Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, November 30, 2009

The never-ending campaign

Daniel Wilson, a banker, financier, and a consultant on Mexican politics, wrote in his blog, Under the Volcano: Notes on Mexican Politics about the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador celebrated three years as the country’s “legitimate president” with a rally in Mexico City’s Zocalo... AMLO said he had completed his pilgrimage to all 2,430 municipalities across Mexico and was refounding his movement... "[L]ooking toward 2012, we need to develop a new Alternative Project for the Nation,” he said.

AMLO said the platform would be centered on 10 themes: “to rescue the State and put it at the service of the people; democratize the mass media; create a new economy; combat monopolies; abolish tax breaks; practice politics as an ethical imperative grounded in ‘republican austerity;’ strengthen the energy sector; achieve food sovereignty; establish a welfare State; and promote a new current of thought.” AMLO clearly believes his principal opponent in 2012 will be Mexico state governor Enrique Peña Nieto.

See also: The Imaginary, Legitimate Government

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Nigeria budget

There was some petty haggling last week in Abuja about the president's proposed budget for next year. Then the president flew off to Saudi Arabia for emergency medical treatment and legislators allowed "Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba Aji" to present the budget to the two houses.

So, what is in the budget?

Infrastructure Tops FG's Plan for 2010
INFRASTRUCTURE development topped the Federal Government's agenda in Capital Expenditure of the N4.07 trillion budgetary proposal for 2010 laid separately before the Senate and the House of Representatives yesterday...

The proposed spending is 32 per cent higher than that of 2009 and, if approved, will push Nigeria even further beyond a 3 per cent deficit target set under a 2007 fiscal responsibility act.

Around a third of the planned budget is non-recurrent spending targeting areas including critical infrastructure, the power sector and development in the Niger Delta, the restive heartland of the country's mainstay oil industry.

"The purpose of the 2010 budget is to accelerate economic recovery through targeted fiscal interventions intended to further stimulate the economy and support private sector growth," Yar'Adua said in a budget statement presented to the lawmakers...

The spending plans for the country, which vies with Angola as Africa's biggest oil producer, assume oil output of 2.088 million barrels per day (bpd), a benchmark oil price of $57 and an exchange rate of N150 to the U.S. dollar.

Yar'Adua said improving power infrastructure was a top priority and that Nigeria aimed to double electricity capacity to 10,000 megawatts (Mw) by the end of 2011. Intermittent power supply is seen as a major blow on economic growth.

Yar'Adua said the utilisation of budgetary allocations for 2009 had been "below expectations", raising questions about how effectively government would spend the additional funds...

Among the beneficiaries of the statutory (first line charge) are the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) N35.6 billion, the National Judicial Council, N91 billion and Universal Basic Education, N44.3 billion...

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Friday, November 27, 2009

The day after Thanksgiving in the USA

Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States, which is the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season. Many retailers open extremely early (between 3:00 and 6:00 am) and offer "doorbuster" deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores.

The news media frequently refer to Black Friday as the busiest retail shopping day of the year, but this is not always accurate. The busiest retail shopping day of the year in the United States is often the Saturday before Christmas.

From Wikipedia

Buy Nothing Day (BND) is an international day of protest against consumerism, typically observed the Friday after American Thanksgiving in North America.

From Wikipedia

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving holiday in the US

Thanksgiving Day originated as a harvest festival celebrated primarily in Canada and the United States. Traditionally, it was a time to give thanks for the harvest. In present-day non-agricultural societies it is thought to be an appropriate time to reflect on good fortune (which makes it difficult for many people in 2009 who have been hurt by the economic recession). While perhaps religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.

Today, Thanksgiving is a national holiday on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States.

Many Americans mark the day with a Thanksgiving dinner featuring foods native to the Americas (turkey, potatoes, cranberries, corn bread, and pumpkin pie). The meal is usually served at a gathering of family members and friends. In many homes the meal is followed by afternoons in front of televisions watching football games (primarily between college teams).

Based on the Wikipedia account of Thanksgiving

What's Cooking on Thanksgiving

An interactive map from the New York Times showing the Top 50 Search Terms on Allrecipies.com yesterday. The map shows what parts of the US searched for which recipies. You can find out where peanut butter pie is most popular.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pessimism from Nigeria

Imnakoya, who blogs at Grandiose Parlor about things Nigerian, offers this excerpt from a speech by Ondo State governor, Dr. Segun Mimiko [left].

Democracy may not survive in Nigeria
Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State at a lecture entitled: “Critical Issues in the 2011 elections” delivered to participants at Executive Intelligence Management Course 2 of the Institute for Security Studies said if Nigeria does not desist from “electoral debauchery” through rigging and falsification of election results, the country’s democracy may not survive.

He also said internal democracy in political parties fosters credible elections as “internal democracy is bigger than who appoints the INEC Chairman. If Nigeria must survive, internal democracy must be vindicated…Election rigging may lead to the end of this republic...

The governor admonished the participants, who were drawn form various national security agencies, to “rise above the dysfunctional realities of Nigeria. You are placed in a society that is soiled but you are not supposed to be soiled”.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Taxes and the rentier state

Solomonsydelle, who writes the blog Nigerian Curiosity from Maryland, offers an explanation of the relationship between taxes and democracy that is fit for a textbook. While he's writing about Nigeria, we should ask whether the argument holds true for other states? Mexico? Russia? Iran? How would your students evaluate the argument?

