Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, July 31, 2009

New Russian capitalism

If Putin doesn't have his finger in the pie, it isn't capitalism in Russia. As in China, independent civil society or economic activity just won't be tolerated.

Huge Profits Spell Doom for a 400-Acre Market

For more than a decade, the Cherkizovsky outdoor market had been a warren of plywood shacks where horse meat and live turtles went on sale beside bales of counterfeit name-brand jeans from China in an explosion of raw commerce...

The market’s closing hints at the workings of power and wealth in today’s Russia, as the country lurches away from the coarser forms of capitalism that existed in the immediate post-Soviet period. That system is being replaced by a new form of state control over business under Mr. Putin, one based on codes of personal loyalty and fealty to ideals of a sterner, more dignified Russia than what existed in the 1990s.

The trouble in this case was that the market’s owner, Telman Ismailov, who had made billions of dollars as Cherkizovsky evolved from a mere flea market into an industrial-scale distribution hub for Chinese imports during the oil boom, had violated unwritten codes of business conduct that put him at odds with Mr. Putin, according to analysts and Russian news reports...

Government agencies quickly took up the theme of the market’s seedy side — which was hard to deny. The powerful director of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor’s office, Aleksander Bastrykin, called the market a “hell-hole” that had become a “a state within a state” on the edge of Moscow. “It has its own police, its own customs service, its own courts, its own prosecutor and stand-alone infrastructure, including brothels,” he said...

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rentier state and economic problems

Kai Ryssdal, of Marketplace from American Public Media, interviewed Virginia Tech economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani. The professor offered first-hand observations of events in Tehran, Iran and a clear explanation of why being a rentier state causes a disconnect between the citizens and the government. He also suggested how continuing economic problems might affect politics.

Salehi-Isfahani left Tehran after the election and was asked, "What was the mood economically when you left?"

He replied:
I think people were not at that time thinking really about the economy because it was at the beginning of the political tensions... The mood was still focused pretty much on politics. And the economy was the way it had been before, which is high inflation and high unemployment...

When I was there, the days when were protests, you actually had to work hard to find out where it was. When you stepped outside your home, the grocery stores were open, the banks were open. The people you talked to were all pretty much concerned about their daily lives, and my impression is that that's very much the case still.

Because Iran is an oil-rich nation, that relationship between the government and the people isn't working the way it works in Western democracies. Where you pay taxes, and you expect services from the government. In Iran you don't pay taxes, and you expect services from the government. And the relation is basically the government gives money to the people and then it expects them to behave. And when they don't behave it gets very upset...

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More states in Nigeria?

The pressure to create new states in Nigeria is still strong. Do your students know what is behind the push to add states to the Nigerian federation? What results would they predict?

No State Creation, No Constitution Amendment, Say Senators, Reps
Twelve members of the National Assembly Constitution Review Committee... urged the Assembly to create new states or forget about the entire review exercise.

Assembled under the aegis of Forum of the National Assembly for the Actualisation of State Creation, with membership drawn from the Senate and the House of Representatives, the lawmakers reiterated that the task of demanding for state creation was given to them by their constituents back home...

Ekweremadu Seeks Consensus on New States
Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has tasked movements for state creation to dialogue with the National Assembly with a view to agreeing on the number of states that should be created...

The movements now operate on a platform that is being coordinated by a member of the Constitution Review Committee, Senator Suleiman Nazif (AC, Bauchi North).Ekweremadu said... "It is obvious that the people want more states and since we are representing the people, we will serve them; we have no alternative. Let there be no rancour in your pursuit of state creation; do not overheat the polity, be decorous, be patriotic."...

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Teaching materials

If you're looking for supplemental books and videos, I've updated the What You Need to Know Shopping Mall.

I've added some books and a couple videos that people have recommended recently.

If you've used a good book or video, share the recommendation with us. Use the "Comment" link at the bottom of this entry.


Ah, technology

One of the wonders of the Internet is the plethora of alternative routes that messages can take to get from here to there. Nigeria has a problem because the whole country relies on one big undersea cable routed through Benin. When that cable is disrupted, lots of things don't work.

This is the report from ThisDay.

Damage to Sat3 Cable Cripples Banks, Internet Services
The damage to the mainstay of Nigeria's terrestrial internet service provision, SAT3, has disrupted businesses in the private and public sectors across the country.

The unavailability of internet services disrupted banking and telecoms services yesterday as most banks could not meet their obligations to their customers.

Telecoms operators as well were not left out as their operations were also impacted negatively.

The SAT-3 cable facility is a key communication infrastructure that links Nigeria with the rest of the world...

Most of the affected businesses offered either skeletal or no services at all, with many of them scrambling to look for alternative internet support for their operations.

In Abuja, activities at ministries, the National Assembly, banks and private media houses practically came to a halt as difficulties were encountered in internet connectivity...

[Corporate Services Executive, Mr. Wale Goodluck] said while the submarine cables were owned and maintained by a third party, MTN had ensured that all available resources were mobilised to ensure that a solution was found.

He estimated that "based on available information from our service provider, the repair work may take up to 10 days"...

See Fibre for Africa

"To give it its full name, SAT3/WASC/SAFE Consortium is an international fibre that goes from Portugal to South Africa and out across the Indian Ocean to Asia. The cable system is divided into two sub-systems, SAT3/WASC in the Atlantic Ocean and SAFE in the Indian Ocean. The combined length of the SAT3/WASC/SAFE system segments measures 28 800km. It has 36 members who put up US$600-million to build and operate it for the life of the cable over the next 25 years..."

