Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Marxism in China

Blog riches.

I was going to write something about the impressive teaching plans written by the participants in Carleton College's Summer Teaching Institute for Comparative Government and Politics. A dozen of us spent a week together thinking and talking about teaching comparative politics. As part of the institute course, this group of talented and thoughtful teachers created teaching plans. They are great schemes for teaching important ideas.

But more about that later, because there are so many things to think about today.

First comes the report by Mitchell Landsberg in the Los Angeles Times that required Marxism studies in China are routinely viewed as boring duties by Chinese students.

If you've read Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk (or seen the 1990 movie version of it), you will know that the boredom Landsberg reports is only an extension of the boredom seen in xiaozu (political study groups) and official meetings for years. ("It's only boring if you try to pay attention.")

Today, the relevance of Marxism is obviously more questionable. Landsberg ends his article by quoting a Beijing education official as saying of the students, "They don't believe in God or communism," he said. "They're practical. They only worship the money."

Follow Landsberg's report with the announcement of Chen Zhu's appointment as health minister. (See also: Chen Zhu)

Are the changes extending beyond what we've been expecting?

Marx loses currency in new China

"Beijing — IT was like watching a man try to swim up a waterfall.

"Professor Tao Xiuao cracked jokes, told stories, projected a Power Point presentation on a large video screen. But his students at Beijing Foreign Studies University didn't even try to hide their boredom.

"Young men spread newspapers out on their desks and pored over the sports news. A couple of students listened to iPods; others sent text messages on their cellphones. One young woman with chic red-framed glasses spent the entire two hours engrossed in "Jane Eyre," in the original English. Some drifted out of class, ate lunch and returned. Some just lay their heads on their desktops and went to sleep.

"It isn't easy teaching Marxism in China these days...

"Classes in Marxist philosophy have been compulsory in Chinese schools since not long after the 1949 communist revolution. They remain enshrined in the national education law..

"But today's China is, in some respects, less socialistic than much of Western Europe, with a moth-eaten social safety net and a wild free-market economy. Students in almost any urban Chinese school can look out their classroom windows and see just about everything but socialism being constructed...

"Chinese education officials are acutely aware of the problem, and say they have substantially reformed the country's ideological education. They haven't given Marx the heave-ho, but students in up-to-date primary and secondary schools learn more about patriotism and ethical behavior than about class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat...

"Daniel A. Bell... wrote in the spring issue of Dissent magazine of his surprise at how little Marxism is actually discussed in China, even among Communist Party intellectuals.

"'The main reason Chinese officials and scholars do not talk about communism is that hardly anybody really believes that Marxism should provide guidelines for thinking about China's political future,' he wrote. 'The ideology has been so discredited by its misuses that it has lost almost all legitimacy in society…. To the extent there's a need for a moral foundation for political rule in China, it almost certainly won't come from Karl Marx.'..."

A noncommunist health minister

June 30, 2007

"A French-educated scientist was named China's health minister, becoming only the second noncommunist appointed to the Cabinet since the 1970s.

"Chen Zhu's appointment comes as communist leaders reach outside the ruling Communist Party for expertise."

Labels: ,

Friday, June 29, 2007

Electronic voting

Electronic voting machines have been controversial in the US for several reasons. But, it's not just here. A British organization called the Open Rights Group has published a critical report based on its observations of the use of electronic voting in the latest British elections. Students might also look for information about Nigeria's use of electronic voter registration and voting in its recent elections.

The issues are serious ones and students ought to be able to evaluate the critiques. Questions such as
  • Does electronic voting threaten democracy? legitimacy of elections?
  • Are "paper trails" vital to the electoral process?
  • Do these problems affect plurality elections more than proportional ones?
  • Are there technological solutions to the problems or are the problems political?
  • Is this a generational issue?
  • Are the warnings and complaints coming from technology-phobic "Luddites?" (See also: Luddism: Neo-Luddites)
  • Are the problems likely to be more severe in poorer countries than in well-off ones?

E-vote 'threat' to UK democracy

"British democracy could be undermined by moves to use electronic voting in elections, warns a report.

"The risks involved in swapping paper ballots for touch screens far outweigh any benefits they may have, says the Open Rights Group report.

"It based its conclusions on reports from observers who watched e-voting trials in May's local elections...

"The ORG's main objection was that e-voting was currently a "black box" system which stopped voters seeing how their votes were recorded or counted.

This, said the ORG, made oversight of elections "impossible" and left them open to "error and fraud"...

"The Group said it was a serious mistake to accept the conveniences of e-voting while ignoring how they might undermine confidence in voting as a whole..."

See also:

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Numbers that might surprise you

Here's a bit of context for your students to consider the next time you teach about Iran. It's the 15 largest Muslim populations in the world.

  1. Indonesia 196.3 million
  2. India 133.3 million
  3. China 133.1 million
  4. Pakistan 125.4 million
  5. Bangladesh 104.6 million
  6. Nigeria 77.9 million
  7. Iran 65.4 million
  8. Turkey 62.4 million
  9. Egypt 59.7 million
  10. Ethiopia 37.1 million
  11. Morocco 29.4 million
  12. Sudan 26.8 million
  13. Russia 26.7 million
  14. Iraq 20.8 million
  15. Saudi Arabia 19.4 million

From IslamicWeb.com, which based its numbers on the CIA World Factbook.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ranking Tony Blair

Martin Kettle, writing in The Guardian (UK) offers a thoughtful appraisal of Tony Blair's tenure as PM. In the process he does some comparative analysis by citing evaluations of U.S. Presidents.

Blair may not be gold, but he deserves at least a bronze

"The outgoing prime minister won't rank with Churchill or Gladstone, but - despite Iraq - he has done good for Britain

"Since the 1832 Reform Act - and we have to draw a starting line - this country has had 30 prime ministers up to and including Blair...

"[E]lectoral popularity is not enough. Nor is governing through prosperous times - though neither is exactly irrelevant to weighing up a prime ministerial career. For all their very many faults - and worse than faults in the case of Iraq - Blair's governments have done well for our people and our country. It is time for Blair to go, but a prime ministerial bronze medal is the least he deserves."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fancy public buildings in China

From Xinhua comes this report that is part of the anti-corruption campaign that's been at least a public relations effort for some time now. How would your students rate this for transparency in public finance?

China warns of cover-up of government extravagance

"As the deadline for the voluntary reporting of extravagant government buildings draws near, China's disciplinary watchdog warned on Monday that any person or organization trying to conceal violations will face penalties.

"Party and government departments at all levels have until June 20 to report on official buildings that contravene the regulations, issued in March by the central government to ban the construction of wasteful and extravagant government buildings...

