Thursday, April 27, 2006
How: there is no indication of how, nor where the money for those fair pensions will come from which could be a problem because 'Roberto' aka David Copperfield is also going to lower the price of gas, gasoline and electricity. Battered women and domestic violence? Violence and crime in general? Roberto 'El Mago Korbel' has this all under control. Don't you worry about a thing.
All these vacuous proposals say so little and leave one wondering how in the world these catchy slogans are going to translate into actual actions.
I have a few more proposals I would like to see a presidential candidate make.
The bloated, corrupt and self serving labor unions have served their purpose, since the days of the slave-like haciendas are over and the world is growing smaller and becoming one homogenous mass of humanity. I would like to see a candidate challenge the notion that some of these union benefits are still viable in 2006 and beyond.
For example, take the union that 'represents' the workers of the Comision Federal de Electricidad. Their one outstanding benefit that is a slap in the face to all the other folks who work to pay their bills, is the one that states that all CFE employees get free electricity. Free electricity! The one biggest bill that a homeowner can have is the electricity bill. But all the CFE employees do not have to contend with this one! Cool huh? Cool is right, because all the CFE employee houses have multiple air conditioners on, 24/7. This is so ridiculous that if it wasn't true it would be laughable. How can a company be profitable and efficient with this kind of overhead. Sorry, but this benefit must go.
Another fine example is the aguinaldo. I have written on these subjects before, but hey, maybe someone with a whole lot of 'huevos' will take the initiative. At the end of each year, Mexico's ancient 15th century labor laws state that employees must receive an additional 15-day paycheck called an aguinaldo. Some companies, and governments in particular, have extended this questionable 'benefit' to 1 month or more. How in the world can wages ever be increased if at the end of the year, the employer - the evil 'patron' - must shell out additional paychecks. Would it not be more beneficial to increase wages year-round and have people live better year-round?
And while I am on the subject of wages, why do employers have to pay a 48 hour work week and the 7th day (of no work) as well? In other words, a 56 hour work week? Another reflection on the ridiculously ancient labor laws in effect in this crazy country.
It is time to get those wage laws into the 21st century and I would love to hear some presidential candidate say that his proposal was to move to an hourly salary for employees. An hourly salary based on productivity and flexible enough to accomodate students, part-timers, working Moms and the employers themselves.
Hopefully a presidential candidate, if not for this election, a future one, is reading this...
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Here are some original ideas that would sway my vote (if I could vote, which I can't 'cuz I am a foreigner). These are concrete ideas that would make a difference to many people and help Mexico out of it's paternalistic 15th century mindset, and not be so much more BOshit.
1. Do away with some taxes. Any tax. Here's one idea - I humbly suggest eliminating the onerous tenencia tax. Tax for having a car. Would that the money be used for a purpose even remotely green in nature. I don't see it. This dumb-ass tax is like the income tax up north in that it started as a one-time thing. A 'temporary measure' to raise money for some Olympics. Well the 'temporary' has become permanent and the politicians must be licking their chops every year when the stupid populace says 'ni modo' and pays up.
2. This one is even better. The 'employment tax'. Here is the Mexican government - at all levels - bitching and moaning about employment, we need more employment, we need jobs, job creation, the private sector has a responsability to provide jobs etc. etc. We need foreign investors to come here and open factories and sweat shops and and and. Bla bla bla.
Then, when the jobs are created, the factories opened, the investor naively believing the fairy tales coming from the mouths of Mexican politicians, you get slapped with an employment tax.
Forgive my ignorance, but I don't know what the rate is in other states of the Mexican Republic, but in the Yucatan it is 2% of your payroll. In short, you the employer, are being punished for creating more jobs. Thank you for investing here and providing those jobs.... now pay me. Like the 'tenencia' tax, if this employment tax was put to provably good use, well great. But I don't see it. I don't think anyone else does either.
3. The last proposal for the presidential candidates for this particular emission also regards vehicles. The North American Free Trade Agreement opened the border up to imports of personal vehicles. For the first few years of this agreement, the vehicles had to be pickup trucks and OVER 10 YEARS OLD! To help the poor farmers you see. I still don't see any campesinos driving pickup trucks but there sure are a lot of them. So we now have all the old vehicles that in the US are no longer of any use. This policy, a true third world idea, promotes the use of inefficient vehicles and technology which help to destroy the Mexican environment. the message to the world is 'Poor us, we can only afford your first world shitty cast-offs.' Why don't they do this with clothing too? We could all dress in hand me down clothing from the richer nations!
