Jose is actually his real name) and send him packing.  He doesn’t deserve his full paycheck, since he lied to you in Spanish, but it wouldn’t be fair to give him nothing, either.  So you pay him fifteen percent.

Now let’s pretend the United States of America is like one big restaurant.  Not a fancy restaurant, mind you, but one that only gets two Michelin stars.  And let’s say that you order a meal of Beluga caviar, white truffles and gold shavings, washing it down with your favorite beverage, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982.  The bill arrives and it’s quite a hefty one for a working stiff who only made $375,000 last year in speaking fees.  (That’s right: minimum wage.) So when it comes to toting up the bill, how much should I tip the waiter, who in case you’re having trouble following this metaphor is the IRS?  You got it: fifteen percent.

I think I’ve now shown, using these real-life examples that everyone can relate to, that no one should ever pay more than fifteen percent on their taxes.  If you have been paying more than that, you should get rid of your loser accountant pronto.  That’s another thing I have in common with regular Americans: we like firing people.

So – now that I’ve laid it out in simple terms that even you can understand, do you agree that you and Mitt Romney have a whale of a lot more in common than you thought?  I’ll bet you ten grand you do.

Au revoir,

Mitt

Happy Yellow Submarine Day

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On Jan 17th, 1969 The Beatles released the soundtrack for the animated classic “Yellow Submarine.”

So on its anniversary, it is only natural for me to wish all of you a happy Yellow Sub Day. May your friends be all aboard and may many more of them live next door. Enjoy today’s sky of blue and sea of green in your yellow submarine!

Mexico needs a runoff election process

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico Needs a Runoff Process” , published on Jan 13th, 2012. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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On July 1, Mexicans will choose their president for the next six years. This will be the fourth time the electoral process is not organized by the government but by a supposedly non-biased institution, the Instituto Federal Electoral or IFE.

Mexico likes to boast (especially since 2000) that we hold free, fair and transparent elections. And while that may be the case to some extent, the country could learn a lot from its Latin American neighbors with regard to the process in itself. More than ever, Mexico would benefit from the implementation of a two-round runoff election as opposed to its current majority rule system.

Prior to 1994, general elections were but a façade to legitimize the perpetuation in power of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Without an independent regulatory body to observe the process, elections results were heavily and systematically manipulated, voting booths with opposition preference were ransacked and official tallies always placed the PRI as an absolute majority winner. Under these circumstances, the official rules of the process were irrelevant and a second round of elections would have never made sense as the PRI would always get over 50 percent of the supposed electorate preference. 

The PRI’s control over elections had been so blatant that the country was led to believe that José López Portillo had won fairly in 1976 with an impressive 87 percent of the vote. In 1988, Carlos Salinas de Gortari was the last president to win an absolute majority (50.7 percent) of the vote.

Not by coincidence, and after four years of the IFE existing, the first non-government organized elections saw Ernesto Zedillo win with only 48.69 percent of the votes in 1994. Besides recovering from the 1994–1995 crisis, which started with the so-called “Error de Diciembre ,” Zedillo’s most important legacy was probably to pave the way for the IFE’s full independence, and thus allow for the democratic transition of power. In 2000, Vicente Fox of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) won the election with 42.52 percent of the votes. He was the first president to take power in a situation in which the sum of votes from the two other major parties was actually larger than those awarded to him (52.75 percent between the PRI and a Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD)-led alliance). The trend continued in 2006, where President Felipe Calderón (PAN) took power with only 35.89 percent of the votes—a less than 1 percentage point advantage over one of his closest competitor.

Single election, majority rule voting systems work in situations of a two-party system or when one of the candidates is able to conjure up an absolute majority on the first try. But as Mexican electoral history has shown, it’s time to reassess the situation for the country and consider second-round voting.

Mexico has developed into a multiparty system and that system is here to stay. The country has seen the strengthening even of previously discarded small parties such as the PT, PVEM and PANAL. But, more importantly, three major players have emerged and none looks to be going away anytime soon.

Thus, 30/30/30 scenarios become more likely; in fact, since 1994 the country has been run by a person most of its citizens voted against.  This is not just a problem of mathematical relative majority, but  it also reflects on the ability of the leader to govern. It raises the probability that the president might not have been a voter’s second choice had they been given a shot at a runoff.