"The regulations issued by the State Council and the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China detailed banned features, including excessive size, decoration and number of facilities...

"Liu [Xirong, deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China] said the construction of lavish official buildings, including departmental hotels and entertainment centers, had been rampant in recent years, triggering public discontent..."

Labels: ,

Monday, June 25, 2007

Politics and economics

Economics is often the basis for policy decisions. Thus, the booming oil economy has offered Russian decision makers new choices in the past few years.

The Economist reports that other parts of the Russian economy are also booming. Does that give Putin more choices? What choices might he be tempted to make?

Russia's booming economy

"Russian economic growth hit a six-year high of 7.9% year on year in the first quarter, propelled by strong growth in construction, manufacturing and trade. The result is particularly impressive in light of the small contribution made by oil and gas...

"State statistics agency RosStat released full first-quarter GDP data on June 14th. The main factors behind the 7.9% headline growth figure were a 23.2% rise in construction, an 11.8% expansion in manufacturing and a 9.1% increase in trade... In the year-earlier period, GDP growth was 5% and in the fourth quarter of 2006 it was 7.8%.

"... investment is very strong and this is powering economic growth... household consumption is buoyant... With real disposable incomes up by 13%, private consumption rose by 12.7%...

"Improving access to consumer credit is also helping to fuel demand. Domestic credit rose by 46.4%...

"... full-year GDP growth this year is likely to be within the official government forecast of 6.5-7%. Faster economic growth is unlikely while energy output growth remains sluggish and while Russia’s large-scale investment needs are not--even now--being fully met..."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The cultural revolution continues

There's a good analysis article in the New York Times. If you have read articles I have recommended here recently, you have heard nearly all of this. The virtue of this article is to have most everything summarized in one article.

Iran Cracks Down on Dissent, Parading Examples in Streets

"Iran is in the throes of one of its most ferocious crackdowns on dissent in years, with the government focusing on labor leaders, universities, the press, women’s rights advocates, a former nuclear negotiator and Iranian-Americans, three of whom have been in prison for more than six weeks.

"The shift is occurring against the backdrop of an economy so stressed that although Iran is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline. At the same time, the nuclear standoff with the West threatens to bring new sanctions.

"The hard-line administration of President Mahmoud Ahmoud Ahmadinejad, analysts say, faces rising pressure for failing to deliver on promises of greater prosperity from soaring oil revenue...

"Some analysts describe it as a “cultural revolution,” an attempt to roll back the clock to the time of the 1979 revolution, when the newly formed Islamic Republic combined religious zeal and anti-imperialist rhetoric to try to assert itself as a regional leader.

"Equally noteworthy is how little has been permitted to be discussed in the Iranian news media...

"Young men wearing T-shirts deemed too tight or haircuts seen as too Western have been paraded bleeding through Tehran’s streets by uniformed police officers who force them to suck on plastic jerrycans, a toilet item Iranians use to wash their bottoms. In case anyone misses the point, it is the official news agency Fars distributing the pictures of what it calls “riffraff.” Far bloodier photographs are circulating on blogs and on the Internet.

"The country’s police chief boasted that 150,000 people — a number far larger than usual — were detained in the annual spring sweep against any clothing considered not Islamic...

"To the political crackdown, Mr. Ahmadinejad adds a messianic fervor, Mr. Milani noted, telling students in Qom this month that the Muslim savior would soon return...

"Most ascribe Mr. Ahmadinejad’s motives to blocking what could become a formidable alliance between the camps of Mr. Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani, both former presidents. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for early next year, and the next presidential vote in 2009..."

See Another Cultural Revolution? and the recommendations attached to it.

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New EU treaty

This editorial from The Economist offers a good way to ask students whether they know enough about the EU. The follow-up stories from the BBC will make sense for students only if they have a command of the basics.

The European Union: A constitutional conundrum

"A new European treaty is acceptable only if its contents are kept to a bare minimum

"OLD treaties never die. That seems a fair conclusion to draw from the efforts being made by European Union leaders meeting at next week's summit to draw up a slimmed-down version of the draft constitution originally signed in October 2004...

"This is not because a new treaty is pressingly necessary...

"Yet Angela Merkel of Germany, holder of the rotating presidency of the EU, has made agreement on a new treaty her top priority. This reflects the frustration of the 18 countries that have endorsed the constitutional treaty (plus four more that stand ready to do so) at being stopped in their tracks by the other five...

"The draft constitution... included several desirable 'minimal' institutional changes, including a shrinkage in the size of the European Commission, one beefed-up foreign-policy post... a stronger role for national parliaments, a semi-permanent EU presidency and a reweighted system of national votes. These changes, especially a new voting system, may mean that some countries lose some clout; but they would not involve a real transfer of power from national governments as a whole to Brussels...

"By contrast there are quite a few things that “maximalists” would like to sneak into the treaty... Any extension of majority voting... would mean more power going to Brussels. The charter of fundamental rights... was never very sensible... [E]ven if its application is circumscribed, it would create new European rights that the European Court may later increase in scope...

"Eurosceptics...would also do well to accept a minimalist treaty. It would take the issue of institutional reform... off the table. It should clear the way for proper debate on the club's future enlargement... It should also lead to a thorough examination next year of the union's lopsided budget, an insane 40% of which is still wasted on farm subsidies..."

EU leaders agree on reform treaty

"European Union leaders have reached agreement in Brussels on an outline of new rules to govern the 27-member bloc.

"At dawn on Saturday they announced a compromise to delay until 2014 a new voting system that reduces Poland's influence - the main stumbling block...

"The new treaty, expected to be finalised later this year, preserves much of the planned EU constitution, which was rejected by voters in 2005..."

EU treaty good for UK, says Blair

"An agreement reached in Brussels on a new European Union treaty protects Britain's interests, Tony Blair says.

"It gives the UK an opt-out on a charter of human and social rights and keeps Britain's independent foreign policy and tax and benefit arrangements...

"He said the agreement would allow the UK to take on those parts of EU judicial and crime policy it chose to, and that the treaty would not require a referendum..."

See also:

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 22, 2007

Political culture on display

The battle against corruption and the independence of local officials in China has been going on for centuries. The contest for power between the CCP and the government is new. Can the Chinese government check the power of local officials? Can it check the power of the Communist Party?

I highlighted the section in the third paragraph below. If Edward Cody, the Washington Post writer, is correct in his assessment, the contest between the government and the CCP for oversight is well underway.

