Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, November 30, 2012

State under siege (maybe)

It's often the case that the news out of African countries involves violence and catastrophe. There are few Western reporters in those countries and few African reporters with access to international media, so only the most sensational stories get to us who rely on those Western media. That's why it's difficult to know whether news reports are about isolated incidents or part of a general breakdown of law and order.

Take, for example, recent reports from Nigeria

Nigeria riot over 'blasphemy' against Islam's prophet
22 November 2012: A rumour that a Christian man blasphemed against Islam has sparked a riot in the northern Nigeria town of Bichi, police have said.

Residents said four people were killed and shops were looted…

Church Bombing Kills at Least 11 at Nigerian Post
25 November 2012: At least 11 people were killed and about 30 were wounded when twin car bombs hit a Protestant church in a major military compound in northern Nigeria, officials said on Sunday, a month after a deadly church bombing in the same state.

A bus laden with explosives rammed into the St. Andrew Military Protestant Church in the military barracks in Jaji in Kaduna State…

Nigeria gunmen attack Abuja Sars police HQ
26 November 2012: A "large number of gunmen" have attacked a Nigerian police base in the capital, Abuja, where Boko Haram militants are often held, police say.

A police statement said the attack was repelled but that 30 detainees escaped, 25 of whom were recaptured.

None of those who escaped were held on terror-related charges, it said…

Plateau state: Nigeria gunmen 'dressed as soldiers' fire in pub
27 November 2012: Ten civilians have died after gunmen stormed a pub in central Nigeria's Plateau state and opened fire on customers, authorities say.

The attackers wore military uniforms according to eye witness reports, but the army has denied any involvement...

Hundreds of people have been killed in Plateau state in recent years in clashes between rival ethnic groups.

The state lies on the fault line between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian and animist south.

As a result rival groups, split along religious, ethnic and political lines, have clashed in the region on numerous occasions over the past decade...

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Identity problem

Establishing a country's identity is a big deal.

Name Change Is Suggested for Other ‘U.S.’
With just over a week left in office, the president of Mexico has offered perhaps the boldest proposal of his six-year tenure. He wants Mexico to just be “Mexico.”

The formal name of the country is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, often translated as “United Mexican States” or “United States of Mexico.”

It is the “Estados Unidos” that nags at President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa… and he wants it out, once and for all. It happens to be the Spanish name of the big neighbor up north…

Now it is time, [Calderón] said, for Mexico to step out of the shadow of the United States, at least in name.

“Mexico does not need a name that emulates another country and that none of us Mexicans use every day,” he said Thursday at a morning announcement at the presidential residence…

Making it so, however, will take a constitutional change…

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Family feuds

In a country with as many nations as Nigeria, feuds between neighbors can become deadly. What's a government to do?

Complications: The Eggon language is spoken by about 200,000 people, but there are 25 different dialects. Most people living along the main road through the area where most Eggon live, speak Hausa. The Koro people, probably about 200,000 of them, are farmers in Nasarawa. Hausa is also used as a common language by the Koro in less isolated areas.

The first account is from Vanguard in Lagos. The second account is from Leadership in Abuja.

Tribal Clash Kills Seven, 14 Houses Razed in Nasarawa
About seven persons were, yesterday, reportedly killed and 14 houses burnt in the Obi Local Government Area of Nasarawa State in renewed clashes between Koro and Eggon tribesmen.

Nasarawa location
Commissioner of Police, Abayomi Akeremale, confirmed the killing… saying several houses were also destroyed by fire during the hostilities between the two tribes…

Eyewitnesses said the fight started when an Eggon boy was arrested by a vigilante group for allegedly stealing a motorcycle.

Upon investigation it was discovered that other boys, who were Koro by tribe, were involved in the act but had escaped…

The demand… to fish out the alleged culprit resulted in a fracas that led to the … killing of innocent people in their farms…


Three Killed, Many Injured in Nasarawa Communal Clash
It was sorrow, tears and shed yesterday in Agyaragu community of Obi local government area of Nasarawa State when the Eggon and Koro ethnic groups took up arms against each other leaving in its wake three persons dead and three others injured.

[T]he administrator of the Development Area, Mr. Wuduyamba S. Agidi, [said] he was attacked by the Ombatse, a militant, spiritual [group of] Eggon youths… dressed in their traditional black attire and cap…

Narrating his ordeal to Leadership, an eyewitness who craved anonymity, said tension has been simmering in the area since Sunday evening when a vigilante group from Agyaragu town, headquarters of Jenkwe Development Area, stormed the outskirts of Gwadenye, notorious for Indian hemp smokers.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Centralized authoritarianism?

Is the proposal by Mexico's new president a reform to reduce corruption, a reform to help win the war with drug cartels, a reform to centralize power in his office, or a reform to give his party's people opportunities for illicit income.

Mexico moves to demote federal police force
Through most of the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, the federal police agency has held a starring role, built to seven times its previous size and favored by American advisors and dollars despite persistent troubles and scandals.