A two-round system like in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and many other Latin American countries would permit citizens to express their real preferences on round one. Then when two front-runners are left, they could vote for the “least bad” alternative, or as we say in Mexico “el menos peor.”

It would also eliminate the vice of the “useful vote” in which voters cast their vote based on how they think the majority will. In 2006 when Calderón took power, he did so in great part due to “useful votes.” These people did not necessarily agree with Calderón’s proposals or principles but they thought he would be the only one to be able to beat Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) so they gave him their support as a means of blocking the PRD from taking power. While it is understood that in a two-round process the useful vote predicament does appear in the latter round, at least citizens can freely vote their conscience initially. Their first choice can be made for the right reasons and their votes are not thrown out on a whimsical guess.

Runoff elections also provide the elected leader with a level of legitimacy we have not had in Mexico since Zedillo took power. Further, if you consider the fact that elections were fixed before him, one could say that it is a legitimacy no Mexican president has ever had. In clearer terms: no Mexican president has been freely elected by an absolute majority (on a first or second round).

In the 2012 elections people will be voting against PRI because they don’t want them back in power, against PRD because they believe López Obrador to be a danger for the neoliberal model and against PAN because they have deemed them ineffective in the war against drugs and organized crime (and yes, a few constituents will vote for their preferred candidate). This conjecture is way too complex for a single majority vote electoral system to resolve in an effective constructive manner.

Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Orina sobre Afganistán

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Dedicado a mis colegas internacionalistas.

A pesar de entender bien la sensibilidad del tema dentro del contexto de negociaciones de paz con aras de dar fin a la invasión de Estados Unidos en Afganistán, no puedo evitar hacer una reflexión en torno al hecho de que lo que hoy se repudia en los noticieros y pláticas de café (leer abajo) es el resultado de un escándalo mediático en lugar de un verdadero cuestionamiento al problema de raíz.

Hablo del desborde en investigaciones, declaraciones oficiales y descalificaciones en las redes sociales que surgen cuando se filtra un video que muestra a marines estadounidenses orinando sobre cadáveres de combatientes afganos.

Para quienes no lo han visto o requieren revisitarlo, me refiero a estas imágenes (que advierto pueden ser fuertes para algunos… no las vean enfrente de sus hijos de 8 años):

Quiero dejar algo en claro: en ningún momento estoy validando los actos mostrados en las imágenes. Simplemente creo que vale la pena discutir por qué hacemos ruido por esto pero se cuestiona de manera tan ligera la naturaleza del conflicto, la prolongación del mismo, así como las muertes civiles resultantes de él y declaradas “daño colateral” para no herir susceptibilidades.

Oficialmente, la guerra inició en Octubre del 2001. A más de 10 años de violencia, de romper con los tratados internacionales, de destruir físicamente a un país y de endeudar al punto de quiebra a otro, del deterioro en las visas de millones de civiles forzados a vivir en un país inmerso en conflicto armado que no entienden, ¿el mundo se alarma por este video?

Entiendo que en pro de una resolución diplomática al conflicto el gobierno estadounidense lamente el hecho y diga que está buscando a los responsables. Lo que no entiendo es a una sociedad global que exige “justicia” porque tuvo acceso a un video de YouTube. Me parece tan torcido como Michele Bachmann diciendo que el gobierno iraquí debería pagar reparaciones a Estados Unidos por los costos de invadir dicha nación… pero volvamos al tema de Afganistán y el video de los marines…

La guerra es sin lugar a dudas una de las actividades humanas más deplorables que uno podría imaginar. Aun cuando la causa para llegar a la guerra pueda considerarse gloriosa (pienso en héroes que logran una independencia o revolucionarios que buscan liberarse del yugo de un opresor), tengo que decir algo que es evidente pero aparentemente olvidamos: la guerra es una dinámica a través de la cuál justificamos llevar nuestra existencia como individuos a lo más salvaje y animal de nuestro ser. Es el proceso por el cual nos permitimos romper la regla de oro de la convivencia social (tratar a los demás como quisiéramos que nos traten) y nos convencemos de que la persona a la que me enfrento tiene menos derecho a vivir que yo. Es un acto por el cual me permito quitarle la vida a alguien para lograr los fines que considero “buenos.”

