Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Keeping things in the "family"

Yeltsin's extended "family" was roundly criticized and its reputation helped lead to Yeltsin's retirement. Now it appears that Putin's "family" is better organized, richer, and more powerful than Yeltsin's.

This analysis, by New York Times' reporter Kathy Lally, makes the Russian elite sound a lot like the Chinese elite. It makes me wonder if there's a clandestine organization behind United Russia that resembles the Communist Party in China.

Putin presidency means more than taking office
The demonstrators who have turned out in the tens of thousands to protest Vladimir Putin’s rule are confronting a deeply entrenched power structure that winds through government and industry, extracting great profit and heavily invested in the status quo.

Those relationships give a network of bureaucrats, businessmen and corrupt hangers-on a vital stake in the March 4 presidential election. A Putin victory would protect their privileges. For Putin, simply winning is not enough. A first-round mandate would remind those who might doubt it that he has all the strength needed to defend reliable followers.

The most successful have expensive property, investments and big bank accounts abroad. They send their children to study at the world’s prestigious universities. They live in fancy houses, all while earning relatively small government salaries. Friends of Putin built him a billion-dollar palace, according to a whistleblower’s account published in The Washington Post and strenuously denied by Putin’s spokesman.

Putin and a circle of his friends control 15 percent of the GDP, according to a study by Russian journalists and economists published in the New Times magazine…

State-controlled Gazprom, the world’s largest gas company, offers an example of how the system works. Gazprom represents about 10 percent of Russia’s GDP, which the World Bank put at $1.47 trillion in 2010. Not only does it produce extraordinary wealth, but it also owns a host of subsidiaries, including television stations that reliably reflect official tastes and messages…

In Putin’s Russia, the political power, government structure and a substantial chunk of economic resources are controlled by a network — what [Andrei Illarionov, a former Putin economic adviser] called a corporation — of siloviki. The word comes from the Russian for strength and refers to officials from the police, military and secret services…

The siloviki, who were feared and respected in earlier times as the guarantors of Soviet power, lost their bearings after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991…

When Putin took over, the siloviki were ready to take their share, said Kirill Kabanov, a former KGB officer…

The nascent democracy of the 1990s got in their way as they built their state corporation. “When have you ever seen democracy in a corporation?” Kabanov asked. “Their goals are not to serve the people. They serve the corporation.”

Moscow’s New Times magazine recently published a 16½-by-29½ inch chart diagramming the positions and relationships of 104 influential people in government and industry. Among those holding 22 posts closest to Putin, at the very top of the power structure, 14 are former KGB associates and the others are either trusted colleagues from his home town of St. Petersburg or close friends…

It will not be the demonstrators who eventually undermine Putin, said Nikolai Petrov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, but the privileged, who some day will decide they need a new more relevant sponsor…

The elite have shown no signs they are willing to cede authority or privilege.

“To give up all this?” Illarionov asked. “Their business assets and residences? Their palaces and country houses? Their bank accounts and control over financial flows? Their power and influence within Russia and abroad? And why? Because 100,000 people gathered in Moscow streets?

“They will be trying to stay in power for a long, long time. Forever.”

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The importance of an election that doesn't matter

Joshua Tucker, who teaches political science at New York University offers these thoughts about what is important about the upcoming election in Russia.

The original Monkey Cage blog post is full of links to expository web pages.

Pre-Election Report: 2012 Russian Presidential Elections
Given my research interests in Russian politics, I will offer my own pre-election report on the March 4, 2012 first round of the Russian presidential elections. I will, however, do so in the time-honored Monkey Cage fashion of a Q&A with myself…

Q: Russia is holding a presidential election on March 4, 2012. Will this be like most presidential elections in democracies, in that it will function as a vote that will be held to determine who will be Russia’s next president?

A: No. First of all, the winner of the election is not going to be determined by the vote on March 4. The winner of the election was determined in September, when the only real uncertainty about who would win the election was resolved. That was when the current president of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, decided to step aside so that the previous president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, could run for president in 2012…

Q: So what’s the most important take-away point for the future of Russian politics from this election?

A: Unlike a regular election – where the most important result is who wins – in this election the most important result will be what happens to the incipient protest movement in Moscow. If the election takes the wind out of the sails of the movement, then Russia can largely expect more of the same. If the protests continue and increase in size, then changes are likely ahead for Russian politics. While the presidential election is not going to determine who becomes the next president – this has already been determined – factors such as whether Putin wins in the first round, how he does in Moscow, and how people interpret the “true” popularity of Putin may have an important role in determining the future of the protest movements.

And in this way, the coming Russian presidential elections, which will have no impact on who becomes Russia’s next president are, somewhat ironically, quite important for Russia’s next president.

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Ultimate devolution

What if devolution in Scotland led to independence? Should it? How about separate maintenance? Who gets the Royal property?

A disunited kingdom: The promise and perils of Scottish independence
It is already turning into the ugliest custody hearing in history. As in every acrimonious divorce, all is up for grabs: the house, the money, the debts and the nuclear-armed submarines…

At the heart of Scotland’s separatist premier Alex Salmond’s bid for a “Yes” vote is his claim that Scots will be able to keep most of their favourite British institutions: the pound, the BBC, and the Queen. Mr. Salmond insists that the Queen would remain the head of state in an independent Scotland.

This would be possible, but not certain. Her Majesty has not commented on her role in a separate Caledonia, and likely won’t. There has not been an instance of a Commonwealth nation splitting up and keeping the Queen (Pakistan held onto the monarchy briefly after Partition)…

But that may not be quite so simple. George Osborne, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, strongly hinted last week that Britain will not allow Scotland to remain a formal part of the currency…

Indeed, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research notes in a report that it is “doubtful” that the Bank of England would want to become a formal part of an independent Scotland by extending lender-of-last-resort facilities to Scottish institutions. The Scottish economy, the report notes, will face a high risk of default because of its debt, its political instability and its singular reliance on petroleum…

Mr. Salmond’s core case for an independent Scotland has always been the North Sea oil fields: “It’s Scotland’s Oil” has long been a slogan of his Scottish National Party.