But President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto… has already demonstrated that one of his immediate actions will be to demote the police force…

[The] Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is pushing through the legislature a restructuring of the government that would eliminate the Public Security Ministry, home to the federal police. Control over the police would be transferred to the Interior Ministry…

In presenting the plan to the Mexican Congress, Peña Nieto portrayed it as a way to streamline security operations, make them more efficient and improve the coordination among agencies… Some also worry about an overly powerful Interior Ministry, which past PRI governments used for political repression as well as law enforcement…

Vetted units of the federal police have been a hallmark of U.S. efforts in working with Mexico to fight powerful drug-trafficking organizations. The federal police received a good chunk of the $1.9 billion that the U.S. government has given Mexico for the drug war since 2006…

Despite all that, the force remains hobbled by corruption and poor policing skills and has been implicated in several cases of bad shootings, human rights abuse and collusion with criminals…

In many ways, the creation of an uber-powerful Interior Ministry represents a throwback to the old PRI penchant for centralizing power. And subsuming the police is clearly a slap at Calderon, who has frequently cited the federal police as one of his — and his National Action Party's —most important legacies…

"That the Public Security Ministry as such disappear, doesn't have to be a tragedy. That the corruption continue, would be," Jorge Chabat, an expert on Mexican security issues, wrote in El Universal newspaper. "We will see if the Peña Nieto government manages to tame the tiger."

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Slavophiles and Zapadniki

For 200 or 300 years, philosophical and political arguments have been going on between Slavophiles and Zapadniki in Russia. The Slavophiles contend that Russian culture and tradition are superior to anything non-Russian. Zapadniki, often labeled Westernizers, advocate making Russia modern and more like the economic, industrial, and military powers of Western Europe.

Zapadnik Peter the Great
Peter and Catherine, the greats, would be considered Zapadniki. The final tsars of Russia, especially Alexander III and Nicholas II (and their tutor Pobedonostsev) were Slavophiles. It's been argued that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is a Slavophile organization (without the religious connotations).

It may be that Putin is leading Russia as a Slavophile as he seeks a unifying ideology.

Putin, in Need of Cohesion, Pushes Patriotism
Slavophile Nicholas II
Over 12 years as the principal leader of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin has brought the same ruthless pragmatism to a wide range of problems — separatist wars, gas wars, rebellious oligarchs and a collapsing ruble.

Now he is facing a problem he has never encountered before… Mr. Putin needs an ideology — some idea powerful enough to consolidate the country around his rule.

One of the few clear strategies to emerge in recent months is an effort to mobilize conservative elements in society…

Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s press secretary and close aide, said in an interview, “Ideology is very important. Patriotism is very important. Without dedication from people, without the trust of people, you cannot expect a positive impact of what you are doing, of your job.”
Slavophile Putin
Ideas are changing inside the ruling class, as well. The pro-Western, modernizing doctrine of President Dmitri A. Medvedev has been replaced by talk about “post-democracy” and imperial nostalgia. Leading intellectuals are challenging the premise, driven into this country 20 years ago, that Russia should seek to emulate liberal Western institutions. “Western values” are spoken of with disdain…
Events of the last year have breathed life into this anti-Western argument. The debt crisis stripped the euro zone of its attraction as an economic model, and then as a political one. The Arab uprisings have left Russia and the United States divided by an intellectual chasm. The Russian Orthodox Church casts the West as unleashing dangerous turbulence on the world.
Mr. Peskov said that Mr. Putin “understands pretty well that there are no general Western values,” but that he views this as a period of severe historic crisis…

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Guaranteed mediocracy

For all the claims of promotion based on achievement, political scientists have found that who knows you is more important than accomplishments in China. Is China coming to resemble Mexico during the heyday of the PRI?  

Family Ties and Hobnobbing Trump Merit at China Helm
To a degree, the new leaders of China named just days ago have backgrounds that are as uniform as the dark suits and red ties they wore at their coming-out ceremony.

Jiang
The seven men on the Politburo Standing Committee have forged close relations to previous party leaders, either through their families or institutional networks. They have exhibited little in the way of vision or initiative during their careers. And most have been allies or protégés of Jiang Zemin, the octogenarian former party chief.

The Communist Party and its acolytes like to brag that the party promotion system is a meritocracy, producing leaders better suited to run a country than those who emerge from the cacophony of elections and partisan bickering in full-blown democracies. But critics, including a number of party insiders, say that China’s secretive selection process, rooted in personal networks, has actually created a meritocracy of mediocrity.

Those who do less in the way of bold policy during their political rise — and expend their energies instead hobnobbing with senior officials over rice wine at banquets or wooing them with vanity-stroking projects — appear to have a greater chance of reaching the ranks of the top 400…

In the United States and other Western countries, some prominent political families have certainly wielded power through successive generations — think of the Kennedys or Bushes — but entrenched dynasties and the influence of elders are becoming particularly noteworthy in China. The increasing prevalence of the so-called princelings, those related by birth or marriage to earlier Communist Party luminaries, is one sure sign that family background plays a decisive role in ascending to power…

Just as important as family connections and demonstrated party loyalty is the ability to cultivate China’s top leaders. Five members of the standing committee are considered allies of Jiang Zemin, the party chief who stepped down in 2002, and the others have ties to his successor and rival, Hu Jintao…

[A] study by three scholars, published in February in American Political Science Review, found that patronage networks were more important than performance measures. Most surprising was that even meeting the target for economic growth paled in importance next to patron-client ties. The authors wrote that cadre management institutions “delivered promotions to followers of senior party leaders” and that there was “no relationship between growth performance and party ranking, and a strong relationship between factional ties and rank.”…

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Backgrounders on China

Lisa Schalla, who teaches at the American School in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, sent me a link to a collection of articles from Project Syndicate about China. The oldest one is from August; the newest one is from November 20. You might well find something useful there.

Thank you Lisa. (I couldn't resist adding a photo of green growing things at your school when it was 12°F or -11°C on my deck this morning.)

