Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, June 30, 2008

The limits on policy making

If you asked your students to list the limits on policy making described in this article, how long would their lists be?

Nigeria needs $85bn to fix power

"Nigeria needs $85bn (£42.7bn) of investment in its power infrastructure in order to produce electricity 24 hours a day, experts say.

"The sum is 17 times the amount the government announced it would spend on the power sector, and four and a half times the country's oil savings.

"Most of Nigeria's 140m residents live without reliable power.

"The sum was given by a panel of experts appointed by President Umaru Yar'Adua... [T]he panel's chairman Rilwanu Lukman also said even if the country's power stations were working at full capacity, the transmission grid was broken down and neglected.

"'The grid is very weak much of the equipment is currently responsible for causing the power cuts across the country,' he said.

"Mr Lukman said there were not enough engineers in the country to work in power stations or maintain the electricity grid...

"Nigeria wants to become one of the world's top 20 economies by 2020.

"But in May the president said the continual power cuts were preventing investment in the country.

"The government is working on plans to attract private investors by subsidising their electricity bills, the finance ministry said this month..."

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pragmatic theocrats?

Many textbooks cite the example of changes in Iranian government policy toward population control as proof of the pragmatic strain of Iranian politics. Here's another example.

Iran Fights Scourge of Addiction in Plain View, Stressing Treatment

"More than a million Iranians are addicted to some form of opium, heroin or other opium derivative, according to the government, and some estimates run as high as 10 million.

"In a country where the discussion of some social and cultural issues, like homosexuality, can be all but taboo, drug addiction has been widely acknowledged as a serious problem. It is talked about openly in schools and on television. Posters have encouraged people to think of addiction as a disease and to seek treatment.

"Iran’s theocratic government has encouraged and financed a vast expansion in the number of drug treatment centers to help users confront their addictions and to combat the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, through shared needles... 600 centers... provide drug treatment across the country with help from government money. An additional 1,250 centers offer methadone, free needles and other services for addicts who are not ready to quit, including food and treatment for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted infections.

"Iran’s government, trying to curb addiction’s huge social costs, has been more supportive of drug treatment than any other government in the Islamic world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

"It was not always this way. After the 1979 revolution, the government tried a more traditional approach: arresting drug users and putting them in jail.

"But two decades later, it recognized that this approach had failed. A sharp increase in the crime rate and the number of people infected with H.I.V., both directly linked to a surge in narcotics use, persuaded the government to shift strategies..."

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Two useful tools

I promised to let you know what I learned while teaching this past week. Well, here are two valuable things for preparing teaching materials.

Ensode offers an online utility to unlock .pdf files so that you can copy sections of them or edit the contents.

Most .pdf files are locked so that you can't even sign a contract saved as a .pdf and send it back without downloading it, signing it, and scanning it back into an electronic document. (Unless you buy the professional version of Adobe's .pdf software.)

The Ensode utility allows you unlock the file so you can change it or copy parts of it into another document.

Go to this Ensode page, scroll down past the Google ads, and read the description.

Then scroll down a bit more and you'll find a entry box into which you enter the URL or location of the document (you can use the "Choose file" feature), check the "accept terms and conditions" box, and then submit the document.

An unlocked version of the document will appear in a new browser window from which you can save it, copy sections, or edit it before saving.

The utility is still in beta, but I used it several times without a glitch.

Then there's the problem of MS Word 2008. The default setting to save documents produces a format with the suffix ".docx" which cannot be opened by earlier versions of Word.

So I'm cheap and happy with my 2004 version of Word, but some of my correspondents have new computers with the 2008 software. Unless they carefully choose to send me documents in the old ".doc" format, I can't open them.

But Zamzar can.

Go to the Zamzar site, "Choose" the file from your hard drive that you want to convert (It's not limited to Word documents; you can also choose images, music files, video files, or archived packages), and then select the type of file you want it converted to.

Finally, enter the e-mail address you want the converted file sent to, agree to the Zamzar's terms, and click on "Convert."

The converted document will be sent to you. It's easy.

I'll still ask people to send me ".doc" documents, but I won't have to ask them to send me something a second time because they didn't take a few seconds to choose that option when they saved.


How many is a million?

Can we really conceive of that many? Try A Million Dots on One Page

Try this. 40 mln pots of flowers decorate Beijing

"Forty million pots of flowers are being planted in Beijing to decorate the city for the summer Olympics...

"The flowers will mostly be planted in the ground, while flower sculptures will appear along Chang'an Avenue, arranged to showcase ancient Chinese culture...

"Over one million spare pots have also been prepared as substitutes..."

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Friday, June 27, 2008

CCP and KMT convergence

Jeremiah Jenne is a PhD candidate, who is in Beijing teaching history, doing archival research, and working on his dissertation. He blogs at Jottings from the Granite Studio as often as the Great Firewall of China permits.

I finally got around to reading his June 4th entry in which he offered an interesting historical speculation.

Mao and Chiang Kai-shek are walking down the street, and Mao says…

"Today a Google user followed this query to the Granite Studio: 'How do Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong continue to influence Taiwan and China today?'