The first comment on this entry (at the blog site) offers some details on the taxation system in Nigeria.

The concept of paying taxes, be it federal or state, is relatively foreign to many Nigerians.

Unlike some parts of the world where almost everyone, regardless of their position or income pays some form of income/revenue/property taxes on a regular basis, taxes are only collected from some Nigerians and some businesses.

Many argue that this reality contributes to a lack of political accountability on the part of officials and consequently, diminishes the impact of democracy on average Nigerians. But, just as important, the lack of a formal tax structure means that many state governments... over rely on the federal government for income and as such, the amount needed to cater to citizen's needs is limited.  This is undoubtedly a serious problem during the current economic slowdown. However, the Nigeria Governors Forum has announced that come fiscal year 2010, state governments will begin to collect taxes from many more residents...

During the Nigeria Governor's Forum recently held in Abuja, Adams Oshiomole, the Governor of Edo State appealed to fellow governors to be responsible with revenues colllected via taxes. Specifically, he stated, "If the peoples' votes count, they will willingly pay their taxes because they trust their leaders. But if the leaders are not the true representatives of the people, they will resist whatever tax imposition. They will tell you that we didn't put you there..."...

Nigeria's state governors have historically overrelied on their portion of federal income to finance local needs. This push by the Nigeria Governors Forum to increase Internally Generated Revenue is a step in the right direction towards financial autonomy for states, and possibly, true federalism. Only time will tell, however, if many states will take the adequate steps to create a transparent and efficient tax stystem that will be deemed legiimate by residents and thereby supported. One thing is for certain, a tax system that works at the state level will empower citizens and increase state revenue, potentially a bonus for everyone.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Titles and little more

Solomonsydelle, who writes the "Nigerian Curiousity" blog, is not happy with the quality of legislators in Nigeria. His description of Nigerian Senators and Representatives fits with we see in textbook descriptions of the government. And it helps explain why the regime is focused on the presidency.

Does Nigeria need a "non-reelection" law? What would make things better?

Nigerians love their titles. As such, it is common to find people with a Chief, Dr., Engr., or all of the above in front of their name. And, they expect to be referenced by their title which indicates their many achievements and successes. It is no different for Nigeria's legislators. The members of the House of Representatives insist on being addressed as 'Honorable', while their peers in the Senate are referred to as 'Distinguished'. But given the record of the present class of legislators, and their most recent battle over where the 2010 budget is to be read, it is hard to call members of either body anything but useless.

President Yar'Adua's attempt to read the 2010 budget before the National Assembly in the House of Representatives created a major fracas that only serves to put politicians in further disrepute. The Senate took offense to the President's decision to read the budget at the home of their 'Honorable' peers and demanded that the venue be changed...

Unfortunately, such childish behavior is little surprise to most Nigerians and especially those who follow Nigerian politics closely...

Furthermore, although members of both bodies automatically become millionaires once they manage to gain, legally or otherwise, their position, their last session was a disgrace with the nation's 109 Senators only showing up for 90 days of work in 2008. And, as of February 2009, the House of Representatives had only passed an unimpressive 21 bills since its tenure began in 2007...

Doing away with all incumbents, will likely be a lesson to politicians that there will be consequences when they ignore the needs of their constituents and instead feed their already obese egos. A no-incumbents strategy is literally one of the only strategic yet peaceful options left for Nigerians themselves to force the political accountability that is necessary for true democracy to actualize in the country...

My advice to President Yar'adua is that he circumvent both bodies and read the budget on national television, radio stations and online to those who the budget will affect the most - the Nigerian people.

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Nine nations of China

It's taken as a given that Nigeria is a diverse place. That's one of the basic facts that students of comparative politics assume is true. But diversity in China? The Party line is that China is a remarkably homogeneous place. The reality is more complex. Even linguistically, there is diversity.

Patrick Chovanec, an associate professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing, created an interactive map for The Atlantic describing some of the diversity contained in China. (If you go to the article using the link below, you can click on each of the regions and read Chovanec's description of the characteristics of each region.)

The idea is based, in part, on The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau, which was published in 1981.

Jeremiah Jenne, the blogger at Jottings from the Granite Studio, points out that Chovanec's idea is also probably based on the work of anthropologist G. William Skinner. Jenne writes, "In The City in Late Imperial China (1977) Skinner argued that China could be understood as a set of nine macroregions..."

Jenne concludes, "Originality aside, the basic idea behind both maps is an important one to bear in mind when looking at China.  We tend to fixate on political boundaries, even when those boundaries and borders are drawn more for administrative convenience...  The size of China’s national borders can obscure an incredibly complex and diverse set of economic, cultural, and social distinction..."

The Nine Nations of China
We tend to imagine China as a monolith: 1.3 billion people sharing the same language, history, and culture. The truth is far more interesting. China is a mosaic of several distinct regions, each with its own resources, dynamics, and historical character...

As China’s economy becomes more integrated, these regional differences are taking on greater importance than ever before. Each of the Nine Nations faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities in carving out its own competitive niche...