China in Transition
China has unveiled its new leadership, including President-designate Xi Jinping, who will run the country for the next decade. At home, the new leadership will face slowing economic growth and increased pressure to revalue the renminbi. Meanwhile, with regional tensions running high, the US has shifted its focus to Asia in order to offset China's increasing influence. How will the country's new leadership manage mounting economic and geopolitical challenges?

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Peevish censors

Can censorship be self-defeating? The Chinese censors might be trying to find out.

Why is China censoring a fake photo of its leaders doing ‘Gangnam Style’?
Here’s the timeline: On November 8, the first day that Chinese leaders gathered for their once-in-a-decade Party Congress to announce the next generation of leaders, a Chinese-language Facebook page posted a clearly doctored photo of the party’s top officials doing the dance from South Korean pop hit Gangnam Style… Censors pulled it down almost immediately.
(L to R) Xi, Hu, and Wen
Why? It would be easy to read too much into the decision of one censor, though the potential capriciousness of the censors is itself important for understanding the Chinese web… the explanation might have to do with the extreme care that the country gives in cultivating the images of its leaders… the government is clearly concerned about the perceived legitimacy of its leaders and thus the single-party system they command.

As the China Media Report puts it, in language so dry it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s supposed to be funny, “The images of Chinese leaders are carefully managed by propaganda leaders, and the suggestion that they would dance in formation and shake their hips is certainly unwelcome.” In other words, censors are so sensitive to any unapproved and apparently undermining material on top leaders that even this seemingly meaningless photo is perceived as too risky to let through…

In this instance, as is often the risk, overstepping censors seem to have risked drawing more attention to what they were trying to keep quiet. As Chinese web use grows, as does the flow of ideas and images between China’s semi-closed Internet and the rest of the world, it’s hard to see this challenge getting any easier for the Chinese government.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Enjoy Thanksgiving







Feliz Dia del Pavo

Счастливое благодарение

‎عید شکرگزاری مبارک


Thanksgiving from MIT people


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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Source of democracy and change?

The first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran still hopes for positive changes. And argues against intervention by outsiders.

Democracy comes from within, says first Iranian president
Bani Sadr
Iran’s first president after the 1979 Islamic Revolution Abul Hassan Bani Sadr said the Iranian regime is not prone to reformation at the time being since it is based on the concentration of power in the hands of one person.

“The Velayet-e-Faqih system means that the Supreme Guide is the sole ruler who has the upper hand in all state matters including executive, legislative, and judiciary powers,” he told Al Arabiya’s "Point of Order" Friday.

Bani Sadr said that when talking about the possibility of change in Iran, it is important to bear in mind that democracy has to come from within and can never be imported from outside.

“External powers cannot bring democracy to another country. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most obvious examples. Democracy comes from the people.”

Bani Sadr argued that the Iranian people are capable of rising against the current regime and establishing a democracy.

“They did it before when they toppled the Shah and I don’t see why they can’t do the same with this fabricated system of governance that has no roots in Iran.”…

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Learn Chinese

The BBC offers a pronunciation guide to the names of the new guys on the Communist Party of China's Standing Committee of the Politburo. There are links to sound bites of the names as well as an explanation of the pinyin transliteration system.

How to Say: Chinese leaders' names
Partial Pinyin chart
The 18th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China has drawn to a close and China has appointed a new generation of leaders. The new Politburo Standing Committee, which is made up of the top leadership of the Communist Party, was led to the stage by newly appointed CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping as the final showpiece.

Here are our recommendations for pronouncing the names of the Standing Committee members...

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Even in the PLA

When corruption is ubiquitous in civilian affairs, it shouldn't be a surprise that it's a problem in the military as well. And in an organization that's probably more authoritarian than the government, corruption might be a bigger threat.

Corruption in Military Poses a Test for China
Col. Liu
An insider critique of corruption in China’s military [by Col. Liu Mingfu], circulating just as new leadership is about to take over the armed forces, warns that graft and wide-scale abuses pose as much of a threat to the nation’s security as the United States…

For [new party leader, Xi Jinping], who boasts a military pedigree from his father — a guerrilla leader who helped bring Mao Zedong to power in 1949 — China’s fast modernizing army will be a bulwark of his standing at home and influence abroad…

Recent territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian neighbors have raised nationalist sentiment in China, and the popular desire for a strong military could make it politically dangerous for Mr. Xi to embark on a campaign that unmasks squandering of public funds…

The new lineup of the military commission suggests that being too outspoken about corruption is detrimental to career advancement…

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sharing the power

The Politburo Standing Committee is smaller, but the number of people with a share of political power is larger than ever in China.

The New York Times offers a good chart illustrating the top leadership of the Communist Party of China. It takes some close attention to sort out (at least for me), but it's worth it.

It's especially instructive to follow the career of Deng Xiaoping. The purges at the beginning and the end of the Cultural Revolution are quite obvious as well.

A bit of the NYT chart

The Politburo’s Growing Number of Influential Leaders
Xi Jinping, chosen this week as general secretary of the Communist Party, is sharing the party’s helm with 18 retired Politburo Standing Committee members looking over his shoulder — more than ever before…

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Chinese aristocrats?

Many of the factions within the Communist Party in China are led by sons and grandsons of revolutionary heroes and leaders. Do they make up a Communist aristocracy?

This bit of analysis is another example of how during a time of transition, journalists write about details that normally get ignored. When something like the Communist Party Congress and leadership transition take place, teachers can "harvest" valuable supplements to the teaching materials they already have.

