Archive for the ‘Domestic Policy’ Category

Mexico: Off to the Races

June 2, 2017

Antonio O. Garza (U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

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The U.S.-Mexico relationship is once again back in the headlines and this time it’s not just changing, it could be completely redefined. After months of anticipation, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer submitted a two-page letter to Congress on May 18th, which announced the Trump administration’s intent to renegotiate NAFTA. The letter spurred the U.S. government into action, triggering the start of a consultation process—where businesses, industry groups, and private citizens can submit comments—and public hearings scheduled for later this summer. By early fall, negotiators from all three countries will begin sitting down together to hash out the details, with the goal of wrapping up the negotiations in early 2018.

To put it simply, reshaping NAFTA—an agreement that underpins over a trillion dollars in trade and that touches every major sector of the three countries’ economies—in only a few months is remarkably ambitious. While Mexican officials would like to end the process before the start of their presidential campaign cycle in early 2018, delays seem not just likely but inevitable. Throughout the process, expect to see a renewed focus on the trilateral relationship, which we are already witnessing through cross-border events and publications, as civil society groups and businesses seek to share their opinions and insert them into the negotiations.

However, while the upcoming NAFTA negotiations might be tough, the even more game-changing process in Mexico is going to be tackling the country’s rule of law challenges. On this front, 2017 has been a grim year, with setbacks for the recent anti-corruption reforms, fugitive corrupt governors, and the highest homicide rate for a first-quarter in the last two decades. Among those killed since January were six journalists, a particularly dark stain on an already bleak record. As I wrote for USA Today earlier this week, making improvements in protecting journalists and human rights defenders is not just going to be good policy, it will be the substance of strong leadership and presidential legacy.

Finally, for those of you keeping an eye on Mexican politics, this Sunday, June 4th marks the governor races in the State of Mexico, Coahuila, and Nayarit. Of the three, the State of Mexico race is the one to watch, as President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party has not lost the state in a century. The latest polls, however, show the PRI candidate Alfredo del Mazo to be neck and neck with the leftist Morena candidate Delfina Gómez. While the PRI’s success at holding the state and Morena’s ability to pull in voters with its anti-corruption, populist message is expected to provide a sneak-peek for next year’s presidential elections, the fact that the race is so close (after the PRI won this governorship by 20+ percent in previous years) is already a strong indicator of the state and country’s political mood.

‘Mr. Apprentice’ Can Look To Switzerland For A Model To Help Close U.S. Youth Skills Gap

January 27, 2017

Faith Whittlesey (Switzerland, 1981-1983 and 1985-1988)

Patrick Gleason (Director of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform)

Cross-posted from the January 26, 2017 issue of Forbes

Chief among the problems facing Donald Trump as he takes presidential office is the youth skills gap between what the U.S. education system currently produces and what employers actually need to compete nationally and globally in the 21st century.

Around 2008, German carmaker Porsche invested about $2.12 million in its Leipzig apprenticeship training center.

It’s no secret it has become all too easy to get a college degree today without having learned much of marketable value, which helps explain unacceptably high levels of both youth unemployment (above 10%) and youth underemployment (estimated at 40% for recent college graduates).

The President might look to Switzerland, with youth unemployment at 3% and its global gold standard apprentice system, as a possible model for the U.S. in closing the skills gap. The good news is that Trump already has. As we recently learned, Switzerland’s apprentice system was very much a subject of discussion of a Dec. 21 phone call between Trump, who praised the Swiss education system, and Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann, who called to offer congratulations to the President-elect.

Nancy Hoffman—who co-leads the Pathways to Prosperity Network program involving Harvard Graduate School of Education and a number of states working to ensure more young people complete high school and attain a postsecondary credential—explains how the Swiss apprentice program works:

“Seventy percent of teenagers [16 and older] in Switzerland spend their week moving between a workplace, a sector organization [such as the machine tools industry], and school. … They do everything an entry-level employee would do, albeit under the wings of credentialed teachers within the company. They are paid a monthly starting wage of around $800, rising to around $1,000 by the time they are in their third year.”

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Be proud of state, nation: Register and vote

August 31, 2016

George Bruno (Ambassador to Belize, 1994-1997)

Cross-posted from the August 21, 2016 opinion column as published in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette

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Being a guest columnist, so far editor Sadie Fowler allows me to select my own topics. The rub comes when I must select a single topic and then energize my creative juices to produce the column.

I had settled on my next subject before Sunday morning when I read the T-G front page article about our state having the worst voter turnout at elections. Our registration of eligible voters isn’t much better. Thank you, John Carney, for selecting my topic.

The decisions our Founding Fathers made over 200 years ago regarding the form of government for our new nation were truly revolutionary in world history. (In Ancient Greece, democracy appeared in cities rather than in national government but was unable to survive.)

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Summer Doldrums. Not Quite.

August 3, 2016

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s August 2016 newsletter.

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It should be the summer doldrums, but the news out of Mexico hasn’t quite slowed down.

One of Mexico’s biggest stories was the debate, passage, veto, and then re-passage of the country’s anti-corruption package. These seven bills were designed to put legislative meat on the bones of the 2015 anti-corruption reform, and will greatly assist in coordinating corruption fighting across government institutions. The final package stopped short of embracing every part of the civil society written and backed Ley 3de3 (which would have forced government officials to publicly declare their assets, conflicts of interest, and tax records), but it did create what has been called “the most encompassing system to identify and sanction corruption that the country has ever had.”

