Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year (version 1)



Aucklund, NZ New Year fireworks

Times Square crowd

According to today's version of Wikipedia:

"In 45 BC, Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar, which continued to use 1 January as the first day of the new year..."

"The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today. It was... decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom it was named, on 24 February 1582...

"It is a reform of the Julian calendar and continues the year numbering system of the Julian calendar, counting years from the traditional Incarnation of Jesus. Years after this date are given the designation "anno Domini" (AD), or "Common Era" (CE); years before this date are labeled "before Christ" (BC), or "Before the Common Era" (BCE)..."

["The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke place Jesus' birth under the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BC/BCE, although the Gospel of Luke also describes the birth as taking place during the first census of the Roman provinces of Syria and Judaea in 6 AD/CE..."]

"Though the Anno Domini dating system was devised in 525, it was not until the 8th century that the system began to be adopted in Western Europe... In 1422, Portugal became the last Western European country to adopt the Anno Domini system.

"Year numbering using the Anno Domini system (or its alternative Common Era (CE) designation) is the most widespread numbering system in the world today, including numbering of decades, centuries, and millennia. It is a de facto standard as used by international agencies such as the United Nations and the Universal Postal Union. Its preeminence is a consequence of the European colonisation of the other continents, thus spreading the Gregorian calendar..."


One of my ancestors "lost" one of his birthdays because, "Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 by which time it was necessary to correct by 11 days. Wednesday, 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752..."

That change is also the key to the trick question about George Washington's actions on September 10, 1752.


The ubiquity of the Gregorian calendar is demonstrated by headlines like this from Al Arabiya: New Year cancelled across Arab, Muslim world

"New Year events scheduled to take place in Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan and many other parts of the Arab world have been either postponed or cancelled..."


On a fictional note, today is also the first of Ick [which] is Hogswatchday in Disk World (created by Sir Terry Pratchett). The 32nd of December is the Disc's New Year, and the winter solstice from the perspective of Ankh-Morpork. In the Astronomical Year the second midwinter (the year's midway point) is called Crueltide, but to people using the Agricultural Year this is the same festival."

Threats to Mexican government and regime

Crime is everywhere, punishment elusive

"Violence has reached an almost surreal level in this city bordering on San Diego ground zero in Mexico's fierce war on drugs. Beheadings, police officers shot in their beds, videotaped executions broadcast on the Internet, heads found in buckets, bodies in vats of acid. Dr. Quiroz has seen it all.

"In November, the army moved in. And still the bodies keep coming...

"There has always been a baseline of narco-violence in Mexico. The illicit activities of drug traffickers were tolerated, not only by society, but by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that ruled Mexico for 70 years until 2000. A tacit agreement between the party and the cartels kept the drug lords in business and made many politicians rich.

"But when President Felipe Calderon took office in December, 2006, he launched an all-out offensive against the organized criminal syndicates...

"But instead of bringing peace to Mexico's border cities, Mr. Calderon's campaign has so far only resulted in epidemic violence as the cartels fight back with fury...

"It is hard to reconcile these images of Mexico with the tourist images of a sun-baked paradise...

"[T]he drug war that threatens to destabilize one NAFTA partner, threatens them all..

"If the rule of law in this country of 110 million isn't re-established, the country could become a narco-state. Some fear parts of it already are...

"Several recent initiatives do reflect a new willingness to fight impunity, said Monte Alejandro Rubido, head of the secretariat of Mr. Calderon's powerful National System of Public Security. Among them: judicial reforms; a police hotline similar to Crime Stoppers; a national accord committing unions, business, civil society and the government to strengthen Mexico's democracy. In his first 23 months in office, Mr. Calderon has extradited 166 men and women to the United States, Europe and Latin America, including several leaders of the Arellano Felix syndicate.

"'This is a long-term fight that won't be resolved overnight. The great challenge for the Mexican state is to ensure that the next generation won't become victims,' Mr. Rubido says, sitting in his office in the capital, flanked by several red phones and a Mexican flag...

"Jorge Chabat, a national-security expert at Mexico City's Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economica, laughs when asked at what point Mexico's security situation will improve. 'I don't think we will see any significant change before two years. I would say this is optimistic. Most people think we'll never see a change, ever.'"


See also:

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Economic Policy 9

It's worth noting that a distinction is being made between "registered" urban residents and the "floating population" of migrant workers.

China aims to create 9 million jobs in urban areas in 2009

"Human Resources and Social Security Minister Yin Weimin said here on Monday that China aims to create 9 million new jobs in urban districts next year.

"Yin said China wants to keep the registered urban unemployment rate under 4.6 percent next year...

"Unemployed migrant workers who return home are being encouraged to start businesses. They will get credit extensions, tax breaks, business registration and information consulting service, according to the country's central rural work conference, which concluded on Sunday.

"Ministry of Agriculture figures from 10 provinces and municipalities show that about 7.8 million migrant laborers had returned home earlier than in previous years for the Spring Festival."

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Human rights and regimes

Here's a structural argument for protecting human rights. How would your students critique it?

It's written by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Human Rights Require Stronger Institutions

"Sixty years ago... the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first international proclamation of the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people. To this day, the Universal Declaration remains the single most important reference point for discussion of ethical values across national, ideological, and cultural divides.

"Yet the Declaration’s enlightened vision of individual freedom, social protection, economic opportunity and duty to community is still unfulfilled. Tragically, genocide is happening again...

"For women around the world, domestic violence and discrimination in employment are a daily reality. Minorities suffer stigma, discrimination, and violence in developed and developing countries. The right to information is denied to millions through censorship and media intimidation.

"Poverty is our greatest shame...

"As we mark this anniversary, the question is how to protect the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people. A key part of the answer lies in more effective systems of accountability, so that rights are recognized and laws enforced...

"If we are to make reforms sustainable and ensure that they truly protect human rights, we need effective institutions of government...

"We have better tools to communicate and demand justice than any generation before us. We have global goals and shared destinies that connect us. What is needed now are leadership, resources, a greater sense of urgency, and commitment to the long-term efforts that must dedicated to ensuring that the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration are not only recognized universally, but respected as well."

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Monday, December 29, 2008

And cash helps guanxi work

Mark Magnier describes in the Los Angeles Times the pervasive nature of corruption in China. This article includes a number of grassroots examples of charges of corruption, including an awful story of a middle school student whose parents complained openly about "fees" expected by the school. The student was tortured and killed. His parents believe their son was killed by his teachers.

(I have no explanation for Magnier's or the LA Times' old style spelling of Mao Zedong's name. He's not so old for that spelling to be a habit -- he graduated from Columbia in 1981.)

Corruption taints every facet of life in China

"Corruption is an everyday experience for millions of Chinese that taints not just schools, but relations in business, on farms and in factories, and potentially any contact citizens have with officialdom...

"Senior Communist Party officials know that decades of remarkable economic progress are at risk if graft and bribery stretch the chasm between the haves and have-nots too wide. But they have limited room to maneuver. Any meaningful effort to crack down endangers the party's monopoly on power.

"The system depends on legions of police, local party and government officials to enforce Beijing's policies and quash dissent. All too often, critics say, local officials regard their position as a license to steal.