China’s Aristocratic Class Wields Its Influence to Shape Politics
The rise of so-called princelings… will reach a capstone this week, when Xi Jinping, himself the son of a Communist Party pioneer, is to be unveiled as China’s top leader… Mr. Xi is likely to be joined by at least two other princelings on the seven-member Standing Committee.

Despite rising controversy over their prominent role in government and business… China’s princelings, who number in the hundreds, are emerging as an aristocratic class that has an increasingly important say in ruling the country.

While they feud and fight among themselves, many princelings have already made their mark in the established order, playing important roles in businesses, especially state-owned enterprises. Others are heavily involved in finance or lobbying, where personal connections are important…

Red Guards in Shenyang
Many of the oldest among them — those now set to take power — share something else: an upbringing during some of China’s most difficult years. Many were children during the Great Leap Forward, when upward of 30 million people died of famine from 1958 to 1962, and teenagers during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, a period many spent as outcasts or in exile after their parents were attacked by Maoist radicals…

The princelings are distinct from the current top rulers of China, most of whom owe their allegiance to institutions in the Communist Party. Outgoing party general secretary, Hu Jintao, rose up through the Communist Youth League…

Princelings are far from a uniform bloc. Many grew up in Beijing’s “big yards” — the sprawling housing compounds of the ministries and Communist Party organizations that defined the capital in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Children of senior leaders studied together, played together and, during the Cultural Revolution, fought each other in Red Guard factions that resembled inner-city gangs…

“There are a certain number of princelings who are benefiting from the system,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian in Beijing and the son of a former minister. “So there are a number of them who don’t want any change.” Advocates of systemic reform like Mr. Zhang look askance at the rise of the princelings. In imperial days, when emperors and their relatives ruled the country, nepotism was prevalent. When the Communist Party took over, idealists hoped that it would guard against that. “But for some reason, we’re now back to nepotism,” Mr. Zhang said. “And the country is ruled by a few families.”

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

The new Standing Committee

The big shots paraded (in order) in Beijing. That means that the factional disputes about who will be on the new Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China are over.

(There is a 2-minute video of the parade from the BBC on the page with the first article.)

China confirms leadership change
Xi Jinping has been confirmed as the man to lead China for the next decade.

Mr Xi led the new Politburo Standing Committee onto the stage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, signalling his elevation to the top of China's ruling Communist Party…

Most of the new committee are seen as politically conservative, and perceived reformers did not get promotion…

Mr Xi was followed out onto the stage by Li Keqiang, the man set to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao, and five other men - meaning that the size of the all-powerful Standing Committee had been reduced from nine to seven.

Those five, in order of seniority, were Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang, Shanghai party boss Yu Zhengsheng, propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and Tianjin party boss Zhang Gaoli…

Mr Xi has also been named chairman of the Central Military Commission, a Xinhua news agency report said, ending uncertainty over whether that post would be transferred from Hu Jintao immediately.

Mr Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, held on to the post for two years after he stood down from the party leadership.

New Standing Committee member Wang Qishan has also been named head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection - the party's anti-corruption watchdog…

[T]he power transition process has been orderly, for only the second time in 60 years of Communist Party rule…

Take note of the number of people who served in Shanghai. That's were Ziang Zemin had his political base.

Profiles of new Standing Committee Members
The BBC news website profiles the men who now lead China. (Click on a picture to see a biography)

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Revising Nigeria's constitution

Nigeria's constitution was promulgated by a military government. Ever since, there have been people arguing for a thorough re-write by an elected body. That task has been so politically daunting that it's never gotten off the ground.

Now, the national legislature is beginning a new effort to revise the constitution. Or at least the legislators want it to look like they're making an effort to get people's ideas about revision.

From Vanguard (Lagos).

The Making of a Peoples Constitution
The House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review is commencing an innovative discourse with Nigerians in 360 centres spread across the federal constituencies in the country tomorrow. It is a bold attempt at addressing the disconnect between "We the People" and the 1999 Constitution decreed by Nigeria's last military dictatorship…

The town hall meetings taking place in all 360 federal constituencies of the country is an innovative effort by the [Speaker of the House] Aminu Tambuwal... to redefine the process of lawmaking. Specifically, at tomorrow's town hall meetings, each member of the House is expected to preside over a meeting in his or her federal constituency during which the inputs of the stakeholders would be garnered into the ongoing constitution review process of the House of Representatives.

Asemota
Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN, one of the country's senior lawyers said… "We need to consult the people and the correct thing is to have a Constituent Assembly to prepare a draft… "

Styled as the Peoples' Public Sessions, the town hall meetings to be presided over by the members representing each of the 360 federal constituencies is expected to incorporate strategic stakeholders from the federal constituencies…

It is expected that the public sessions will sufficiently equip the members of the House of Representatives to articulate the various issues affecting their constituencies for onward presentation to the House Committee on Constitution Review.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

China's welfare state

Creating a welfare state in a communist country? That sounds like an oxymoron. But China hasn't been a communist country for a long time. And most people have been going without family subsidies, health insurance, education, and food. Are things changing? Will they continue to change under new leadership?

And catch that last sentence. Government action in China "will require the support… of its citizens…" It's not a democracy. What's with the claim that popular support is needed by the government?