The proposal is this: eliminate the vehicle tenencia tax on any new car featuring non-fossil fuel technology. That is, promote the import and purchase of vehicles that are environment-friendly thereby placing Mexico in the forefront of environmental conservation technology.
I have a few more proposals that I will throw out there in upcoming writings. Perhaps they will make sense to one or more candidates.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
The heat has come back on as it does every April in the Yucatan. The land looks scorched, what's left of Merida's natural vegetation (that which can still be seen around the ever-expanding grey city) is dull and grey and those unfortunate people lacking air conditioners in their cars (you know, the ones that have a "for sale" sign on them that says the car has A.C.) hang various bodily appendages out of their windows while driving in the vain hope that somehow, something, might get cooled off. Even the ever-present, mangy street dogs are less energetic than ever, if that is possible, lying around with their tongues hanging down to the sidewalk, sides heaving in the heat.
Many factors can be blamed for the heat that seems to be getting more and more intense each year (and it's not just me). The greatest factor, at least at the local level because I don't want to get into global fossil fuel consumption, the Kyoto Accord - thank YOU Australia you coal burning 16th cetury throwbacks and thank YOU USA for protecting your fat oil company presidents at all costs - ahem, as I was saying the greatest factor, at the local level, in my humble opinion, is at least partially due to the expanding, cement-fueled growth of the formerly white city and the burning and destruction of what's left out there that is green.
Downtown, el centro seems impossible. What with all the buildings, the traffic and the mass of humanity that swarms there every day, it is like taking a relaxing stroll in an extremely noisy industrial convection oven. Even so, it is evidently a planned city, where spaces for streets, buildings, and parks were, at one time (I am talking back in the colonial days, not anytime in recent memory), carefully thought out. There are many lush, refreshing interior gardens in el centro; many public parks with giant, shady trees under which to find refuge from the assault. These trees are so large that any attempt to cut one of them down results in a public outcry and the dirty deed usually is stopped.
It is another story altogether in the new fraccionamientos, the ones being built on tiny individual lots by constructors who obviously have little regard for the concept 'quality of life' unless it refers to their own, where it must truly be hell during this time of the year. In housing developments like Las Americas on the road to Dzitya, the monstrous Francisco de Montejo and others near the periferico, the houses are built, shoebox style, on tiny lots that leave little room for planting a cooling shade tree (you didn't expect the constructor to think of that did you?) let alone anything resembling a lawn, garden or something to that effect. So each of these shoeboxes will get their air conditioner, adding another grain of sand to the ever increasing challenge of climatic change. The so-called green areas, where children could play, trees could grow and oxygen could be replacing carbon monoxide, which are mandated by the municipality when granting permission to builed these one story ghettos, invariably end up being converted to parking and or commercial areas.
With regards to these new housing developments, I would like to extend my congratulations to the following for making Merida, and Yucatan in general, that much hotter, less green and drier, not to mention damn uglier:
- the construction companies -out to make a buck, a peso or many pesos, the construction companies that build the so-called 'clase popular' housing deserve a hearty pat on the back because they are dividing up the large parcels of (formerly green) land in the Yucatan, dividing them into extra small, bite size pieces, so that every family can have an affordable house. How good of them; it almost makes them look like saints. Of course they are for-profit businesses and are within their right to exploit whatever it takes to make a profit, right? One can't expect a these companies to consider such things as 'quality of life' and 'dignity' of their customers, the environment (who has the time) or the long-term effects of their depradation. So they exploit whatever they can: needy campesinos who sell off at ridiculously cheap prices the only thing of value left ot them, their land. Needy families who are being paid such low wages that they cannot afford a house bigger than a case of Coronitas, weak municipal, state and federal governments that can be persuaded to bend rules in exchange for some takin. It seems that the housing construction companies subscribe to the U.S. right wing Ann Coulter "rape the earth, it's yours" school of thought.
- But none of this would be possible if the government was doing the job it was supposedly 'elected' (smirk) to do; to govern, not make money like another corporation. Instead, the inefficient, bloated and corrupt government - at all levels - with it's pathetically paternalistic third world mentality becomes the facilitator of all the rest. At the federal level, the junior politicians in Mexico City who grew up without clean skies, wildlife or anything natural, surrounded by the ugly mess that makes up a large part of Mexico City, are designing housing programs for the rest of the country. These housing programs rarely take into account local conditions and are based on the Mexico City Mess Mindset. Eventually the entire country will be that ugly. Through it's Infonavit program, the federal government contracts the construction companies - add a generous helping of corruption and kickbacks at this point - and approves projects that are destined to become future slums.