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Chinese civil society and rule of law

In his Comparative Government blog, Kevin James pointed out an article from The Economist and an op-ed from the New York Times that I missed.

They're worth paying attention to. Links to the articles are in Kevin's blog entry:

Crackdown on Public Interest Lawyers in China Threatens Development of the Rule of Law

"These developments do not bode well for the evolution of Chinese civil society, or for the establishment of the rule of law in China..."

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Symbols are important

ThisDay reports on a symbolic issue in Nigeria that is important.

Nigeria: Group Urges Return of Arabic On Naira
A group, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has called on the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Alhaji Lamido Sule Lamido, to revist the phased out of Arabic inscriptions on the nation's currency notes.

Director of the group, Dr. Is-haq Akintola, said "the removal of Arabic from some denominations of the naira was motivated by no patriotic cause as it was driven by bad faith, distrust and intent to do mischief...

"MURIC has no iota of doubt that the ex-governor of the Central Bank was used by Obasanjo as the hatchet man to remove Arabic from the naira. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had been complaining about Arabic on the naira since a very long time...

"Nigerian leaders must learn to be fair to all. They must stop using their offices to execute partisan agendum..."

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Unrest in northern Nigeria

Nigerian Islamist attacks spread
Islamist militants have staged three co-ordinated attacks in northern Nigeria leaving dozens dead, meaning about 150 have been killed in two days.

A BBC reporter has counted 100 bodies, mostly of militants, near the police headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State, where hundreds are fleeing their homes...

Some of the militants follow a preacher who campaigns against Western schools.

The preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, says Western education is against Islamic teaching...

Sharia law is in place across northern Nigeria, but there is no history of al-Qaeda-linked violence in the country.

Nigeria's 150 million people are split almost equally between Muslims and Christians and the two groups generally live peacefully side by side, despite occasional outbreaks of communal violence...

Correspondents say the group is seen locally as a fringe group and has aroused suspicion for its recruitment of young men, and its belief that Western education, Western culture and science are sinful.

Analysis by Caroline Duffield, BBC News, Nigeria:
Tensions are never far from the surface in northern Nigeria. Poverty and competition for scarce resources, along with ethnic, cultural and religious differences have all fuelled sudden violence.

But the latest violence is not between communities, it involves young men from religious groups, arming themselves and attacking local police.

Fringe religious groups in Nigeria have claimed links to the Taliban before - individuals have also been accused of links to al-Qaeda. But Nigeria is very different to countries like Mali or Algeria, where groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operate.

The idea of radical Islamist militants gaining a serious foothold in Nigeria is usually dismissed, because of the strength of local identities and traditions.

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EU's right wing parliamentarians

EU politics and anti-EU politicians

Far Right Is Left Out at E.U.'s Assembly
Newly elected members from extremist parties found themselves marginalized, with no speaking slot when the Parliament elected Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister, as president...

There was much attention paid last month when extremist parties made gains in the European Union elections, a success that reflected widespread disenchantment with the traditional parties. But though Parliament was braced for publicity-seeking tactics Tuesday, the far right parties made a minimal impact...

The far right also found itself on the outside when it came to forming transnational groups with common ideological outlooks. Such groups get more financing from the Parliament and also get to head the most influential committees. But the far right failed to find common cause with enough other parties to form a group...

The composition of the new European Parliament underlines a shift to the right after the failure of the center-left to mount an effective challenge to most European center-right governments...

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Violent protest in China

Protests in China are not confined to rural peasants unhappy with land use. The last paragraph probably explains why there have been no arrests.

Q+A-Chinese steel executive killed by protestors
Last week, an executive at a private Chinese conglomerate named to manage the takeover of state-owned Tonghua Steel was beaten, kicked and finally thrown down some stairs to his death...

Up to 30,000 workers kept riot police at bay for nearly a day with bricks. About 100 people were injured...

Workers were angry that Chen was paid about three million yuan ($440,000) last year, while Tonghua's retired workers received as little as 200 yuan a month, the group said.

State media said they feared the workforce would be trimmed to 5,000 people.

The government has announced the privatisation deal is now off. It will probably try to find funds to pay off the workers to ensure there is no repetition of the violence.

No arrests have been announced by state media. Police would not comment...

Recently, discontent over inequality and unemployment amid the economic downturn has exacerbated existing social frustration in China, with many cases of riots by angry citizens.

China's three northeastern provinces of Jilin, Heilongjiang and Liaoning are often referred to as the "rustbelt" -- once a hub of heavy industry with massive state-run firms, but which have been left behind by the country's economic boom.

Some of these companies were so large and bloated they employed either directly or indirectly entire towns or parts of cities. They ran their own schools, hospitals and newspapers and provided cradle-to-grave care for workers and their families.

Now millions of people have been laid off from these behemoths, with little hope of finding new jobs and having to live off meagre or non-existent pensions or social security...

China is the world's top producer and consumer of steel. the official policy is to force the mammoth steel sector to slim down and consolidate.

But many top-down mergers have met with resistance from local bosses wanting to keep their fiefdoms and local governments anxious to preserve their tax revenue and avoid dealing with thousands of layoffs.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

British electoral politics

Local Vote in Britain Deals Blow to Labour Party
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s prospects in a general election within the next year took a further blow on Friday when the opposition Conservatives won a by-election victory in a parliamentary constituency that had been considered safe for the governing Labour Party for the past 12 years.