"Throughout the country, the prodigious rate of economic growth has created a gold rush mentality. Absent both the strictures and the social safety network of Mao Tse-tung's rigid system, millions of people are seeking ways to prosper -- legally or illegally.

"Corruption accounts for an estimated 3% to 15% of a $7-trillion economy, and party membership can be an invitation to solicit bribes or cut illegal land deals...

"The result is a growing divide between those who benefit from corruption and their victims. It is at the grass-roots level where this chasm is most harshly felt..."


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Want examples to explain guanxi?

Dan Harris, writing on his "China Law Blog," offers these examples from businesses operating in China, Korea, and Russia.

You Want China Guanxi? You Can't Handle China Guanxi.


"Apologies to Jack Nicholson.

"Having grown up in a small Midwestern city, I have an inherent (and what I see as a healthy) distrust of government. Every government. Anywhere.

"I was yet again reminded why when I read this excellent Wall Street Journal article on British Petroleum's recent problems in Russia, entitled, "Misreading the Kremlin Costs BP Control in Russia Venture." BP thought its getting close with key Kremlin players would protect them in Russia. Most unfortunately, for BP, however, when its key Kremlin players fell out of favor, it too fell out of favor. Russia can be particularly problematic, but other countries certainly are not immune. I have seen up close and personal how allying with government can be like playing with fire...

"3. Many years ago, we had a client who ran a business on Chinese military bases. The whole practice was of questionable legality, but his closeness to a high ranking military official seemed to isolate the enterprise. Then the high ranking official retired and within less than a year, our client was off all the bases and a new company was there in its place..."

There are three other examples in the posting.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Progress or rationalization?

It makes sense to me that anti-corruption officials need to know more about how corruption is carried out, but do they really need "new theory" before cracking down on miscreants?

This is, at least, an example of the importance of ideology in Chinese politics.

Senior Party official stresses research of anti-corruption policy, system

"The Communist Party of China's (CPC) top anti-corruption official has called for improving research of anti-corruption policy and system.

"He Guoqiang, secretary of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, told members of the China Supervision Society at a recent meeting here that their task is to give intellectual support for the Party discipline and government supervision departments...

"They shall try their best to find... major problems in the current supervision system and how to solve them, said He, who is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

"They are also expected to bring out new theory and advise on the anti-corruption policies, he said."

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

A PRD future in Mexico's mainstream?

From The Economist

Backroom boss: The left’s moderate radical


"IT IS an unlikely place for the world’s largest artificial ice-rink. But this month for the second year in a row the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square, is abuzz with skaters. The rink is the brainchild of Marcelo Ebrard [right], the city’s mayor. Like several of his initiatives, it is practical and popular—the hallmarks of a politician who may be the best hope for Mexico’s deeply divided left...

"[Ebard] has gradually emerged as his own man. To match the winter ice-rink, he created a Parisian-style archipelago of artificial beaches in the summer. To promote cycling a main avenue is closed to traffic on Sundays. He says he wants to set up 400km (250 miles) of cycle lanes. On his watch, Mexico City has become one of the first places in Latin America to ban smoking in bars and restaurants; it is also one of the few places where abortion is legal. The mayor recently promised free Viagra to men over the age of 70. He has also managed to move some 15,000 street vendors out of the city centre—a tricky operation given that they have traditionally formed part of the PRD’s political clientele.

"But his tenure as mayor will be judged on his success in tackling congestion and crime. An ambitious plan to create a network of dedicated bus lanes of equal size to the 175km metro system is behind schedule... The mayor says he will hire 20,000 extra police during his six-year term. He wants to improve their quality...

"The PRD is bitterly split between Mr López Obrador’s followers and a more moderate faction. Mr Ebrard may be one of the few figures who can bridge the divide. He says that Mexico’s deep inequalities mean that the PRD cannot just be a moderate European centre-left party, but nor can it be so radical as to become a movement outside the country’s institutions..."

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Want an example of "co-opt?"

Russia’s Liberals Lose Their Voice

"Nikita Y. Belykh, 33, who represented the future of the liberal opposition, said yes. He accepted an appointment as one of the Kremlin’s regional governors, turning his back on his party allies and becoming emblematic of the opposition’s difficulties this year.

"A man who had once declared, 'I have no intention of doing deals with the Kremlin' was doing just that...

"Mr. Belykh’s pact with the Kremlin was a milestone in its lengthy campaign to all but stamp out the liberal opposition. Polls show that roughly 10 to 20 percent of Russians back the agenda of the liberals, which includes a pro-Western, free-market orientation and far less government regulation of industry and the news media.

"Even so, the party that Mr. Belykh used to lead, the Union of Right Forces, received only 1 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections last year, after being subjected to intense pressure by the government. It did not even run a candidate in the presidential election this year. In October, the party disbanded..."

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Realities in Nigeria

Improving Education for Girls in North

"In Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north a community-run project to create 'girl-friendly' primary schools is helping to correct long-time gender inequalities in education, analysts say.

"In the region's most populous state, Kano, boys continue to outnumber girls in school but education officials say the margin has narrowed over recent years...

"While official figures say primary school intake has more than doubled in Nigeria since the government introduced free primary education in 2001, the gender discrepancy remains in northern states.

Students in Kano, Nigeria

"Just over a quarter of girls in northern Nigeria make it beyond secondary school and more than half are married before age 15, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)...

"US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2004 set up a project to involve community members in improving education quality and boosting girls' enrolment - Community Participation for Action in the Social Sector (COMPASS)...

"In Zakarai, a low-income farming settlement with some 8,000 residents, of the 1,690 registered pupils at the only primary school in 2008, 860 were girls, reflecting a three-year upward trend; 776 girls were enrolled in 2006...

"One of the best ways to attract more girls is very simple, says the Kano basic education board's Abdullahi: toilets. In a conservative, predominantly Muslim community, unisex toilets have hindered girls' enrolment. Community leaders are beginning to provide separate facilities for girls..."

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Change in China

Tom Grimmer, who has worked in China since 1985, wrote an insightful op-ed piece for The Globe and Mail (Toronto). He reflects on changes in China since the days of Deng Xiaoping.

I'd suggest you assign this article before students look at their textbook chapter on China. The examples Grimmer cites are vivid illustrations of how China has changed in the past 30 years. Of course, that might mean that adults who remember the past have a harder time understanding the "new" China than younger students who know only that new China.

Grimmer reminds us, "China has now been longer in the Deng mode than it was in the Mao mode. Is this communism? Yes, but let's call it Communism 2.0. That... leaves open the tantalizing prospect of the upgrades to come."

Life after Deng

"Thirty years on, we know what Mr. Deng set in motion. By now, we can almost recite the gee-whiz statistics: the world's third-largest economy, 40 million new Internet users every year, 600 million cellphones, $2-trillion (U.S.) in foreign-exchange holdings and — my own favourite — the planet's biggest consumer of cement. This country has seen the greatest poverty-alleviation effort in history. Yes, yes, we've heard it all. But somehow, knowing this does not quite do this place justice...

"The Economist asked a few weeks ago: "Can China save the world?" It was an economic basket-case 30 years ago, but we're now counting on China's engine to keep the global economy ticking over. Its recently announced four-trillion-yuan ($72-billion) stimulus package has everyone hoping.