Dan Harris, writing at China Law Blog, sees value in an article "that seeks to make the well-worn (and pretty well-known) point that China is not monolithic...", but he sees the geographic basis for the "nations" as artificial as the political boundaries.

Harris writes, "My problem I see with this map is that it is exactly that. A map. And as a map, it distinguishes among regions geographically and that is not how I view many aspects of China. Just by way of an example, I see Beijing having commonalities with Shanghai just because they are two powerful and relatively sophisticated big cities. Different as these two cities are (and they are plenty different, in their cultures, in their attitudes and even in their languages), they still share many commonalities in terms of business."

So, how should we portray diversity and make reasonable generalizations while avoiding stereotyping and oversimplification?

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Islamic diversity

Just a reminder of the diversity within the Muslim world. Sometimes we need reminders like this so we can avoid simplifications and stereotypes.

Cleric Wields Religion to Challenge Iran’s Theocracy
For years, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri criticized Iran’s supreme leader and argued that the country was not the Islamic democracy it claimed to be, but his words seemed to fall on deaf ears...

Ayatollah Montazeri has emerged as the spiritual leader of the opposition, an adversary the state has been unable to silence or jail because of his religious credentials and seminal role in the founding of the republic...

“A political system based on force, oppression, changing people’s votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate,” he said...

Ayatollah Montazeri has argued for years, that even in a religious state legitimacy comes from the people. “The government will not achieve legitimacy without the support of the people, and as the necessary and obligatory condition for the legitimacy of the ruler is his popularity and the people’s satisfaction with him...”

“Independence,” he said in a recent speech on ethics, “is being free of foreign intervention, and freedom is giving people the freedom to express their opinions. Not being put in prison for every protest one utters.”

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Does Nigeria work?

While researching Nigeria I came across the debate highlighted below on the BBC news web site. It seems that asking students to read and evaluate the arguments would be a good end-of-unit activity.

There are also two dozen responses from Nigerians all over the world which make valuable and interesting comments on the debate.

Debate: Is Nigeria a failed state?
YES, says lawyer and poet, Ogaga Ifowodo

NO, says agribusiness consultant, Waziri Haruna Ahmadu

Ifowodo: "Most, if not all of the indices of failed states, declare Nigeria well on its way to joining that disreputable club.

"Nigeria boasts a government unable to deliver basic social services.

"It is plagued by corruption so endemic and monumental it is hard to separate it from state policy.

"It lacks the capability or discipline to prevent threats to public safety and national integrity and is assailed by active challenges to its legitimacy..."

Ahmadu: "It is obvious, all the signs of a state heading for failure - where a constitutional authority increasingly shows an inability to provide basic services like guaranteeing security to life and property, maintenance of economic and social services, infrastructure and food security - are not evident.

"On the contrary, for the first time in the country's history, Nigeria is attempting to address its economic and social infrastructure inadequacies.

"The economy has never been more open to new investors and the government recognises the imperative for private-sector investments in critical infrastructure such as power, transportation and energy..."

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Foreign aid for Nigeria

The open question still is, "If you pour money into a corrupt system, where will it go?"

European Union gives Nigeria $1bn 'for peace'
The European Commission has signed a $1bn (£602m) development pact with Nigeria, aimed at tackling corruption and promoting peace.

A substantial amount of the funding will be spent on resolving conflict in the oil-rich and crime-plagued Niger Delta, the EU's development chief said.

The money will also target electoral reform and improving human rights.

But correspondents say many Nigerians will doubt the money will get to its intended targets...

25%: peace and security
44%: governance and human rights
16%: trade, region integration and energy
15%: environment, health, culture and sciences

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Radicalizing some of the protests?

Frustrating hopes for democracy by manipulating elections causes protests, but if the protests yield little, some dissidents become radicalized and lose hope that the system can respond to popular will. Similar hardening of positions can take place on the establishment side of things. See "Divine right to rule in Iran" from last Friday.

Divisions test mettle of Iran’s opposition
Five months after a disputed presidential election spawned the largest antigovernment demonstrations in this country in three decades, Iran’s opposition movement appears rudderless and divided, with protesters increasingly at odds with their leaders’ insistence on preserving the country’s system of religious government...

Iranians involved in the movement say growing numbers of protesters are refusing to compromise with the ruling hierarchy, a system of Shi’ite religious and political rule ushered in by Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, which ended a 2,500-year-old monarchy...

During the most recent street protests, on Nov. 4, demonstrators reflected the harder line when they shouted slogans mainly against Iran’s top leaders, instead of their more usual calls in support of Mousavi.

Video clips captured on cellphones and posted on the Internet showed people tearing down posters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader for the past 20 years. As the heir of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic, Khamenei wields ultimate religious and political authority in Iran and is highly revered.

In the government’s view, such protests confirm suspicions that the opposition wants to topple Iran’s political system...

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Execs for the EU

The EU has selected a president and a foreign minister. The foreign minister is likely to be the more powerful of the two.

European Union settles on a Belgian and a Briton for top posts
Herman Van Rompuy, the prime minister of Belgium, is to become the EU's first full-time president Jan. 1, filling a post aimed at helping strengthen and streamline the alliance...

EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, a member of Britain's Labor Party, was chosen as the bloc's new foreign minister...

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The imaginary, legitimate government

The non-stop campaign is obviously not unique to the USA.

Caroline Welch who teaches in the upper school at The Albany Academies (in Albany, NY) pointed me to this article.

Grassroots politics is fascinating. Is it effective? Why would Obrador choose this form of campaigning in Mexico? What sources of legitimacy does the actual government claim? What sources of legitimacy does Obrador's government claim?

Mexico Has a President Who Runs Things and One Who Doesn't
Like a lot of countries, Mexico has a federal government... But Mexico has another body, the so-called "Legitimate Government," which claims to be running the republic, too. It meets here in the capital every 15 days in a former garage...

Some countries like the U.K. have shadow governments, complete with shadow cabinet members made up of the opposition. But these groups usually don't claim to be the actual government, as is the case with Mr. López Obrador and company...

It all began in 2006 when the former Mexico City mayor almost became Mexico's real president, losing the election by a hair... Then, as a culminating gesture of defiance, he held a mock inauguration in the country's main square...

With this, many assumed they had seen the last of Mr. López Obrador -- at least until the next election in 2012.

But while the leftist has faded from international headlines, he never really went away in Mexico. He went on to found a parallel executive branch of government that proposes new laws, issues statements, holds elections, officiates during Mexican Independence Day, and even circulates its own form of identification card for Mexicans...

Nowadays, Mr. López Obrador tours the country giving presidential speeches where he is introduced as the real McCoy. After three years of this, he will soon have visited all of Mexico's 2,438 municipalities. That would make him, he says, the first politician -- indeed, maybe even the first man -- ever to have done that...

"We are in a land run by oligarchs," Mr. López Obrador began one recent morning in Nacajuca, a tiny Mayan village deep in Mexico's southeastern jungles. As the temperature rose, so did his voice as he railed against high prices for tamales, corporate tax loopholes and political corruption...

Perhaps no event captures the Legitimate Government's audacious style better than Sept. 15, the night of an age-old Mexican Independence Day tradition known as "el grito," or "the cry (of independence)." A half million Mexicans flood the main square as the president waves a flag and yells out revolutionary slogans, re-enacting the call to arms that brought Mexicans to rebel against Spain 199 years ago.

This year, as President Calderón performed his "grito," Mr. López Obrador could be found with his cabinet a few miles away in another plaza, giving what was called the "alternative" grito...

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Transparency in government and even business decision making that affects national or global economics is generally thought to be a good thing. Transparency International has helped publicize the idea and make it desirable. The latest ranking of 180 countries has been released.

How would your students evaluate the importance of transparency? Would they see any disadvantages to transparency (can there be too much)? What differences are implied if a country is ranked 19th or 135th? Do your students understand how this ranking is done? Do they think the process creates legitimate results?

There are many good teaching ideas and online materials at TI's Policy Research web page.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2009
The rank shows how one country compares to others included in the index. The CPI score indicates the perceived level of public-sector corruption in a country/territory.

The CPI is based on 13 independent surveys. However, not all surveys include all countries. The surveys used column indicates how many surveys were relied upon to determine the score for that country.

The confidence range indicates the reliability of the CPI scores and tells us that allowing for a margin of error, we can be 90% confident that the true score for this country lies within this range.

1. New Zealand
2 Denmark...

17. UK (tied with Japan)
19. USA...

79. China...

89. Mexico...

106. Nigeria...

146. Russia...

168. Iran...

178. Myanmar
179. Afghanistan
180. Somalia

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The idea of a cult of personality around a political leader is not new. Khrushchev denounced the "cult of personality" built up around Josef Stalin. Sadaam Hussein maintained a cult of personality to bolster his regime. The Kims in North Korea have done the same.

So, is Russia likely to produce another cult of personality? Bare-chested, macho man Putin certainly could become a cult hero.

There was a very popular song about him in Russia a few years ago. (See the video with subtitles of "I Want a Man Like Putin.")

United Russia's youth group, NASHI often acts like a vehicle for hero worship of the prime minister.

What do the Russians think?

One-in-Four Russians See Putin Personality Cult
Some people in Russia think prime minister and former president Vladimir Putin is the subject of a personality cult, according to a poll by the Yury Levada Analytical Center. 23 per cent of respondents share this opinion.

An additional 26 per cent of respondents say there is no Putin personality cult in Russia at the moment, but it could be developed. 38 per cent say there are no signs of any such cult...

Russians have named streets, pop songs and vodka after the current prime minister. The latest sign of admiration for Putin is a book of poetry for children called Putinyata...

Polling Data
Do you think Vladimir Putin is the subject of a cult of personality in Russia?

Yes, all its signs are already present
Oct. 2009 23%
Oct. 2007 22%

Not yet, but it could still happen
Oct. 2009 26%
Oct. 2007 27%

No, there are no signs of this cult
Oct. 2009 38%
Oct. 2007 38%

I make it difficult to answer
Oct. 2009 12%
Oct. 2007 13%

Source: Yury Levada Analytical Center 
Methodology: Interviews with 1,600 Russian adults, conducted from Oct. 16 to Oct. 19, 2009. No margin of error was provided.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Remittances to Mexico are occasionally in the news here in the USA. I had no idea of the size of remittances to Nigeria. Solomonsydelle, a blogger who writes the Nigerian Curiosity blog, says that remittances were 5% of the Nigerian GDP in 2005 and that the 5% might be only a quarter of the actual amount of remittances.

