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Cinco de Mayo special: Star Rising, Bush in a Hole

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  • Ed Pearl
    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. Ed With
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2005
      "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

      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
      in 2000.

      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.
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