Chinese Raise Outcry Over Local Officials' Perpetual Corruption

"The outrage started with the discovery that more than 500 migrant laborers had been forced to work in conditions bordering on slavery in out-of-the-way brick kilns. Local Communist Party authorities, state-run media said, had looked the other way.

"Then came news that local governments were still misappropriating public funds to build palatial offices, despite attempts by President Hu Jintao's government to end such lavishness. Finally, word spread that a recently arrested business magnate, known as a shady dealer and notorious for driving armored personnel carriers down the street, was also a member of the local assembly that advises authorities in Beijing.

"The accumulation of reports about official misconduct in recent weeks has produced a public outcry and led to calls for better supervision by the central government in Beijing. The angry tone in the official press, tolerated by party censors, suggested growing impatience among the Chinese public with the government's failure to stanch the corruption that has metastasized across the country during a quarter-century of economic reforms...

"'This is really a big humiliation for a civilized society,' said Jia Fenyong, a columnist on the official New China News Agency Web site.

"'This shows that the authority of the central government is not strong enough and the central government lacks the resolution to punish bad officials,' a commentator who identified himself as Ye Zhiqiu said on Strong China Forum, a site affiliated with the party's official People's Daily. 'In the eyes of our public, the central government has the most powerful authority. Who dares to sniff at its orders? But in fact it's not true. The central government's power has always been challenged by local authority.'

Kang Xiaoguang, a sociologist at People's University of China, noted that local leaders have resisted rule from Beijing for centuries, 'maybe since the founding of China.' But the problem has become particularly acute in recent years, he added, because of a proliferation of illegal moneymaking schemes by dishonest businessmen in collusion with corrupt local officials...

"The promises to crack down, however, skirted what some Chinese experts and reform advocates have described as one of the main obstacles to cleaning up China's corruption... the [Communist] party relies on its own inspectors to investigate and discipline corrupt members. In addition, the party continues to maintain control over the judicial system, they noted, so there is no countervailing power to act as a check on political appointees..."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Taxing your supporters

A classic question in politics is, "What does it take for a politician to advocate policies that might hurt her or his supporters?"

Ask your students why President Calderón is proposing higher taxes on his business supporters. Similarly, why did Nigerian President Yar'Adua raise petrol (gasoline) prices? ( See Shortage amid plenty, especially the follow-up comments.)

Did Tony Blair ever do something like that? President Putin? Would President Hu ever propose a policy detrimental to the Communist Party? Why or why not?

Is this situation more likely in a democratic regime than in an authoritarian one?

Mexico Moves to Cut Back Tax Loopholes for Businesses

"Hoping to raise Mexico's tax collection rate to offset future declines in oil revenue, President Felipe Calderón presented a tax package to Congress Wednesday that seeks to close many of the loopholes that businesses have used to avoid paying taxes.

"Mexico collects less than 11 percent of its gross domestic product in taxes, well below the average of about 16 percent for South American countries and 25 percent for developed countries...

"The government has made up for its tax shortfall by heavily taxing the state oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos, which last year financed 40 percent of government spending. Starved for investment money, Pemex, as the company is known, now faces stagnant production and declining oil reserves...

"That [tax] measure is likely to be publicly popular, but it is also likely to be opposed by some of the most powerful companies in Mexico, which quietly backed Mr. Calderón’s campaign last year..."

See also Mexico cheers higher taxes

"May 31, 2007: That's right, investors in Mexico drove that market to a record high yesterday on news that a soon-to-be-announced tax overhaul may require Mexican businesses to pay more taxes. Seems that's better than no reform at all..."

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rule of (commercial) law in China

Dan Harris recently posted this tidbit to his China Law Blog as an illustration of the progress China is making toward establishing a rule of law in the commercial environment.

China Court Kills Yamaha Imposter's Joyride

"A recently decided Chinese Supreme Court case highlights both the lengths to which Chinese companies will go to counterfeit product and also that the courts there are really starting to crack down on such violations. The case involved the well known Chinese scooter manufacturing company, Zhejiang Huatian, which manufactured and sold scooters under the name of the world's second-largest motorcycle company, Yamaha Motor. Forbes Magazine reporter, Shu-Ching Jean Chen describes the case more fully in his article entitled, "Yamaha Copycat Crashes in Court":

"'The Chinese company....registered a shell company in Japan's remote Ishikawa prefecture in 2000 under the same three characters used by Yamaha to render its name in Chinese. This Japanese shell company then signed a licensing agreement with Zhejiang Huatian, allowing it to market its scooters in China under that name. Zhejiang Huatian went a step further by printing Yamaha's name in English letters on its scooters.'

"The case took five years but just ended in a landmark decision by the Supreme People's Court in China awarding Yahama Motor $1.1 million, the highest amount of damages ever awarded in China in a trademark dispute involving a foreign company.

"In a statement made by Yamaha after the ruling, the company said, 'We hope our lawsuit serves as a useful reference somehow to other enterprises confronted with similar trademark infringements.' It should. It is further proof that China's courts take intellectual property rights violations seriously and that such cases are worth pursuing, even for foreign companies."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Shortage amid plenty

Why is it that oil producing countries have such huge political problems with domestic consumption of petroleum products? How would your students analyze the problems in Iran and Nigeria based on the following articles?

Romance versus reality: Iran's populist president is finding it hard to stay popular

"MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD won presidential office promising to give Iran's oil money back to the people. But he is finding the demands of populism hard to reconcile with economic reality. His government has recently been wobbling over implementing two of its biggest economic decisions: to bring in petrol rationing and to cut interest rates...

"Last year Iran spent $13 billion-plus on subsidising petrol. Though it has the world's second-largest oil reserves, the country is so short of refining capacity that it spends a lot of cash on importing fuel. Local economists complain that the subsidy tips the trade balance the wrong way, wantonly increases state spending, encourages people to waste fuel or smuggle it abroad and is regressive because the poor do not own cars...

"[N]either Mr Ahmadinejad nor his parliament wants to take responsibility for unpopular decisions, and has not yet decided how much fuel to let people have or what rates higher consumption should incur...

"Mr Ahmadinejad has called for a cut in interest rates to 12%. Lending rates are capped at 14% for state banks and 17% for private banks...

"Long-term cuts are meant to help create jobs by encouraging investment in business. But with high inflation and the threat of more UN sanctions hanging over Iran's economy, most borrowers are likely to pump cash into the booming property market instead..."

Nigeria unions join fuel strike

"Nigeria's trade union federation is to join a strike over recent rises in petrol prices and value-added tax.

"We have decided to go on an indefinite strike beginning on Wednesday," trade union leader Nuhu Toro told the BBC.