Indeed, it is fairly clear that a sovereign Scotland would have access to the 80 per cent of British oil and gas that are within its territory – although severing the contracts with international oil companies could involving tricky and time-consuming negotiations…

And the oil will not last forever. Mr. Salmond claims he’ll be able to set up a Norwegian-style oil fund to save for the future – he’d put aside 10 per cent of revenues (Norway saves more than 90 per cent). But that dream may be dissolved by the caustic reality of Scotland’s debt.

Scotland would certainly have to take on its share of Britain’s substantial national debt. Given that Scotland has a tenth of Britain’s population, and a similar share of the economy, it might be expected to take £140-billion of debt in 2014.

That would burden the new Scotland, whose government expenditures, at current levels, would still cost more than the revenues it would receive from North Sea oil and from taxation…

But it could be worse. What if Scotland is made to assume the toxic assets from Britain’s rescue of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which total £187-billion?…

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Elections in Iran? Who knew?

Yes, Virginia, there are elections in Iran. Much of the population doesn't care, according to this report by Thomas Erdbrink, Somaye Malekian, and Ramtin Rastin in The Washington Post.

Iran elections underscore split between leaders, middle class
More than two years after massive anti-government protests over a disputed election exposed a rift between Iran’s leaders and its urban middle class, their diverging worlds are again set to collide in an upcoming vote for a new parliament.

This time, disgruntled opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are unlikely to demonstrate, political analysts said, but they may not vote either, denying Iranian leaders the large turnout they seek to legitimize their rule…

As the government sees it, massive participation in the elections would deliver a “punch in the mouth” to Iran’s foreign enemies, state media have reported, reaffirming the leadership’s legitimacy after 33 years of Islamic rule.

But after years of frustration in their quest for more personal liberties, better relations with the West and adherence to the rule of law, many members of the ignored middle class are considered more likely to stay home.

For these middle-class Iranians, Facebook, satellite television and secret parties — all illegal in Iran — have combined with occasional foreign trips to create a separate reality where state ideology is ignored as much as possible and elections make no difference…

In the leadership’s parallel universe, six state television channels night after night repeat news of hope, achievements and future bliss… Documentaries showing American leaders shaking hands with Western-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi… are aimed at educating the millions of young people born after his autocratic rule.

News programs interview ministers who reveal double-digit growth figures and report on infrastructural accomplishments. New bridges, dams, gas pipelines and electricity for remote villages all contribute to growing “national self-confidence,” as state television calls it…

While some foreign-based dissidents have called for a boycott of the March 2 vote, the idea does not appear to be gaining active support from dissatisfied Iranians, mostly because they have already turned their backs on all things political. But that apathy may turn out to have the same effect as an organized boycott, analysts here say…

Vote to test unity of Iran's conservatives
A good turnout in the election… could provide a boost for the regime slapped with sanctions, and under tremendous pressure, domestically as well as internationally.

In the lead up to the vote, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, has repeatedly stressed the importance of a high turnout to counter conspiracies from the "enemy", an elusive term that keeps expanding in scope…

As per vetting procedures, the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of mostly clerics that has veto power over the parliament, has disqualified nearly 30 per cent of those who registered, among them 35 incumbents.

The reformist parties… remain virtually out of the race, with their leaders… still under house arrest. Individual candidates with reformist leanings will campaign, but no official list of candidates has been submitted by the reformist coalition.

The election, essentially, has turned into a power struggle between the increasingly divided coalition of conservatives…

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Nigeria struggles with terrorism

As if fighting corruption wasn't enough, the Nigerian government has to deal with a growing threat from terrorism.

23 February
2 police officers killed in north Nigeria city
Authorities say two police officers have been killed and two others wounded in an attack in a northern Nigeria city.

The attack happened Thursday morning in Kano…

22 February
Witness: New attack hits north Nigeria city a month after feared sect’s deadliest attack
Multiple explosions rocked a highway checkpoint in Nigeria’s second-largest city, witnesses said Wednesday, just over a month after a radical Islamist sect claimed an attack there that left at least 185 people dead.

The attacks raise fears that the radical Islamist sect is taking root in the northern city of Kano…


21 February
'Many killed' in attack on Nigerian market
Nigeria's military said it killed eight suspected radical Islamists who attacked a market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, denying reports that dozens of civilians had been killed in the attack.

The military on Monday said three people were injured in the attack, but a local nurse told the Reuters news agency his hospital had received at least 20 bodies from the fighting.

At least 30 people had been killed, a medic and a witness also told the AFP news agency…

19 February
Bomb explodes near Nigeria church
At least five people have been wounded in a bomb explosion near a church in the Nigerian town of Suleja, on the edge of the capital Abuja, authorities and witnesses said.

The blast went off near Christ Embassy Church on Sunday and shattered glass of five vehicles, nearly destroying them, according to the Reuters news agency. Grey ash was cast across the ground.

"No person died in the Suleja explosion. One person was seriously injured and is now in hospital. Four victims had minor injuries while five vehicles were damaged," said Yushua Shuaib, a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has been responsible for a series of deadly bombings in Abuja and in the country's northeast…

17 February
Federal prison stormed in Nigeria
Attackers have stormed a federal prison in Nigeria with heavy gunfire and explosives, killing one guard and freeing at least 119 inmates in a new assault, according to officials.