The Conservative candidate, Chloe Smith [left], a 27-year-old management consultant, won 39.5 percent of Thursday’s vote in the provincial seat of Norwich North, 100 miles northeast of London, versus 18.2 percent for the Labour candidate, Chris Ostrowski. Mr. Ostrowski’s performance represented a collapse in the Labour vote from 45 percent in the 2005 general election, when Labour won its third straight national election.

Political pundits said the result represented a 16.5 percent swing among voters from Labour to Conservative, and cast the result as a further harbinger of a likely Conservative victory in a general election Mr. Brown must call by early June...

Mr. Brown said the decrease in Labour’s total owed more to the increase in support for fringe parties — common in by-elections — than it did to Labour defections to the Conservatives. Among the 12 candidates, third place went to the third major party, the Liberal Democrats, with 14 percent of the vote.

But the United Kingdom Independence Party, a right-wing group opposed to British membership in the European Union, took nearly 12 percent and the Greens, an environmental group, about 10 percent of the vote. Many of those votes appeared to have come from former Labour supporters, whom the party would hope to draw back in a general election...

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Mexican government and politics

The Economist ran a good analysis of Mexican politics, and in the process discussed Mexican government in ways that might be helpful to your students.

Calderón's hatful of troubles
“WE WON just about everything,” said Beatriz Paredes, the president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in an accurate summing-up of the mid-term election on July 5th. Not only did the PRI... more than double its seats in the lower house of Congress. It also won five of the six state governorships in play and many important mayoralties. Although it won only 37% of the vote (on a turnout of 45%), the PRI will now take most of the decisions that matter over the next three years.

That is bad news for President Felipe Calderón, whose conservative National Action Party lost badly (see chart)... The [PRI], which spans the amorphous centre ground of Mexican politics, may also have been helped by the disarray of the left, which is split between supporters and opponents of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the man defeated by Mr Calderón in 2006...

Recession has laid bare the economy’s longstanding structural weaknesses. Monopolies or oligopolies, in industries ranging from telecommunications to cement, trim the long-term growth rate by 1% a year... Energy remains almost entirely in state hands. Oil production is falling by up to 10% a year... Mexico’s educational performance is poorer than it should be given its income level. Federal tax revenues are just 9% of GDP; public spending on infrastructure is declining. Mexico sank to 60th place (from 52nd last year) in the league table of competitiveness published by the World Economic Forum, a Swiss-based organisation...

The political system, marked by paralysis and corruption, needs attention, too. Such is the disillusion that almost 5.4% of those who voted spoiled their ballots, heeding a campaign by a network of middle-class activists. Many constitutional provisions were designed for one-party rule and need changing...

All of these initiatives mean taking on powerful vested interests. Whether that happens now depends more on the PRI than Mr Calderón...

It may take the stewards of the old order to usher in a new one.

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Party politics in Russia

Ruling Party Alone at the Top in Russia
Russia’s political scene is clearly dominated by one party, according to a poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center. 56 per cent of respondents would vote for the governing United Russia (YR) party in the next election to the State Duma, up three points since May...

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Shanghai's two child policy

China Urges Couples to Have Two Kids
Shanghai is urging eligible couples to have two children as worries about the looming liability of an ageing population outweighs concerns about over-stretched resources, a city official said on Friday...

China's famous "one child" policy is actually less rigorous than its name suggests, and allows urban parents to have two offspring if they are both only children. Rural couples are allowed a second child if their first is a girl...

More children would help relieve the heavy pressure from ageing people, said Zhang Meixin, a spokesman for the Shanghai Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission, adding that the basic population policy had not changed...

While the population of those born in Shanghai is ageing fast, China's urban workforce is continuously replenished by migrants from the countryside, who are not registered residents.

China's underfunded state pension system and shrinking family size has removed a traditional layer of support for elders, leaving society ill-prepared to cope with an ageing population...

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Thinking about sovereignty

Henry Farrell of George Washington University has an interesting post this morning on the GWU political science blog, The Monkey Cage, Contracting Sovereignty.

The ideas add some depth to the usual superficial definition that I operated with in my classes. The ideas might well be worth some time for discussion or student writing.

"Renowned macroeconomist Paul Romer [will]... help start up a new institute dedicated to changing how we think about sovereignty, so as to make it easier both for countries to borrow rule-sets from each other, and perhaps to allow other countries to actively administer parts of their own territory...

"Romer suggests that we rethink sovereignty (respect borders, but maybe create new systems of administrative control); rethink citizenship (allowing perhaps for voice without residency as well as residency without voice); and rethink scale (instead of focusing on nations, focus on new cities.)...

"This is not only not as strange as it sounds, but actually has some considerable empirical precedent... Sovereignty is not the single unitary phenomenon that it is often taken for, but instead a 'a bundle of rights and obligations that are dynamically exchanged and transferred between states.' Cooley and Spruyt pay particular attention to the politics of military bases, which are (if you think about it at all) an obvious example of incomplete contracting that modifies territorial sovereignty in very interesting ways..."

Check it out. The Cooley and Spruyt book that Farrell cites might make good vacation reading if you're tired of mysteries or romances.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Political Theory in Iran

While Peter Beaumont's analysis is pretty opaque in the first two-thirds of the op-ed piece (your textbook might do a better job of explaining the politics of Shiism in Iran), the last part of this article is a good update.