"It’s obviously a complicated question, but it does recall a comment made by a Beijing acquaintance of mine the first time we went to the old South Bar Street and took in the spectacle of a Sanlitun Saturday night: 'This is what all of China would like if Chiang Kai-shek had won the war.'...

"If the ghosts of Mao and Chiang somehow reconciled over shots of baijiu in the afterlife and then wandered around Beijing on a rainy afternoon... what would they be thinking? What would they talk about?

"Some scholars have made the argument that post-Opening and Reform China is very much in keeping with the KMT vision of a strong one-party state administering a relatively open economy, going so far as to suggest that today’s China shares much more in common with the Nanking Decade of 1927-1937 than with the Mao years (1949-1976).

"For example, both today’s CCP and the KMT of the 1930s emphasized modernization, a strong military, and urban development at the expense of rural areas. Like the 1930s, today there is a fair amount of personal freedom and autonomy… so long as individuals don’t challenge the political leadership or threaten ’social stability,’ and as is the case today. The secret police under Chiang’s government were always ready to squash dissent in the name of ‘national unity.’

"Even the CCP’s recent ‘Harmonious Society’ campaign bears a passing resemblance to Chiang’s 'New Life Movement' in that both advocate a kind of Confucian traditionalism in the service of social stability/political loyalty along with campaigns against 'uncivilized/backwards' habits of hygiene and personal deportment.

"Moreover, a case could be made that Chinese society today is exactly what Mao was afraid would happen when he decided to ice the economic recovery plans launched by the likes of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping in the wake of the disastrous Great Leap Forward. (Plans that Deng would revive 15 years–and one Cultural Revolution–later.)

"I can’t help but wonder if today’s China would be Mao’s nightmare come to life: A capitalist society riven with economic inequalities, foreign influence, and corruption run by a class of elitist technocrats far more concerned with what works than with ideology?"

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More Labour Party troubles

As if falling poll numbers weren't enough.

Alan Carter wrote (thank you) with information about more Labour Party travails. He didn't include the source of the first article.

"Can it get any worse?

"Cabinet ministers Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper [at left] are being investigated over allegations they are improperly claiming expenses for their second home.

"The pair, who are married, face criticism for claiming more than the £20,000 MPs are supposed to collect on their second home in London.

"Mr Balls, children, schools and families secretary, and Ms Cooper, chief secretary to the Treasury, are now under investigation by parliament's standards watchdog.

"Parliamentary standards commissioner John Lyon's office is leading the probe.

"Both Mr Balls and Ms Cooper deny wrongdoing. Together they could claim £40,000 on their second home but have chosen to take far less than this.

"Some dispute which is their second home – they share a house in Yorkshire, near their constituents, which they say is their main home."

Police hand Labour donations file to prosecutors

"Police have handed the results of their investigations into secret donations to the Labour Party to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide what, if any, further actions to take.

"The case hinges around revelations last November that wealthy property developer David Abrahams had given several hundred thousand pounds to the party but had disguised the origin by passing the money through intermediaries.

"It was the second time in just 18 months that funding scandals had hit the party and came as Gordon Brown was starting to see his once strong public ratings start to tumble just five months after taking over as prime minister from Tony Blair...

"The day after the story was broken by a Sunday newspaper, Peter Watt, Labour's general secretary, quit, admitting he had known that Abrahams' money had come through intermediaries to disguise its origin..."

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Labour trouble

Brown: one year on, 20 points behind, says exclusive ICM poll

"Gordon Brown faces a damning verdict from voters ahead of his first anniversary in power, according to a new Guardian/ICM poll. It suggests that his prime ministership has been a disappointment: 74% of those questioned say that he has been a change for the worse compared with Tony Blair, and only 24% think Labour has a chance of winning the next election while he remains leader.

"The poll also gives the Conservatives a record 20-point lead over Labour, six points up on last month. Labour support has fallen two points to 25%, the lowest recorded in the ICM polls, which began in 1984...

"Liberal Democrat support, at 20%, is two points down but remains only five points behind Labour, the narrowest gap on record. Backing for other parties, at 10%, is up one on last month, partly because of the strong nationalist performance in Scotland...

"Attitudes are much the same among all socio-economic groups, all parts of the country and between men and women..."

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Iran's political economy

Spengler writes in Asia Times Online that economic conditions in Iran are more awful than is generally reported, even when the reporting is done by the Iranian central bank.

Worst of times for Iran

"Households in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's Iran must suffer on a Dickensian scale, for they spend 10% more than their income, according to the country's central bank. Iran's data are more hilarious than reliable, to be sure, but they illustrate how ordinary Iranians are perishing in a sea of petrodollars.

"The price of oil more than doubled since I warned last year... that Iran's Islamic kleptocracy had reached the end of its rope. Despite the surge in oil revenues, conditions are worse than they were a year ago, as the price of necessities soars out of ordinary reach. Not only the theft of the oil windfall, but the manner of the heft, puts Adhmadinejad's political future in doubt... Changing the man at the top, however, is no cure for fecklessness of Central African proportions. Underneath Iran's imperial ambitions and messianic pretensions suppurates a pre-modern patronage system that corrupts everyone who comes near it...