"Despite the saturation coverage that China gets, what I hear from most first-time visitors is 'I had no idea.' That normally refers to China's pockets of affluence, its stunning infrastructure and just what a simply cool place it can be. For whatever reason, after 30 years of China's open door, people don't fully get it unless they've been here...

"China has an image problem, and that old communist tag doesn't help. Of course, the Chinese Communist Party runs the place, but it could just as easily be called the Chinese Pragmatist Party these days...

"Of course, China has many deep-seated problems, too. For starters: a paucity of human rights, a growing gap between rich and poor, the environment, Internet censorship, a crumbling social-safety net that isn't being repaired quickly enough. Pretty much anyone you talk to in China these days will frankly acknowledge all these points; that's the difference between now and when I arrived in 1985...

"Politics and economics are the two areas where there's the greatest disconnect between foreign hopes and Chinese reality. For 15 years, various commentators have been saying China is ripe for political change. It hasn't happened. In any event, China is not going to be a liberal democracy in our lifetimes and whatever system does evolve here will probably never suit Western tastes. Get over it..."


If you would like some images to accompany Grimmer's essay, I suggest you look at the photo blog, Xiboy. Wen Ling, a Beijing photographer, takes pictures on his trips around Beijing of his family and friends. If you look through the archives of the blog, you'll find photos of the "pockets of affluence" as well as middle class neighborhoods, art galleries, punk rock concerts, and the Olympic stadium. (You'll also see photographs from his trips to New York, New Jersey, Boston, and Vancouver.)

Photos by Wen Ling.

A middle class hutong in Beijing.

Punk rockers in Beijing.

Middle school students still "learning from Lei Feng."

Re: Lei Feng -- see Lei Feng at Stefan R. Landsberger's web site of Chinese political posters.


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Monday, December 22, 2008

Iranian presidential politics

A Lake Forest College sociologist is quoted in the second article below as saying that, "Iranian democracy is evolving. [Political parties] are recognizing that the opposition is there and they have to negotiate."

Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is also quoted, saying, "We are getting closer to a situation where Iran has full-fledged political parties that have specific agendas, specific leadership and clear constituencies... You have this intense, fractious debate with political groups consulting one another and positioning themselves much in the way that parties in truly open societies operate."

What would your students suggest we look for in the coming months as evidence to support or contradict those evaluations of politics in Iran?

Iran's Khatami Mulls Run for Presidency

"Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, an opponent of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies, said Monday that he is still pondering a bid for the country's highest political office directly elected by the people...

"Ahmadinejad hasn't registered yet as a candidate, but he is expected to run for a second term. If Khatami becomes a candidate, Ahmadinejad, whose management of Iran's oil-dependent economy has come under sometimes harsh criticism, would face a serious competitor...

"Khatami, a Shiite Muslim cleric, was elected twice by large majorities of the popular vote. In addition to promising more civil liberties and political freedoms, he pledged to end Iran's isolation in world affairs. By the end of his administration, many of his supporters were disappointed with his inability to fulfill those pledges. Some of his political appointees were suspected of corruption..."


Iran election raises hope for change

One of the tallest telecommunications towers in the world looms above this sprawling city, a symbol of Iran's desire for global respect.

"City officials leave no question about who should get credit for completing it: A pie chart in an official brochure shows that Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, made far more progress on the Milad Tower than his predecessor, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"It's a sign that the battle for Iran's presidency has already begun, with Ghalibaf - who has advocated better ties with the West - hoping to be Ahmadinejad's main rival in the June 12 elections.

"During his 3 1/2-year tenure, Ahmadinejad's bombastic style has made him the face of Iranian intransigence in the West - refusing to suspend Iran's nuclear program and calling for Israel's demise. His defeat, even by a onetime hard-liner like Ghalibaf, would be welcomed by many in the West...

"Iran has more political freedom than many countries in the region. Although Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wields great influence and appoints a 12-member council that must approve all candidates, Iranian presidents are elected by popular vote to a four-year term, during which they set the tone for policies at home and abroad...

"Although Ahmadinejad is still popular with the rural poor, his reputation has soured among some conservatives because of the country's ailing economy. He has long been despised by Iranian liberals for rolling back social freedoms and cultivating a confrontational image in the West...

Ghalibaf... mayor of... a city where Calvin Klein ads compete with portraits of war heroes and clerics... is fashioning himself as a candidate of gradual change, who can appeal to younger voters while retaining enough conservative bona fides from his days as soldier to satisfy the powerful religious elite..."

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Economic policy 8

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The 8th example comes from China.

China to focus investment on five major sectors in 2009

"China will put the bulk of its investment on the development of agriculture, low-cost housing project, infrastructure, energy conservation and social welfare next year, People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, reports on Sunday..."


After 30 Years, Economic Perils on China’s Path

"The ruling Communist Party threw itself a big party on Thursday. The country’s leadership marked the 30th anniversary of the reform era that transformed China into a global economic power and, in doing so, changed the world.

"At a triumphant ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, President Hu Jintao invoked Deng Xiaoping, who consolidated power in 1978 and began 'reform and opening.' Mr. Hu emphasized the party’s unwavering focus on economic development. 'Only development makes sense,' said Mr. Hu, quoting Deng.

"But beyond the oratory, Mr. Hu and other Chinese leaders are now facing a new era in which Deng’s export-led economic model, as well as his iron-fisted political control, face unprecedented challenges...

"[L]eaders are restoring tax breaks for exporters and pushing down the value of China’s currency to encourage exports. At the same time, they are casting about for ways to spur domestic demand and wean China’s economy off its dependence on foreign markets swept up in the global financial crisis..."

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

A troubling development in Nigeria

Nigeria Forces Are Implicated in the Killings of Muslims

"Government security forces were implicated in the deaths of at least 90 of the hundreds of people killed in religious violence in the central Nigerian city of Jos last month, Human Rights Watch said Saturday.

"At least 400 people died when fighting broke out between Muslim and Christian gangs in the city on Nov. 28 and 29 after a dispute about local elections. Each side accused the other of rigging the vote.

"Muslims and Christians mingle uneasily in the so-called middle belt region of Nigeria, and tension frequently flares along religious, ethnic and political fault lines.

"Initial accounts of the killing in Jos indicated that the gangs had set upon each other’s neighborhoods, burning churches, homes, businesses and mosques.

"But based on testimony from witnesses interviewed in the aftermath of the violence, Human Rights Watch researchers documented seven shootings in which the police had killed at least 46 men and boys, almost all of them Muslim.

"In addition, military troops killed 47 people, also nearly all Muslims, according to the rights group’s investigation...

"The regional governor had issued a shoot-to-kill order in the city to quell the violence, which had erupted with sudden ferocity...

"Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, and its 140 million people are divided almost evenly between Islam and Christianity. Tensions between the religious groups have exploded periodically, often as proxy for deeper divisions over land, power and politics."


See also:

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Radio reports on change in Russia

Suzanne Bailey, who teaches at Virgil Grissom High School in Huntsville, Alabama, wrote to recommend a series of NPR reports on Russia. I agree with her that these are potentially valuable teaching tools.