If the people who send all that money back to family in Nigeria are also able to vote in Nigerian elections (and the elections were fair), what political effects should we expect?

Nigerians abroad send at least $10 billion in remittances to their loved ones at home. This amount makes Nigeria the 6th highest destination for remittances according to the World Bank. That also makes Nigeria the top remittance destination on the African continent...

From People Move, a World Bank blog about migration, remittances, and development.

Nigerians are expected to take care of a lot more than just their immediate family. As a result, the average Nigerian family consists of a mother, father, children and many dependents such as in laws, cousins, and sometimes, neighbors. Once a young Nigerian gets a job, and sometimes even before that, he or she must begin to contribute to dependents...

On a fiscal level, remittances act as a source of capital second only to foreign direct investment...

Unfortunately, remittances are expected to drop between 2009 and 2011 as a result of the global economic slowdown...

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Monday, November 16, 2009

State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday

Karmin Tomlinson, who teaches in Oregon, wrote that "The 2009 Opening of Parliament is on Wednesday, Nov. 18!

"My students always enjoy the pomp and grandeur of the ceremony, especially Black Rod!"

Thanks, Karmin, for spotting the date.

CSPAN usually offers the BBC coverage live. BBC might offer a web cast. (It's not on the CSPAN schedule yet. BBC coverage begins at 10:30am - that's 5:30am EST, I believe.)

If you find out whether it will be web cast, let us know.

The ritual is always eye-opening. The Queen's speech, while more important
politically, is less interesting to watch, but reviewing the text is often worthwhile.

Details on the ceremonies are on the DirectGov web site: State opening of Parliament 2009

State opening of Parliament 2009
Parliament will be opened by the Queen at 11.30am [HM the Queen will leave Buckingham Palace about a half hour earlier] on Wednesday, November 18, 2009.

Peers who will be present at the ceremony may apply for a place in the chamber for their peeress or husband, and for their eldest son or daughter above 14 years of age.

A limited number of seats in the Royal Gallery will be available for guests of members of both Houses of Parliament. Members of the House of Commons should apply for these seats to the Speaker’s Secretary, House of Commons, London SW1A 2PW.

Application forms will be sent to those peers eligible to attend in due course.

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The President speaks

Russia's president gave the annual state of the state speech. He sounded a different tone than that of his prime minister, but he didn't directly challenge the government.

A second article describes the main points of the speech in a very different way.

Which bit of coverage is likely to be more accurate? How can we judge? (You'll really need to read the complete text of both articles to judge.)

Russian President Says Modernization Is Needed
President Dmitri A. Medvedev on Thursday called for sweeping reforms to modernize Russia’s economy and revamp crumbling industrial and military infrastructure, all while strengthening the country’s democratic institutions.

Mr. Medvedev addressed these issues, as well as corruption and law enforcement, in his annual state of the nation speech.

“In the 21st century, our country again requires modernization in all areas, and this will be the first time in our history when modernization will be based on the values and institutions of democracy,” Mr. Medvedev said.

Since assuming the presidency in 2008, Mr. Medvedev has sought to cast himself as a reformer and moderate, in contrast to the often hard-line, conservative approach of his predecessor, Vladimir V. Putin, who is now prime minister...

Medvedev Warns Russia Opposition Not to Rock Boat
President Dmitry Medvedev warned Russia's opposition in his annual address on Thursday not to use democracy as a cover to "destabilise the state and split society."

The harsh words came alongside modest pledges by Medvedev to boost regional democracy in Russia. They showed the Kremlin's desire to ensure stability and prevent unrest amid a deep economic recession.

"The strengthening of democracy does not mean the weakening of law and order," Medvedev said in his address to Russia's p

olitical elite gathered in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
"Any attempts to rock the situation with democratic slogans, to destabilise the state and split society will be stopped."...

The president spent most of the 100-minute speech talking about the need for Russia to move its economy away from its Soviet roots in heavy industry and energy extraction towards 21st century sectors such as medicine, telecoms and space. Foreign policy was hardly mentioned...

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nigeria: hope for change?

Ever since I first studied about Nigeria in the mid-1960s, I've been whiplashed back and forth between optimism and pessimism. One day things seem hopeful and the next day they appear hopeless.

Of course from a distance, an incredibly complex set of "places" like Nigeria can look like whatever the latest reporter describes.

To see the latest, get out your copy of The Economist for November 14 (or use the link below) and turn to page 30. There's a good update on some things Nigerian. It might make a good supplement for the end of your study of Nigeria. You could choose a number of observations from the article as writing or discussion prompts.

Hints of a new chapter
[U]nusually hopeful things are happening in the Delta...

[O]ver the past three months the militants have been giving up both themselves and their guns in unprecedented numbers...

It is rare to have any reasons to be cheerful about Nigeria...

Yet for all this, while other African countries such as Ghana, Mali, Mozambique and Rwanda have been improving in the past decade, Nigeria has, in many ways, gone backwards...

