Cinco de Mayo special: Star Rising, Bush in a Hole
- "America" is a Continent. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
And I couldn't resist the humor at the bottom, but
please don't pass it on, especially to young people.
With His Star Rising, Mexican Populist Faces New Tests
By GINGER THOMPSON , NY Times
May 4, 2005
MEXICO CITY, May 3 - He is mayor of the largest city in the hemisphere,
and this country's latest political phenomenon.
He can summon tens of thousands into the streets at will. In a whirlwind
three weeks he staged the biggest protest in Mexico's recent history and
turned back a legal challenge from the Mexican president and Congress
that threatened to end his political career.
Now Andrés Manuel López Obrador is considered the favorite to be elected
president next year.
"What we saw last Sunday was proof that this is a new society," the mayor
said during an interview last week, referring to the protest march, "that
the traditional structures of power are not in control, not even with all
their money and media."
Indeed, while Mr. López Obrador, a 51-year-old widower and father of three
sons, has proven that he can motivate this country's vast underclass, what
remains unclear is whether he will be able to keep pro-American
businesspeople and the fragile middle class on his side.
He is better known for picking political fights than building bridges. And
his left-leaning, hard-charging political style has many in the ruling elite
and analysts abroad worried that Mexico could go the way of Venezuela,
which is embroiled in a class war as President Hugo Chávez rides a wave
of anti-American sentiment.
It is a wave that has swept leftist politicians into power across Latin
America. And like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Tabaré Vásquez
of Uruguay, Mr. López Obrador personifies the angry disappointment with
Washington-backed promarket economic policies that have stabilized the
economy for the rich but failed to lift up the poor. His rise to power would
move that frustration to the United States' door.
In the interview, Mayor López Obrador rejected comparisons to leftist
movements across the region. He said he considered himself a purely
Mexican phenomenon, shaped by a devout Catholic mother, a devastating
family tragedy and a poet who wrote about Mexico's beautiful landscapes
and introduced him to this country's grimmest struggles.
At his core, the mayor said, he remains an underdog activist from the
tropics, where politics can be a rough-and-tumble affair. But, he said, he
has been a player in national politics for nearly a decade, having served as
head of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party before becoming mayor
He pointed to his record as mayor of this monster of a city, pulling out
financial statements that showed the lowest debt increases in the last 20
years as proof that he is qualified to run the national economy. He pointed
to the nearly one million people who marched on this city last month as a
sign that a growing number of Mexicans think so too. "The mentality of the
people has changed," he said. "They are willing to stand up for democracy.
That's what we were betting on. And we bet right."
Indeed, the embattled mayor, known in Mexico - J.F.K.-like - as AMLO,
defies easy labels. He holds daily news conferences at 6:30 a.m., but
brushes off most substantive questions and has blocked enforcement of
freedom of information laws.
He has been criticized by conservatives for spending lavishly on welfare for
the elderly, a shelter for prostitutes too old to work and double-decker
freeways to ease traffic. He rattled the left when he blocked laws that
would have legalized gay unions, forged agreements with business tycoons
to restore this city's historic center and brought former Mayor Rudolph W.
Giuliani of New York to help design zero-tolerance crime policies.
And in what even his closest aides considered a major blunder that
alienated the middle class, he said the organizers of a citizens' march
against crime were pawns in a right-wing conspiracy against him.
Like almost every other political leader in this country, Mr. López Obrador
started out in the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI,
which dominated the government for more than seven decades. His
supporters point out that he agitated against corruption within that party,
then abandoned it to help lead a leftist opposition movement that put
Mexico on the road to greater democracy.
Political analysts said the mayor is an expression of the broad
disappointment with President Vicente Fox, who has failed to deliver on
his sweeping promises for reform; a nostalgia for the firm hand of the PRI;
and a reluctance among people to surrender their dreams of change.
"It has been said that López Obrador writes his speeches with his left hand
and governs with his right," said Héctor Zagal, co-author of a biography of
the mayor. "He's a product of the old PRI, with all its flaws and virtues."
Manuel Camacho Solís, a federal legislator and the mayor's chief political
strategist, said: "He is comfortable as a social leader, and he does it
but he has had to work on learning to govern. To be president he needs
to win people's respect through dialogue, not in conflict with them."
Mayor López Obrador did not disagree. "There is the impression that I am
authoritarian," he said. "But social movements require strong leadership.