She wrote, "this is a great series on economic/social change in Russia. Anne Garrels did a series of reports in the l990s on the Russian town of Chelyabinsk and so now returns to document what has changed in the past 10 years. It is a five part series—and I heard the 3rd installment yesterday (Dec 18) on health care –it was interesting—with just the kind of anecdotal examples that will help students to understand the situation. It will be fun to contrast Medvedev’s birth bonuses ($9500) with China’s one child policy.

"Here’s the link: Social, Economic Change Staggering In Chelyabinsk"

The NPR web site describes the series in this way:
While based in Russia in the 1990s, NPR's Anne Garrels followed developments in the "real Russia" from the provincial town of Chelyabinsk. Returning 10 years later, much has changed. This series charts this transformation.

* Part 1: Economic Growing Pains For Russian Industrial City
* Part 2: Economic Crisis Hampers Chelyabinsk's Growth
* Part 3: Orthodox Faith Crowding Out Others In Chelyabinsk
* Part 4: Improved Chelyabinsk Health Care Still Falls Short



Anne Garrels writes, "While I was based in Russia in the 1990s I chose Chelyabinsk as the provincial city I would regularly visit to chart developments in the 'real Russia.'...

"In the 1990s, the economy of Russia fell apart. There was no demand for Chelyabinsk's goods; they could not compete on the world market, and the decrepit factories all but shut down. The city was bankrupt. Civil society, the ability of people to take responsibility for themselves, was in its infancy...

"I returned this fall to find out what had happened to this city and region, more than a decade after I was first there. The changes are staggering. Thanks to the global economic boom in the intervening years, demand for Chelyabinsk's metals and raw materials saved the city. With new service industries, shops, restaurants and everything that comes along with them, there is an emerging middle class. There is a profound psychological change. Residents credit former president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with bringing stability and a renewed pride in being Russian..."

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Economic policy 7

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The seventh example comes from Mexico.

Mexico Has Made Big Strides on Economic Policy

"Much has been written about the 'cultural' divide between Norte Americanos and Latinos. But with the burst of the asset bubble, we've learned that politicians, north and south, react similarly in the face of economic crisis.

"This commonality occurred to me over breakfast in New York last week with Mexico's minister of finance, Agustin Carstens. The University of Chicago-trained economist was explaining the rationale behind President Felipe Calderón's 'stimulus' package. I kept thinking about President-elect Barack Obama's promised further spending spree on this side of the border. The Mexican version is not nearly as ambitious but the concept is the same...

"Mr. Carstens says he is working toward eventual tax cuts and simplification of the tax code but adds that now is not the time to go there..."

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Poll results from the UK

PM Gordon Brown profits from a financial crisis?

A couple months ago, polls showed Labour in real trouble. What a difference some time makes. And when the government has some options about election timing, they have the potential to preserve their power.

Main Parties Virtually Tied in Britain

"The advantage that Britain’s Conservative party enjoyed over the governing Labour party throughout this year has practically vanished, according to a poll by Communicate Research published in The Independent. 37 per cent of respondents would vote for the Tories in the next election to the House of Commons, while 36 per cent would support Labour...

"Britain has been hit hard by the global financial crisis. The government has intervened to save bankrupt banks and boost the economy...

"The next election to the House of Commons must be held on or before Jun. 3, 2010. Sitting prime ministers can dissolve Parliament and call an early ballot at their discretion..."

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Economic policy 6

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The sixth example comes from Nigeria.

Nigeria 2009: Between economic deficit and budget implementation

"Expectations are high, yet the world economy is in financial crisis while Nigerian economy is having its sad share of it. Nigeria, a mono-economy, oil producing nation, has not only suffered a major blow from its daily proceeds from crude oil exports in recent times, its economy may witness major deficit in 2009, a hard time ahead for Nigerians, you may say..."


Govt Advised Against Borrowing

"Due to the negative implications of both domestic and external debt on the economy of any country, especially Nigeira, the Federal Government has been advised to stop any further taking of loans from developed countries.

"This advice was given yesterday by the country Director of Action Aid, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, at a one-day sensitisation workshop on 'Debt Audit and the National Development in the face of Poverty', at Denis Hotel, Abuja.

"According to Otive, debt naturally enslaves the borrowing growth, as the money is not usually used for economic growth, development or poverty reduction it was meant for due to corruption and mismanagment...

"Dr. Festus Iyayi of the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Benin, who presented a paper titled: 'External Debt and Development In The Third World', said there is a negative relationship between economic growth and borrowing, adding that the more loan a country takes, the more problems the country encounters...

"On the way out of the present debt being owed developed countries by some third world countries, Otive suggestd that African countries should stop further re-payment of loans to foreigners as according to him, between 1970 and 2002, Africa received $450 billion and have repaid over $550 billion in principal and interest. But at the end of 2002, Africa's debt still stands at $255 billion..."

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Economic policy 5

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The fifth example comes from the UK.

Reuters reports that UK's Brown lays out plans to soften blow of recession

"British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will propose measures on Wednesday aimed at helping hard-pressed families and small firms through a recession and boosting his own chances of winning another term in office.

"Brown's slate for 2009, to be set out in the traditional speech to parliament by Queen Elizabeth, will focus on easing the pain of a sharp economic downturn by seeking to boost a sliding housing market and encouraging banks to lend to credit-starved firms...

See also: Queen's Speech, December 3

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Monday, December 15, 2008

A bit of pop culture from Nigeria

The Nigerian expat who blogs at Grandiose Parlor offers this link to
AfricanLoft's list of the top 10 pop music stars in Nigeria

From D'banj to 2Face with videos.

After you preview these, you could offer them to your students to get a glimpse (as realistic as American music videos) of pop culture in Nigeria. I looked at a couple of the them and found nothing that would prevent me from showing those two in class. I can't speak for the rest.

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Economic policies 4

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The fourth example is about Russia. The report comes from the Washington Post.

Putin Promises On National TV To Raise Pensions, Other Spending

"Confronting growing public anxiety over a faltering economy, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin assured Russians on Thursday the country would make it through the global financial crisis with "minimal losses" and pledged to boost pension payments and other spending to help those suffering in the downturn...

"He promised to increase pension payments by 34 percent, as well as to provide greater support for the unemployed, free medicine for the elderly, apartments for military officers and subsidized air tickets for residents of distant regions...

"Still, Putin argued, the country was better off than during the 1990s. 'We faced problems with the territorial integrity of our country, with the total disintegration of production and in the social arena,' he said. 'Today, our country is in a completely different position. We have every chance to make it through this difficult period with minimal losses both for the economy and, most importantly, our citizens.'..."

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

More on economic policies

Financial crisis unites Asian nations

"Japan, China, and South Korea agreed at a North Asia summit yesterday to increase cooperation to tackle the global financial crisis, putting aside decades of animosity...

"'China, Japan, South Korea, as important economies in Asia and in the world, must deal with this once-in-a-century situation. We must talk with each other, make adjustments in our macro-economies and have financial cooperation in East Asia,' Premier Wen Jiabao of China said at a joint news conference after the talks in this southern Japanese city...

"The leaders confirmed the importance of steps to expand demand, pledged not to create trade barriers over the next 12 months, and backed efforts to bolster a regional network of currency swaps. But they unveiled no new specific steps..."