[I]n 1999, 12 of the northern Muslim states adopted sharia law, putting an enormous strain on the unity of a Nigerian state that had previously been run only under the secular, civil law bequeathed to it by British colonial rulers...

Terrorism-watchers are also concerned that al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups from across north Africa may have attached themselves to some of these Islamic sects to mount attacks on the government...

Much rests on the enigmatic figure of the country’s president, Umaru Yar’Adua...

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Divine right rule in Iran

Divine right to rule is familiar to students of European history. There's even a Chinese version of it. But it's not familiar in Muslim countries. However, in Iran, at least one interpretation of the regime's constitution asserts a divine right to rule for the supreme leader.

Iran's Supreme Leader Cannot Be Removed - Official
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cannot be removed from his post because his legitimacy comes from God, an official close to Iran's most powerful figure was reported Friday as saying...

Mojtaba Zolnour, a Khamenei representative in the elite Revolutionary Guards, told a gathering of Khamenei's representatives in Iranian universities that the clerical body that chose him, the Assembly of Experts, could not remove him.

"The members of the assembly ... do not appoint the Supreme Leader, rather they discover him and it is not that they would be able to remove him any time they wish so," he said, according to a report on the website Mowjcamp, which backs Ahmadinejad's opponent Mirhossein Mousavi.

In theory Khamenei can be removed by the 86-man Assembly of Experts, which approved him as successor to Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. But the system has never been tested.

"In the Islamic system, the office and the legitimacy of the Supreme Leader comes from God, the Prophet and the Shi'ite Imams, and it is not that the people give legitimacy to the Supreme Leader and are able to remove him when they want," said Zolnour, speaking in the religious city of Qom...

Khamenei has the final say in all matters of state according to the system of Shi'ite religious rule established by [what] Khomeini called 'velayat-e faqih', or rule by a religious jurist.

The jurist rules in the absence of the 12th Imam, a figure in Shi'ite theology directly descended from the Prophet Mohammad who disappeared in 9th century Iraq...

See also:

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Problems with capitalism

About ten years ago, the joke about the Russian economy was that it took 75 years to discover that communism didn't work, but it only took 10 years to discover that capitalism didn't work. We all know that the second experiment is an ongoing project.

The transition to a market economy in Russia is filled with thousands of details. And when those administering the transition are used to doing things one way... And when those administering the transition find they can benefit from the details... You know how to end those sentences.

An Oasis Is No Match for Bulldozers and Bureaucrats
In the 1950s, the Soviet government set aside a bit of land on the Moscow River for Maria I. Gurlynina’s family and several dozen others to grow food...

“They gave us this land and told us to develop it,” Ms. Gurlynina, now 78, said. “They said we could stay here forever.”

Then, early one morning last year, the bulldozers arrived.

The municipal government had declared that the Soviet-era permits giving Ms. Gurlynina and her neighbors use of the land were invalid...

It is a predicament not uncommon in Russia. The Soviet government’s land monopoly may have ended some two decades ago, but the ability of the authorities to give and take away territory has not, real estate experts here say.

While private land ownership is not forbidden today as it was in the Soviet era, current real estate laws are vague: residents can buy homes and apartments, for instance, but not the land they stand on. In all cases people are left open to the caprice of corrupt officials and businessmen...

Government critics have accused the Moscow authorities of using ambiguous land laws and the ignorance of residents to snap up lucrative plots and resell them to private interests.

Yelena Baturina, the wife of Moscow’s powerful mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, is a billionaire who is one of the city’s most successful real estate developers and Russia’s richest woman. Her company, Inteko, has benefited from several major Moscow government contracts...

In the legal vacuum that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse, many of the original canal workers began passing their plots to their children or selling them, believing their lengthy stewardship of the land gave them the right to do so. The new owners have built sturdier and more luxurious homes, despite having no titles for the land...

Because laws on land ownership remain incomplete and cumbersome, it is not clear who in this case and many similar ones throughout Russia is legally in the right, said Dmitri I. Katayev, a former Moscow City Council member who helped draft the first property laws after the Soviet collapse in 1991.

Though there are bureaucratic mechanisms in place for Russians to assume ownership of former communal apartments and private homes, he said, “The government just forgot about the issue of land.”...

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Dissent in China often looks like something else

In this case, dissent looks like investigative reporting. Why?

Editor Departs China Magazine After High-Profile Tussle
The pioneering editor of the top Chinese business magazine has left her post with plans to start anew, after a tussle for control involving much the same mix of political and financial intrigue that she made her mark uncovering.

Hu Shuli [left], 56, resigned Monday from Caijing, the magazine she built into a thriving print and Web outlet that specialized in investigating government corruption and corporate fraud...

The owners of the magazine had come under pressure from Communist Party officials to rein in Caijing's aggressive journalism, people at the magazine have said...

In 11 years at Caijing, editorials by Ms. Hu pinpointed interest groups and bottlenecks that she said blocked economic overhauls. And exclusives by Caijing hastened the demise of some of the more notorious felons in China.

But the magazine’s own troubles have involved just the sort of topic that Ms. Hu and Caijing relished covering.

