You Say You Want A Revolution: Mexico

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (widely known as AMLO) was elected Mexico's president on the promise to bring about a "peaceful but radical transformation."


Unfortunately, as "change agents" often do, he's struggling with the transition from campaign poetry to the prose of governing. In just six weeks as president, he's made three noteworthy rookie mistakes.

Mistake #1 – Forgetting that plans have unintended consequences. Criminal gangs steal large quantities of gasoline from Mexico's pipelines. It's a growing problem that deprives the government of much-needed revenue and forces prices higher for consumers. The country suffered 10,363 pipeline thefts last year, up from just 186 in 2012, according to the state oil company Pemex.

AMLO has responded with a temporary pipeline shutdown intended to help investigators locate trouble spots. Instead of transiting the country by pipeline, gasoline is now being directed toward consumers by truck. The unsurprising result? Furious citizens faced with a serious gasoline shortage across a half-dozen of the country's provinces. Lopez Obrador then told the public not to panic, a sure way to instantly lengthen lines at the pump. Shortages will likely continue for (at least) several weeks.

Mistake #2 – Undermining the ability of your own government to execute your ambitious plans. Lopez Obrador won the election in part on a promise to use the power of government to improve people's lives – by encouraging the private sector to boost wages and reasserting control over Mexico's natural resources. But to cut wasteful spending, his Morena party has approved a law that prevents any public employee from earning more than the president ($5,000 per month).

Not surprisingly, significant salary and benefit cuts have persuaded many public employees to move to the private sector or to simply retire. Effective reform requires talented people who understand the systems that need to be changed. Hollowing out the bureaucracy might save money, but it directly undermines the president's government-centered approach to problem-solving.

Mistake #3 – Telling voters that terrible problems aren't so bad. According to the newspaper Reforma, the number of murders committed by criminal gangs rose 65 percent from the last month of the previous president's term to the first month under Lopez Obrador. The president pushed back by questioning the statistics' reliability. Homicide numbers, he insists, should include all murders, not just those committed by organized crime.

Fair enough, and Reforma can fairly be accused of sensationalizing numbers that may later need to be revised, but the government's quibbling response doesn't build confidence that Lopez Obrador recognizes the scale of this deadly problem.

The bottom-line: Transformational attention requires as much careful thought as political courage.

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As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.