This fight is very hard. And at times it hardens the heart, but not
Clues about the mayor, named for his father, Andrés, and his mother,
Manuela, are scattered across the southern state of Tabasco. He was born
in a tiny town, called Tepetitan, which feels nothing like the city he
Children play ball in the middle of cornfields and scruffy fishermen like
Felipe López González quote scripture from the New Testament as they
explain how the average family lives close to this country's richest oil
on less than $4 a day.
Poverty seemed a passing matter to the young Mr. López Obrador,
something he heard about from the men and women who could not pay
their tabs at his family's general store. Then, in 1969, that idyllic life
shattered when one of his younger brothers, José Ramón, was killed
playing with a pistol when it fired.
Andrés Manuel, 15 at the time, watched it happen. Relatives said he had
tried to get his brother to put the gun away.
In the interview, the mayor declined to talk about it or the speculation by
some here that the trauma of that shooting gave his politics a messianic
zeal. "It affected me and still affects me," he said.
Perhaps the experience that changed him most came years later in the
Indian town of Tucta, which he helped raise from a swamp. He first laid
eyes on the village in 1976 in the company of Carlos Pellicer Cámara,
one of Mexico's most beloved poets.
It was a place that seemed lost in time. The Chontal Indians, descendants
of the Maya, had no electricity or clean water. There were no schools or
clinics. People lived in huts made from branches and leaves.
"Not only did they have the Chontales stuck out in the margins of society,"
Mr. López Obrador recalled, referring to government authorities, "they
denied that the Chontales existed, even though they are the most intimate
reality of Tabasco."
The Indians quickly became an intimate reality for Mr. López Obrador. He
moved his wife and baby son into a shack in Tucta with dirt floors and a
thatched roof, and - much as he has done in Mexico City - began a
combination of welfare and public works programs to help meet people's
basic needs and create jobs.
"He could have had a comfortable life with his family, but he brought them
here to be with us," said Pedro Bernardo, 58, one of the beneficiaries of
Mr. López Obrador's work in Tucta. "There are few people who could endure
the blows of this life."
There were even tougher blows to come.
"My dream was to become the governor of Tabasco," Mr. López Obrador
said, "because I wanted to change it." It was a dream that would elude him.
Mr. López Obrador abandoned the PRI and then set out to topple it in 1988
when the party refused to run him for mayor of the municipality of
Backed by a peasant political base that he commanded like a general, the
firebrand politician ran twice for governor on leftist tickets and lost both
times. The elections in 1994 were marred by allegations of corruption. And
for several months, Mr. López Obrador and his civilian troops protested
every way they could to make the state ungovernable.
Two years later he was at it again, leading thousands of supporters against
more than 50 oil wells across the state to protest spills by the
government-owned oil company that had contaminated rivers and farmland.
The protests caused the company to lose some $8.5 million in revenues in
the first 12 days. Dozens of people were hurt and arrested as the police
tried to clear a way to the wells.
In the interview last week, Mr. López Obrador took delight in his old war
stories. The principles of those battles still guide him, he said, but his
radical days are over.
"I'm a centrist now," he said, with a wry smile.
"When we started, the PRI dominated completely," he said. "Not even the
leaves of the trees moved unless the PRI said so.
"A lot of time had to pass before people began to live their freedom. It was
up to us to teach them not to be afraid.
"They are not afraid anymore."
Bush vs. The Press
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005; 8:06 AM
Why have Bush's numbers reached the lowest point of his presidency?
Everyone's got a theory, just as everyone is now floating a theory on
whether he helped himself at last night's rarity of a prime-time press
One thing is clear: the 47 percent president (according to ABC/WP) hasn't
gotten off to a rip-roaring start for someone who took his second oath of
office just 3-1/2 months ago.
A popular view, endorsed by David Broder , is overreaching. Bush used
much of his capital pushing a divisive Social Security plan that seems to be
going nowhere fast. He's still pushing big tax cuts despite a scary deficit.
He rammed through a bankruptcy bill and tort-law measure to pander to his
business base. And he went along with the GOP charge to intervene in the
Terri Schiavo case, which proved to be quite unpopular with the country. Oh,
and Iraq is still a mess.
Another theory is that Bush is being dragged down by Tom DeLay, who just
got a lift on Air Force One, and what's playing in the press as a constant
flow of ethics allegations against DeLay. And with Bill Frist speaking to
Christian conservatives about the blocking of judicial nominees deemed
"people of faith," the Democrats might be getting some traction by painting
the GOP as the party of religious extremists. Not to mention that about
two-thirds of the country is opposed to the Cheney/Frist plan to blow up the
All of the above may be true, but political prognosticators sometimes forget
that average folks don't follow every twist and turn of Beltway infighting.