Unless, of course, Michael Slackman's analysis in the New York Times (see yesterday's entry) is right that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have taken power behind the scenes.

Iranian Shiism's two faces: Underlying the battle for Iran's political future is a century-old debate within Shia Islam about the rightful place of the clergy
.. [T]he reality is that the core issues at the centre of the present debate in Iran today remain largely similar to those confronted by the secularists and clerics who led – or opposed – Iran's constitutional reform movement at the beginning of the 20th century...

The consequence of this debate was two broad schools of thought that have continued to influence Iranian Shia clerical politics, and the wider politics of Iran. Na'ini's interpretation of the Qur'an and the tradition of the Shia imamate would inspire both political thinkers and religious reformers – including figures who would attempt to synthesise Shia and Marxist thought. Nuri's arguments would ultimately inform Ayatollah Khomeini's concept of velayat i-faqih – the guardianship of Islamic jurists – that, as it developed, would be transformed into the concept of a general right to rule of the clerics, subordinating Iran's parliamentary democracy under a supreme leader...

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Iranian PLA?

Several times while I was reading the first article below about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, I was reminded of the PLA before Deng Xiaoping "tamed" it.

Kevin James pointed out the second article in his blog, "AHS Comparative Governemnt." It's "The blogsite of Albany High School's AP Comparative Government and Politics course."

Hard-Line Force Extends Grip Over a Splintered Iran
As Iran’s political elite and clerical establishment splinter over the election crisis, the nation’s most powerful economic, social and political institution — the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — has emerged as a driving force behind efforts to crush a still-defiant opposition movement.

From its origin 30 years ago as an ideologically driven militia force serving Islamic revolutionary leaders, the corps has grown to assume an increasingly assertive role in virtually every aspect of Iranian society.

And its aggressive drive to silence dissenting views has led many political analysts to describe the events surrounding the June 12 presidential election as a military coup...

The corps has become a vast military-based conglomerate, with control of Iran’s missile batteries, oversight of its nuclear program and a multibillion-dollar business empire reaching into nearly every sector of the economy. It runs laser eye-surgery clinics, manufactures cars, builds roads and bridges, develops gas and oil fields and controls black-market smuggling, experts say...

Since 2005, when he took office, companies affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards have been awarded more than 750 government contracts in construction and oil and gas projects, Iranian press reports document. And all of its finances stay off the budget, free from any state oversight or need to provide an accounting to Parliament...

The corps is not large. It has as many as 130,000 members and runs five armed branches that are independent from the much bigger national military. It commands its own ground force, navy, air force and intelligence service...

The corps’s two best-known subsidiaries are the secretive Quds Force, which has carried out operations in other countries, including the training and arming of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon; and the Basij militia. The Basiji, who experts say were incorporated under the corps’s leadership only two years ago, now include millions of volunteer vigilantes used to crack down on election protests and dissidents.

Members of the Revolutionary Guards and their families receive privileged status at every level, which benefits them in university admissions and in the distribution of subsidized commodities, experts said...

What is less quantifiable is the corps’s black-market smuggling activity, which has helped feed the nation’s appetite for products banned by sanctions, while also enriching the corps. [A] Rand Corporation report quoted one member of Iran’s Parliament who estimated that the Revolutionary Guards might do as much as $12 billion in black-market business annually...

Thirty-six army officers arrested in Iran over protest plan
The Iranian army has arrested 36 officers who planned to attend last week's Friday prayer sermon by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani in their military uniforms as an act of political defiance, according to Farsi-language websites.

The officers intended the gesture to show solidarity with the demonstrations against last month's presidential election result...

While the army is considered to be secondary in importance to the revolutionary guards in the regime's military hierarchy, it is still under the command of Khamenei, who yesterday appointed a cleric, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, as the new head of its political ideology section...

See also:

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

More on Iran and a comparison to China

Ex-President in Iran Seeks Referendum
Iran’s reformist former president Mohammad Khatami called Sunday for a referendum on the legitimacy of the government in the wake of last month’s disputed presidential election, Iranian Web sites reported.

Mr. Khatami’s comments amounted to a bold challenge to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has dismissed the opposition’s claims that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory on June 12 was rigged, and has ordered protesters to accept it.

It is unlikely that Iran’s hard-line leaders will accept the referendum proposal. But the fact that Mr. Khatami proposed it at all suggests a renewed confidence within the opposition movement...

Iranian Critic Quotes Khomeini Principles
During his decades in Iranian politics, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been praised as a pragmatist, criticized as spineless, accused of corruption and dismissed as a has-been.

Now, in assailing the government’s handling of last month’s disputed presidential election, Mr. Rafsanjani, a 75-year-old cleric and former president, has cast himself in a new light: as a player with the authority to interpret the ideals of Iran’s 30-year-old Islamic republic.

Using his perch as a designated prayer leader on Friday to deliver the speech of a lifetime, Mr. Rafsanjani abandoned his customary caution to demand that the government release those arrested in recent weeks, ease restrictions on the media and eradicate the “doubt” the Iranian people have about the election result. And he implicitly challenged the authority of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to make decisions without seeking consensus...

To establish his own legitimacy, Mr. Rafsanjani... recalled that his mentor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 revolution, said that the “people’s will” must be done, and in this case, he said, the trust of the people had been broken...

In Iran, a Struggle Beyond the Streets
The streets of Iran have been largely silenced, but a power struggle grinds on behind the scenes, this time over the very nature of the state itself. It is a battle that transcends the immediate conflict over the presidential election, one that began 30 years ago as the Islamic Revolution established a new form of government that sought to blend theocracy and a measure of democracy...