The details of the prison attack in Koton-Karifi, a town in Kogi state, just south of Nigeria's central capital Abuja, were announced on Thursday…

7 February
Explosion rocks military base in Nigeria
A blast has rocked an area near a military barracks in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna but the cause of the explosion and the number of casualties are still not clear, according to an official.

Residents said Tuesday's incident occurred in the area of a military barracks known as the First Mechanised Division and that windows in an office complex there were shattered…

2 February
Nigeria arrests 'Boko Haram spokesman'
Nigeria's state security agents say they have arrested a man they say is a self-declared spokesman for Boko Haram, who frequently made statements to the media after attacks by the radical Islamist group.

A State Secutity Services (SSS) source said on Wednesday that a man they believed to be 'Abu Qaqa', a pseudonym used by the spokesman, was being held in the northern city of Kaduna.

"We are still talking to him. Since 'Abu Qaqa' is a pseudonym for the Boko Haram spokesman, we want to be sure of who we have with us. But we have been on his trail for months now. He's been changing locations and contacts," the source told the Reuters news agency…

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Parliamentary dirty secret

The loud "Hear, hear" and the opposing "Shame, shame" calls in the UK's House of Commons have become common knowledge since the first live radio broadcast in 1978. Ten years later, television brought the sometimes rowdy scene to more people (although the fixed cameras didn't often allow viewers to identify the loud rowdies).

One comparative politics textbook does note that sessions begin late in the day and that there are several members' bars in Westminster that open before sessions of Commons commence.

It took the report of a visiting Canadian parliamentarian to bring that connection into wider circulation.

[BTW, if you want to use this article with younger students, be aware that the offending MP is quoted as using a 'not safe for classroom' epithet.]

Head-butts and flying fists break out at Britain’s House of Commons
Canada’s Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer… got a taste of the… world of Britain’s parliament, as he reportedly found himself in the midst of an MP fistfight.

According to British newspapers, Mr. Scheer was part of a Canadian delegation invited to visit Strangers, one of several drinking establishments inside the House of Commons…

There, according to reports, he was one of dozens of visitors who witnessed a startling scene as Eric Joyce, a Labour MP, went on a violent rampage against Tory MPs and was arrested.

Mr. Joyce, the member for Falkirk, reportedly began dancing erratically [and] shouting…

He then head-butted Stuart Andrew, the Tory MP for Pudsey, punched a few more people, and head-butted the MP again…

It took five security officers to calm the over-excited MP, according to the Evening Standard. He was arrested on suspicion of assault and on Thursday morning was suspended from the Labour caucus. The British Speaker of the House, John Bercow, told reporters he would take the incident “very seriously.”

Heavy drinking is considered a serious problem in Britain’s Parliament. There are bars adjoining the Commons and Lords chambers which are packed before and after sittings; it is widely reported that some MPs have numerous drinks before attending sittings – even in the morning. Stories about drunken brawls and misbehaviour among parliamentarians abound…

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On to victory

According to a Reuters report in the New York Times, Putin's supporters are beginning a celebration. The tone of this report is quite different from the tone of reports by Times' reporters.

Thousands Back Putin's Presidential Bid in Moscow
Thousands of people marched in Moscow under Russian flags, balloons and banners on Thursday to back Vladimir Putin's bid to return to the presidency and counter opposition protests that have challenged his authority…

Organisers said tens of thousands were likely to take part in the march and a rally in a sports stadium which the prime minister was widely expected to address.

The former KGB officer is on course to win the election on March 4, extending his 12-year rule for another six years, although tens of thousands have shown their concern over his return to the Kremlin by protesting in the past two months…

Putin's campaign team, which protrays him as a strong leader and guarantor of stability, has failed to quell reports that many of the people at pro-Putin rallies are paid or coerced into attending by employers and trade unions…

The latest opinion poll this week showed he would win more than 50 percent of the votes on March 4, enough to avoid a second-round runoff. His rivals include Zhirinovsky, communist Gennady Zyuganov and businessman Mikhail Prokhorov…

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Whose corruption is it?

National and local politicians are blaming each other for the problem of corruption in Mexico.

Inmate massacre highlights Mexico jail corruption
Nine guards have confessed to helping Zetas drug gangsters escape from prison before other Zetas slaughtered 44 rival inmates, a state official said late Monday, underlining the enormous corruption inside Mexico's overcrowded, underfunded prisons…

The massacre in this northern state was one of the worst prison killings in Mexico in at least a quarter-century and exposed another weak institution that President Felipe Calderon is relying on to fight his drug war…

An increase in organized crime, extortion, drug trafficking and kidnapping has swelled Mexico's prison population almost 50 percent since 2000. But the government has built no new federal prisons since Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels when he took office in late 2006, leaving existing jails overcrowded…

Of the 47,000 federal inmates in the country, about 29,000 are held in state prisons. That has drawn complaints from Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina and other state governors, who say their jails aren't equipped to hold members of powerful and highly organized drug cartels.

The federal government counters that none of the escapes or mass killings have occurred at federal lockups, and it cites corruption on the state level, not overcrowding, as the main cause of the deaths and escapes…

Prison employees say guards are underpaid, making them more likely to take bribes. And even honest guards are vulnerable to coercion: Many live in neighborhoods where street gangs and drug cartels are active, making it easy to target their families with threats.

The same can be said for Mexico's municipal police forces, another weak flank in Calderon's attack on organized crime. Thousands of local officers - often, entire forces at a time - have been fired, detained or placed under investigation for aiding drug gangs…

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Progressive taxes and income redistribution

Simple minded folk like me have always blithely assumed that progressive taxation made for a more egalitarian distribution of income. I guess I am learning the dangers of simple mindedness.

Lucy Barnes, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, offers some data to demonstrate the dangers of "common sense."