"Half the country's oil revenues disappeared from the books. A great deal of it left the country for banks in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere; capital flight already was running at a $15 billion annual rate last year, by my estimate...

"During the past year, though, conspicuous consumption in the form of a luxury housing boom has absorbed even more of Iran's oil windfall. Luxury apartments in Tehran's better neighborhoods now sell for $15,000 per square meter... equal to the best neighborhoods in Paris or New York...

"Rather than a handful of officials siphoning state funds into bank accounts in Dubai, an entire class of hangers-on of the Islamic revolution is spending sums beyond the dreams of the average Iranian, and in brazen public view.

"Ahmadinejad's patronage system generates payoffs to the political class that have set in motion uncontrolled inflation - officially 25% per year but certainly much higher - and a rush into real assets..."

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Monday, June 23, 2008

China is such a huge country

Before World War II, many outsiders thought that China was about to become a cosmopolitan, Westernized society. Shanghai hosted Americans and Europeans with Parisian luxury and sophistication. Those outsiders looked at the Chinese elite who were bankers, who attended symphony concerts, and commanded armies, and assumed they represented the whole country. They didn't.

We have to keep that in mind as we read Jason Burke's article in the London's Guardian about the ideas and attitudes of China's 'Generation Z.' The potential for cultural and political impact is there, but it's not automatic.

Young author gives a voice to China's rebel generation

"He is sullen, brooding, 15 years old and now among China's bestselling authors. Tang Chao's paperback, Give Me Back The Dream, a dark tale of unrequited teenage love, conflict with parents and adolescent suicide, reached the top of the bestseller lists last week, a success confirming the coming of age of what has been dubbed the country's 'Generation Z'...

"In a country where hundreds of millions still live below the poverty line, the 'Z' phenomenon remains restricted to the comfortable and educated middle class of urban centres, but nevertheless many still see it as significant.

"'The writers say what their readers - high-school students for the most part - want to say themselves,' said Zheng Tan, professor of literature at Fudan University, Shanghai. 'These are people who have grown up in a China that is becoming steadily wealthier, and as material conditions have improved they have become more concerned with private emotion.'

"The work of the new writers is also less politically controversial. 'Their focus is very personal and they deal less with social, political or economic themes. So the government leaves them alone - and that suits everybody, publishers, authors and consumers alike,' Zheng said...

"A further problem is China's 30-year-old policy limiting parents to one child. 'This has created a generation of over-indulged children who have little ability to confront disappointment or hardship,' [Deng Jun, a child psychologist in Beijing], said. 'There is also an enormous pressure on only children to succeed. They feel depressed, anguished and can easily become suicidal. They often have problems making friends.'...

"A series of studies in recent years have revealed that Chinese teenagers are smoking and drinking more and having sex at a younger age. Another concern is internet addiction..."

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Patience, please

I'm going to be teaching a workshop for teachers of comparative government and politics at Carleton College this week. I might not have as much time as usual for offering things here. I will share what I learn if I find the time this week or next.

If you have an idea to offer, please do. Send it to me or use the comments link below.

If you're looking for something special, look at the 60+ categories in the index. There are over 900 entries in the blog to date.

Nigeria's 1993 "election"

The man who chaired Nigeria's National Electoral Commission back in '93 has written a book about the election and its annulment.

According to this article from This Day (Lagos), the author claims that Ibrahim Babangida, then head of state, was not responsible for nullifying the election results.

But, he doesn't name the people who set the stage for General Abacha's dictatorship. Why not? They and their supporters, who probably profited handsomely during Abacha's tenure, are still around and still powerful.

IBB Did Not Annul June 12, Says Nwosu

"Exactly 15 years after the conduct of the June 12 1993 presidential election, the former chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC), Professor Humphrey Nwosu, has exonerated former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida [right], from blame on the annulment of the poll which was considered the freest, fairest and most peaceful in Nigeria's history.

"Instead, Nwosu blamed the annulment, which plunged Nigeria into a prolonged political crisis, on a "military cabal". He, however, did not name members of the cabal.

"Symbolically, Nwosu declared late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), winner of the election..."

See also:

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Local officials in China

Edward Cody, writing in the Washington Post offers more images of local officials in China. This example makes the actions of local officials in the Sichuan earthquake areas seem even more remarkable.

China's Local Leaders Hold Absolute Power

"Despite three decades of widely heralded economic reforms, the party has clung tenaciously to its Leninist-inspired monopoly on politics. As a result, most of China's 1.3 billion people still live under the thumb of local party secretaries who are responsible only to the higher-level party officials who appoint them...

"[T]he top-down Communist system still insists on concentrating power in the hands of party functionaries who manage local politics and finances beyond challenge from the law...

"With President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao providing strenuous leadership from the top, the party apparatus pushed hard to mobilize help in quake-hit zones as soon as the scale of the catastrophe became clear. Participation was broad, but it was all under the guidance of party officials..."