The political price of success grew in recent years. Ms. Hu found herself increasingly at odds with [the magazine owners] and their Communist Party guardians, according to employees and other colleagues during interviews in recent months...

Moreover, as the central authorities lavish official Chinese media giants with support to grow and compete globally, they also have made moves to tighten their chain of command over muckrakers like Ms. Hu...

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Regulating play

When a government agency sees its job as regulating something, it's natural that the leaders and the bureaucrats in that agency might see more to regulate than outsiders do. And when two agencies have adjacent (or slightly overlapping) jobs, it's easy to anticipate that they might be in competition with one another.

That might be especially true in a country like China when those with political power see parts of their job as regulating political behavior. Then again, we've seen examples of that in U.S. history, too.

Chinese Agencies Struggle Over World of Warcraft
It could almost be a snippet from a World of Warcraft game session — two competing titans, plotting against each other, swapping punches, embarked on a quest for a single prize that only the stronger of them will claim.

But this is not virtual reality. The titans are two agencies of the Chinese government. And their quest, during which they have traded a few blows in the past week, is for a comparatively mundane prize: the power to regulate the real World of Warcraft, among the most popular online games in China.

Last Monday, the Chinese General Administration of Press and Publication ordered the Shanghai-based operator of World of Warcraft, Netease, to shut down its servers for the game, saying it had rejected the company’s application to be the host of the game’s four million Chinese players.

But by Wednesday, the Ministry of Culture had struck back.
“In regards to the World of Warcraft incident, the General Administration of Press and Publication has clearly overstepped its authority,” a ministry official, Li Xiong, was quoted as saying in the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper in Beijing. “They do not have the authority to penalize online gaming.”

The ministry said it had that authority. And it said Netease was perfectly free to offer the game on computers in China. The matter now appears destined for settlement by the State Council, the Chinese government’s cabinet.

Such bureaucratic hair-pulling might seem petty, were so much not at stake…

Which agency will win the regulatory battle remains unclear, although the Culture Ministry, with allies among other ministerial-level offices, is said to enjoy an edge. Regardless, there appears to be much for both offices to do. The government this summer proclaimed its desire to clean up the Internet, ridding it of pornography, gambling, violence and seditious material.

The Culture Ministry dived further into that Herculean task in the past week, announcing sanctions against 188 companies that it said were running unlicensed, vulgar or overly violent online games. Netease and World of Warcraft were conspicuously absent from the list.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Incredible opportunity

Dr. Timothy Lim, who teaches at California State University at Los Angeles, sent me information about this incredible opportunity.

The deadline for application is December 4, so you have three weeks to get your application in. This kind of opportunity is rare. Go for it!

The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) is offering more than 600 full scholarships to U.S. high school students to study abroad and learn Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Turkish. Programs begin in Summer 2010.

The Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, AFS-USA, iEARN-USA, and Concordia Language Villages, is awarding U.S. government funding to high school and just-graduated students (ages 15 – 18) to participate in summer, one-semester and full-year language programs in countries where these languages are widely spoken. Past participants of the NSLI-Y program are eligible to apply again.

Students wishing to apply for the scholarship need to:

* be U.S. citizens
* be between the ages of 15-18 years at the time of departure
* be enrolled in high school at the time of application
* have at least a 2.5 GPA

Deadline for application is December 4, 2009.

For details see the National Security Language Initiative for Youth web site.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

HIATUS (again)

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 period of a week or so during which the primary contributor to this blog works busily on other projects (mostly)

If you're looking for teaching ideas, now's the time to get familiar with the Index to the Teaching Comparative blog.

All 1,536 blog entries are cataloged and there are 72 categories. Within each of those categories, you can use the other 71 categories as sub-categories.

You can look at the 205 entries about Russia and narrow that down by choosing to look at the 14 entries about democratization in Russia.

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Politics and projection of power

It's a bit more than soft power, but a bit less than force. And a good question is, "What motivates the actions that look like interference?"

China looks to export censorship
A few days before the start of this year's Melbourne International Film Festival its executive director received an "audacious" telephone call.

An official from China's consulate in the city called him to "urge" the festival to withdraw a film about the Chinese activist Rebiya Kadeer.

Beijing then tried to persuade the organisers of the Frankfurt Book Fair not to allow two Chinese writers to attend an event.

China says it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

But some see these acts as an attempt by China to use abroad the tough censorship measures it constantly employs at home...

The festival decided to ignore the advice and go ahead with the film...

The festival organisation was subjected to an intense campaign of threats, intimidation and disruption, although it is not clear who - if anyone - orchestrated the campaign...

[At] the Frankfurt Book Fair... Chinese officials were angry when they found out writers Dai Qing [right] and Bei Ling had been invited to a symposium connected to the fair...

China often asks foreign governments and organisations not to do something that it perceives to be against its interests. It recently complained to Japan when Tokyo allowed Ms Kadeer to enter the country.

But it says this does not contravene its policy of non-interference...

David Zweig, of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, is not so sure the Chinese are doing it from a position of strength.

"Sometimes we cannot tell whether it's confidence or concern," said Mr Zweig, the director of the Centre on China's Transnational Relations, based at his university...

Mr Zweig added that there could also be another reason behind the pressure - the Chinese government and its people are often quick to take offence at opinions they do not like to hear.