Managing Dissent in China and Iran
Just weeks after the disputed presidential election in Iran, outside observers find themselves in a somewhat familiar situation: trying to piece together a sense of what is happening in China’s Xinjiang Province in the aftermath of anti-government protests that turned violent. In China, as in Iran, state-controlled media has called the protesters “rioters” and the violence on the streets “terrorism” rather than characterizing it as a spontaneous reaction by demonstrators confronted by security forces...

Beyond the way they manage dissent, Communist China and the Islamic Republic of Iran are obviously very different countries, with very different cultures and systems of government. One person who has thought about the parallels that do exist between the way the two regimes try to control their populations is the journalist Steve Coll. In a discussion of Iran’s government with Dorothy Wickenden and Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker two weeks ago, Mr. Coll argued that the Iranian regime had studied the way China’s government responded to the pro-democracy movement in 1989 and “tried to construct” what he called a “post-Tiananmen China model” system of control.

In the discussion, recorded for The New Yorker’s Web site two weeks ago, Mr. Hertzberg suggested that it is not clear “what kind of society and regime Iran really is.”...

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Watch for more details

Police Fire Tear Gas Outside Prayers in Tehran
Security forces used tear gas and batons to break up crowds of opposition demonstrators chanting slogans at Tehran University during the Friday prayer ceremony, Reuters reported. At least 15 protesters were arrested.

The incident happened as the former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani led the service, calling for opposition detainees to be released. Mr. Rafsanjani is one of the main backers of the main reformist leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was sitting in the first row in his first official appearance since he was defeated last month’s disputed election...

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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Iranian electoral saga continues

Candidate Declares Iran May Face ‘Disintegration’
In an implicit rebuke to Iran’s ruling elite, a conservative presidential candidate warned Sunday that the political and social rifts opened by the disputed June 12 vote and subsequent crackdown could lead to the nation’s “disintegration” if they were not resolved soon.

The candidate, Mohsen Rezai, made his warning in a long statement about the election and its bloody aftermath, in which he called for reconciliation and spoke about the danger of “imprisoning” the legacy of the Islamic Revolution in divisive and shortsighted politics. The statement was posted on his Web site...

Senior Cleric Says Leaders of Iran Are Unfit to Rule
One of Iran’s most senior clerics issued an unusual decree on Saturday calling the country’s rulers “usurpers and transgressors” for their treatment of opposition protesters in recent weeks, in the strongest condemnation by a religious figure since the contested presidential election a month ago.

The decree by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a dissident who has often criticized Iran’s ruling clerics, did not mention by name Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but was clearly aimed at the clerical leadership...

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Friday, July 10, 2009


hi·a·tus /haɪˈeɪtəs/ Pronunciation[hahy-ey-tuhs]
–noun, plural -tus·es, -tus.
  1. a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

  2. a missing part; gap or lacuna: Scholars attempted to account for the hiatus in the medieval manuscript.

  3. any gap or opening.

  4. Grammar, Prosody. the coming together, with or without break or slight pause, and without contraction, of two vowels in successive words or syllables, as in see easily.

  5. Anatomy. a natural fissure, cleft, or foramen in a bone or other structure.

  6. This blog. a period of a week or so during which the primary contributor to this blog takes a break from posting any but the most essential things. (I've taken on a writing job with pressing deadlines. I'm running away to the lake cabin to do think and write.)

[Origin: 1555–65; < L hiātus opening, gap, equiv. to hiā(re) to gape, open + -tus suffix of v. action]

Source: hiatus. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved July 15, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hiatus


Quango squabble

Quangos were one of my students' favorite topics because the acronym sounded as strange as the actual name for those organizations.

Well, quangos are in the news again.

Tories pledge to cut back quangos
David Cameron is to pledge to cut the number of unelected quangos to save money and increase accountability...

Mr Cameron will call for a cut in the 790 organisations, which cost £35bn a year, in a speech to the Reform think tank...

He will say: "Too many state actions, services and decisions are carried out by people who cannot be voted out by the public, by organisations that feel no pressure to answer for what happens, in a way that is completely unaccountable.

"The growth of the quango state is, I believe, one of the main reasons people feel that nothing ever changes, nothing will ever get done and that the state just passes the buck and sends them from pillar to post instead of sorting out problems." ...

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Party democracy

Chairman Hu promotes more democracy within the Party and suggests some changes in the criteria used in the nomenklatura system. He didn't say anything about electing Party chairmen though.

Chinese Communist Party chief stresses inner-party democracy
Hu Jintao, chief of the Communist Party of China (CPC), has called for a vigorous improvement of inner-party democracy in order to enhance the Party's ruling capacity and leadership in the development of China...

Hu said the CPC must pay greater attention to inner-party democracy and actively promote it, because this will help the CPC perform its duty as the ruling party in more scientific and democratic ways and in accordance with the law...

The realization of inner-party democracy must rely on the guarantee of all Party members' democratic rights to know, to participate, to vote and to supervise in all internal affairs of the Party, Hu said...

Hu said mechanisms to ensure the inner-party democracy must be improved, such as the CPC congresses at all levels, and the system to elect, supervise, evaluate and promote officials.

The CPC Central Committee Political Bureau decided Monday that the Party will reform its appraisal system on officials on the basis of merit and transparency.