Chinese Officials Punished, Promoted for Actions After Quake

"The Chinese Communist Party has disciplined 28 officials and promoted 50 as a result of their performances during rescue operations after the devastating May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province, the party said Tuesday.

"The personnel changes, including the firing of 15 officials for "doing nothing" during the catastrophe, represented the first public accounting of government actions after a prominent warning by a senior party leader that officials' careers would depend on how well they responded to the crisis. In a sign the party intended the decisions to serve as examples, they were reported prominently in the party's Sichuan Daily newspaper and relayed nationwide by the official New China News Agency..."

See also:

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mexican judicial system change

The approval of a Constitutional amendment has put Mexico on the path of transforming its inquisitorial judicial system to an adversarial one.

The United Kingdom has, of course, been the model of adversarial systems for centuries. Russia and China still use inquisitorial systems. Do our students know what that means? Do they know about the Napoleonic Code? What happens in Iranian and Nigerian courts? Our students should at least know the basics. (If you're teaching the AP course, watch for a briefing paper on comparing judicial systems at AP Central.)

Mexico adopts U.S.-style trials, presumption of innocence

"Under the long-awaited constitutional amendment signed by President Felipe Calderón, guilt or innocence will no longer be decided behind closed doors by a judge relying on written evidence.

"Prosecutors and defense lawyers will now argue their cases in court, and judges must explain their decisions to defendants...

"Mexico now faces the long, tedious task of implementing the changes, which must be in place by 2016 according to the law.

"That includes training thousands of lawyers and judges across the country on the logistics of holding a trial. Even courthouses must be modified to make room for Mexicans who will be able to attend trials for the first time.

"It will likely take even longer to change the culture surrounding treatment of the accused in Mexico, where suspects are routinely paraded before cameras – sometimes holding weapons they are accused of using in crimes – even before they have been charged..."

Mixed Reactions to Overhaul of Legal System

"The Mexican government began Tuesday to usher in a series of constitutional reforms aimed at revolutionising, in eight years, the country’s opaque criminal justice system, which leaves 97 percent of all crimes unsolved and often victimises the poor. But human rights activists warn that there are risks.

"They say, for example, that the clause allowing those suspected of involvement in organised crime to be held without charge for up to 80 days is a 'dangerous step.'...

"Closed door trials based on written evidence, in which judges rarely see the defendants, will gradually be replaced by oral trials open to the public.

"Many officials and observers in Mexico say the legal reform, approved by Congress in 2007 and by most of the country’s 32 state parliaments, will bring about cultural changes that will strengthen the rule of law in the country.

"'This is an extremely challenging reform,' because it represents 'a complete change in the culture of legality, which is virtually nonexistent; we will have to learn how to respect the law,' said José Luis Santiago, assistant prosecutor for legal and international affairs in the Attorney General’s Office...

"The reforms also create a National Public Security System, which will bring into line the rules for hiring, training, evaluating and certifying the country’s roughly 400,000 police officers, who currently belong to a patchwork of different forces. The national registry will also prevent corrupt police officers from being hired by other law enforcement agencies...

"The overhaul of the system is designed to restore the presumption of innocence, cut down the number of people held in preventive detention, and reduce the weight of confessions in judicial proceedings..."

See also:

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Russian legal system

According to Peter Finn, writing in the Washington Post, we should keep our eyes open for legal reform in Russia. Well, if not reform, perhaps change.

Hopes for Court Reform Stir in Russia

"Yelena Valyavina, a senior judge at the Federal Arbitration Court, electrified a Moscow courtroom last month when she stated openly what had long been unspoken, at least by influential insiders: The Kremlin has pressured and threatened the Russian judiciary to secure favorable rulings.

"The testimony by such a senior judge was cause for some cautious optimism that calls by Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, for an independent court system might actually be genuine. Valyavina's boss, Chief Justice Anton Ivanov, is one of Medvedev's oldest and closest associates, and that connection was lost on no one.

"During the eight-year presidency of Vladimir Putin, courts were politicized as part of a broad centralization of power in the Kremlin that also brought controls on the news media, the effective renationalization of strategic industries and the marginalization of opposition political parties...

"During the election campaign and since becoming president, Medvedev has stressed the primacy of the law as a guarantor of democratic rights and an antidote to endemic corruption...

"So far, there has been little daylight between Putin and Medvedev on economic, social or foreign policy issues...

"But legal reform could be a key mechanism through which Medvedev could distinguish himself. And, according to political analysts, it could siphon to the new president some of Putin's popularity because the public is disillusioned with the legal system...

"But legal reform is one of Russia's oldest empty promises. Putin, too, spoke about the rule of law, but in practice it meant the supremacy of the Kremlin in all matters...

"The legal system under Putin was often a weapon to neutralize business or political enemies, most famously the tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving eight years for tax evasion and fraud. His oil company, Yukos, was broken up...

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Types of corruption

Dan Harris, writing at China Law Blog has an entry intriguingly titled, "The Upside Of China Corruption."