So keep in mind: Gas prices have been rising. The stock market has been
in a swoon. The economy is not exactly inspiring confidence. All that has
got to be hurting Bush. When people feel economic anxiety-- and see that
their leaders appear more obsessed with one brain-damaged woman,
parliamentary procedures and fiddling with their retirement money--
that's when you suffer in the polls.
At first CBS and Fox were going to blow off the presser on the first night
of sweeps, but backed off when the White House agreed to move up the
start time from 8:30 to 8.
Let's start with the hard news, such as it was:
"President Bush, seeking support from Democrats and moderate
Republicans for an overhaul of Social Security, said tonight that he favored
changing the pension system to enable benefits for low-income workers to
grow faster than those for wealthy retirees," says the Los Angeles Times .
Now tell me if you see a pattern. The Boston Globe : "President Bush, in a
prime-time effort to reverse the perception that his Social Security plan is
faltering. . . . "
The Philadelphia Inquirer : "President Bush acted to jump-start his
moribund effort to overhaul Social Security last night. . . . "
The Wall Street Journal: "President Bush, struggling to give life to his
initiative to revamp Social Security. . . . "
Washington Post : "President Bush made a huge gamble last night in a
bid to restore momentum to his flagging proposal to restructure Social
Security -- and to his presidency."
What did Bush accomplish? Not much, says the New York Times :
"With his presidency at best becalmed - and at worst beset - just 99 days
into his second term, President Bush seized the prime-time power of an
East Room news conference for only the fourth time in his tenure in an
to show that he could still do what he has always done in the face of storms
around him: make his own weather.
"But even after his hourlong encounter with reporters was over on Thursday
night, the atmosphere remained unsettled. The changes he suggested to
help keep Social Security solvent seemed unlikely to unfreeze the
stalemate on Capitol Hill over revising the system. He acknowledged that
he had no easy fix for high gasoline prices, nor any firm timetable for
bringing American troops home from Iraq.
"And his robust defense of John R. Bolton, his nominee to be ambassador
to the United Nations, did not remove the questions about Mr. Bolton's
handling of information or his treatment of subordinates."
The Baltimore Sun says this could be the beginning of the end:
"Last night may have been the moment his plan to add private retirement
accounts for younger workers finally started taking off. Or it may have
marked the beginning of his exit strategy. . . .
"While outlining, for the first time, a set of principles that addresses the
program's projected funding shortfall, Bush also signaled strongly that he's
prepared to blame Congress if nothing happens."
Ron Brownstein 's take in the LAT: "After devoting most of his energy this
year to his proposal to restructure Social Security, Bush opened the
session by expressing concern about rising gas prices. That responded to
fears among some congressional Republicans that the party appeared out
of touch with the kitchen-table concerns of most Americans while focusing
in recent weeks on such issues as judicial appointments, the legal struggle
over Terri Schiavo and even the long-term health of Social Security."
Salon's Farhad Manjoo contrasts Bush's standing with his reelection:
"Six months later, Bush is the dog that didn't bite. He approaches the end
of the first 100 days of his second term with approval ratings that fall
below those of all other reelected presidents in the modern era. Americans
aren't happy with the direction in which the country is heading. They don't
like the economy, and they don't like the war. They also don't like Bush's
plans for the nation. If it isn't already dead, Bush's signature
domestic-policy effort, the plan to privatize Social Security, is in a
persistent vegetative state; hated by Democrats, independents and even
Republicans, only divine intervention can save it."
Manjoo does give Bush this: "It's not entirely accurate to say that the
polls show the country as recently turning against Bush.
"What's truer is that the country never really liked him."
What's even truer is that the country (by a slight majority) liked him
better than Kerry.
BUSH POO (a real Beyreuth Festival - Ed)
Police in Germany are hunting pranksters who have been sticking
miniature flag portraits of US President George W. Bush into piles of
dog poo in public parks. Josef Oettl, parks administrator for Bayreuth,
said: "This has been going on for about a year now, and there must be
2,000 to 3,000 piles of excrement that have been claimed during that time."
The series of incidents was originally thought to be some sort of
protest against the US-led invasion of Iraq. And then when it continued
it was thought to be a protest against President George W. Bush's
campaign for re-election. But it is still going on and the police say
they are completely baffled as to who is to blame.
"We have sent out extra patrols to try to catch whoever is doing this in
the act," said police spokesman Reiner Kuechler. "But frankly, we don't
know what we would do if we caught them red handed." Legal experts say
there is no law against using feces as a flag stand and the federal
constitution is vague on the issue.