The assessment system will put more emphasis on achievements made in "coordinating economic and social development, maintaining social stability, and improving people's livelihoods".

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

News analysis about Iran

We will, of course, have to judge these insights by paying attention to what happens in the months and years to come, but this article might be helpful in explaining things about Iran to our students.

Michael Slackman wrote in The New York Times: As Iran Calms, a Struggle for Political Power Intensifies
The streets of Iran have been largely silenced, but a power struggle grinds on behind the scenes, this time over the very nature of the state itself...

In postelection Iran, there is growing unease among many of the nation’s political and clerical elite that the very system of governance they rely on for power and privilege has been stripped of its religious and electoral legitimacy, creating a virtual dictatorship enforced by an emboldened security apparatus, analysts said...

Some of Iran’s most influential grand ayatollahs, clerics at the very top of the Shiite faith’s hierarchy who have become identified with the reformists, have condemned the results as a fraud and the government’s handling of the protests as brutal. On Saturday, an influential Qum-based clerical association called the new government illegitimate...

For now, Iran’s most hard-line forces have been emboldened. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s spiritual adviser, Ayatollah Muhammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, has said elected institutions are anathema to a religious government and should be no more than window dressing...

But victory for the hard-liners, for Ayatollah Yazdi’s vision of a state run exclusively by a clerical elite, is both ascendant and at the same time undermined by events. In immediate terms, many analysts say, Ayatollah Khamenei has compromised his divinely inspired authority by openly taking sides — a move that is in conflict with the legal, religious and customary role of the leader as a neutral arbiter of events. In essence, he has become just another politician, albeit the most powerful one...

To understand the nature of the conflict, it is essential to look back to the founding of the republic. Ayatollah Khomeini built on two different and often contradictory principles, one of public accountability and one of religious authority. To tie it all together, Ayatollah Khomeini imported a centuries-old religious idea, called velayat-e faqih, or governance of the Islamic jurist...

From the start, there were intense disagreements over how this idea should work. Those conflicts, though, were muted partly by Ayatollah Khomeini’s exalted status, and by a unity forged by an eight-year war with Iraq. When the war ended and Ayatollah Khomeini died, the conflicts erupted...

The competing poles of Iran’s system have produced a fight-to-the-death ethos. Compromise is not just elusive but a sign of weakness.

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Bad roads

During the summer teaching institute I taught at Carleton College in June, one of the things we discovered as we explored Gapminder (check it out if you don't know about it), was that road building in Nigeria has been non-existent during the past few years. Road repairs cannot have been very effective either, since the number of miles of paved roads has declined dramatically.

Your students should be able to read between the lines and describe some things the political situation in Abuja.

Now comes this report by Daniel Idonor in Vanguard: Bad Roads - 'Be Careful', Minister Warns Media
THE Federal Government, through its Works Minister, Alhaji Hassan Adamu Lawal, yesterday reacted to the deplorable state of federal roads in the country, in particular the Apapa-Oshodi expressway in Lagos [below], saying "we have to be careful."

FLOOD: Mile 2 along Apapa-Oshodi Express Way taken over by flood following a down pour in Lagos.

It was not clear who should be careful -- the government, Nigerians who suffer daily, or the media who report the suffering of Nigerians -- as the minister refused to talk to State House correspondents...

[W]hen he eventually emerged from the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, venue of the FEC meeting , the minister who was not apparently ready to field questions from journalists said "I have discussed with my boss, we have to be careful", a statement that did not make any meaning to reporters.

Asked to explain what he meant by "we have to be careful", the minister failed to utter a word, as he walked out on the reporters.

Vanguard's investigations however revealed that President Yar'Adua... had repeatedly drawn the attention of the minister to the issue, asking that he comes up with a workable solution towards addressing the issue as it has become a major source of negative publicity to the government.

It was gathered that the Hassan Lawal, who has served as minister for five years, including three years under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as Labour minister, and two years in the present government, could not come up with any solution...

See also: Flood, Bad Roads Grind Lagos to a Halt
LAGOS, the nation's economic capital and financial hub has been paralysed by intractable traffic snarl-up, worsened by heavy downpour witnessed in the last few days.

The Oshodi-Apapa expressway is has, for many years, been neglected resulting in its present state of decay. The drainage systems have become dumping ground by companies doing business along the stretch, while Tokunbo vehicle sellers take over some of the available spaces left on the road.

Remedial works carried out on the road in the past have not helped matters as they have only been peripheral and did not really address the state of the road...

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ethnic/racial cleavages in the UK

From the streets to the courts
RACIST bogeymen leered out of newspaper pages in both Britain and Northern Ireland... On the mainland, the far-right British National Party (BNP)... won its first two seats in the European Parliament earlier this month... Separately, white thugs in Ulster hounded more than a hundred Romanian immigrants—mainly Roma gypsies—out of their homes and, in most cases it now seems, away from the province altogether.

Tension [in south Belfast] between locals and east European immigrants had simmered since football hooligans clashed at a match between Poland and Northern Ireland in March. When the intimidation reached a peak on June 16th, the Romanians were moved to a church hall and then to a leisure centre. On June 23rd Northern Ireland’s government announced that most had decided to return to Romania...

Socially, Ulster leans to the right: civil partnerships, greeted with a shrug by most British Tories, attracted protests in Belfast when they were introduced in 2005; abortion is also more restricted than on the mainland.

It may be that these conservative attitudes extend to scepticism about outsiders. A survey published on June 24th by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission, a statutory watchdog, found that nearly a quarter of the population would be unhappy if a migrant worker moved in next-door...