He cites another blog (Richard Spencer's post, "When Corruption Works") that suggests that the Chinese schools might have been destroyed by the earthquake because of inadequate construction (corruption?), but the existence of those schools might have come about because of corruption.

Then Harris cites a parable to explain the difference between Chinese and African corruption. The parable rings true from what I've learned about the process of "building" the electrical grid in Nigeria.

Here's the story: "An Asian and an African Minister of Infrastructure ... become friends during their conferences. The Asian minister invites to his home the African, who marvels at its beauty and asks how the Asian could afford it. 'See that bridge over there?' said the Asian minister. 'That’s right. 10%. 10%.'

"In the next year it is the Asian minister’s turn to visit the African and to marvel at his even more grandiose home. 'See that bridge over there?' the African minister asks, and the Asian replies, 'What bridge?'

"That’s right,' the African answers, '100%. 100%.'”


Monday, June 16, 2008

How the Irish changed Euro politics

Irish voters reject EU treaty

"Irish voters have rejected the Lisbon treaty, the country's justice minister conceded today, in a move which throws the entire project of reshaping the EU into turmoil...

"[J]ustice minister, Dermot Ahern, said... 'We will have to wait and see what happens in the rest of the countries. Obviously if we are the only one to reject the treaty that will raise questions. We are in uncharted territories.'...

"The no vote was strong in many rural areas and in working-class urban areas, while middle-class areas appeared to be less supportive of the treaty than had been anticipated...

"If the no vote is confirmed later today, the EU is likely to face two options. Either give Ireland an opt out to the treaty or shelve it completely...

"All 27 EU countries have to ratify the Lisbon treaty for it to be passed meaning voters in Ireland – the only country to hold a referendum on the issue – can veto the negotiations. Detractors suggest the treaty is an EU constitution in all but name...

"So far, more than a dozen EU members have ratified it, including the parliaments of Estonia, Finland and Greece on Wednesday, but others have held back while awaiting the Irish referendum result...

"Pressure groups from the far left and right claimed that the treaty would result in Ireland losing control of everything from its business tax rates to its ban on abortion...

"Many no voters said they were annoyed that the Lisbon treaty contains largely the same reform goals as the rejected constitution, and expressed solidarity with the voters of France and the Netherlands who dumped that document."

See also:

In Blow to E.U., Irish Voters Reject Treaty

"Europe was thrown into political turmoil on Friday by Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, a painstakingly negotiated blueprint for consolidating the European Union’s power and streamlining its increasingly unwieldy bureaucracy...

"The repercussions of Friday’s vote are enormous, for Ireland and for Europe. To take effect, the treaty must be ratified by all 27 members of the European Union. So the defeat by a single country, even one as tiny as Ireland, has the potential effect of stopping the whole thing cold..."

EU tries to isolate Irish after treaty rejection

"Germany and France moved to isolate Ireland in the European Union yesterday, scrambling for ways to resuscitate the Lisbon Treaty a day after the Irish dealt the architects of the EU's new regime a crushing blow.

"Refusing to take Ireland's 'no' for an answer, politicians in Berlin and Paris prepared for a crucial EU summit in Brussels this week by trying to ringfence the Irish while demanding that the treaty be ratified by the rest of the EU.

"The scene is now set for a major clash between the Irish and their European partners after a Dublin minister and sources in the ruling Fianna Fail party ruled out any chance of a second Irish referendum on the treaty..."

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Friday, June 13, 2008

How much history matters politically?

Pardon my proclivities, but I have been fascinated by archaeology since I read Gods, Graves, and Scholars in junior high school. When I had opportunities, I volunteered on local archaeology projects in the 1970s (yes, prehistoric archaeology in Minnesota). I am still amazed by how much we can describe of people's lives by the physical stuff they leave behind. (Think about that the next time you take out the garbage.)

So, when I saw this article about urban archaeology in Mexico, I read it. The archaeological discoveries, this time amplified by the written observations of the Spanish conquerors, do offer insights into the Aztec political culture.

The question remains, though, does this have any relevance to today's political culture -- except, perhaps, as a symbol of pre-colonial greatness?

Archaeologists uncover Aztec palace in Mexico City

"Archaeologist Elsa Hernandez and her team have found remains belonging to an Aztec palace once inhabited by the emperor Montezuma. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/AP"

"The remains of an Aztec palace once inhabited by the emperor Montezuma have been discovered in the heart of downtown Mexico City, archaeologists said today.

"During a routine renovation project on a colonial-era building, experts uncovered pieces of a wall as well as a basalt floor believed to have been part of a dark room where Montezuma meditated, team leader Elsa Hernandez said...

"The basalt floor most likely belongs to the Casa Denegrida, or the Black House, which Spanish conquerors described as a windowless room painted in black, said Hernandez.

"The emperor was believed to have reflected there on visions recounted by professional seers and shamans.

"His reliance on such predictions may have contributed to his downfall, possibly prompting him to initially mistake the conquistadors for divine figures."

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rentier states and women

I was intrigued by the combination of the themes of two recent posts here (gender politics and petroleum politics) in another blog.