And he said ordinary people were sometimes more sensitive than officials - forcing the government to take a tougher stance internationally...

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E. U. or U. S. E.?

European Union Reform Moves Ahead
A landmark agreement aimed at giving the European Union a global stature on par with major powers like the United States and China cleared its last major hurdle on Tuesday.

The president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, signed the document...

Mr. Klaus was the last European Union leader to approve the so-called Treaty of Lisbon, which will try to increase Europe’s clout on foreign policy issues and will streamline the organization’s decision-making...

The treaty aims to give the European Union a bigger role internationally by creating a full-time presidential post with a two-and-a-half-year term and setting up a more powerful foreign policy chief supported by a network of diplomats around the world. It will put in place a new voting system that reflects countries’ population size, while reducing the opportunities for individual countries to block a proposal. It also gives more power to the directly elected European Parliament...

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

One person, one vote (sort of)

In China, it's been a long time since there was equal representation. Well, perhaps there has never been equal representation. Or even de facto representation. But there is a national legislature.

China's rule by law boosted by equal political rights and equal life compensation in urban and rural areas
Equality has become a catchphrase when Chinese lawmakers mull over two major moves in the history of China's legislative progress.

Chinese rural and urban people are about to get equal representation in lawmaking bodies. It means farmers will have the same say in the country's decision-making process as urbanites...

China's population distribution

A draft amendment to the Electoral Law was tabled [introduced] at the bimonthly meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee. It requires that both rural and urban areas adopt the same ratio of deputies to the people's congresses...

After the last amendment in 1995, the law stipulates that each rural deputy represents a population four times that in urban areas.

That means in China, every 960,000 rural residents and every 240,000 urbanites are represented by one rural and urban NPC deputy respectively.

Critics say this can be interpreted as "farmers only enjoy a quarter of the suffrage of their urban counterparts...

Li Shishi, director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, said such a provision is "in accordance with the country's political system and social conditions of that time" and is "completely necessary" as the rural population is much more than that of cities and an equal ratio of rural and urban representation will mean an excessive number of rural deputies.

Rural population made up almost 90 percent of the country's total in 1949. With the process of urbanization, the ratio of urban and rural residents was about 45.7 to 54.3 last year...

According to the law, the number of deputies to the NPC is limited within 3,000, and the distribution of NPC deputies is decided by the NPC Standing Committee, the top legislature.

The draft amendment says the quotas of NPC deputies are distributed to 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions on the basis of their population, which ensures equal representation among regions and ethnic groups...

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Environment in China

Chris Kuberski, who teaches in Chicago, recommended a link to China Hush: Stories of China, a blog written by a Chinese American. In an October 14 post, the blogger published some disturbing photos of pollution in China by Lu Guang (卢广), a freelancer photographer.

Environmental degradation and the resulting human suffering are major problems in China and most developing countries (think about the Nigerian oil fields or the water supply in Mexico City). Politically, governments have to deal with limitations on their capacities, demands for economic growth, the health of the people, and the likely long-term consequences of the choices they make today. These photographs make the Chinese case come alive.

The unnamed blogger noted that October 14 was "the 30th annual awards ceremony of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund took place at the Asia Society in New York City. Lu Guang (卢广) from People’s Republic of China won the $30,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for his documentary project “Pollution in China.”

10. In Inner Mongolia there were 2 “black dragons” from the Lasengmiao Power Plant (内蒙古拉僧庙发电厂) covering the nearby villages. July 26, 2005

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

A view from Britain

Normally, I'd post Alan Carter's response as a comment on the post he's referring to. But he's offered more than just a comment, so here's what he wrote in response to The underside of political culture.
Hello from over here,

I don't have an easy explanation of the BNP vote, see this link to the European Parliamentary Elections of July 2009:

Obvious points to note:
  1. the turn-out is only 30%, roughly the same as local council elections so it's easier for activists/extremists to look big; most people still think the European Parliament is 'not that important' .
  2. Labour are beaten into 3rd place by UKIP, who are more likely to be anti-European Conservatives who will go back to the Tories in a General (Westminster) Election.

  3. Most depressing - the BNP 'vote' has gone up by 1.3%, so it was nearly 900,000 in 2004. I use quote marks around the word 'vote' as I personally see it more of an offensive gesture towards conventional politics than a carefully considered choice amongst real & likely policies.

I would still try to argue that there should not be a link between deprivation and 'fascist' ideology: the areas hit hardest by the economic downturn do not show the biggest BNP vote. Yorkshire and the Humber (see BBC breakdown of vote by region) has the largest BNP vote (9.8%) but I would not classify most of Yorkshire as 'deprived'. Here, I would see it as a kind of protest vote -- almost a spoilt ballot paper; the flip-side if you like, of the deferential culture; Yorkshire stubbornness taken to the extreme(!) .

I have not done enough research to justify my next claim, but I remember reading that the National Front (pre-BNP) took money from extremist Islamic sources in the 1980s to campaign against Israel, being then still linked to crank quasi-nazi ideology. Now the BNP raves on about the 'threat' of fundamentalism. See the bizarre mish-mash of bigoted statements on the BNP's own site.

With thanks as ever for running your useful blog,

Alan Carter, Oxford, UK

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