British hang-ups about minorities have fallen pretty steadily over the past 20 years, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, a big questionnaire. By contrast, Northern Irish dislike of travellers is up by a quarter from 2005...

The election of a man with a conviction for inciting race hatred to represent northern England in the European Parliament spoils any pretty notion that all is well on the mainland...

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Is the government in charge?

Chinese Han mob marches for revenge against Uighurs after rampage
Thousands of Han Chinese roamed the streets of the western city of Urumqi today looking for vengeance after Sunday's deadly riots as China's leaders struggled to regain control of the country's only Muslim-majority region...

They were determined to attack the business heart of the Muslim Uighur minority blamed for the carnage in which 156 were killed and more than 800 injured.

The streets were lined with black-clad riot police and thousands of paramilitaries in camouflage and bulletproof vests who barred the mob's way to the central market. Occasional bursts of tear gas failed to deter the angry crowd...

Despite the heightened security, the unrest appeared to be spreading. Police dispersed about 200 people at the Id Kah mosque in the Silk Road city of Kashgar last night...

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Russian media mediates message

Is there any doubt about who is in charge of media content?

As Obama Visits, Russian TV Alters Take on U.S.
When Barack Obama and Dmitri A. Medvedev meet behind closed doors here on Monday, among those on tenterhooks will be the television commentator Mikhail V. Leontyev, who has built a career on his relentless hectoring of the West...

Now, though, there is a sense of uncertainty here about what lies next in the Russian-American relationship. In sync with the Kremlin, Russian news media have reflected this state of suspended animation, muting their criticism of Washington and especially of President Obama. That is not good news for Mr. Leontyev...

That does not mean the grievances have gone away. Anti-Americanism has become a central fact of Russian politics — a populist rallying cry and proof, as people here love to say, that the country has risen from its knees.

Whether Russian opinion makers drift back to the paint-stripping rhetoric of last summer seems to depend greatly on what happens at the summit meeting...

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Mexican election

Old ruling party gains in Mexico midterm election
Reviled as a creaky remnant of Mexico's authoritarian past, the old Institutional Revolutionary Party made a big comeback in midterm congressional elections in defiance of those who had written off what is still the country's biggest and most representative party...

With 96 percent of the votes counted by early Monday, the PRI was winning about 36 percent of votes for Congress, to about 28 percent for President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party, the PAN...

Despite the PRI's rhetoric about "a new mentality," it appeared to win Sunday's elections by hewing to the cautious middle road that it plotted while running Mexico from 1929 to 2000, as well as taking advantage of voters' frustration with the ideological and policy swings of its rivals...

Meanwhile, the leftist party that almost won the presidency in 2006 has splintered amid infighting, dropping to around 12 percent of the vote and leaving the field open for the PRI.

"The PRI today is a different concept than the PRI that governed for 70 years. That PRI died in 2000," said pollster Maria de las Heras, noting the party has become more fractious and divided between regional interests than it was when the all-powerful, unquestioned president – invariably a PRI member – ran both the country and the party.

"The elections weren't run by the national party leadership; they were run by 17 state governors," opening the potential for internal and legislative paralysis as leading PRI governors jockey for the 2012 presidential nomination, she said.

The question now becomes which PRI member comes out on top. Early polls have favored the young governor of Mexico state, Enrique Pena Nieto, who has often featured on the covers of society magazines...

The PAN will lose some of its 206 seats in the lower house, and the PRI stands to more than double its 106 seats.

De las Heras said Calderon could face a long stretch as a lame duck because "the race for 2012 is already on."

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Religious dissent

This article, like many others on the developments in Iran, might soon be out of date.

But, if your students read it, how many parts of the political culture and regime could they identify?

The scholars are identified as pro-reformist, but it's also likely that they represent the traditional Shia attitude of keeping the clergy out of politics.

Clerical Leaders Defy Ayatollah on Iran Election
An important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult...

Since the election, the bulk of the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qum, an important religious and political center of power, has remained largely silent...

With its statement Saturday, the association of clerics came down squarely on the side of the reform movement...

The clerics’ decision to speak up... is not itself a turning point and could fizzle under pressure from the state... Some seminaries in Qum rely on the government for funds, and Ayatollah Khamenei and... President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have powerful backers there.

They also retain the support of the powerful security forces and the elite Revolutionary Guards. In addition, the country’s highest-ranking clerics have yet to speak out individually against the election results.

The Guardian reported on the same announcement this way:

Senior Iranian clerics reject re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Deepening splits among Iran's clergy came to the surface today , with a senior clerical group calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election "illegitimate".

The Assembly of Scholars and Researchers at Qom seminary, the centre of Shia learning in Iran, rejected the official results and called for the release of political prisoners. "Other candidates' complaints and strong evidence of vote-rigging were ignored … peaceful protests by Iranians were violently oppressed … dozens of Iranians were killed and hundreds were illegally arrested," a statement on its website said. "The outcome is invalid."...

The Qom assembly is a pro-reform group with limited political influence, but the statement is important as it represents an open challenge to the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who declared Ahmadinejad the winner and ordered an end to debate on the result...

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Unrest in China

It's not just peasants and Tibetians who are dissatisfied with policy decisions in China. How would your students describe the causes of the unrest? How would they identify the cleavages involved? How would they evaluate the capacity of the state to deal with the dissatisfaction?

The New York Times published this story late on 5 July 2009.