John Sides, writing in The Monkey Cage, a blog written by several members of the Political Science Department at George Washington University, describes an article from a recent issue of the American Political Science Review.

Does Oil Hurt Women's Rights?

"'Women have made less progress toward gender equality in the Middle East than in any other region. Many observers claim this is due to the region’s Islamic traditions. I suggest that oil, not Islam, is at fault; and that oil production also explains why women lag behind in many other countries. Oil production reduces the number of women in the labor force, which in turn reduces their political influence. As a result, oil-producing states are left with atypically strong patriarchal norms, laws, and political institutions.'

"That is Michael Ross in the latest American Political Science Review. The paper's abstract is here. In the statistical analyses, oil rents per capita are associated with lower female labor force participation and fewer female seats in parliament — controlling for factors such as GDP per capita, region (Middle East, etc.), the proportion of the country that is Muslim, and other demographic and institutional characteristics of states. Moreover, if one focuses only on the Middle East, these same findings hold..."

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The interplay of domestic and global forces

Don't be misled by the headline. This article is about a lot more than economics, and Elizabeth Malkin does a good job of describing the political complexity.

Mexico, an Oil Producer, Hasn’t Benefited From Soaring Prices

"Mexico is the world’s sixth-largest oil producer, and the steady climb in the price of oil has reached record highs. The soaring prices should have generated $3 billion above budget estimates for the state oil monopoly, Pemex. But now the government says that windfall just is not there.

"The recent announcement by the finance ministry angered opposition politicians, who declared that government technocrats were manipulating the numbers.

"The spat over the missing windfall is about more than government largess, although that is part of the issue. Under Mexican law, a percentage of extra money from high oil prices is distributed to state governors to be spent on public works. (Opposition parties govern most of Mexico’s 31 states as well as Mexico City.)

"But the stakes are even bigger. Congress is in the middle of two months of public debate over a proposal to overhaul Petróleos Mexicanos, the oil company’s formal name...

"[M]any outside analysts accept the government’s explanation for the vanished windfall. 'The numbers are quite clear,' said Carlos Elizondo, a political analyst at CIDE, a Mexico City research organization.

"Though oil prices are up, Mexico is exporting less crude oil and importing more refined gasoline, which it does not have the capacity to refine itself, raising the cost of subsidizing Mexico’s below-market gasoline prices...

"Each year, the Mexican congress projects how much the government will earn from oil by estimating the price Pemex will get for each barrel, how much it will produce and how much it will export. The windfall is calculated based in part on what Pemex earns over that estimate.

"In the first quarter, the price for Mexican oil averaged 40 percent more than the budget’s estimate — a jump that should have delivered an extra $3 billion to the treasury. But declining production meant that Pemex exported almost 12 percent less crude than Congress estimated when it passed the budget last year.

"But along with declining production and exports, the cost of gasoline imports spiked 39 percent due to higher volumes and prices than legislators had estimated. A strong peso hurt too, because Mexico received less in peso terms for its dollar-denominated oil sales..."

See also:

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Talk about long presidential campaigns

Here's a name to remember: Enrique Pena. He may have started his presidential campaign in Mexico for the 2012 election. (Then again, if you remember Pena in 2012, you might know nothing more than a trivia answer.)

Mexico poll predicts PRI winning 2012 election

"Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which was voted out in 2000 after 71 years in power, could retake the presidency in 2012 with a young governor as its new face, a poll showed Friday.

"The PRI, as the party is known by its Spanish initials, is the third-largest party in Congress behind the ruling conservative party and the main leftist opposition, yet it has retained a solid support base and governs about half of Mexico's states.

"A survey by a private Mexican polling firm found 42 percent of respondents would vote in the 2012 presidential election for State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Pena, 41, whom many expect will run as the PRI candidate...

"The survey, published in the daily El Universal, came four days after a separate survey predicted the PRI would win the most seats in mid-term congressional elections in July 2009...

"Pena, a lawyer, is a rising star in the PRI as it tries to shed its old image as corrupt and all-controlling and remodels itself as a more modern-thinking centrist party eager to strike compromises in Congress..."

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Gender and comparative politics

Gender issues are not on the front line of topics in most textbooks. But they are on the front line for most people in most countries.

So, how do we include those issues? Usually we have to look at gender cleavages in political participation, social policy, and socio-economic conditions.

Elizabeth M. King, Research Manager for Public Services of the World Bank’s Development Research Group, and Bjørn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, offer the following opinion piece. It offers some key policy issues that students could use as criteria for evaluating and comparing public policy in the countries they study.

Women and Development

"Although more attention is being given to gender issues, inequality persists in every culture, country, and continent. A new study for the Copenhagen Consensus project shows that eliminating this disparity is an investment with high payoffs.

"Despite global interest in education for all, many girls in poor countries continue to be denied basic education; right from the start, they are disadvantaged...

"An obvious solution is to build more schools in places where girls and boys must be educated separately...

"Elsewhere, supply constraints are not the problem. Instead, policymakers must find ways to strengthen the incentives for parents to send their daughters to school...