While the city is being paved over, out in the Yucatecan countryside the campesinos, Yucatan's farming folk which has a romantic ring to it when they are in fact the poorest of the poor, weigh in with their contribution to the general increase in temperatures by continuing with their age old tradition of burning their lands, thereby ridding them of last year's crop leftovers or whatever it is that bothers them so much.
Gigantic grey smoke clouds can be seen all over the peninsula; apparently sometimes these 'small' 'controlled' burns become somewhat larger thanks to the hot winds blowing this time of year. This ancient and charming tradition apparently goes back to Mayan farmers many many moons ago (the resulting barren-ness of the croplands coincidentally contributing greatly to their demise but we won't talk about that; let's stick with the magical peaceful nature-loving theories and that they all dissappeared when aliens came and abducted them) and obviously results in the burning not only of that disturbing corn stalk left over from last year, but also any shred of organic material that might have turned into valuable topsoil leaving the land looking like a nuclear bomb went off. After an agricultural burn, the land is black, with grey patches where the rocks stick out. A lovely sight. When the burn goes out of control, the result is the same with the added visual of skeletal charred tree trunks poking out of the smoldering ash covered rock.
When the rains finally come, and they eventually do although increasingly less it seems (hmmm wonder why that is) the campesinos poke around in the ashes between the stones, making small holes and then drop seeds into them.
This it the Yucatan peninsula in April. Of course there many wonderful things about Yucatan in April, none of which come to mind at this particulary sweaty time of the year ewhen one wants to run screaming into a walk-in freezer, but the infernal heat is not one of them. Of course there are many hopeless romantics who have been and are writing on the wonders of Merida as you read this and you can turn to them for affirmation and support for that investment in Muna you just made.
As for the heat, there's not much to do about it, except to learn to live with it, I suppose. In my particular case, I have chosen to live outside the city, and when building our house, was pretty adamant that any tree at all that could be left, be in fact left. Now all the trees have grown and thrived and the property is cool and green. So if you can, find something green and nurture it and convince others to do the same.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Shiny and new are of course, euphemisms, euphamisms or euphomisms (I like the first spelling the best, how about you?) since none of the contenders for president of this beautiful country are shiny or new.
Rather, they are dull and old. The same tired old slogans, promises, toothy grins and 3/4 shots looking 'handsome' on giant billboards around the country. There are 3 candidates in the running: Felipe Calderon (PAN), Roberto Madrazo (PRI) and Andres Lopez (PRD). In addition to those main characters, the play this time around includes a decent female candidate Patricia Mercado, representing some obscure political alliance and Dr. Simi, who runs a chain of pharmacies across the country; his marketing slogan (for the pharmacies anyway) is the same product, for less. This could probably apply to the political offerings of all the candidates in this federal election as well. Dr. Simi's campaign tours include scantily-clad 'Simi Chicas', models - they are called that in reference to his name and not to any possible simian resemblance on their part - who drape themselves around Dr. Simi and say very little, thus promoting not only the good doctor, but also women's liberation and positive feminism, in that charmingly degrading way so common to Latin American third world countries.
I don't, being the casual observer that I am, perceive any particular enthusiasm so far, with regards to any one candidate, beyond the usual paid-for-by-the-party fervor at public events where each candidate appears. There is no sense of renewal or hope, like there was in the 2000 election when Vicente Fox (PAN) drove the PRI out of the president's chair after they had held that office for 70 years! 70 years! There is no sense of any excitement at all; in fact, there is a growing sense (again I am not a professional analyst, just gut feelings here) of apathy, total and complete discontent, discouragement, disappointment and dissatisfaction with the whole electoral process. I believe that voter abstention will be way up from the last federal elections, when Fox won.
Who will the shiny, new president be? One of these three:
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (PRD) - a mouthful of a name which the gringos will probably shorten to Andres Lopez - which doesn't have the same regal ring to it.
AMLO (as he is abbreviated) is the governor/leader/mayor of Mexico City, the unmanageable, overpopulated, polluted and corrupt largest city in Mexico and official international municipal basket case and as such has been charged with causing all the city's woes. It is ridiculous to think that any one man is responsible for the irresponsibility of 25 million citizens each of whom believes that it is their god-given right to do as they please, when they please, and to whomever they please at whatever time they bloody well feel like it. So please. As if anyone could restore order there. Jesus Christ himself would throw his hands up in despair and go back to the cross. Mexico City is a mess because the citizens of Mexico City have made it so. But I digress.