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Government on hold

Will Connors, writing in the New York Times, sees government in Nigeria as a waiting game. Waiting for the next election -- over two years away.

Legal Victory Can’t Erase Nigerian Leader’s Troubles

"The last legal challenge to the legitimacy of President Umaru Yar’Adua was quashed by the Supreme Court last week, but he and Nigeria are far from out of the woods.

"Although Mr. Yar’Adua, a former governor from a remote northern state, finally has a firm mandate to take charge of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and oil-rich country, he has accomplished so little in the 19 months since his flawed election that few believe that he can...

"At a cybercafe in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, residents shrugged at news of the court decision. None were surprised, and none held out much hope for the rest of the Yar’Adua presidency.

"'What can we do?' said Gbenga Biodun, 23, an accountant. 'We just have to fold our arms and accept what our leaders do.' Patrons near him nodded in resignation..."

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Speaking of Nashi

At Russia's Miss Constitution pageant, Kremlin is the winner



"Miss Constitution had yellow curls that bounced down her back, wide blue eyes and a sweet if faltering singing voice. She shimmied barefoot, donned a swimsuit in freezing temperatures and spoke plausibly about the responsibilities of the Russian state.

"When her moment of glory came, Masha Fyodorova was draped in the Russian flag and handed the keys to a brand-new, pink-and-orange Mini Cooper. She strolled off the stage in a shower of confetti and sparklers, an economics student from the provinces reborn as the official paragon of patriotic womanhood...

"The gathering Friday of B-list pop stars and hundreds of die-hard pro-Kremlin youth activists on the edge of Red Square was beauty pageant as patriotic ceremony, emblematic of today's sexed-up, nationalistic Russia...

"Organized by the government and the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, or Ours, the pageant was aimed at whipping up public enthusiasm for the constitution..."

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It's a real long shot

Only one big name in this article, and he's not a successful politician.

Kasparov starts new Russian opposition movement

"Former chess champion Garry Kasparov and other prominent liberals launched a new anti-Kremlin movement in Russia on Saturday.

"The organization, called Solidarity after the victorious Polish anti-Communist movement, aims to unite the country's dysfunctional liberal forces and encourage a popular revolution similar to that seen in other ex-Soviet countries...

"Much of the Russian public has lost faith in liberal democracy, which remains associated with the chaos, poverty and corruption that emerged in Russia under president Boris Yeltsin...

"[I]n a sign of what it may be up against, members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Russia [NASHI], some dressed as monkeys, demonstrated outside the Saturday conference, distributing flyers that read 'monkeys are rocking the boat.'..."

Globalization and the state

A feature article in the New York Times magazine for December 14, offers this observation about globalization.

Higher Globalization, The

(Go to "H" in the alphabet of articles to find this one.)

"Until earlier this year, globalization was expected to make government steadily less important. Private flows of goods, capital and services made states seem puny things. Elected officials were thought to have less and less discretion when it came to making economic decisions. The International Monetary Fund, which offers a helping hand to states facing financial peril, saw its annual meetings become lonely affairs. Editorials in the financial press wondered if the fund had a mission left.

"The financial crisis tipped all this over in a hurry. As with security after 9/11, government came roaring back. Market-oriented central bankers in the developed economies suddenly began, in effect, nationalizing banks. The I.M.F. went from broken to heroic...

"Globalization, far from burying the state, now depended on states for rescue...

"The petro-states, as well as Singapore and other Asian states, above all China, are having their day, despite being threatened themselves by recession...

"Most of the cash-rich countries have state-dominated economies...

"Globalization was not supposed to depend on handouts from the state. But whatever form globalization takes next, it will not be despite governments but because of them..."

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Economic policy 1.1

Barbara Demick, writing in The Los Angeles Times, provides a brief, but useful analysis of why the government needs to find an effective policy to deal with the economic crisis.

This would be a good introduction to the topic for students.

In China, anger rises as economy falls

"The signs of discontent are small but unnerving in an authoritarian country where public demonstrations are not permitted...

"As China's economy hits the skids... protests have been sporadic and usually involved fewer than 100 people. But in recent weeks, they have cropped up across the country like brush fires...

"It is counterintuitive that a global financial crisis that started with the excesses of Wall Street should be undermining the Chinese Communist Party. But academics... believe that the economic crisis could present the leadership with its biggest political challenge since the student protests at Tiananmen Square nearly two decades ago...

"It is the conventional wisdom that Communist Party rule has survived into the 21st century because of the nation's extraordinary economic growth. China watchers often speak of an implicit bargain between the people and the party: Give up demands for democracy and free speech and we'll make you rich...

"What makes the government especially vulnerable is that the people hurting financially have few legitimate outlets to air grievances. Unable to vote out their leaders, strike or collect compensation from the courts, they protest. And when the police wade in, things can quickly turn violent...

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Nigerian Supreme Court on elections

From the New York Times at 5:33AM:

Nigerian Court Upholds Election

"Nigeria's Supreme Court upheld the results of last year's presidential election on Friday, rejecting a bid by political opposition leaders in Africa's most populous country to annul the vote...

"The election won by President Umaru Yar'Adua was marred by rigging and intimidation and deemed not credible by European Union election observers...

"The April 21, 2007 election saw power transferred from one elected civilian to another for the first time in Nigeria's coup-plagued history. But thugs openly stole and stuffed ballot boxes and harassed voters, and international observers said the election was deeply flawed.

"Yar'Adua, who wasn't involved in setting up the balloting, has acknowledged voting deficiencies and has ordered his administration to strengthen electoral practices..."


More details to come...

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Economic policies 3

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The third example comes from Chnina.

China's top economic planners explain economic stimulus measures

"China will try to distribute public resources to areas directly benefiting ordinary people, when carrying out the economic stimulus package announced on Nov. 9.

"The statement was made Tuesday by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the nation's top economic planning agency...

"The agency said priority would be given to projects improving people's livelihood, including those in rural areas, housing projects for low-income earners in urban areas, and social undertakings...

"Meanwhile, infrastructural construction, embracing railroads, highways and water conservancy projects, and biological conservation and environmental protection as well as post-disaster rebuilding, will also be put on top of the development agenda in the coming two years, according to NDRC..."


There are links to several related articles at the end of the one cited.


China VAT reform to help firms cope with financial turmoil

"A senior Chinese official said on Tuesday that the country's value-added tax (VAT) reform would help domestic enterprises to tide over the adverse effects of the financial crisis. ..

"China announced last month to extend its value-added tax (VAT) reform to all industries nationwide from Jan. 1, 2009, as part of the 4 trillion yuan (584 billion U.S. dollars) stimulus package in the next two years to buttress economic growth.

"The reform was aimed at shifting from the existing production-based to a consumption-based VAT regime, which would enable companies to get tax deductions on spending on fixed assets, Zheng said, adding that this would reduce the tax burden on companies by more than 123 billion yuan next year..."

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Examples of corruption in Mexico

Often, textbook descriptions of regimes offer generalizations without many details. After all, textbooks cannot be comprehensive.

This article from The Los Angeles Times, offers a few details about the problem of corruption in Mexico.