"The trade unions had warned the new government of President Umaru Yar'Adua to reverse the increases two weeks ago or face a national strike...

"Talks between the Nigeria Labour Congress and the new government broke down over the 15% rise in fuel prices and a VAT increase from 5% to 10%.

"The union also wants Nigeria's new President, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, to reverse Mr Obasanjo's sale of two of the country's refineries..."

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 18, 2007

Speaking of failed states

The Minneapolis Star Tribune published a report about the latest "failed state index." It even proposes an interesting hypothesis that long-term individual leadership leads to failed states. Could your students test that idea?

By The Numbers: Failed States

"Analysts for Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, a non-profit, released their third "failed state" index. A look at their findings:

"8: The number of countries in sub-Sahara Africa that are among the 10 nations in the world most vulnerable to violent internal conflict and deteriorating conditions...

"Off the list: The growth of China's economy and a lull in violence in Chechnya helped China and Russia to move out of the category of the 60 worst states...

"Usually, long-serving strongmen preside over a nation's collapse, the report said. For instance, it said, three of the five worst-performing states -- Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe -- have leaders who have been in power for more than 15 years. On the other hand, effective leadership can pull a nation from the brink of failure, it said..."

The Fund for Peace web site says that the Failed State Index "is compiled using the Fund for Peace's internationally recognized methodology, the Conflict Assessment System Tool (CAST). CAST is used to assess violent internal conflicts and measure the impact of mitigating strategies. In addition to the risk of state failure and violent conflict, it assesses the capacities of core state institutions and analyzes trends in state instability. The FSI focuses on the indicators of risk and is based on hundreds of thousands of articles and reports that are processed by our CAST Software from 12,000+ sources. Given the vast amount of data processed, it is impractical to make the articles and reports available directly to the public."

The Index is online at Failed States Index Scores 2007.

Countries are ranked by four social indicators (like demographic pressures), two economic indicators (economic cleavages and economic decline), and six political indicators (like legitimacy, rule of law, and factionalized elites).

Nigeria is no. 17 on the list. Iran is 57th while Russia and China are tied at 62nd with Lesotho, and Azerbaijan. Mexico is 102nd and the UK is 157th on the list

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Another cultural revolution?

This Washington Post headline caught my eye because of its use of the label "cultural revolution." It is another chapter in the politics of Iran.

Iran Curtails Freedom In Throwback to 1979
Repression Seen as Cultural Revolution

"Iran is in the midst of a sweeping crackdown that both Iranians and U.S. analysts compare to a cultural revolution in its attempt to steer the oil-rich theocracy back to the rigid strictures of the 1979 revolution...

"The move has quashed or forced underground many independent civil society groups, silenced protests over issues including women's rights and pay rates, quelled academic debate, and sparked society-wide fear about several aspects of daily life, the sources said.

"Few feel safe...

"[Upcoming] elections are one of several motives behind the crackdowns... Public signs of discontent -- such as students booing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a campus last December, teacher protests in March over low wages and workers demonstrating on May Day -- are also behind the detentions...

"Universities have been particularly hard hit by faculty purges and student detentions since late last year... 'Ahmadinejad has repeatedly stated his goal of purging Iranian society of secular thought. This is taking shape as a cultural revolution, particularly on university campuses, where persecution and prosecution of students and faculty are intensifying with each passing day,' said Hadi Ghaemi, the Iran analyst for Human Rights Watch...

"In recent weeks, the government has also tried to dissolve student unions and replace them with allies from the Basij...

"The campus purges have been mirrored in virtually all government-funded organizations... Leaders of groups defying the new strictures -- such as bus drivers trying to unionize, teachers protesting pay rates below the poverty line and women's activists trying to gather 1 million signatures to demand reform of Iran's family law -- have been arrested...

"Iran's Supreme National Security Council last month also laid out new censorship rules in a letter to news outlets, instructing them to refrain from writing about public security, oil price increases, new international economic sanctions, inflation, civil society movements, or negotiations with the United States on the future of Iraq...

"One of the biggest crackdowns has been the campaign against 'immoral behavior' launched this spring. Iran's police chief said in April that 150,000 people had been detained, but few were referred for trial. The rest were asked to sign 'letters of commitment' to honor public behavior and dress codes. An additional 17,000 were detained at Iranian airports in May...

"The Bush administration's $75 million fund to promote democracy in Iran is the key reason for the recent arrest of several dual U.S.-Iranian citizens in Iran... Iranian analysts contend that the U.S. funds have also made civil society movements targets because of government suspicions that they are conspiring to foster a 'velvet revolution' against the regime."

See also

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Causes of a weak state

The Economist report on lawlessness in Mexico offers some insight into the inability of the government to maintain a rule of law or law and order.

If your students made a catalog of limitations on state power in Mexico based on this article, what would the list look like?

Mexico: State of siege

"In this country of just over 100m inhabitants, there were 1,600 murders in 2005 linked to organised crime, 2,200 in 2006 and more than 1,200 so far this year. When he took office on December 1st, Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderón, vowed to make the fight against organised crime his top priority. The army was promptly sent in to the worst trouble spots where the local police were either too few, too ineffectual or too corrupt to cope. Plans were also announced to restructure the less venal, but also ineffectual, federal police...

"However, a full reorganisation awaits enabling legislation. In March Mr Calderón sent a legislative package, including the proposed merger, to Congress, but it has stalled. Until it is passed, no real improvement in policing can be expected.

"César Camacho Quiroz, a deputy from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and chairman of the lower house's justice committee, objects that the package “seems dangerous” because it does not provide adequate checks and balances—and these are sorely needed in Mexico. Its National Commission on Human Rights is the “most expensive and inefficient in the world”, says Sergio Aguayo, a political commentator. The human-rights ombudsman's office is highly politicised and incapable of standing up to what Amnesty International describes as the systemic “arbitrary detention, torture, unfair trials and impunity” in the country.

"Trying to reform a justice system that cannot cope with disorganised crime, let alone the organised variety, is a Herculean task...

"Co-operation with the United States is necessary because Mexico's drug problem is ultimately America's too...

"According to America's Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican cartels are now the dominant force in wholesale cocaine distribution in the United States. The 2007 national drug-threat assessment reports that, since 2003, Mexico's methamphetamine production has also risen sharply...

"But the real problems of Mexico's law-enforcement apparatus are systemic. Federal police account for only 6% of the country's security personnel, notes Mr Medina Mora. And however grave the problems at federal level, they are worse at state level, and even more dire locally. Samuel González Ruiz, former head of the attorney-general's organised crime unit, says that, without electoral reform, any attempt to improve policing is doomed to failure. Elections, even at the local level, are so expensive that drug money inevitably finds a way in. Unless elections are made cheaper, drug lords will always find local protectors, he says.