Riots in Western China Amid Ethnic Tension
At least 1,000 rioters clashed with the police on Sunday in a regional capital in western China after days of rising tensions between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese, according to witnesses and photographs of the riot.

The rioting broke out Sunday afternoon in a large market area of Urumqi, the capital of... Xinjiang, and lasted for several hours before riot police officers and paramilitary or military troops locked down the Uighur quarter of the city...

At least 3 Han Chinese and one police officer were killed in the rioting and 20 people were injured, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. Dozens of Uighur men were led into nearby police stations with their hands behind their backs and shirts pulled over their heads, one witness said...

Many Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers), a Turkic-speaking Muslim group, resent rule by the Han Chinese, and Chinese security forces have tried to keep oil-rich Xinjiang under tight control since the 1990s, when cities there were struck by waves of protests, riots and bombings. Last summer, attacks on security forces took place in several cities in Xinjiang; the Chinese government blamed separatist groups.,,

Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang but are a minority in Urumqi, where Han Chinese make up more than 70 percent of the population of two million or so. The Chinese government has encouraged Han migration to the city and other parts of Xinjiang, fueling resentment among the Uighurs. Urumqi is a deeply segregated city, with Han Chinese there rarely venturing into the Uighur quarter...

From Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency: Death toll in Xinjiang riot rises to 140
The death toll has risen to 140 following Sunday night's riot in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the regional government said Monday...

At least 828 people were injured in the deadly violence that erupted Sunday night.

Rioters burned 261 motor vehicles, including 190 buses, at least 10 taxis and two police cars...

From Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency: Commentary: Riot a catastrophe for Xinjiang
Sunday's deadly riot in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region bruised the beautiful city of Urumqi and shocked the world, barely 16 months after the nightmarish Lhasa violence that still clings to many Chinese minds...

Given its unique location and demography, the northwestern Chinese region has been a target of separatist and terrorist actions, particularly in the past two years...

Police said that in the first half of 2008, five terrorist rings were busted in Xinjiang and 82 suspected terrorists detained...

Now the three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism are at work again. An initial investigation showed a separatist group made use of the June 26 brawl involving workers from Xinjiang in a toy factory in the southern Guangdong Province to foment Sunday's unrest and sabotage the country. Behind the scheme was the separatist World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer.

Government investigations indicate that Sunday's unrest was controlled and instigated from abroad...

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Family discussions and learning

Lee Sigelman commented in the Monkey Cage blog about intriguing implications about a study of student learning. No real hard results, but suggestions that my long-held suspicions might be right. (When my school went to a block schedule, I argued that the political science classes I taught had to remain semester-long classes because, "there weren't enough family dinners, evenings, and weekends in nine weeks" for students to do the required reading and practice explaining things to their parents and siblings.

Gaining political knowledge and raising political efficacy at school and at home
Millions of young Americans pay little attention to politics. They don’t follow the news, they lack even the most basic knowledge about political institutions, they don’t vote, and they don’t care. Identifying these behaviors as problems for the future of American democracy and recognizing that many of them are products of early-life socialization processes, numerous organizations are now pushing “civic education” efforts of various sorts, many of them targeted at elementary, middle school, high school, and college students.

In a new study, Timothy Vercellotti and Elizabeth Matto probe the impact of political participation in the school and at home on knowledge about politics and the sense of political efficacy... The design of the study is unusual – more innovative and ambitious than appears to be the norm in this research area. The participants were 361 high school students from four high schools who were assigned to either a treatment group that read newsmagazine articles weekly for eight weeks and discussed them in class, a treatment group that read the same articles and discussed them in class and with their parents, and a no-treatment control group...

Political knowledge... increased in all three groups... Even so, the greatest increase occurred for the second treatment group – the one that discussed the articles both in class and at home. And knowledge remained at its second survey level six weeks later.

Internal efficacy [increased as well]... [and] the largest effects were for the second treatment group...

[The] findings, while hardly the last word on the subject, strike me as warranting greater confidence than those reported in many previous political socialization studies by political scientists and others.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Incipient hereditary system?

The thesis is that the son of Iran's supreme leader is setting himself up to succeed his father. Interesting idea. What evidence would your students point to if you suggested that this argument is oversimplified?

Iran supreme leader's son seen as power broker with big ambitions
There are few anecdotes about him, and pictures, at least ones that have appeared in public, are scarce. But Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of Iran's supreme leader, wields considerable power and is a key figure in orchestrating the crackdown against anti-government protesters, analysts say.

The younger Khamenei operates tucked behind an elaborate security structure, an overlapping world that stretches from Iran's Revolutionary Guard corps to the motorcycle-riding Basiji militiamen.

Analysts and former dissidents describe him as the gatekeeper for his father...

Ali Khamenei gradually has created a bureaucracy to consolidate his power over Iran's military, intelligence and foreign policy. The younger Khamenei, who is believed to be in his 40s or early 50s, working deep inside a political system that is difficult for outsiders to crack, has emerged as a force in that bureaucracy.

Mojtaba Khamenei's influence became evident when he gave key support to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election...

[T]he son's background is much different from his father's. The supreme leader, in his younger years, immersed himself in literature, novels and music, was friends with intellectuals and spent time in jail with Marxists. The younger Khamenei, said Khalaji, "grew up in a very different atmosphere, a post-revolutionary generation."

Much of that generation is not grounded in the personalities and passions that underpinned the 1979 revolt...

See also:

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