China's 'golden decade' brings some relief to rural poor
In a land now dotted with skyscrapers and designer stores, [the rural poor farmers] are scraping by… As others prosper, they fall further behind. Yet in the past decade, a string of measures have offered some relief: the abolition of agricultural tax and tuition fees, the rolling out of medical insurance that reimburses most of their bills, [old age pensions], and now school lunches…

As China prepares for its leadership transition… the administration is leaving behind what could yet prove a significant political legacy: building the skeleton of a welfare state and attempting to put a shelf below those at the bottom of society…

A decade ago, 147 million urban employees and 55 million rural residents had pension coverage. Now 229 million urban employees are covered, and 449 million rural and urban residents; 124 million are already receiving payments. A few years ago, barely 20% of rural dwellers had medical insurance; now 96% of the population are covered…

Many also believe that creating a proper welfare state will require a long-awaited overhaul of the hukou, the household registration system that defines people as urban or rural and allocates their rights to services such as education accordingly. At present migrants – and their children, who inherit their parents' status – in effect become second-class citizens in cities.

"It's the hardest thing to touch because it involves popular sentiment. City dwellers don't want a wave of people coming to share the same benefits as them," warned Kelly.

Developing a welfare state in China will require the support not just of China's new leaders – but of its citizens, too.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Which way, now?

Before he took a few days off to rest an old sports injury, President Putin spoke to an assembly of foreign experts about Russia's future.

Vladimir the victor
VLADIMIR PUTIN seemed a fit and relaxed 60-year-old as he spoke to this year’s meeting of the Valdai club of mostly foreign analysts and commentators… He had the air of a man with few concerns either about his own position as president of Russia or about his country’s future…

Putin
As for the economy, the overwhelming message from Mr Putin was that everything was going well: “I am doing fine,” he said, at one point. His response to suggestions that Russia needed substantial reforms was striking for its smugness (one of his advisers asked rhetorically “why do we need to change?”). Changes to courts, the judicial system and the bureaucracy were all on the way, Mr Putin claimed…

Economic indicators suggest that Mr Putin cannot boost social and military spending while sticking to the fiscal discipline that has served Russia well throughout his rule. Moreover, the Russian state continues to be a drag on the economy… under his government the role of the state in the Russian economy has been increasing. And, although his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, insists that Russia is going ahead with its ambitious privatisation plans, they are unlikely to diminish the state’s influence much…

As oil and gas revenues, which still account for up to half of state income, are falling away in importance, the economy needs to be rebalanced towards new firms, small enterprises, services and manufacturing. But the deadweight of corruption, ill-protected property rights, taxation, bureaucratic obstructiveness and the absence of the rule of law make it all but impossible for such businesses to start up and grow. Those like Mr Putin who insist that all is well are ignoring the likelihood that, faced with such problems, potential investors will move to places with more hospitable and predictable business climates…

The figures show a continuing trend of capital flight and emigration of skilled youths. Taxed on this, Mr Putin insisted that other countries were similarly affected and that this was just another by-product of globalisation.

Mr Putin yet again talked up Russia’s improving demography, with higher birth rates and lower death rates. But one poll before the Valdai club showed that 68% of Russians on above-average incomes want their children to study abroad and 37% want their children to leave Russia for good. These numbers are a harsh comment by Russia’s middle classes on their country’s future.

It does not help that, after almost 13 years at the top, Mr Putin lives in a bubble. Previous ministers… who might have pressed the case for reform, are gone from the government. There are still reformers around Mr Medvedev… But there is already speculation about how long a weakened Mr Medvedev will stay. Right now, Mr Putin is certainly running the government—and there is no sign that he has any appetite for change.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

If it's not one thing…

Between residency permits, variations in curriculum, and favoritism toward Beijingers, "different-place people" are in one of those proverbial places.

Fighting for privilege
OF THE many reforms that China’s new leaders will be expected to tackle when they take over in mid-November, one of the most urgent yet potentially divisive is giving migrants and their families the same opportunities in the cities as any other citizens…

The heart of the problem is China’s system of household registration, or hukou. It forms the basis by which local governments define the privileges to which residents are entitled. Beijing has a large migrant population and is also home to many of the country’s best government-funded schools and universities. The city is not keen to make it easier for holders of non-Beijing hukou to grab a share of these spoils…

Even if they were born in the capital, children must take the hukou of one or other of their parents… This is because students must sit the gaokao, or university entrance exam, in their place of household registration. Never mind that this may be somewhere in the sticks that children have rarely if ever visited… To make things worse, the gaokao syllabus varies from place to place. So children usually have to leave home and spend their senior high-school years in the place where they will eventually sit the exam. Those who leave Beijing to sit the gaokao have little chance of qualifying for higher education in the capital, since the city’s universities allocate a disproportionate number of places to holders of Beijing hukou.

Officials have hinted at change. In August the government asked local administrations to produce “concrete plans” by the end of the year for allowing students to sit the gaokao where they actually live. Parents are sceptical. Ominously, the directive calls on local governments to come up with ways to prevent gaokao “migration”: moving to a city in order to a have a better chance of getting into its universities…

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Security, security, and more security

Cabbies in Beijing had to remove the handles used to lower windows in their cabs.

Specially equipped teams of firemen patrol Tiananmen Square, ready to prevent any Tibetan protesters from setting themselves on fire.

Everything should be peaceful and orderly during the Communist Party Congress, even the Internet.  

Google Is Blocked in China as Party Congress Begins
All Google services, including its search engine, Gmail and Maps, were inaccessible in China on Friday night and into Saturday, the company confirmed. The block comes as the 18th Communist Party Congress, the once-in-a-decade meeting to appoint new government leadership, gets under way…

The company said it was not having any technical problems, but did not say whether it believed its sites had been blocked by the government or were the victims of hacking…

Despite great fanfare, China’s Party Congress takes place under wraps. Reporters are not allowed in, and in the days preceding the event, the government has imposed restrictions ranging from replacing books in bookstores to banning balloons because they could carry messages of protest…

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Reform and politics

What happens if the president-elect suffers a legislative defeat before he takes office?