The Facts about Tax Progressivity
So, what are the facts about tax progressivity? The most comprehensive scholarly work on this question to date comes from sociologists, Monica Prasad and YingYing Deng, who use data on individual incomes to calculate total tax burdens at different levels of the income distribution. [There is a link to a PDF version of the paper in the Monkey Cage blog report.] Their main takeaway finding is illustrated in the two figures below, which show the Kakwani index of taxation (a measure of the progressivity of the system that parses out the impact of income concentration on the concentration of the tax burden) for a number of advanced democracies.


These data are from the most recent year available (around 2000 in most cases). The… figure shows those taxes that are paid directly by individuals: income, wealth, property and employee social security contributions…

[There's a second chart in the blog adding the effects of consumption (sales and VATs) taxes to the progressively.]

This claim, that the American tax system is progressive compared to those of its advanced economy peer countries, is hard for many (in both the US and in Europe) to accept. The conventional wisdom is that the United States intervenes comparatively little in redistributing income from rich to poor. It is not that these stylized facts are untrue: the figure below shows the reduction in inequality accomplished by government intervention (again using data from the Luxembourg income study)—both taxes and transfers.


Here the United States takes up its more accustomed place at the bottom of the pack (and it is data like these that have been used in the recent debate to refute the claim that US taxes are progressive). How is it possible that American taxes be progressive, while achieving so little redistribution?…

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Alienation and political culture

Political, social, and economic alienation threaten the basic political culture in the UK and other EU countries. What happens politically if a quarter of the adult population is unemployable?

For London Youth, Down and Out Is Way of Life
For almost two years, Nicki Edwards has been looking for work — any type of work.

She is 19 years old, well-spoken and self-possessed. But like many young people in Britain, she could not afford to remain at her university, making it impossible to find a job…

Perhaps the most debilitating consequence of the euro zone’s economic downturn and its debt-driven austerity crusade has been the soaring rate of youth unemployment. Spain’s jobless rate for people ages 16 to 24 is approaching 50 percent. Greece’s is 48 percent, and Portugal’s and Italy’s, 30 percent. Here in Britain, the rate is 22.3 percent, the highest since such data began being collected in 1992. (The comparable rate for Americans is 18 percent.)

The lack of opportunity is feeding a mounting alienation and anger among young people across Europe — animus that threatens to poison the aspirations of a generation and has already served as a wellspring for a number of violent protests in European cities from Athens to London. And new economic data on Wednesday, showing much of Europe in the doldrums or recession, does little to bolster hopes for a better jobs picture anytime soon…

While youth unemployment has long been a chronic issue here, experts say the British government’s debt-reduction commitment to rein in social spending appears to be making the problem worse, experts say. Insufficient job training and apprenticeship programs, they argue, contribute to the large pool of permanently unemployed young people in Britain…

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Why a monarchy in the 21st century?

Andrew McFadyen, writing for Al Jazeera asks about the meaning of the British English monarchy in a democratic regime.

What does the monarchy say about Britain?
Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating 60 years on the throne. She is a figure of global stature, ruling over the United Kingdom and 15 other countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Furthermore, she is only the second monarch to reach that milestone, after Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901…

Mark Field, the Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster, which includes Buckingham Palace, told Al Jazeera that, as a Conservative and a monarchist, he was immensely proud to have her as one of his constituents.

"The incredible social changes in the last 60 years reinforce the case for a monarchy," said Field. "If you started with a blank piece of paper you would not have a hereditary ruler, but the Queen is a great force for unity in these troubled times."

There is strong evidence that most English people agree with him. According to the polling organisation Ipsos MORI, only 18 per cent of Britons want to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state…

In Scotland, the Royal Family is viewed with much greater indifference.

In 1952, even her title, Elizabeth II, was controversial - in Scotland, there had never been a first. A popular protest song asked: "How can ye hae the Second Liz when the First yin's never been?"…

"I find it hard to see a legitimate role for the hereditary principle in government or the state. I would like to see an elected head of state," Patrick Harvie, the leader of the Scottish Green Party, and Glasgow representative in the Scottish Parliament, told Al Jazeera.

Harvie explained: "I have a problem with the idea that some people have a higher status in society because of their birth, not a problem with the monarch herself, or any of her charming family."

Viewed with cold logic, the idea of hereditary power is very hard to justify.

Imagine the reaction if someone suggested that being manager of Manchester United or Chief Executive of Google should be a hereditary position.

Conservative MP Mark Field agrees that the principle of hereditary power is anti-democratic, but says he would not change it.

"Of course it is [anti-democratic], but in terms of providing a sense of enduring unity, the hereditary monarchy has worked extremely well. No democratic politician will ever have the widespread support that the Queen has."…

In the UK, Queen Elizabeth's personal popularity prevents serious questions being asked about the monarchy, but she is 85 years old and, although she appears to be in robust health, she can't go on forever.

One issue looming on the horizon is whether Prince Charles, who is next in line to the throne, can command the same respect…

After six decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth is on her twelfth prime minister. Her supporters say that she has been a source of continuity, unity and wise advice.

For others, the fact that they are subjects and not citizens makes a powerful statement about inequality. They ask: "How can Britain be fully democratic when the highest office in the land is chosen by accident of birth?"

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Forty years on

President Nixon and Mao Zedong made history 40 years ago by beginning the process of "normalizing" relations between the two countries.

(Thanks to Melody Dickison for pointing me in the direction of this article.)

Assignment: China - "The Week That Changed The World"
解析中国之旅: 改变世界的一周
Richard Nixon's visit to China in February 1972 changed the course of history — reshaping the global balance of power and opening the door to the establishment of relations between the People's Republic and the United States.