"Until America substantively changes its drug policy, Mexico's policymakers, capable though they may be, seem doomed to fight a losing battle. Government officials have grown fond of saying that things may have to get worse before they get better. But it is hard not to wonder whether they might not just be getting worse before they get still worse."

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 15, 2007

Did Putin feel some heat at the G8 meeting?

Criticism of the managed democracy may have had some effect on government policy in Russia. This report comes from The Guardian (UK).

Putin changes tack and allows Moscow protest to go ahead

"Several thousand opposition demonstrators were allowed to hold a rally in the centre of Moscow yesterday, in an apparent change of tactics by the Kremlin, which has previously broken up anti-Putin rallies. The chess champion Gary Kasparov and his allies in Russia's vocal opposition movement held the latest in a series of demonstrations yesterday against Vladimir Putin's regime...

"'There is no democracy in Russia. It's a capitalist oligarchy," said Stas Yurivich, 19, a student.

"'I'm here to protest about the fact that we have no free press in Russia. The opposition is relatively weak at the moment because most people prefer to sit at home and drink beer,' said Olga Andreyeva, a pensioner.

"The protest came after a peaceful march and rally in St Petersburg on Saturday, coinciding with a major economic forum attended by hundreds of global business leaders and heads of state.

"It was the first time that a demonstration led by Mr Kasparov and his allies in a major Russian city has ended without police violence or interference..."

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Following in the footsteps of Chinese leaders

The Guardian (UK) reported that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is making plans to publish his important works. This follows the example of Chinese leaders from Mao to Jiang Zemin.

One observer noted that Ahmadinejad's only previous publication was "a treatise about cold asphalt," and wondered what the new collection would contain.

Ahmadinejad aims for a big hit with his 'works and opinions'

"He has provoked the west's fury with his calls for Israel's elimination, dismissal of the Holocaust as a "myth" and strident advocacy of Iran's nuclear rights.

"Now Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has ordered his fiery polemics to be saved for posterity in preparation for commercial publication..."

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One last challenge

Don Myers, who teaches at Bellevue HS in Bellevue, Washington, gave this to his near-graduation seniors. He "asked them (1) to relate the article to the 5 countries (other than the UK) we studied and (2) whether the experience of those countries supported or contradicted the author's thesis."

Wow! That's a lot to ask of anxious seniors a few days before graduation. But, the excellent op-ed piece is full of assertions and reasonable bits of evidence. And the AP countries (including the UK) are relevant to most of what Matt Manweller wrote.

The opinion piece was written by Manweller, an assistant professor of political science at Central Washington University in Ellensburg and chairman of the Kittitas County Republican Central Committee.

This is good enough that you might want to save this article now and use it a year from now. (I may be expressing my pessimism about how much will change politically by then.)

Liberty: A capital idea

"As a nation, we have messianic tendencies. We want to make the world a better place, but we often recoil at the real-world consequences of pursuing such policies. Our experience in Iraq requires us to re-examine the practicality of our goals and tactics...

"There are two reasons why initiating democracy early will not bring economic, social or political stability... First, democracy only works in places where it doesn't matter if you lose. Second, democracy does not bring about liberty. Liberty, though, may bring about democracy...

"Democracy doesn't work in some... places because it matters if you lose. If you lose, you may have all your property taken, or worse, you die...

"Democracy does not cultivate liberty because democracy trades tyranny of the one for tyranny of the 51 percent. It does nothing to limit the power of government, protect the rights of minorities, or establish the rule of law...

"[H]istory has shown that capitalism (more so than democracy) does an excellent job of fostering property rights, independent courts, the rule of law, and dispersing power to multiple stakeholders — particularly in countries that have few cultural predispositions toward civil society...

"Russia and China offer an ongoing test of this process. Which one will be a freer society in 10 years? My money is on China. Russia hurried headlong into democracy. Now it has little more than a kleptocracy. China, which has moved to capitalism but not democracy, is emerging as the freer society..."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gromit, Tony Blair, and Wallace

I couldn't resist this one.

A few minutes after posting the entry about Tony Blair's speech about news reporting, The Guardian (UK) published this photo of Blair with the report.

Are the editors trying to say something about Blair's message?

Today, after launching a wide-ranging attack on the media, the prime minister, Tony Blair, poses with life-sized Wallace and Gromit characters to promote Wrong Trousers Day 2007, a charity raising money for children's hospitals and hospices.

Labels: ,

News media and politics

This report on Tony Blair's speech (and the speech itself, there's a link to a .pdf version of the text at the Guardian site) picks up on many critiques of the contemporary news media environment. (The use of the word 'feral' is interesting in that it implies a formerly tame beast gone wild.)

There might be an interesting, although speculative, comparative study of news media and politics suggested by Blair's critique. How does it compare to Putin's attitudes (based on the growing government control of news media in Russia)?

A less speculative case study would be based on actions and not presumed attitudes. That comparison would examine the actions of the Russian, Iranian, Chinese, Mexican, and Nigerian governments with the actions of the British government toward the news media. The comparisons could be framed within the context of the rule of law, political culture, strength of government power, or civil liberties.

Blair attacks 'feral' media

"Tony Blair used one of his final speeches as prime minister today to launch an attack against the media, accusing it of hunting like a 'feral beast tearing people and reputations to bits'.

"Admitting he began his premiership with a reliance on spin, Mr Blair went on to say TV and newspapers had become demonstrably worse over his 10-year reign...

"[H]e insisted the deteriorating coverage of political reporting in particular had 'sapped the country's confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions and above all else it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions in the right spirit for our future.'..."


Labels: , ,

Monday, June 11, 2007

Political integration and socialization

Many countries rely on a military draft or youth service programs to promote political integration.

Now The Guradian (UK) reports on a proposal in the UK. How does it compare with similar efforts in other countries? How well do such programs fit with the political culture in those countries? Look for information on Mexico's Servicio Social, Nigeria's National Youth Service Corps, China's Voluntary Poverty Alleviation Relay Project, and Russia's Youth Service and Alternative Civilian Service (ACS), for examples.

Plan for new 'teenage call-up'

"Plans for every young person in Britain to enrol in a national volunteering scheme that could become compulsory are at the centre of a government report into improving social cohesion.

"The possibility of mandatory community service is put forward today by Darra Singh, chair of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion...

"[It is argued] that the benefits of volunteering are great, 'bringing together young people from different backgrounds to work together towards a common goal'...