Reform in Mexico: Labour pains
WALK into a restaurant in Mexico mid-morning and you will find a surplus of idle waiters… restaurants are alternately over- and understaffed because the ancient labour laws restrict part-time work…

The labour code was last overhauled in 1970, and it shows. Mexico is the only country in Latin America where it is legal to sack a woman for being pregnant…

A bill before Congress aims to modernise the labour code, introducing hourly pay, trial periods of up to six months and a tighter cap on severance pay, though it does nothing to encourage dispute-settlement without recourse to tribunals. It would also introduce clearer rules on outsourcing and bring women’s rights into the 21st century…

But the bill risks foundering over the ambition of the outgoing government of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) to clean up Mexico’s powerful trade unions. The bill requires unions to elect officials by secret ballot and to submit accounts for auditing. That threatens the hitherto unchallenged power of some union bosses…

Enrique Peña Nieto
The proposals would affect only private-sector unions and the state-run oil industry. But the unions have long been a corporatist pillar of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of Enrique Peña Nieto, who takes office as Mexico’s president on December 1st…

Mr Peña… has promised some far-reaching reforms. The easy passage of the labour-market part of the bill suggests that he can count on the PAN to support his plans to open the energy sector and simplify the tax code. But the PAN’s insistence on the union-busting clauses, and his own party’s rejection of them, suggests trouble ahead…

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

More speculation about Chinese politics

Politics in China is so opaque that it's difficult, if not impossible, for outsiders — even Chinese outsiders — to know what's going on. As one of my professors once said, it's like trying to describe what's going on inside of a large black bag full of cats.

Here are the summaries of Edward Wong, Jonathan Ansfield and Amy Qin of the speculations of outside observers.

Long Retired, Ex-Leader of China Asserts Sway Over Top Posts
Jiang
In a year of scandals and corruption charges at the commanding heights of the Communist Party, a retired party chief some had written off as a spent force has thrust himself back into China’s most important political decisions…

Mr. Jiang, who left office a decade ago, has worked assiduously behind the scenes, voicing frustration with the record of his successor, Hu Jintao, and maneuvering to have his protégés dominate the party’s incoming ruling group…

Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu arrived together [at the start of the 18th Party Congress] at the Great Hall of the People, before others in the senior leadership — another sign of Mr. Jiang’s influence.

Mr. Jiang’s goal, those insiders say, appears to be to put China back on a path toward market-oriented economic policies that he and his allies argue stagnated under a decade of cautious leadership by Mr. Hu, a colorless party leader who favored more traditional socialist programs and allowed gargantuan state-owned companies to amass greater wealth and influence…

Mr. Jiang was able to outflank Mr. Hu to shape a new lineup for the Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision-making body, which appears to have Jiang allies chosen for five of the projected seven seats, according to party insiders. The most prominent is Xi Jinping, the designated heir to Mr. Hu as party chief and president…

That Mr. Jiang has been able to insert himself so boldly shows how diluted power has become at the apex of the Communist Party… Mr. Jiang’s return to the center of party politics also exposes fundamental weaknesses in a system that relies on factional alliances and aging patriarchs to make crucial decisions…

China’s ambitions to rise to be a modern global power remain yoked to a secretive political system in which true authority resides in hidden recesses. That could spell trouble for Mr. Hu’s presumed successor, Mr. Xi, who has yet to establish his own credentials as the party’s ultimate authority. When the congress ends next week, there will be 20 retired Standing Committee members, most of whom expect some say in running the country and appointing allies…

Some intellectuals and policy advisers are seeking a significant relaxation of China’s authoritarian political system, but there is no sign Mr. Jiang backs any such transformation. Instead, he seems primarily focused on economic issues…

Political insiders said Mr. Jiang’s involvement in determining the new Standing Committee, expected to be announced at the end of the congress next week, is his clearest expression of impatience with Mr. Hu’s policies and faction. Months ago, analysts had expected the incoming committee to be almost evenly balanced between Hu and Jiang allies. But Mr. Jiang’s power plays, aided by scandals this year, including one that weakened Ling Jihua, a powerful aide of Mr. Hu’s, have changed that…

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A smaller center

As the details of the leadership transition in China are ironed out, it seems that the Politburo's standing committee will have fewer people on it. The hope, observers think, is that it will be easier for the group to reach consensus. And the center of democratic centralism will be more united. But will there be more dissent outside the center?

Grabs for Power Behind Plan to Shrink Elite Circle
To outside observers, the move may appear to be little more than bureaucratic reshuffling: trim two seats from the nine-member body that governs China by consensus at the pinnacle of the Communist Party.
Current Politburo Central Committee
But the proposal by Chinese leaders to downsize the body, the Politburo Standing Committee, offers one of the clearest windows available into the priorities of the party and the mechanics of power-sharing and factional struggles as the leadership transition nears its climax at a weeklong congress scheduled to open Nov. 8.

Party insiders and political analysts say party leaders… are at the moment sticking to an earlier decision to shrink the committee to seven seats…

Chen Ziming, a well-connected political commentator in Beijing [said]… “I think the goal is to increase the efficiency and unity at the top level. Everything is decided in meetings, and with fewer people it’s easier to reach decisions.”