It was also a milestone in the history of journalism. Since the Communist revolution of 1949, a suspicious regime in Beijing had barred virtually all U.S. reporters from China. For the Nixon trip, however, the Chinese agreed to accept nearly 100 journalists, and to allow the most dramatic events — Nixon's arrival in Beijing, Zhou Enlai's welcoming banquet, visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City — to be televised live.

The coverage was arguably as important as the details of the diplomacy. It profoundly transformed American and international perceptions of a long-isolated China, generated the public support Nixon needed to change U.S. policy, and laid the groundwork for Beijing's gradual move to open China to greater international media coverage…

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Prosperity and poverty

Jeremy Weate published the chart below and pointed me to the article at the beyondbrics blog at Financial Times.

It seems that the threats from terrorism and corruption are not the only obstacles to the Nigerian government (and maybe regime).

Poverty statistics in Nigeria

Nigeria: investment vs inequality
On Sunday, the FT reported that electricity tariffs in Nigeria were set to increase by up to 88 per cent, with most customers seeing a 50 per cent hike in their bills. A survey released on Monday, meanwhile, finds that the proportion of Nigerians living in absolute poverty rose to 60.9 per cent in 2010 – in spite of strong growth in Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria currently sells power at one of the cheapest rates in Africa. Yet in spite of its large reserves of natural gas, the country’s electricity supply is among the world’s worst. Half of the 160m population lack have no access to electricity and its per capita consumption is just 3 per cent of that of South Africa, the continent’s only larger economy…

The FT reported that Bart Nnaji, the minister of power, said in an interview in Abuja: “We are making sure that the urban poor and rural dwellers be provided a subsidy so that they don’t see a significant increase in tariff… The rest should be able to pay for it.”

The government’s confidence could be undermined, however, after a report from Nigeria’s national bureau of statistics revealed that the proportion of Nigerians living in absolute poverty – that is, those who can afford only food, shelter and clothing – jumped to 60.9 per cent in 2010 from 54.7 per cent in 2004. Of a population of 167m, 100m live on less than a dollar a day…

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

New image of Chinese leaders

As an old guy who began studying China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, I'm more used to seeing images from China like this one


than images like this


Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (3rd R, front) joined dozens of ordinary Americans for tea at a local house owned by his old friend Sarah Lande (3rd, L) in Muscatine, a small city in Iowa, the United States, Feb. 15, 2012. Most of the participants at the tea reception were Xi's old acquaintances back from his 1985 visit, when Xi, then a local official from China's northern province of Hebei, visited Iowa as a member of an agricultural exchange delegation, and stayed with a local family in Muscatine to better understand Iowan farm life.

or this.



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Journalistic textbook

Now that the three main parties in Mexico have named their presidential candidates, Daniel Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times offers us these profiles of the parties.

Left, right or center? Mexican political brand names explained
As the July presidential election nears, watchers of world news are sure to be hearing much more about the PAN, its candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota, and her main rivals, Enrique Peña Nieto of the party known as PRI, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD.

These three main parties are sometimes described in easy categories of left (PRD), right (PAN) and center (PRI), but the reality is far more complex. Here's a primer on how to understand the top political name brands in Mexico heading into the July vote…

Over time, the PRI practically invented brand-name politics. Its name, ideology and even brand colors (same as the national flag) are directly linked to the very concept of the Mexican republic. For many years, the party was the country, and the country was the party…

National Action is the party that unites Catholics and capitalists in Mexico. It is free-market, conservative on social issues and friendly to foreign interests. It casts itself as efficient and effective, but it now faces the same kinds of accusations of corruption and waste as the PRI did in its heyday…

In the aftermath of 1988, the progressives formed the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. Cardenas was its presidential candidate in 1994 and 2000, finishing third each time…

But the PRD's goal of finally capturing the 2006 presidency would not be. The PAN campaign under Calderon smeared Lopez Obrador as a "danger to Mexico" and a would-be Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's hard-line leftist president. On election night, authorities said the result was too close to call.

What followed was a wild political drama that saw a partial recount, an early Occupy-style sit-in by the dissatisfied PRD, and an official result of less than 1 percentage point difference between Calderon, the declared winner, and Lopez Obrador, who also declared himself the winner and the "legitimate president."…

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Limited capacity of a state

This tragedy has been in the news now and again for several years, but you probably haven't heard of it. There are so many tragedies in Nigeria. There's been little improvement in people's lives in spite of the work of Human Rights Watch. It would be difficult to find a clearer example of the limited capacity of a government than this. And, in the Nigerian context, it's an illustration of the desperation leading to things like the terrorism of Boko Haram.

Child Lead Poisoning Crisis
Thousands of children in northern Nigeria need immediate medical treatment and dozens of villages remain contaminated two years into the worst lead poisoning epidemic in modern history…


The state of Zamfara

Artisanal gold mines are found throughout Zamfara State in northwestern Nigeria, and high levels of lead in the earth and the use of rudimentary mining methods have resulted in an epidemic of lead poisoning among children…

Lead Poisoning and Gold

“Zamfara’s gold brought hope for prosperity, but resulted in death and backbreaking labor for its children,” said Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “People living in Zamfara State should not have to trade their lives, or their children’s lives, for the chance to mine gold and make a living.”…

In late 2011, the Zamfara State government took an important step when it put together a clean-up team, Human Rights Watch said. The team is now cleaning up the largest and most contaminated village, Bagega, which is estimated to have at least 2,000 children in need of treatment. However, the scope of contamination in the region requires a sustained and comprehensive effort that will be difficult for the state government to manage without adequate funds, personnel, and expertise…

From Mine to Market: Here's how gold from the Nigerian state Zamfara reaches the worldwide market.
The ore is bagged and brought by motorcycle to villages like Dareta or Sunke, where villagers grind the ore and then wash the mix over a ridged board. Villagers who do the processing themselves then use mercury to extract the gold…

The gold is driven to the Benin border and turned over to dealers from the port city of Cotonou.