"The issue of how to make society more cohesive in the face of threats from Islamic extremism and the British National Party has risen to the top of the political agenda in recent weeks..."

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Judicial power and economic restructuring in Mexico

The Los Angeles Times reports on an assertion of power by Mexico's supreme court that might lead to more economic restructuring.

Will a court decision give strength to the forces favoring those economic reforms or lead to a successful redoubling of political efforts by powerful interest groups? (That's probably a false dichotomy. Both those things and others are likely. What would your students predict?)

Ruling hits 2 media giants

"Mexico's Supreme Court on Thursday struck down key provisions of a controversial media law crafted in large part by the nation's two dominant TV broadcasters.

"The court's action could help pry open Mexico's broadcasting market, one of the least competitive in Latin America... And it could embolden Mexico's government to rein in other business titans that control key sectors of this nation's economy...

"In a series of stinging rebukes, the justices found several provisions to be unconstitutional because they would discriminate against competitors and would cement the two companies' market dominance...

"Court watchers hailed the decision as a rare check on the power of one of Mexico's most formidable corporate tandems — and a glimmer of hope for uprooting other entrenched monopolies that economists say are stifling job creation and economic growth here...

"Mexican President Felipe Calderon has talked of the urgency of increasing competition. But he has shown little appetite for taking on Mexico's powerful business interests...

"'The Supreme Court has just handed him an opportunity to … demonstrate some political courage,' said political analyst Denise Dresser, a columnist for the newspaper Reforma. 'This is going to be a defining challenge for President Calderon.'...

"Mexico's legislature approved the broadcasting legislation last year in the midst of a tight presidential race... Legislators have acknowledged intense pressure within their own parties to approve the measure out of fear that their candidates would be denied TV coverage...

"Speedy passage of the law provoked street protests...

"Media expert Raul Trejo Delarbre said the high court's ruling paves the way for a new round of broadcasting reform that could lead to more independent oversight of the industry and make it easier for new competitors to gain a foothold..."

Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The politics of elections in Iran

Vahid Sepehri's analysis of news from Iran about next year's parliamentary elections focuses on the roadblocks to moderate and reformist candidates. It was published on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty web site.

This is a good outline of the electoral process in Iran and would probably be a good supplement to your textbook's descriptions. Right now it is good teacher background. Save it and review it next year to see if it's still valuable for your students.

Iran: Politicians Concerned About New Election Date

"Many Iranian politicians are unhappy with the date recently set for Iran's next parliamentary elections, saying they are being planned at a time that would lower voter turnout and make it difficult to complain about the process or challenge the vote-counting procedures.

"The parliamentary elections -- to choose the eighth parliament since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 -- are set for March 14. That is just a few days before the Iranian New Year holidays that begin on March 19-20 and continue for several weeks.

"It is a time when the majority of Iranians stop working, with many traveling to visit friends and relatives... Moreover, a good part of Iran's state bureaucracy and media winds down for the holidays at that time.

"The complaints reveal a latent suspicion -- particularly among reformists wishing to regain their parliamentary seats -- that state authorities want to hold the elections while the public is distracted, giving election officers and supervisors a freer hand to respond to "undesirable" aspirants or even results...

"The concerns expressed by reformists over the date of the elections indicates their persistent fear of a variety of suspected efforts and mechanisms used to keep them out of power: their candidates may be disqualified; and now, there may well be nobody watching vote counters and supervisors regarded by many as beholden to the right wing...

"But while vote counting may be a concern to reformists, it is perceived as the conservatives' second line of defense against "undesirable" candidates -- the first one being the rigorous vetting and subsequent rejection of prospective candidates..."

From No-Rooz, The Iranian New Year at Present Times, published by the Iran Chamber Society.

"No-Rooz, in word, means 'New Day'. It is the new day that starts the year, traditionally the exact astronomical beginning of the Spring. Iranians take that as the beginning of the year... No-Rooz with its uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian (This was the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in 7th century A.D.).

"Iranians consider No-Rooz as their biggest celebration of the year. Before the new year, they start cleaning their houses... and they buy new clothes. But a major part of New Year rituals is setting the Haft Seen with seven specific items. In ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter 'S'... Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic)..."

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 08, 2007

Federalism, centralization, and political culture

The important idea for comparative politics students in this BBC report from China might not be about student resistance to the police, it might be about the central government's efforts to create a rule of law. Then again, civil society and political culture are created and maintained, to some degree, by the behavior of citizens.

Students go on rampage in China

"Hundreds of students have rioted against the police in central China.

"Witnesses said the unrest, in the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province, was sparked on Wednesday after a student was beaten by police...

A cell phone photo showed students surrounding a police car and its occupants, while one of the officers called for back up.

Another photo showed the car of a city official who was apparently trying to keep the peace.

"Six police officers have now been arrested for their part in the disturbances and their superiors have also been reprimanded.

"This kind of large protest makes the Chinese Communist Party very uneasy. It is deeply wary of social unrest.

"But the central government also wants to show that it is prepared to take action against heavy-handed local authorities."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

An argument for knowing history

Editors sacked over Tiananmen ad

"A NEWSPAPER in southwest China has sacked three of its editors over an advertisement saluting mothers of protesters killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown...

"Public discussion of the massacre is still taboo in China...

"On the 18th anniversary of the crackdown on Monday, the lower right corner of page 14 of the Chengdu Evening News ran a tiny ad reading: 'Paying tribute to the strong(-willed) mothers of June 4 victims.'

"Authorities interrogated newspaper staff to find out how the advertisement slipped past censors. Newspaper ads need to be vetted in China.

"Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said yesterday a young female clerk allowed the tribute to be published because she had never heard of the crackdown...

"The Communist Party has banned references to the crackdown in state media, the internet and books as part of a whitewash campaign, meaning most young Chinese are ignorant of the events..."

Labels: , ,

Think about what we have to overcome when teaching about Iran

From Overheard in New York

History buff: So, you've heard about the Boston Tea Party, right? So, what happened is this guy, Christopher Columbus, is sailing around looking for the West Indies but instead finds America. He goes back to mother England and tells them all about it, and mother England sends over all the prostitutes and criminals. So England forgets all about America, but when they check back in, all those criminals survived -- they prospered -- so mother England's like, 'You gotta pay taxes now.' But the criminals say, 'Hey, we didn't ask to get sent here anyway. We're not paying nothing.' And that's how it happened, son. You'll learn about it in high school.