In more welcome anti-corruption news, the Peña Nieto administration filed legal challenges this month against the governments of Veracruz, Quintana Roo, and Chihuahua for reforms that would have shielded outgoing governors from corruption investigations. These states are facing federal inquiries over financial irregularities under the governors’ tenures. And in the case of Veracruz, for at least twenty-six phantom companies that received some US$1 billion in unaccounted funds. (more…)

More Uncertainty but Message Clear: “Fix It”

July 5, 2016

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s July 2016 newsletter.

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This past January, I wrote that the coming year would be one characterized by our “Living with Uncertainty”. Looking back, while it was clear that this year would be tumultuous, I certainly misunderestimated what was to come.

It’s hard not to start with Brexit, when 52 percent of the United Kingdom’s voters chose to break with the European Union.  The vote marks the first departure from the grand European project, tacking an uncharted course for the United Kingdom and for the continent. But the contentious vote was really the easy part. The next two years will be filled with the tougher steps—sitting through painful negotiations, designing a brand new state framework, and calming jittery markets that are concerned with the future of both the United Kingdom and a strong and peaceful Europe.

The anger is not just a United Kingdom and United States phenomenon; voters around the world are frustrated. And Mexico is no exception.

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How did Trump learn to love ‘the bomb’?

May 5, 2016

Thomas A. Loftus (Ambassador to Norway, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Loftus’ May 4, 2016 op-ed in the Cap Times.

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In the film “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” there is a scene near the end as bombs have been launched and Armageddon is looming where U.S. President Merkin Muffley, in a meeting with Russian Ambassador de Sadesky, learns that Russia has been building a “doomsday machine.”

The Russian ambassador says: “Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we’ve been spending on defense in a single year. … We learned that your country was working along similar lines and were afraid of a doomsday gap.” The U.S. president incredulously responds: “This is preposterous. I’ve never approved anything like that.” Ambassador de Sadesky says: “Our source was The New York Times.”

In an interview on foreign policy with the NYT in March, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that in order for the U.S. to save money on defense, perhaps Japan and South Korea should become nuclear powers and defend themselves.

In his recent foreign policy speech Trump elaborated: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense — and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

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Trump Is Right to Propose NATO Reassessment

April 13, 2016

Faith Whittlesey (Ambassador to Switzerland, 1981-1983; 1985-1989)

This piece first appeared in the Daily Caller.

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Americans ought to welcome Donald Trump’s willingness to assess critically the many time-sanctioned sacred cows and clichés in which U.S. foreign policy abounds and to determine anew which, if any, no longer serve our national interests adequately and are even perhaps leading us in the wrong direction. This process, I suggest, is akin to “zero-based budgeting” in fiscal matters, i.e., reevaluating every old line item from point zero – and is a good thing.

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We Can no Longer Ignore This Crisis

March 24, 2016

Suzan Johnson Cook (Ambassador-at-Large, International Religious Freedom, 2011 – 2013)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Cook’s March 23, 2016 special to the Huffington Post.

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We can no longer ignore this crisis: religious radicalism.

Now, more than ever, religious tolerance in all corners of the world is important. Where religious tolerance is not celebrated, radicalism breeds. That radicalism spread to Brussels this week, and has seen itself manifested in other corners of the world before that — even in our hometown, New York City.

I express my condolences to those who suffered loss and pain in the terrorist attacks.

Today, we must stand with the president in his call for unity and tolerance. We must absolutely stand with Brussels and bring those responsible for this attack, and others, to justice.

But, we must work to grow diplomacy between nations and between religions. Foreign policy is important now more than ever and an answer to ISIS cannot be solely boots on the ground. We are fighting an ideology of violence and other-ism. So, we must work to grow tolerance, too.

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Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan: Similarities and Differences

March 24, 2016

Faith Whittlesey (Ambassador to Switzerland, 1981-1983; 1985-1989)

This piece first appeared in the Swizz magazine, Weltwoche.

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I knew the real Ronald Reagan. In 1976, I was a single mother and young politician who risked everything to support him against Gerald Ford, a sitting Republican president. Four years later I helped deliver the key state of Pennsylvania to President Reagan, then I served beside him in the White House and as one of his ambassadors. He was not the avuncular, subdued great man worn down by age and illness that the media present to us today through a rosy filter of nostalgia. That Ronald Reagan is someone whom Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama like to invoke, when it suits them.

I knew Ronald Reagan when TV pundits presented him as a cold-hearted extremist who waslonging to take away food and shelter from America’s poor and risk a thermonuclear cataclysm. I was with him when the Rockefeller-establishment Republicans  wanted to write him off as a B-rated former movie star crackpot warmonger, whose supporters they tarred as uninformed rubes and religious fanatics. Reagan was a man, who bucked the GOP “wise men” over and over again, until he won. Then he restored America’s élan, our economy and brought down the Berlin Wall.

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A hidden reality: Violence against women in politics

March 8, 2016

Madeleine Albright (Ambassador to the United Nations, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s March 8, 2016 special to CNN.

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Last October, Zainab Fatuma Naigaga, a female opposition party official in Uganda, was arrested along with her male colleagues while on their way to a political rally. The men in the group were ushered aside, while Naigaga, the only woman in the convoy, was manhandled by police and ended up stripped down in public to nothing but her headscarf.

In Bolivia, Councilwoman Juana Quispe was pressured to resign after helping female colleagues file complaints of harassment. When she refused, other council members blocked her from attending sessions and suspended her from office. She was reinstated after a legal battle, but one month later her body was found dumped near a river in La Paz. She had been strangled. Though the case has not been solved, close observers of the region said it was clear the killing was politically motivated.

Quispe was not the only elected female leader in Bolivia to be targeted in this way. Another local councilwoman, Daguimar Rivera, was working to expose corruption when she began receiving anonymous threats. Shortly thereafter, she was found dead — shot three times in the face.

Clearly, these are not isolated incidents.

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