Menciono todo esto por el hecho de que la preparación para la guerra tiene importantes componentes de adecuación a los procesos mentales que tenemos naturalmente como seres humanos. Previo a luchar, el combatiente es preparado psicológicamente para permitirse deshumanizar al enemigo de tal manera en que no le guarda respeto alguno. De esta manera es que se prepara “mejor” para poder jalar el gatillo sin remordimiento y con la velocidad necesaria para ser más efectivo que la persona que lo enfrenta (que a su vez comparte esta visión respecto al otro). Insisto, no es un estadio agradable y no es que quiera celebrar lo visto en el video o la mentalidad del soldado en guerra, pero es bajo esta lupa que hay que verlo para poder juzgar sin distorsiones. Considero difícil si no es que imposible, pensar que un soldado al que sistemáticamente se le ha llevado a deshumanizar al enemigo, de repente se le exija respetar un cadáver que representa el éxito de haber cumplido con sus objetivos.

En relaciones internacionales históricamente hasta la guerra es normada, por lo menos de manera conceptual. Se habla de ciertas “cordialidades” que reglamentan las interacciones de guerra, tales como el respetar a los elementos de la Cruz Roja Internacional, el uso de fuerza, la legítima defensa, los acuerdos de cese a fuego, etc. Sin embargo, esos principios (aún en medio de un escenario en que la gente está tratando de arrancarle la vida al otro) pintan un mundo que desde hace mucho no existe, mucho más en conflictos en que los combatientes no son actores bajo el primer paradigma de las RRII (naciones estado). En conflictos como el de Afganistán no hay jurisprudencia internacional, ni reglas del juego ni árbitro calificado. Hay caos, anarquía, destrucción, dolor, y quebranto. Vaya, aun 10 años después se sigue debatiendo si Estados Unidos tenía en derecho internacional, bases para llevar a cabo la invasión (el Consejo de Seguridad nunca aprobó la incursión y diferentes interpretaciones de la Carta de Naciones Unidas ponen en tela de juicio si el caso fue uno de legítima defensa o no).

La guerra en sí representa un fracaso: simboliza la incapacidad de prevenir el desbordamiento de un conflicto por las partes involucradas. Si queremos responder a la pregunta “¿por qué los marines orinaron sobre los cadáveres?” dejemos la hipocresía aparte y aceptemos que es porque dentro del estado mental en que se encuentran ellos (y se encontraban seguramente también los cadáveres antes de volverse cadáveres), esto es perfectamente permisible y las autoridades que hoy lo reprueban, son las responsables por llevar a los soldados a dicho estado mental porque saben que es lo que necesitan hacer para tener mayor posibilidad de éxito ante sus objetivos. ¿Es esto un pensamiento agradable a enfrentar? Definitivamente no. Pero por lo menos es honesto.

Es honesto como lo es decir abiertamente que atacar Afganistán bajo la excusa de buscar desmembrar al Talibán porque es un grupo opresor y que hospeda al Al-Qaeda, es un acto de incongruencia cuando fue precisamente Estados Unidos el que le dio las armas a dicho grupo para llegar al poder durante la Guerra Fría.

Es tan honesto como cuestionar si la razón por la cual el conflicto en Afganistán ha durado tanto, es que la economía estadounidense tiene demasiado invertido en el dinamismo que la guerra provee a ciertas industrias y contratistas. Tan honesto como hablar del hecho de que la cultura del miedo que viene de propagar el conflicto es una manera de tratar de prevenir el estancamiento del gasto doméstico en los Estados Unidos.

Así que reprueben al meón, sin lugar a dudas… pero sepan que llevamos más de 10 años de orina sobre Afganistán y sólo porque se les ocurrió verlo en YouTube, hoy retwitean su descalificación.

Aspiremos a ser mejores, a estar más informados, a cuestionar el circo mediático y a alzar la voz en torno a lo más relevante. Aspiremos a esa madurez como sociedad civil en el mundo.

Y por favor, usemos los mingitorios.