--F train, Brooklyn

Overheard by: baffled colonial historian


Elections and democracy

When diplomacy, journalism, and public opinion equate elections with democratic regimes, some critical thinking is needed. Michael Slackman's analysis in the New York Times offers a bit of that critical thinking. Are there questions here that your students would raise? Or is Slackman's argument so persuasive that we should just accept it? Is Iran just another example to support Slackman's main thesis?

Consider the recent elections in Nigeria and the upcoming elections in Russia as well. Are they signs of democratic political cultures or democratic regimes?

Ballot Boxes? Yes. Actual Democracy? Tough Question.

"This is election season in the Middle East. Syria just held presidential and parliamentary elections. Algeria held parliamentary elections. Egyptians will be asked to vote next week on a new upper house of Parliament. There will soon be elections in Jordan, Morocco and Oman, followed by elections in Qatar. So is democracy suddenly taking root in the strongman’s last regional stronghold?

"The consensus among democracy advocates, diplomats and citizens interviewed around the Middle East is that the reverse is true. Elections, it appears, have increasingly become a tool used by authoritarian leaders to claim legitimacy...

"Countries like Egypt and Syria, which hold elections, also allow a ruling class to hold a monopoly on power, limit freedom of speech and assembly and deny their citizens due process...

"It is a conclusion that may well have roots in Washington, where officials have frequently pointed to elections as a barometer of progress, but it may contribute to tarnishing the concept of democracy, diplomats and democracy advocates in the region agreed...

"Iraq, where a freely elected government has been paralyzed by sectarian disputes, stands as a particularly damaging example... [A] Western diplomat based in Algiers, speaking on condition of anonymity, [said] 'I think the Iraqi experiment, and the purple finger, didn’t help anything. People now say this democracy is not the answer to anything.'...

"'We should insist on wider concepts of democracy, on democratic values,' said Abdel Nasser Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers who said elections were increasingly viewed as a technique for misleading people. 'There is a real danger this may lead to the rejection of concepts of democracy.'"

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Example of a failed state

Do you want to introduce the idea of a failed state, perhaps as a prelude to evaluating the Nigerian state?

Anthony Shadid's analysis of Lebanon in the Washington Post, might be a way of helping students recognize the characteristics that earn the epithet, failed state.

As Crises Build, Lebanese Fearful of a Failed State

"Crisis usually defines Lebanon, but these days, the country is navigating threats that many describe in existential terms: a battle, entering its third week, between the Lebanese army and al Qaeda-inspired fighters... a seemingly intractable and altogether separate confrontation between the government and opposition that has paralyzed the state and closed part of downtown Beirut for more than six months; and, as important, deadlock over the choice of the next president by November. Since last year's war in Lebanon between the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah and Israel, the United Nations has stepped in twice to assume responsibilities usually left to a sovereign state, forming a court to try the suspected killers of a former prime minister and dispatching an international force to keep peace in the country's south.

"While some analysts see the military's battle against the militants as a way to forge a stronger state, others worry about the prospect of its failure. The threat of civil war still looms large... but the violence and paralysis may suggest a broader breakdown: not civil war, but entropy, where the country becomes hopelessly mired in instability...

"Lebanon's historically weak state -- in contrast to authoritarian neighbors such as Egypt and Syria -- helped to foster the country's redeeming qualities: a freewheeling press, relative freedom of expression and a measure of tolerance. The downsides were the descent into a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, Syrian dominance that continued until 2005 and the situation today, where Hezbollah maintains its own militia and the country's Palestinian refugee camps are suffused with arms...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Faith-based fund raising in the UK?

The latest news about Labour's funding suggests that society and politics in the the UK are changing. The article also includes some references to a controversy about schools in Britain that does not involve the issue of grammar schools that has created some division within the Conservative Party.

I'd ask students to identify and explain the political issues discussed in this article.

Labour given £1m donation

"The Labour party has been given £1m by an Iranian-born industrialist who has been bankrolling two of the government's flagship school academies set up to promote Christian values.

Khayami (with shovel) at the ground breaking for the Sheffield Park Academy.

"The donation from multi-millionaire Mahmoud Khayami, a prominent Muslim who fled Iran after the fall of the Shah, is one of the largest received by Labour...

"Last night Tony Blair said: 'I would like to thank Mahmoud Khayami for making such a generous donation to the Labour party and for supporting our values of economic prosperity coupled with social justice.

"'Mahmoud Khayami is a committed promoter of inter-religious understanding among Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in the UK and abroad and is widely known for his widespread philanthropic work.'

"Khayami's relationship with Labour was fostered by the party's newly appointed chair of its faith task force, lobbyist Anthony Bailey - an influential Roman Catholic and ULT board member whose connections stretch from the House of Saud to the Vatican...

"Khayami said: 'Over this last 10 years I have been proud to support the Labour party led by Tony Blair. I have witnessed at first hand the very real difference that this Labour government has made to communities across Britain with its focus on economic growth, raising people's aspiration and the delivery of social justice.'...

"Khayami said: 'Over this last 10 years I have been proud to support the Labour party led by Tony Blair. I have witnessed at first hand the very real difference that this Labour government has made to communities across Britain with its focus on economic growth, raising people's aspiration and the delivery of social justice.'"

Labels: ,

Monday, June 04, 2007

Chinese demographic and economic policies on display.

Howard French reports in the New York Times on the purposeful growth of on of China's large cities.

Big, Gritty Chongqing, City of 12 Million, Is China’s Model for Future

"Stand in the right spot in this gigantic city and hills draped with apartment complexes can remind you of Hong Kong, the density of habitation will recall Tokyo and the river-spanning brawn, replete with an immense new structure over the Yangtze that echoes the Brooklyn Bridge, might recall New York...

"[T]he swift rise of Chongqing represents a new departure: a major push by Beijing to spread the fruits of China’s economic boom to the country’s vast interior, home to three Chinese in four.

"A consensus has emerged among Beijing’s leadership that the way to ease poverty in the interior is to encourage people by the tens of millions to abandon the land for the cities...

"In 1978, a mere 18 percent of Chinese lived in cities and towns. By 2010, the authorities estimate that 50 percent will...

"The city’s economic growth is drawing about 200,000 new residents a year...

"They are also expanding the city limits... under a scheme the city calls the “one-hour economy circle.” Under the plan... the city wants to move two million rural residents into newly urbanized areas within an hour’s driving distance from the city center...

"As an inducement the city is enticing landholders to surrender their claims on their rural plots in exchange for prized urban residency permits that offer not only legal residence in a city, but also access to social services and benefits unavailable in rural areas...

"As with anything on this scale, the process has been full of hiccups, gigantic hiccups in some cases, all of which are on display almost every day here. One of the most obvious problems is the environment.