The dealers then sell this gold to wholesalers from Europe and the Middle East, who in turn introduce that gold to the worldwide market.

Read more about how artisanally mined gold from Nigeria reaches the world market

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Political participation

Some political participation in Russia is profitable.

Polishing Putin: hacked emails suggest dirty tricks by Russian youth group: Nashi runs web of online trolls and bloggers paid to praise Vladimir Putin and denigrate enemies, group claims
A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous.

The group has uploaded hundreds of emails it says are to, from and between Vasily Yakemenko, the first leader of the youth group Nashi… its spokeswoman, Kristina Potupchik, and other activists. The emails detail payments to journalists and bloggers…

Apparently sent between November 2010 and December 2011, the emails appear to confirm critics' longstanding suspicions that the group uses sinister methods, funded by the Kremlin, to attack perceived enemies and pay for favourable reports while claiming that Putin's popularity is unassailable…

Several emails sent from activists to Potupchik include price lists for pro-Putin bloggers and commenters, indicating that some are paid as much as 600,000 roubles (£12,694) for leaving hundreds of comments on negative press articles on the internet. One email, sent to Potupchik on 23 June 2011, suggests that the group planned to spend more than R10m to buy a series of articles about its annual Seliger summer camp in two popular Russian tabloids…

The leak comes as Putin faces the greatest challenge to his rule since first coming to power 12 years ago, with mass street demonstrations building momentum before a presidential vote on 4 March that is expected to return him to the presidency after a four-year interlude as prime minister.

Nashi was created precisely to stand up to any such challenge to Putin's rule. It was formed in 2005 after pro-democracy revolutions in neighbouring Ukraine and Georgia. Thousands of Nashi activists, mostly bussed into the Russian capital from neighbouring provinces, took to the streets in December as Russia's protest movement took hold after a contested parliamentary vote…

The correspondence goes some way towards explaining the apparent paranoia, showing how Nashi… spends huge sums of money to create the illusion of Putin's unfailing popularity…

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Things change, but not the US Constitution (very often)

The U.S. Constitution gets less respect, globally, now than in the past. If the U.S. model is no longer as popular as it once was, what are the models countries are following as the write new basic laws or modify the old ones (on average, once every 19 years)?

[Thanks to former student Kyle Potter for pointing this article out to me.]

‘We the People’ Loses Appeal With People Around the World
The Constitution has seen better days.

Sure, it is the nation’s founding document and sacred text. And it is the oldest written national constitution still in force anywhere in the world. But its influence is waning.

In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia…

“Among the world’s democracies,” Professors Law and Versteeg concluded, “constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall…

“The turn of the twenty-first century… saw the beginning of a steep plunge that continues through the most recent years for which we have data, to the point that the constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the U.S. Constitution now than they were at the end of World War II.”

There are lots of possible reasons. The United States Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights. The commitment of some members of the Supreme Court to interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning in the 18th century may send the signal that it is of little current use to, say, a new African nation…

The rights guaranteed by the American Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.”…

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

History lesson for Chinese politics

Stephen R. Platt's op-ed analysis of China's history and politics might be just the thing if you're looking to add some historical analysis to your political science course.

Is China Ripe for a Revolution?
The Qing Dynasty, founded in 1644 by Manchu tribesmen who conquered China from the north, was brought down by a highly organized revolutionary movement with overseas arms and financing and a coherent governing ideology based on republican nationalism. The Communist Party today faces nothing like that.

What it does face, however, is enormous, inchoate rural unrest. The dark side of China’s economic rise has been a shocking widening of the gulf between the prosperous coast and the poverty-stricken interior, a flourishing of corruption among local officials and, by such data as we can gather, widespread anger and discontent…

[I]t is instead the Taiping Rebellion, which nearly toppled the Qing Dynasty 50 years earlier, that bears the strongest warnings for the current government. The revolt, which claimed at least 20 million lives before it was quelled, [was] the bloodiest civil war in history…

The Taiping Rebellion exploded out of southern China during the early 1850s in a period marked, as now, by economic dislocation, corruption and a moral vacuum. Rural poverty abounded; local officials were wildly corrupt…

SCHOOLCHILDREN in China in the 1950s and ’60s were taught that the Taiping were the precursors of the Communist Party… That analogy has now fallen by the wayside, for China’s government is no longer in any sense revolutionary. So it makes sense that in recent years, the Taiping have often been depicted negatively, as perpetrators of superstition and sectarian violence and a threat to social order…

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China's next president, probably

Barring any disaster or highly unlikely scandal, Xi Jinping will become China's next president, and a few years later he might be the most powerful person in the country.

Michael Wines and Edward Wong's article in the New York Times offers a bit of a profile and an insightful analysis of Politburo politics.

In Charged Moment, China’s Political Heir Tries Introducing Himself to U.S.
When China’s vice president and presumptive next president, Xi Jinping, arrives at the White House on Tuesday, American leaders will be scrutinizing him for hints of future stances on crucial issues…

Mr. Xi’s cross-country swing, from Washington to an Iowa farm town to Los Angeles, comes at a politically charged moment in American relations with China…

Mr. Xi, introducing himself to the American public, will showcase a down-home personality in contrast to that of China’s stoic current president, Hu Jintao…

[T]he delicacy of the leadership transition and the structural limits on Mr. Xi’s authority, particularly in his first five-year term in office, [will] hamper attempts by him or his colleagues to push reforms…

The big state corporations… have gained political clout alongside their wealth. They have monopolies on the most important industries — banking, oil, aviation, construction, telecommunications — and they maintain close ties to the top party officials. Two former executives of mammoth oil and machinery companies sit on the current Standing Committee of the Politburo, the nine-member body that essentially runs China by consensus.