Corruption hurting Mexico's fight against crime, Calderon says

"Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday said his government was making strides against corruption but warned that graft remained a threat to the nation's efforts against crime...

"The president said his administration had broken up corruption rings in the state-owned oil company and in Mexican customs and public works agencies...

"Mexico has long been rife with corruption, which ranges from the small bribes that motorists pay traffic officers to the suitcases of cash that drug traffickers have delivered to law enforcement authorities. Ordinary Mexicans routinely pay bribes to get telephone service, loans and even parking spaces.



"A study this year by Transparency Mexico found that Mexicans paid about $2.6 billion in bribes in 2007, or more than $24 each on average...

"Mexican government agencies operate more openly than in past decades thanks to reforms, such as a 2002 freedom-of-information law that gives residents the right to scrutinize officials' salaries and other details of government operations.

"But Calderon said too few government agencies had citizen oversight. He also called on schools, civic organizations and the media to help youngsters develop greater respect for the rule of law."


See also: PBS resources for learning more about Mexico

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Economic policies 2

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The second and third examples come from Chnina.

It's not just rural unrest that worries the ruling elite in China.

Millions of Chinese graduates out of work after fivefold rise in university places

"More than 6 million Chinese students left university this year and up to a quarter are still struggling to find work. As the global slowdown bites, students such as Su know it can only get worse...

"But the problems predate the crisis and mark both a success and failure on China's part. 'The number of graduates increased too quickly - by 2006 there were already five times more than in 1999. The labour market can't take that big an increase in such a short time,' said Professor Yang Dongping of the Beijing Institute of Technology, the author of a report on graduate employment.

"The expansion of higher education reflects China's aspirations: the world's factory needs more skilled workers to move up the chain, away from cheap mass production. Yet there are not yet enough higher-end jobs. Four million graduates in recent years have yet to find their first job, according to officials. However, the true figure is probably higher as the current system relies on reporting by universities, who have a vested interest in showing that graduates can find work...

"Higher expectations are clashing with the deteriorating economic reality.

"Until 1981, the government assigned jobs, with those who dreamed of becoming engineers sometimes ending up as cooks or clerks. But while their parents took the work they were given, these students grew up in an age of personal choice. They expect fulfilling jobs and good remuneration; few want to leave the big cities or take up underpaid teaching work...

"The government is reining back expansion and promising more help with job-hunting. But many of this year's graduates are hoping for more direct support. On Sunday, a record 775,000 applicants sat civil service exams - 130,000 more than last year - for only 13,500 jobs..."


See also: the BBC video report on this topic


To emphasize the Chinese leadership's concerns about political disruption caused by economic factors, Xinhua published this warning, Vice President Xi: World financial crisis "to test Chinese leadership"

"Vice President Xi Jinping on Thursday said keeping China's economy growing amid the global financial crisis would test the competence of government leaders...

"Government leaders should integrate their study and practice with ways to tackle the financial crisis and implement central policies on domestic demand expansion and boost economic growth, he said..."

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Economic policies 1

The global economic and financial crisis offers an opportunity to look at policy making in various political systems. We can ask questions about how the policy making process works; about what ideas are most influential; about which people and groups vie for influence in making policies; and about who seem to be the winners and the losers in the process.

Then we can put our comparative hats on and make some
  • generalizations about economic policy making
  • comparisons of the policy making process and the policies and
  • evaluations of the effectiveness of the policies

The first example is Iran.

In September, an article ("Economics is for donkeys") in The New Statesman included these sentences, "The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, was famously quoted as saying, 'Economics is for donkeys.' It is a maxim Ahmadinejad has mirrored assiduously, saying once that he prayed to the Almighty that he would never know anything about a subject he views as a tool of western domination."

That article went on to outline the economic and political mess in Iran. And that was when oil was at $70 a barrel.

Now come Ahmadinejad's new policy proposals. Has he learned any economics? Or is he still making it up as he goes along?

Iran Confronts an 'Economic Evolution'

"President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has launched a sweeping economic restructuring plan that would end many of [consumer goods] subsidies within a couple of months. To blunt the blow of gasoline prices quadrupling and similar increases for other goods, he also proposes to give as much as $70 a month to poor Iranians.

"Ahmadinejad, a populist leader with a working-class background who came to power three years ago, is staking his political future on his ambitious plan, which threatens to alienate Iranians who have benefited from the subsidies. Known abroad for incendiary rhetoric and his defense of Iran's nuclear program, Ahmadinejad's domestic political standing relies more on his largely unfulfilled promises to use Iran's oil wealth to improve the lives of poor people...

"Ahmadinejad says his "economic evolution" plan will narrow the gap between rich and poor and eventually will help bring down inflation, which has risen to an annual rate of 24 percent, according to Iran's Central Bank.

"By opening up Iran's closed economy, making trade easier and promoting privatization, Ahmadinejad wants to turn the country into a regional powerhouse, echoing the economic transformation that China began three decades ago. Ahmadinejad says he will bring about similar changes in Iran in three years...

"Ahmadinejad says his plan will allow the government to save what it spends on subsidies and raise revenue through more aggressive taxation. 'Because of this plan, the main part of our dependency on oil price fluctuations will be cut,' the president said Tuesday on state television.

"Ahmadinejad's plan also serves his political agenda, analysts said. Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution brought to power Shiite clerics and their supporters, who relied on an unorthodox mix of capitalism and socialism in their attempts to make the economy less reliant on the West...

"[W]ealthy merchants who had backed the revolutionaries [in 1979] because the shah had threatened to break up their monopolies formed lucrative alliances with some of the new leaders.

"Ahmadinejad has succeeded in ousting several influential revolutionaries from Iran's small circle of decision-makers, but restructuring the economy would dismantle the system that provided the first generation of revolutionaries with power and money...

"Inflation is also on the mind of Iran's head of parliament, Ali Larijani, a leading opponent of Ahmadinejad. 'The parliament will not pass any bill that will increase inflation," he told state television in late November. "And the economic evolution plan is bound to cause more inflation.'..."

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

More background on Nigerian riots and politics

An analysis from Cameron Duodu in The Guardian (UK) offers part of the bigger picture of the recent riots in Jos. This could be a good student reading, check it out.

Tragedy in Jos

"Nigerians are still trying to come to terms with an ethno-religious riot that occurred in the city of Jos at the end of November...

"The riot took a form all too familiar in Nigeria. A local election was held; the results were trickling in and those who didn't like them spread a rumour that the election was being 'rigged by the other side'.

"This means Christians claimed that the governing party, the People's Democratic party (PDP), which Christians perceive to be on 'their side', was in the process of being robbed of the victory it had won. On the other hand, Muslims, who back the opposition All Nigerian People's party (ANPP), were being denied the chance of replacing the 'Christian' PDP.

"Now, in a city like Jos, the population is divided almost equally between Christians, Muslims and practitioners of indigenous religions which western anthropologists often misidentify as 'animism'. Many people were caught in between the two factions...

"[T]he head of a local council, for instance, can be decisive in determining where a school, a health centre or borehole will be sited – amenities crucial to the wellbeing of the citizenry as a whole. Christians suspect that a Muslim council overlord will look after areas where Muslim residents predominate before considering – if he does at all – the needs of non-Muslim areas. And vice versa...