"The experiences of these few countries lead us to propose a system whereby mothers are paid if their school-age daughters attend school regularly from the 3rd to the 9th grade...

"Pregnancy is one of the most vulnerable times for poor women...

"Making reproductive services available to women who cannot afford to pay their way can help prevent these deaths. But such services must not shy away from promoting and providing modern contraceptive methods to avoid unwanted pregnancies...

"For adolescent girls, early marriage or an unwanted pregnancy typically curtails schooling. Delaying marriage and childbearing allows them to gain more education and perhaps more earning opportunities, as well as improved health, education, and labor market success for their future children – benefits worth ten times more than the cost of providing reproductive services.

"Other tools, aside from schooling, can help women improve their income-earning ability. Microfinance institutions, such as Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank...

"Though women have the right to vote in almost every country, gender inequalities in political representation remain large. Governments should consider gender quotas at the local level of politics. Greater female representation may not necessarily lead to more emphasis on “female” policy priorities, but in India, village councils with gender quotas for village chiefs have higher levels of safe drinking water, better immunization coverage and roads, and less bribery...

"Being a woman need not and should not be among the greatest challenges of life."

See also:

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Corruption in Mexico

Violence and corruption are threats to the Mexican regime.

Ex-Mexico gov. convicted on drug charges

"A Mexican court sentenced a former state governor to 36 years in prison Wednesday for fomenting drug trafficking, overturning an earlier ruling that had imposed six years on lesser charges, his defense attorney said.

"Mario Villanueva, who was governor of the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo from 1993 to 1996, is also fighting extradition to the United States on charges he helped traffickers ship drugs to the U.S. market...

"Although other former Mexican governors have been suspected of having links to the drug trade, Villanueva would be the first one ever extradited to the U.S...

"Few drug lords have been extradited to the United States because they have argued they should face justice first in Mexico. But Calderón has shown greater willingness to extradite drug suspects to the U.S. since taking office in 2006..."

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Civil society in Nigeria

A business group has proposed a formula for sharing state revenues that it hopes will reduce corruption and end eternal arguments about who gets what.

If you can get through all the abbreviations, the proposal is basically that the national government and the states split revenues evenly. That the states split their share evenly with local governments, and so on down the line. There is also a proposal here to resolve the issue of adequate sharing with the south-south region that produces oil and suffers from environmental degradation. The NACCIMA (see below) also suggests that lower levels of government check on the sharing process of the bodies "above" them. It will all depend upon greater transparency than exists now.

The recommendations extend beyond revenue sharing. Details in the article.

This was written by Omoh Gabriel, Business Editor for Vanguard (Lagos).

I'll be interested in seeing how other groups (especially the powerful figures in the national government) respond.

Organised Private Sector Backs 50 Percent Resource Control

"THE Organised Private Sector (OPS) has thrown its weight behind resource control, calling for a new revenue allocation formula that will give the federal and state governments 50 per cent share each of the federation account.

"This is one of the several submissions made by The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) to the Federal Government to mark President Umaru Yar' Adua's one year in office.

"The sharing of the proceeds from resources between the federal, state and local governments should be 50:50.

"This will reduce the over dependence of states on Federal Government. The state governments should also share with relevant local governments on 50:50 basis, and local governments with wards, wards with communities, communities with families and families with their individual stakeholders...

"Apart from crude oil and gas, all minerals, hydro-electric power stations, sea ports, airports, coal power stations, sales or consumption tax like Value Added Tax (VAT) should all be included as resources that should be controlled under derivation principle...

"For resources derived from the Niger Delta Region, 20 per cent should be given to the Niger Delta Region before the 50:50 formula is used to divide between Federal Government and state and local governments including states and local governments in the Niger Delta Region.

"This 20 per cent to Niger Delta should begin in 2009, rising by 5 per cent per year from 2010 until 50 per cent is achieved...

"Federal Governments and state governments from other areas will not receive less than they currently get because the additional volume of crude oil and gas that will now be produced (when militancy/restiveness is reduced and sustainable peace is maintained in the Niger Delta) will more than compensate for what will be due to the Niger Delta..."

See also:

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A telltale hat and a telltale leg

I once had a book of photographs, primarily from Russia and China, showing how people were removed from pictures when they were no longer "politically correct." Back in pre-PhotoShop days, students were amazed to see how Trotsky disappeared from revolutionary photos from Russia and how "the gang of four" vanished from photos of Mao's funeral.

I would pass this book around in class when students had read an excerpt from Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting about how Czech Communist official Victor Clementis lent his hat to leader Klement Gottwald on the day that they took over the government. Clementis was later purged and his picture was removed from historical photos of that day. His hat, though, remained on Gottwald's head, and some people remembered who had owned the hat.

It was during discussions about this anecdote and the doctored photos that I'd offer the statement from Orwell's 1984, "Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past."

It seems that the manipulation of the past and the present is still going on. And sometimes the equivalent of Clementis' hat is left in the picture.

