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Freedom and Perceptions that Cross Borders

I am going to act like this is The New Yorker magazine and offer a "combined" blog posting. We will be on the air tomorrow, as per usual, but we are going to disappear for the holiday shortly thereafter.

Our New York team was en route (at least I was) from New York City yesterday when we realized that some of the longest held the hostages in Colombia — including three Americans, and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt — had been freed. I saw a breaking news bulletin on my BlackBerry. Thankfully, our folks here in D.C. were already on the case.

Will you allow me to brag a bit about how one of our staffers, Jasmine Garsd (a native Spanish speaker, from Argentina), jumped in to assist the network's coverage? I heard about this through the grapevine. Apparently, some people were chatting a bit too loudly right near her desk at TMM and she says:

Guys, do you think you could keep it down. I'm talking to the Ambassador.

Take a bow Jaz!

But then, of course, we had to decide what our take on this story would be. We decided we needed to answer some of the key questions folks might have — being reminded that some folks use our program as their morning news show — but then we decided to also answer a question we were already thinking about...

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By coincidence Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain was in Colombia at the time of the rescue. We wondered, why exactly is he there? To call attention to his differences with rival Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama on trade, obviously.

But how do you decide exactly where to travel when you are campaigning for president?

What's the message? ... The audience?

To talk about that we had Stephen Hess, of the Brookings Institution, who has spent decades thinking about how presidential campaigns are run and how presidents operate. Hess was joined by Jesus Esquivel, of Mexico's Proceso magazine.

John McCain spent the second part of his three-day Latin America tour in Mexico. And Barack Obama announced plans to travel there later this fall. Today, of course, Obama talked about his plans to go to Iraq at some point.

So having said all that, what about when even Hollywood decides to "go" overseas? Our film critic Shawn Edwards does not like too much of what he sees when that happens.

And then, I hope a treat, what happens when technomeets norteno music? The answer: Nortec. It's a group out of Tijuana, Mexico and, well, you just have to listen.

After interviewing Nortec, which I interviewed weeks ago, I worried that I had not pressed hard enough on the issue of the violence along the border, especially that which is associated with the drug trade. Just a day or so after the Nortec interview, there was a story about how the doctors were going on strike to protest the lack of security at the hospital and for them personally. Oddly enough, one of the musicians involved with Nortec is also a doctor.

But then I was reminded of something that award-winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda said (he spoke with us earlier this week) in response to critics of his musical In the Heights, about the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York. Miranda points out how some critics find it hard to imagine that there could be two days in which nobody gets shot or stabbed.

Mexico has a proud artistic tradition, in both the so-called fine and folk arts. Could we have one conversation about Mexico were we don't talk about the drug trade?

Still, did I do the right thing by not pressing the issue?

Happy Fourth. Hope you enjoy visiting with Jimmy Smits, as part of our July 4th program, as much as I did.

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