"Even more important, the impression is widespread that only those of the particular religion which the men of influence in the local council subscribe to are awarded contracts. And contracts, invariably, come with kickbacks. So, in addition to religious passions being aroused in opposition to, or in defence of, an election result, money is used to "rent" crowds to try and produce the right result at election time..."


See also:

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Mexico 1968

Suzanne Bailey, who teaches in Huntsville, Alabama, wrote after hearing an NPR history report about Mexico. She thinks we should use it for teacher preparation if not as a teaching tool. I agree.

National Public Radio produced a report on 1 December 2008 about the 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco Plaza. It has eerie similarities to the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The report is titled Mexico's 1968 Massacre: What Really Happened?

There is an introduction which describes some of the context within which the protests and the massacre occurred.
In the summer of 1968, Mexico was experiencing the birth of a new student movement.

But that movement was short-lived. On Oct. 2, 1968, 10 days before the opening of the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, police officers and military troops shot into a crowd of unarmed students. Thousands of demonstrators fled in panic as tanks bulldozed over Tlatelolco Plaza.

There's a link to the 22-minute radio report.

There's a link to a1968 FBI letter outlining its threat assessment.

There's a link to a Mexican government document (in Spanish)

There's a link to film footage of the massacre made by the Mexican government.

This looks like a terrific resource if you're going to use the events of 1968 as an example of how crises help bring about change -- even if it's slow in coming.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Queen's speech rebroadcast

CSPAN will rebroadcast the Queen's Speech for the opening of Parliament at 9:00PM Eastern Time tonight, Sunday, 7 December.

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Who's on first?

This example might help students keep track of which Iranian bodies have power over which others.

Iran council scraps new presidential rules

"Iran's legislative watchdog rejected on Saturday new strict rules set by parliament for presidential candidates, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"In early November, parliament introduced age limits and strict educational criteria into the electoral law in a bid to deter frivolous runners from standing for president.

"But Abbas Ali Kadkhoadi, spokesman for the hard-line vetting body said the new rules were "contradictory to the constitution."

"The Guardians Council reviews parliamentary decisions and interprets the constitution.

The head of the Guardians Council watchdog, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati

"A final decision is in the hands of the top political arbitration board, the Expediency Council, which settles differences between parliament and the vetting body...

"The new amendment sought to prevent frivolous applications, as for example in 2005 when a young unemployed man registered to run 'to find a job' and an illiterate villager applied because he wanted 'to save the country.'"

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

History and its lessons

If you'd like a quick little British history lesson and a lesson about why history is politically important, there's a great little editorial in the new (December 6) Economist .

Explaining Britain’s—and Parliament’s—ambivalent approach to liberty

"[T]he Glorious Revolution of 1688 the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701, [along with] the civil war transformed the country. It deserves more space and celebration in the history curriculum, and on plinths and television. Britons might value their liberties more highly if they understood they were won in bloody struggle, not enjoyed through mere serendipity.

"And there ought, perhaps, to be an urgent, remedial history course for some senior policemen—plus lessons on Speaker Lenthall and his peers for some MPs and ministers."


See also:

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Rule of law in Russia

China is not the only place where discussions about legal reform are taking place. The Economist critique of Russia's legal system, puts this news report in context.

Will reform come? Is it possible? The president is using his bully pulpit, but will that help?

Russia must improve courts

"Russia must rid its justice system of serious flaws that have driven thousands of its citizens abroad in search of justice, President Dmitry Medvedev said yesterday.

"... many Russians have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France - an embarrassment for leaders seeking to remake Russia as a successful and self-sufficient country...

"Medvedev, a former lawyer and law professor, has repeatedly called for strengthening the rule of law in Russia - a goal Kremlin critics and Western governments say is crucial to the country's future stability and success.

"He has also pledged to combat rampant official corruption. But there have been few signs of progress since he succeeded Vladimir Putin in May...

"Russians have filed about 46,000 complaints with the European Court of Human Rights since 1998..."

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Special report on Russia

The Economist has a special report on Russia, Enigma Variations, in its November 29th issue.

Russia is not the Soviet Union, but what is it? A recovering world power—or a corrupt oligopoly with a market economy of sorts?


It's great teacher background material, and you might find some of it appropriate for students. The report is divided into six sections.


  • The Long Arm of the State
    The projection of KGB power in Russia’s politics and economy has been a guiding principle of Mr Putin’s period in office. In the past the siloviki often had to rely on tax inspectors or the Federal Security Service (FSB) to get hold of assets. Now the crisis is creating new opportunities for what Mr Illarionov calls the “KGB-isation of the economy”. The result, he explains, could be a new, highly monopolistic system, based on a peculiar state-private partnership in which the profits are privatised by Kremlin friends and debts are nationalised. This will not take Russia back to a state-run economy, but it is likely to shift it further towards a corporatist state.

  • Grease my palm (on corruption in Russia)
    The size of the corruption market is estimated to be close to $300 billion, equivalent to 20% of Russia’s GDP. INDEM, a think-tank that monitors and analyses corruption, says 80% of all Russian businesses pay bribes. In the past eight years the size of the average business bribe has gone up from $10,000 to $130,000, which is enough to buy a small flat in Moscow.

  • A matter of judgment (on the "deeply flawed" legal system)
    Large companies rarely trust in a judge’s unprompted decision. In commercial courts a judge often takes a bribe for reaching a speedy conclusion. All this helps to explain why the European Court of Human Rights is overwhelmed with Russian cases, and why large Russian companies seek justice in London. The Yukos case showed that the courts have become part of the Kremlin machinery. The problem, says one Moscow lawyer, is that “the law in Russia is often trumped by money and always by high-level power.”

  • The incredible shrinking people (on the declining population and immigration)
    Most low-skilled migrant workers in Russia come from Central Asia. In the east of the country they are mainly Chinese. The precise figures are impossible to pin down because the vast majority of immigrants over the past decade have been illegal. Until recently they were treated much like serfs. They could not apply for work permits but had to rely on their employers, who would often impound their passports and refuse to pay them for their work. Thousands of corrupt police officers grew fat on the proceeds.

  • The wild south (on the near abroad republics)
    What happens in the Caucasus will define the future of federalism and of territorial integrity in the whole of Russia. The central government’s policy failures in the Caucasus are particularly clear when compared with the far more successful policy being pursued in Tatarstan, the largest Muslim republic, which was integrated into the Russian empire in the 16th century and has been at peace ever since. In the early 1990s oil-rich Tatarstan became a symbol of decentralisation in Russia. It was here that Yeltsin famously said: “Take as much sovereignty as you can swallow.” Under Mr Putin this phrase came to symbolise the weakness of Mr Yeltsin’s regime. In fact it was its strength. It is the centralisation of power and the colonial methods of suppression of dissent that are the biggest threat to that territorial integrity.

  • Handle with care (on Russia's "dangerous future")
    Russian experts, whatever their differences, all agree on one thing: these are unstable, unpredictable and dangerous times. As Mr Satarov of the INDEM think-tank observes, the biggest advantage of democracy is that it allows political systems to adapt to changing economic and political circumstances. That luxury is not available to Russia.



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Constitutional change in China

Notice who is seeking advice about judicial reform.