AMLO has a good chance of getting a lot of votes from the people he has helped, which are mostly the ignorant masses of the needy and the elderly (who are also needy) to whom he has generously (not out of his own pocket of course) and grandly distributed small tokens of ... of... money. Despised by many who see him as a leftist Chavez-style threat, he is just a smooth operator, leading the PRI rejects in a style reminiscent of the past. One of his goals ('get money'), apparently, is to maintain tight control over Mexican state industries like Pemex and the electricity monopolies. This is a popular concept in many deluded Mexican's minds, who think that having their resources exploited, and being robbed, by their own fellow Mexicans with no accounting whatsoever is better than having it done by someone else. In their warped and fervently nationalistic brains, rather than having competition from three or four international firms vying for our resources and having our well-thought-out conditions met, it is better to have our giant, inefficient, bureaucratic, polluting Soviet-style enterprise (Por el Progreso de Mexico!!!!) (Un Pais Con Energia es un Pais con Futuro!!!) doing whatever the hell they want.
AMLO appeals to this kind of geopolitical mindset, the whiners who think life is unfair. The same ones who complain that the gringos are too hard on the Mexicans sneaking across the border and that they have RIGHTS por Dios.
Felipe Calderon Hinojosa (PAN) is the ruling party's 'gallo'. The 'gallo' is the rooster, and this is the one Vicente Fox's party picked to run against the others. Said to be more of a follower of the PAN political doctrine (whatever that may be, other than 'get money'), Felipe is seen as the only half-decent choice from a pack of really crappy candidates. He has changed his campaign slogan at least 3 times; which means that he is a) not thinking his campaign slogans through very well, b) not very consistent in his ideas or c) didn't have enough money to pay for a decent campaign manager.
He seems to me, to be the middle of the road kinda guy, the 'pan sin sal' (bread without salt) or 'caca de paloma - ni apesta ni huele' (pigeon shit - doesnÂ´t smell either way) candidate who will, by default, when those few voters who do go out and stand in line to vote (What for? they wonder), get the 'voto de castigo' which is the punishing vote. To punish the other, worse, candidates, the voters will punish them by voting for Calderon. A sad way to win but in the end ('get money') it works.
Roberto Madrazo Pintado (PRI) - the ancient, Triassic-era PRI has resurrected this dinosaur from the swampy depths of the political tar pits, who now touts himself as something new and fresh. Your grandmothers last weeks Depends are fresher than this guy. He stands for everything that was, and yet some people actually believe it (or, I suspect, are being paid handsomely and desperately, to say they do).
His vision (besides 'get money') includes the triumphant return of the PRI to power, while bitching and moaning about all the things the PAN is doing (and his party ignored and laughed off the same accusations when they were made by the PAN to the then-ruling PRI) and has shortened his campaign name from Roberto Madrazo to just Roberto. Roberto sounds more friendly don't you think? Why, when you put it like that, I even forget what his last name was... ah yes, Madrazo. A 'madrazo' in Mexican slang, is a 'hit' as in a physical slap, punch, kick. If someone gives you a 'madrazo' then you have been hit. Does this have anything to do with the sudden name-shortening? I wonder.
There you have the short list of the fine fellows who aspire to Mexico's presidency in the next federal elections. None have any original, novel ideas to help push what could still be a great country in the right direction. In my next attempt at political journalism, I will try to outline what I think are some important steps that a political candidate could try to undertake to move Mexico from the 17th century and it's 'Moon Over Parador' feel to the year 2006.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
At the moment, I am more than a little concerned with the ever-declining tree population in Merida and the Yucatan in general. The big picture, when seen from the air as in an airplane when you are flyoing somewhere from Merida, is that there is still lots of greenery out there. Huge tracts of land, green and lush. But the development that is happening around Merida, the outskirts so to speak, are square white and grey stains on this green landscape and it is pretty frightening.
Merida's centro and the older colonias still look pretty balanced as far as white and grey concrete vs. green oxygen-providing vegetation. But all those new developments, especially the larger ones like Francisco de Montejo to the north and Juan Pablo II in the south, are completely devoid of anything green.
I am rambling I know but this is the beginning of the end of life in the Yucatan as we know it. The rural, peaceful, relaxed and the "hammock under a huge shade tree" feel of the Yucatan will make way for the urban, rushed, noisy, tree-less absolute mess that is Mexico City. The entire country is patterned on the way development has progressed in Mexico City; that seems to be the natural direction and example to follow.