The officials expected to take posts on the Standing Committee this October all have ties of some kind to the heads of state enterprises…

[M]ajor policy changes will have to run a gantlet of scrutiny — and potential opposition — by a new Politburo and other Communist Party powers, including Mr. Hu, who, like his predecessors, is expected to still play a signature role.

And the changes are unlikely to be swift. Many near-term economic policies have already been laid out in the party’s latest five-year plan, unveiled last year. Until Mr. Xi manages to fill important jobs with his own allies, a process that will take years, Mr. Hu’s economic blueprint will be the guide.

For some years to come, Mr. Hu is going to be “an overlord,” one economist who has advised party leaders said in an interview late last year. “If Xi has any hope, it’s in his second term” — that is, the last five years of his expected decade-long stint as president.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Gorbachev is skeptical

The day before Putin published his analysis and remedies for Russia's political system, Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his doubt that Putin can succeed.

Gorbachev targets Putin
FORMER Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said Vladimir Putin has exhausted himself as Russia's leader.

Mr Gorbachev, who called on Mr Putin to step down as protests against his rule grew in December, said the powerful Prime Minister could face a sustained popular uprising against his rule similar to those seen in Arab capitals.

"He has exhausted himself," Mr Gorbachev said during a lecture at a Moscow university. "If he does not overcome himself, change the way things are - and I think it will be difficult for him to do that - then everything will end up on city squares."…

Speaking to Russia's Dozhd (Rain) TV earlier this week, Mr Gorbachev, 81, said he did not foresee a violent crackdown on Russia's protesters, noting that Mr Putin and his advisers had too much to lose…

"It's the system that must be changed," Mr Gorbachev said on Dozhd.

Mr Putin and many of his closest advisers rose up through the Soviet system and its notorious secret services…

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Impressive analysis by Putin

Rebecca Small, who teaches in Virginia, pointed out an article by Vladimir Putin about governance. It sounds like his personal campaign platform, and like all well-constructed platforms, it's an impressive analysis. The question is, as it is with all platforms, how much is the statement political propaganda and how much is it honest intent. As a primary source document, it makes a great teaching tool.

The quotes below come from the version on the Russian Premier's web site. A shorter version appeared in the Washington Post.

Democracy and the quality of government
Sustainable social development is impossible without a competent state, while genuine democracy is a fundamental condition for developing a state designed to serve public interests.

Real democracy cannot be created overnight and cannot be a carbon copy of some external example…

Our society has changed radically since the early 2000s. Many people have become more prosperous, are better educated and are therefore more critical. New demands on the government and the advance of the middle class above the narrow objective of guaranteeing their own prosperity are the results of our efforts. This is what we wanted to achieve.

Political competition lies at the heart of democracy — it is its driving force. When such competition reflects the real interests of social groups, it strengthens the government’s power many times over…

Today, the quality of governance in Russia lags behind the readiness of civil society to participate in it. Our civil society has become much more mature, active and responsible. We need to modernise the mechanisms of our democracy so that they correspond to this increase in social activity…

We have to adjust the mechanisms of the political system so that they capture and reflect the interests of large social groups and ensure public coordination of these interests. The system should not only ensure the legitimacy of power, but also ensure that people have confidence that they have a fair government, including in those cases when they are in a minority…

Competition among states for ideas, people and capital is the reality of the global world. In fact, they are competing for the future of their nations within this developing global world.

We need a new kind of national awareness, with a focus on establishing the best, most competitive environment for everyday life, creative activities and enterprise. This vision should underlie all the functions of the state machine. We should always operate out of the belief that Russian people, and even more so Russian capital, know how things are organised in other countries and are entitled to choose the best…

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that we are proposing concrete solutions. Their practical implementation will make the rule by the people – or democracy – true and real, and place the efforts of the government at the service of the interests of society. Taken together, these measures will ensure the sustainable and successful development of Russia and its modern society.

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Historic candidate

It would be historic if a woman was nominated as a major party presidential candidate in the USA. It's even more historic in Mexico, renowned for machismo.

[Thanks to Blanca Facundo, who teaches in Puerto Rico, for pointing me at the Washington Post article.]

Ruling Party in Mexico Picks Woman as Candidate
The race to pick Mexico’s next president took a historic turn Sunday night, with the ruling party picking a woman, the first from a major party, as its candidate to hold off a strong push from the largest opposition party to reclaim the post it had held for more than seven decades.

The candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, triumphed over two others in the primary of the conservative National Action Party…

Ms. Vázquez Mota, 51, will compete with two other major party candidates selected in December. Enrique Peña Nieto, 45, the former governor of Mexico State, is the front-runner in polls and is trying to return his party, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the P.R.I., to power it lost in 2000 after ruling with an autocratic hand for most of the 20th century.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 59, representing the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, lost a narrow race to Mr. Calderón in 2006 and is his party’s standard-bearer again.

Ms. Vázquez Mota exulted in her victory, winning far more than the necessary votes to avoid a runoff and basking in the potential to become the first woman president here…

Women voters have been playing a bigger role in recent presidential elections, leading many pundits to speculate Mexico is poised to follow other Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica and others, in electing a woman.

Still, her association with Mr. Calderón… and the drug war may prove a drag on her popularity, and the other contenders have their advantages…

3 Mexican presidential hopefuls vie to lead a nation weary of politics
With a decisive primary victory Sunday night, Josefina Vazquez Mota became the first woman to represent a major party in the Mexican presidential election…

Still, even with Vazquez Mota, many Mexicans see the July 1 election as a race among flawed choices: the popular former mayor of Mexico City with a messianic self-regard; a telegenic leading man who wrote a book but has been vague about which books he has read; and a perky, gal-next-door type who does a lot of smiling but has been blank on specifics…
[The article goes on to offer short profiles of the three candidates.]
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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Troubles for Bo Xalai's protege?