In other political contexts, I'd expect a government or legislative committee would be at the forefront of constitutional change.

CPC seeks suggestions for judicial reform

"The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee convened a meeting here recently to hear opinions and suggestions from non-Communist Party members on the country's judiciary reform..."


See also: The Constitution of the People's Republic of China

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Women's rights in Iran

From Al Arabiya:

Experts slam Iran crackdown on women's rights

"U.N. human rights investigators called on Iran on Thursday to end what they called a 'crackdown' on women's rights activists who have been harassed and detained for seeking equal status in the Islamic Republic.

"Women and men involved in a grassroots movement to collect 1 million signatures to demand full equality between women and men in Iran have been 'particularly targeted', they said.

"'Over the past two years, women's rights defenders have faced an increasingly difficult situation and harassment in the course of their non-violent activities,' said Margaret Sekaggya and Yakin Erturk, the U.N. special rapporteurs on human rights defenders and violence against women...

"Dozens of activists were detained since the launch of a campaign in 2006 to demand changes to laws denying women equal rights in matters such as divorce and child custody. Most were freed after a few days or weeks.

"Iran says it follows sharia, Islamic law, and denies accusations that it discriminates against women...

"Earlier this month the Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shrin Ebadi criticized Tehran's new Islamic penal code, saying it remains unfair to women and uses an 'incorrect' interpretation of Islam..."

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Queen's Speech, December 3

The Queen's Speech is scheduled for 5:30AM (Eastern time) tomorrow live on CSPAN



"On the first day of the new Parliamentary session, the Queen travels from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster to deliver a speech before a Joint Session of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The speech is written by her government, and outlines its priorities for the coming year. Coverage provided courtesy of the BBC."

It will probably be re-broadcast later in the day tomorrow.

See also: Album of Queen's Speech 2004

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Teaching resource about Russia

While preparing a blog entry about Russian airline companies, I came across Russia Profile online.

Russia Profile is "an English-language information service offering expert analysis of Russian politics, economics, society and culture. It consists of a website and magazine."

The web site offers opportunities for you to create mini-research projects for students if online research is a possibility.

Russia Profile says its web site offers
  • In-depth coverage of topical issues, updated daily
  • Comments from their Weekly Experts’ Panel
  • Facts and Figures in their Resources Section
  • Global Russia Calendar of Events


The sections of the site, probably like the sections of the magazine, are Politics, Business, International, Culture and Living, and a blog.

The "Resources" section of the web site is most promising. It includes profiles of Russia's regions, economic sectors, political parties and movements, the structure of the national government, think tanks and NGOs, as well as a "Who's Who" section identifying important actors in politics, government, and the economy.

Ideas for teaching:

  • Assign each student to present to the class a thumbnail biography of a member of the government. In a follow up discussion or a writing assignment, ask students to make generalizations about political recruitment.
  • Follow that with profiles of business executives. Are their routes to power and wealth different from the politicians' routes to power?
  • How consolidated and integrated is big business in Russia?
  • What role do sub-national governments play in Russia?
  • Are there any significant "Political Parties and Movements" besides United Russia and the Communists?


Your teaching imagination is probably even better than mine. Share with us your ideas. Use the Comment section below.

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When business is politics

As Western governments become owners of large banking companies, here's a reminder of how politics and governance can affect corporate governance. And when it comes to mixing politics and business, don't forget the jailed Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the most famous of several jailed oligarchs.

Aeroflot Faces a Politically Connected Rival

"Aeroflot, the national airline of the Soviet Union and now Russia... has suddenly fallen from first place among Russian state-owned airlines, at least as measured by the number of aircraft in its fleet...

"A series of bankruptcies of regional airlines brought the change... In response, the government of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin orchestrated a merger of 11 regional carriers...

Both Aeroflot and the new company are majority-owned by the state but appear to be backed by different factions in the government...

"Aeroflot... is closely associated with the out-of-favor administration of former President Boris N. Yeltsin; the chief executive, Valery Okulov, is a son-in-law of Mr. Yeltsin, and a 25 percent shareholder. The tycoon Aleksandr Y. Lebedev [right], who owns 30 percent of Aeroflot, has a prickly relationship with the current government.

"Not surprisingly, the new company has powerful backers.

"It is 50 percent owned by the city of Moscow and 50 percent by one of the heavyweights of the new blend of state and private business that emerged under Mr. Putin, Sergei V. Chemezov [lower right], a former K.G.B. colleague of Mr. Putin...

"And in a sign of the new owners’ influence... Yuri M. Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and Mr. Chemezov have asked state regulators to halt fees of $300 million a year paid to Aeroflot... contending the fees provide the flag carrier an unfair advantage.

"The rivalry is also personal; Mr. Lebedev, a critic of Mr. Luzhkov’s management of Moscow, has run against Mr. Luzhkov for mayor..."

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Comparative taxation

If your students haven't traveled outside of the US very much, they probably are not familiar with VAT ("value added tax" which is essentially a national sales tax). One reason that income taxes in the UK (and most other Western European countries) are more progressive than those in the US is because of the regressive nature of the VAT.

Here are some numbers to remember when examining comparative taxation.

Ministers considered raising VAT over 18.5%, admits Brown

"The row over "secret" Treasury plans to increase VAT escalated today as Gordon Brown admitted a proposal to raise it above 18.5% had been considered.

"The prime minister said "all options" were looked at but the government decided to lower value added tax to help hard-pressed families...

"Cameron [Conservative Party leader] asked the prime minister [in Commons] whether there had been a plan to the increase VAT above 18.5% ...

"Brown replied: 'We looked at all options; we rejected the option of increasing VAT… we decided we would lower it and I hope he will support that.'..."


Retailers rush forward tax cut

"The Christmas price war intensified this morning when Tesco, J Sainsbury and John Lewis rushed forward the government's cut in VAT, stealing a march on high street rivals including Marks & Spencer...

"Officially the cut in VAT from 17.5% announced in the pre-budget report does not come into effect until Monday, December 1. But the three companies hope to lure shoppers by cutting the VAT on all applicable non-food items to 15% on Friday..."


Meanwhile there's doubt that the tax cut will do much to spur the economy.

Retailers wrestle with repricing amid doubts that VAT cut will work

"Retailers were working out yesterday how and when they will cut prices to take account of the chancellor's reduction in VAT - just as the governor of the Bank of England said the move was unlikely to provide a boost to spending.

"Alistair Darling reduced the rate from 17.5% to 15% until January 2010 in the hope of prompting a pre-Christmas spree. But Mervyn King told MPs that it might not encourage spending until late next year, when the rate was about to go up again.

"The government has not said how big a boost to spending it hopes for from the VAT cut - but the signs are it will be more of a blip than a boom. One leading retailer said yesterday that the small cut would have 'almost zero impact' on sales..."


See also: Tax Rates Around the World

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Something's stable in Mexico

Angus Reid World Monitor reports that Support for Mexico’s Calderón Remains High

"Public backing for Mexican president Felipe Calderón has slightly dwindled but remains strong, according to a poll by Buendía & Laredo published in El Universal. 57 per cent of respondents approve of the president’s performance, down three points since July.

"Mexican voters chose their new president in July 2006..."

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