"Even in a country full of grimly polluted places, Chongqing... bears special mention. A haze hangs in the air even on good days, and for much of the rest of the year the city’s skyline simply disappears at any distance...

"But if the creation of giant new cities like this was intended to alleviate the poverty of rural migrants, the results so far have been mixed. Many thousands of people arrive here chasing a dream they seem unlikely ever to catch.

"Those Chongqing newcomers can be seen in droves, trudging through the city’s streets with lengths of stout bamboo looking for casual work as old-fashioned porters. Others are drawn by the lure of regular work in the booming construction industry, but the supply of laborers far outstrips the demand..."

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Political Culture in Russia

The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report on Mikhail Kasyanov's candidacy might make bigger headlines, but the June 1 article about political culture is probably more important for students of comparative politics.

Brian Whitmore, the RFE/RL writer, suggests that suppression of dissent in Russia might be based on insecure power not confident authority. That might parallel the crackdown in Iran.

Opposition Group Nominates Kasyanov For President

"MOSCOW, June 2, 2007 -- In Moscow today, the Russian People's Democratic Union nominated former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to run as its candidate for the Russian presidency in next year's election, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"Kasyanov, who heads the opposition movement, told supporters the main points of his platform will include the abolition of compulsory military conscription, free education and health care for all and reforming the police.

"Kasyanov has been highly critical of current President Vladimir Putin, who has promised to abide by the constitution and step down after two terms in office in 2008."

Culture Of Fear Back With A Vengeance

"Fear, intimidation, and coercion are back in vogue as tools of Russian policy, both at home and abroad.

"For evidence, one need look no further than the events of the past month.

"In the southwestern Russian city of Voronezh, opposition activists tried to gather for a small demonstration on May 29. Within minutes, police moved in, violently breaking up the protest and arresting the participants.

"Two days earlier in Moscow, Marco Cappato, an Italian member of the European Parliament, was beaten by Russian nationalists in full view of police as he took part in a gay-rights march... The police finally did move in. But instead of arresting the attackers, the police detained Cappato...

"Earlier in the month, on May 2, members of the Kremlin-backed youth group Nashi loudly protesting "fascism" broke up a press conference by Marina Kaljurand, the Estonian ambassador to Russia, who was trying to defuse mounting anger over her country's relocation of a Soviet-era monument from central Tallinn...

"The Kremlin's crackdown on its opponents has at times been almost shockingly severe.

"Media outlets have come under repeated crackdowns, and outspoken Kremlin critics like journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko have been killed in horrifying and unexplained circumstances...

"[T]he fear of public dissent remains high among the political elite... the Kremlin's bluster and frequent crackdowns on the opposition, rather than representing a show of strength, masks a deep insecurity... that their hold on power could be tenuous..."

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Parliamentary immunity

One of the arguments for making elections to the Russian Duma completely proportional was that corrupt local bosses were getting elected to the Duma from single member districts. Then, as legislators, they were protected from prosecution by legislative immunity.

The proportional system, it is argued, will make parties responsible for the people they select to fill the seats they win in the Duma. This will make it less likely that corrupt politicians will be protected in the legislature. Can your students paraphrase that argument? Can they critique it?

In a complex, and probably illegal maneuver in the Nigerian state of Abia (bordering Cameroon), a couple of local bosses seem to be playing a similar game with immunity granted to elected officials.

Do your students know about the origins and rationales for legislative immunity? What suggestions would they make for changes to prevent a misuse of the protection offered?

Here's an introduction from the BBC.

Nigeria state handover 'corrupt'

"Nigeria's justice minister has condemned as 'unconstitutional' the early handover of power in Abia State between two men accused of corruption.

"Theodore Orji won last month's elections for state governor, even though he was in police custody...

"Outgoing governor Uzor Orji Kalu - who has also been suspected of corruption - stepped down early and has reportedly fled the country...

"Mr Orji was sworn in at the Abia State liaison office in the commercial capital, Lagos, hours after he was freed on bail.

"He then flew to Abia state with Mr Kalu, no relation, where they were greeted by thousands of cheering supporters.

"Mr Kalu then reportedly returned to Lagos and flew out of the country...

"Justice Minister Bayo Ojo said Mr Kalu was free to resign but could not hand over power to Mr Orji.

"The government "condemns the flagrant violation of the constitution by former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and his co-conspirators," he told Nigeria's ThisDay newspaper...

"The EFCC [Nigeria's anti-corruption agency] has said it wants to investigate more than half of Nigeria's governors on corruption charges.

"It has warned that several could seek to leave the country before their mandates, and immunity from prosecution, expires on Tuesday..."

Another account from This Day (Lagos): Theodore Orji's Swearing-in Unconstitutional, Says Ojo

See also:

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 01, 2007

Xenophobia in Iranian politics

I'd take this news as evidence of a continuing political struggle between the radicals and the moderates among the Iranian elite. It's connected with the arrest of Americans in Iran (see also "U.S. assails Iran as 4th dual citizen detained"), although those arrests may have more to do with the capture by American forces of Iranians in Iraq.

I have no way of judging whether these warnings are made because of the confidence of the powers-that-be or because of fear that their power might be slipping away.

In either case, there are political battles underway. Watch for further developments that shed light on how the political system in Iran works.

Talk to foreigners and we will view you as a spy, Iran warns academics

"Iran's powerful intelligence ministry has stepped up its war of nerves with the west by telling the country's academics they will be suspected of spying if they maintain contact with foreign institutions or travel abroad to international conferences...

"'Unfortunately, our lecturers are exposed to intelligence threats,' he said. 'We are worried about many academic conferences which foreigners attend and establish relations [with Iranian academics]. Any foreigner who establishes relations is not trustworthy. Through their approaches, they first establish an academic relationship but this soon changes into an intelligence relationship.

"'Some conversations which take place under the auspices of academic or scientific interviews are pretexts for getting close to the country's scientific figures. Unfortunately some decent individuals fall into the trap of these plots.'...

"Some scholars claim spying allegations are a pretext to purge universities of those deemed too liberal or pro-western. Some say they have been hounded from their posts after their foreign contacts or attendance at international seminars aroused suspicion. Dozens of lecturers have been forced into early retirement as Iran's fundamentalist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has sought to stamp out the relatively permissive campus atmosphere that flourished under his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami...

"The mood has been captured on campuses by the appearance of slogans such as "the cultural revolution is forthcoming", seen as signalling a return to puritanical values of the 1979 Islamic revolution. It has been accompanied by tales of harassment for such perceived offences as advocating a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even wearing a tie, seen as a decadent western affectation..."