It Isn’t Magic: Putin Opponents Vanish From TV

"On a talk show last fall, a prominent political analyst named Mikhail G. Delyagin had some tart words about Vladimir V. Putin. When the program was later televised, Mr. Delyagin was not.

"Not only were his remarks cut — he was also digitally erased from the show, like a disgraced comrade airbrushed from an old Soviet photo. (The technicians may have worked a bit hastily, leaving his disembodied legs in one shot.)

"Mr. Delyagin, it turned out, has for some time resided on the so-called stop list, a roster of political opponents and other critics of the government who have been barred from TV news and political talk shows by the Kremlin...

"When some actors cracked a few mild jokes about Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev at Russia’s equivalent of the Academy Awards in March, they were expunged from the telecast...

"Senior government officials deny the existence of a stop list, saying that people hostile to the Kremlin do not appear on TV simply because their views are not newsworthy...

"After the Soviet Union’s fall, several national and regional networks arose that were owned by oligarchs. Though they operated with relatively few restrictions, their owners often used them to settle personal and business scores. One network, NTV, garnered attention for its investigative reporting and war dispatches from Chechnya.

"Mr. Putin chafed at negative coverage of the government, and the Kremlin effectively took over the major national networks in his first term, including NTV. Vladimir Gusinsky, NTV’s owner, was briefly arrested and then fled the country after giving up the network. From that point on, executives and journalists at Russian networks clearly understood that they would be punished for resisting the Kremlin.

"All the major national and regional networks are now owned by the government or its allies...

"A small national network, Ren TV, pushes the boundaries, as does a national radio station, the Echo of Moscow, which has become the voice of the opposition even though Gazprom, the government gas monopoly, owns a majority stake in it.

"The Kremlin seems to tolerate criticism in such outlets because they have a limited reach compared with the major television networks..."

Mikhail Delyagin’s face used to make regular
appearances on Russian TV. Now he’s lucky
if he gets his leg in the picture (that’s
it in the bottom left corner of the right
hand picture).

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Protocol is telling

If government and political operations aren't transparent, clues have to come from elsewhere.

Putin Maintains Presidential Air in Paris Trip

"It is Vladimir V. Putin’s first trip abroad as Russia’s prime minister, but he might as well still be its president.

"To be sure, Mr. Putin met here with his official counterpart, the French prime minister, François Fillon. But he dined on Thursday with the head of state, President Nicolas Sarkozy, and on Friday he met former President Jacques Chirac, who praised him profusely.

"In general Mr. Putin spoke for Russia as if he still ran it, which most analysts say they believe he still does..."

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Monday, June 02, 2008


Since Socrates and Confucius (and perhaps before), the idea of happiness has been contentious. How about the political science version of the issue?

Sanford Silverburg, who teaches at Catawba College in Salisbury, NC, pointed me to an article by Spengler in Asia Times Online, in which he explains Why Israel is the world's happiest country.

He supports his contention by comparing suicide rates and birth rates in about 40 countries. Israel has the lowest suicide rate and the highest birth rate of the countries Spengler cites.

Sanford suggests this idea might be a good idea for a comparative case study. I'd add that students ought to try identifying another statistic supporting or contradicting the hypothesis that low suicide and high birth rates indicate national happiness.

Where do you find the numbers? The suicide rates of nations from the World Health Organization are online.

Birth rates by country from CIA World Factbook are also online.

What kind of data might support or contradict the hypothesis? Standard of living? GDP per capita? Life expectancy? (Those are all in the World Factbook.) Or check out The Economist's Quality of Life Index.

Thanks to James Lerch there are more ideas on comparative happiness. This time from Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute. Jim pointed me to Wilkinson's blog, The Fly Bottle. There I found a link to Wilkinsin's paper, In Pursuit of Happiness Research: Is It Reliable? What Does It Imply for Policy?.

You can probably imagine how a policy analyst from the Cato Institute will argue this idea. And that adds more dimensions to a comparative study. Here's the executive summary [I added some paragraphing]:

"'Happiness research" studies the correlates of subjective well-being, generally through survey methods.

"A number of psychologists and social scientists have drawn upon this work recently to argue that the American model of relatively limited government and a dynamic market economy corrodes happiness, whereas Western European and Scandinavian-style social democracies promote it.

"This paper argues that happiness research in fact poses no threat to the relatively libertarian ideals embodied in the U.S. socioeconomic system. Happiness research is seriously hampered by confusion and disagreement about the definition of its subject as well as the limitations inherent in current measurement techniques.

"In its present state happiness research cannot be relied on as an authoritative source for empirical information about happiness, which, in any case, is not a simple empirical phenomenon but a cultural and historical moving target. Yet, even if we accept the data of happiness research at face value, few of the alleged redistributive policy implications actually follow from the evidence.

"The data show that neither higher rates of government redistribution nor lower levels of income inequality make us happier, whereas high levels of economic freedom and high average incomes are among the strongest correlates of subjective well-being.

"Even if we table the damning charges of questionable science and bad moral philosophy, the American model still comes off a glowing success in terms of happiness."

That ought to suggest more debates about definitions, measurements, and important variables as well as more comparisons that could be made.

See also:

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