The committee is a group of aging men with dyed hair and dark suits who make all major decisions about the economy, foreign policy and other issues. Their meetings are not publicized in the state news media. The party chief often presides, but they operate by consensus, which means decisions are generally made only when the members reach agreement.

Members of the committee represent different patronage networks and hold different portfolios — security, propaganda, the economy and so on — which can result in competing interests. Business lobbies are represented informally on the committee…

Alice L. Miller, a scholar of Chinese politics at the Hoover Institution, said… “The most compelling [reason] is that there seems to be a trend in policy stagnation… an inability to arrive at decisions collectively within the standing committee that I think shows up in a number of different ways.”…

The plan to shrink the committee this year could still founder if leaders fail to agree on who should be promoted to a smaller body. The end result could be a retention of the nine-member committee to accommodate all the interests.

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The Party's Liberation Army

It's worth emphasizing that China's head of state is also commander-in-chief of the military.

Try to ignore reporter Jane Perlez's focus on the effect this link might have on China-U. S. relations and pay attention to the effects the link has on Chinese government and politics.

Close Army Ties of China’s New Leader Could Test the U.S.
Mr. Xi Jinping is set to be elevated to the top post of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to begin here on Nov. 8 — only two days after the American election…

The son of a revolutionary general, Mr. Xi, 59, boasts far closer ties to China’s fast-growing military than the departing leader, Hu Jintao, had when he took office. As Mr. Xi rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, he made the most of parallel posts in the People’s Liberation Army, deeply familiarizing himself with the inner workings of the armed forces…

Vice President Xi Jinping and President Hu Jintao
Before becoming heir apparent — ascending at the last party congress in 2007 to the position of first secretary of the Communist Party and then a few months later to the vice presidency of the Chinese government — Mr. Xi had little exposure to the world beyond China…

Since becoming vice president, Mr. Xi has visited more than 50 countries, a concerted effort to get to know the world before taking power…

“The P.L.A. considers he is their man,” said Dr. Jin, the professor at Renmin University.

Mr. Xi will be in charge of a military whose budget almost certainly will grow at a pace with the economy, or even faster. The People’s Liberation Army is awaiting an array of sophisticated weaponry now under development…

But Mr. Xi, with his strong standing with military leaders, may also find himself called on at times to restrain the ambitions of the army. “Xi will have to guide strategy,” Dr. [Phillip C. Saunders, director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington] said. “Then he has to go back to the P.L.A. and say, ‘This is how it will be.’ That is potentially contentious.”…

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Another theocracy?

The Russian Orthodox Church plays a large role in Russian history and Russian cultural identity. Some Russians claim that the Russian Church is the last vestige of real Christianity because of the Enlightenment in the west and fall of Byzantium in the east. By extension that makes Russia the last vestige of real civilization.

After decades of suppression and submission to Soviet power, the Russian Church is once again near the seats of power. And near the Russian president.

Russians See Church and State Come Closer
Archimandrite Tikhon
As the Russian Orthodox Church continues its ascent as a political force, Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov stands at the center of a swirling argument about the church’s power and its possible influence on President Vladimir V. Putin.

Father Tikhon, a former film student, presides over the 14th century Sretensky Monastery here, near the headquarters of the former KGB…

Some critics belittle Father Tikhon as a publicity hound. But others, who see him as a rising power broker, call him a promoter of a rigid Orthodox fundamentalism. That is a charge he dismissed as “nonsense.”

The old debate over the role of the Orthodox Church and its relationship to the state broke into the open most recently over the conviction of members of the punk band Pussy Riot for staging an anti-Putin stunt at Moscow’s biggest cathedral…

In this atmosphere, Father Tikhon’s ties to Mr. Putin have come under scrutiny. He had already attracted attention in 2008, for writing and narrating a television documentary that depicted the fall of Byzantium as a parable about the threats to modern Russia. The film was derided by liberals as pandering to Mr. Putin’s worldview of a virtuous Russia under threat from foreign forces…

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Brain drain

Developing nations worry about citizens who go abroad for educations and don't return. Should China worry about the emigration of successful middle class citizens? Will this tiny trend affect politics?

Wary of Future, Professionals Leave China in Record Numbers
As China’s Communist Party prepares a momentous leadership change in early November, it is losing skilled professionals… in record numbers. In 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are available, 508,000 Chinese left for the 34 developed countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That is a 45 percent increase over 2000…

Few emigrants from China cite politics, but it underlies many of their concerns. They talk about a development-at-all-costs strategy that has ruined the environment, as well as a deteriorating social and moral fabric that makes China feel like a chillier place than when they were growing up. Over all, there is a sense that despite all the gains in recent decades, China’s political and social trajectory is still highly uncertain…

“There continues to be a lot of uncertainty and risk, even at the highest level… ” said Liang Zai, a migration expert at the University at Albany. “People wonder what’s going to happen two, three years down the road.”

The sense of uncertainty affects poorer Chinese, too… Even though hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted from poverty during this period, the rich-poor gap in China is among the world’s widest and the economy is increasingly dominated by large corporations, many of them state-run…

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Monday, November 05, 2012

There will be no politics here

Is it treasonous in Iran to have a political disagreement? Iran leader warns against public political clashes
Iran’s Supreme Leader has warned government officials and politicians against turning their disputes into a public discussion, calling it ‘‘treason’’ against the state…

Khamenei
Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, said that provoking political differences ahead of presidential elections, scheduled for June 14, is ‘‘treason.’’

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The EU's three power centers

If your students study the EU, the current budget debate is a good case study to illustrate the competing centers of political power.