The last time I posted something about Bo Xalai, it was about his apparently imminent rise to the Politburo Standing Committee. The latest news might indicate a "Whoops" in that promotion.

Chongqing policeman Wang Lijun mystery deepens
The mystery surrounding one of China's top police chiefs has deepened after the US government confirmed he visited one of its consulates...

Wang Lijun gained national recognition after spearheading a crackdown on organised crime in Chongqing.

But he was removed from his post and is now on leave because of "stress"...

The incident could have ramifications for Mr Wang's boss, Bo Xilai, who appears poised to become one of China's top national leaders later this year.

Mr Bo has been one of China's most high-profile politicians of late, launching a campaign that praised the virtues of the country's communist past, as well as the crime crackdown...

Wang Lijun, 52, headed an attack on organised crime in Chongqing that saw hundreds of people arrested, including the former head of the city's judicial authorities.
See
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Question time in Tehran

The mails majority seems to be getting involved, albeit indirectly, in the upcoming electoral campaign. The article neglects to mention the other major player, the military.

Iran's parliament summons Ahmadinejad
Iran's parliament… decided to summon President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for questioning over a long list of accusations, including that he mismanaged the nation's economy.

The summons was the first of its kind for an Iranian president since 1979. It follows a petition by a group of lawmakers for a review of policy decisions by Ahmadinejad, who has come under increasing attacks in recent months from the same hard-liners who brought him to power.

It is also part of a power struggle on the Iranian political scene ahead of March 2 parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential vote…

The power struggle has pitted Ahmadinejad against Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran. Ahmadinejad and his policies have been the target of criticism by lawmakers, clerics as well as state-run media.

Other questions that will be put to the president include those about Iran's slacking economic growth, and why his administration failed to promote the Islamic dress code that calls for women to wear the traditional veil. Lawmakers behind the initiative allege Ahmadinejad promoted Iranian nationalism instead of Islamic values…

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Private companies, yes, but...

With all the attention paid to the growth of private businesses in China, do not forget that state owned enterprises (SOEs) still make up nearly half of the Chinese economy. One vice premier, an economist, reminded SOEs recently to stay successful.

(The translation is not perfect, but that's often the case with these routine reports on officials' speeches.)

Chinese Vice Premier urges development of SOEs
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang urged local governments to soundly implement policies introduced by the central government to boost state-owned enterprises (SOEs)…

He said that SOEs has overcome difficulties and achieved steady and rapid growth in 2011, making a good start for economic development of the next five years.

"China's SOEs will be envisaged with arduous conditions to continue economic growth as the global economic situation will be severe and complicated in 2012." Zhang said…

In order to complete the economic tasks in 2012, Zhang reiterated that the SOEs should strengthen strategic plans and awareness of potential dangers, encouraging SOEs to expand both domestic and international cooperation…

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

London's baby boom

The ongoing baby boom in London is creating challenges for government whose capacity has been declining.

The changing face of London
LONDON imports the young and exports the old, the theory goes — or went. For decades people have come to the capital to go to university or work, moving out again when their children require more space or education or when they retire. But a startling demographic change has drastically slowed the conveyor belt.

Births in the capital each year have soared by 25% since 2002…

Many parents are now staying put, thanks to a sticky mortgage market that makes it hard for buyers to get a loan and a sticky labour market that makes it hard for anyone to be sure of a job…

This expansion has coincided with the hardest squeeze on government finances in almost a century. So it is small wonder that city planners are scratching their heads over how to deliver services such as education and health care, and wondering where on earth, given London’s long-running housing crisis, so many extra people are to live…

How permanent are these new demographic trends? Will birth rates turn down again as the daughters of immigrants adopt British ways? Will foreigners find greener economic fields elsewhere? Will native Londoners? Flyers touting emigration services are beginning to appear in parts of town.

It’s a frightening time for those planning education or health care or—worst of all—housing…

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Monday, February 06, 2012

60 years on

I remember the day after Elizabeth was crowned queen of the UK. The US television network NBC built a dark room in an airplane so film of the coronation could be processed during the flight from London to New York. Then the Today show showed the film to us the next morning. It was an amazing feat of television journalism. It might also have been the beginning of my study of comparative politics.

Elizabeth is beginning the celebration of 60 years on the throne.

Diamond Jubilee: Queen celebrating 60-year reign
The Queen has visited a school in Norfolk as she marks the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne.


The Queen visited King's Lynn Town Hall and was met by well-wishers outside

Earlier she said she was dedicating herself "anew to your service" and that she was "deeply moved" by support for the Diamond Jubilee.

The Queen was met by crowds at King's Lynn Town Hall before going to Dersingham Infant and Nursery School.

Gun salutes were held around the UK, including in London and Edinburgh.

The main celebrations for her anniversary will be in June…

During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has seen 11 UK prime ministers come and go, with David Cameron her 12th.

Mr Cameron praised the "magnificent service" given by the Queen and called her a "source of wisdom and continuity".

"With experience, dignity and quiet authority she has guided and united our nation and the Commonwealth over six varied decades," he said…

The Queen's 60 years as monarch are set to be marked by a series of regional, national and international events during 2012, culminating in a four-day long UK Bank Holiday weekend in June…

In her message to mark the anniversary, the Queen said: "I am writing to thank you for the wonderful support and encouragement that you have given to me and Prince Philip over these years and to tell you how deeply moved we have been to receive so many kind messages about the Diamond Jubilee.

"In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign and which my family and I look forward to seeing in many forms as we travel throughout the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth."

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