 European Parliament clashes with ministers on EU budget
The European Parliament has rejected the 27 EU governments' position on next year's EU budget, triggering hard bargaining to reach a deal.

In a vote in Strasbourg the MEPs backed the European Commission's call for a 6.8% budget rise for 2013.

An MEPs' report deplored a decision by the Council - the 27 governments - to cut that figure to 2.79%…

The Commission… argues that the cuts proposed by the Council would harm Europe's growth efforts, hitting research and small firms.

If there is no deal on the long-term budget, the EU's 2013 budget will roll over into 2014 with an automatic 2% rise based on inflation…

The biggest items of spending, accounting for about 80% in total, are agriculture and cohesion funds - aid for Europe's poorer regions. France is especially keen to maintain agriculture spending, while cohesion is a big issue for the ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe…

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Chinese ethnic history

Thanks to Max Fisher, writing in the Washington Post, for pointing out this article at the BBC. I think that analyst Martin Jacques points out important ideas comparative students need to consider.

A Point Of View: How China sees a multicultural world
The vast majority of the Chinese population regard themselves as belonging to the same race, a stark contrast to the multiracial composition of other populous countries…

Click on image to enlarge
China's population is huge.

What people aren't generally aware of, though, is that more than nine out of 10 Chinese people think of themselves as belonging to just one race, the Han. This is remarkable. It is quite different from the world's other most populous nations: India, United States, Indonesia and Brazil. All recognise themselves to be, in varying degrees, multiracial and multicultural…

China is extremely old - the longest continuously existing country in the world. The eastern half of China - where the vast majority of Chinese live now and lived then - has been more or less united ever since 211BC.

Over that extraordinarily long period - as a result of war, occupation, absorption, assimilation, ethnic cleansing and government resettlement - the sense of difference between the many races that lived in the eastern half of China was slowly eroded.

Fundamental to this process was the gradual emergence of a shared cultural identity…

Over the last two millennia, China has generally been one of the most advanced, often the most advanced, civilisation in the world. It is hardly surprising that, with a rich history like this, the Chinese have a very powerful sense of their cultural identity…

How did China evolve? It is essentially the story of the Han and the way in which over a period of two millennia they came to absorb the great majority of other ethnic groups…

If the strength of the Han identity is that it has held China together, its weakness, I would argue, has been its relative lack of respect for difference, an underlying assumption that the non-Han should become like the Han - indeed eventually be absorbed into the Han. This attitude is not difficult to understand, it is how the Han became almost, but not quite, synonymous with being Chinese, or, to put it another way, how China was created.

Ethnicity is a powerful determinant of how societies perceive others. So how is China, as a global power, likely to view the rest of the world?

Just as with the US, China will naturally tend to see the world in its own image…

The fact that China has had little experience of, or exposure to, the rest of the world until very recently - the past 30 years to be exact - has served to reinforce a tendency to see other countries through a Chinese prism…

As China becomes increasingly familiar with the world - as is now happening in such a dramatic way, from Africa to Latin America, and South Asia to Central Asia - parochial if deep-seated prejudices will come under growing pressure.

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

CBS news video

A four-minute video report from Bill Whitaker does a great job of describing some of the changes taking place in China and some of the problems preventing reform.

See: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50134473n&tag=showDoorFlexGridRight;flexGridModule

(For whatever reason, I can't embed the video here.)

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Friday, November 02, 2012

Escalation of terrorism

Just a day after Amnesty International accused the Nigerian army of terrorism, the story of more blatant terrorism surfaces.

In spite of the fact that the Nigerian officer corps is dominated by Muslims from the north, this escalation of terrorism is a threat to national unity.

Nigerian 'youths executed' in Boko Haram stronghold
Dozens of young men have been shot dead in Nigeria by the military in Maiduguri, residents in the north-eastern city have told the BBC.

An imam told the BBC about 11 youths from his street alone were killed, including four of his own sons.

The alleged extrajudicial executions happened as Amnesty International accused the security forces of abuses in its crackdown on Islamist militants.

A military spokesman in Maiduguri said he was not aware of the incident.

But Lt Col Sagir Musa told the BBC investigations would be made.

Maiduguri is the stronghold of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which is fighting to impose Islamic law across Nigeria…

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Putin and United Russia recently made it easier to create political parties. That sounds like democratization at work. Skeptics suggest that the real motive was to create divisions among United Russia's opponents so they'd be smaller threats.

Mikhail Prokhorov must be aware of that. He also must have the fates of Mikhail Khordorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky in mind. Nonetheless, he joins a number of Russian oligarchs entering politics.

Russian Billionaire Says He Will Concentrate on Politics
Prokhorov
Amid heightening pressure on leaders of Moscow street protests, the billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov announced on Saturday that he was setting aside his business interests altogether to devote his attention to politics.

Mr. Prokhorov, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, ran for president in March, attracting many of the urban voters who had begun to turn away from President Vladimir V. Putin…

At the convention of his party, Civic Platform, Mr. Prokhorov said he had signed an agreement transferring management of his investment group, Onexim, to his partners.

He said he hoped to attract the support of grass-roots activists and form what he characterized as a “third force,” distinct from both the Kremlin and the protest leaders…

His announcement comes at a low point for the protest movement, after opposition candidates failed to gain a foothold during regional and municipal elections this month, and as several protest leaders face the possibility of imprisonment…

The most recent elections, this month, revealed little support for opposition candidates, said Aleksei V. Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. Since entering politics last year, Mr. Prokhorov has behaved with the caution typical of a Russian industrialist, Mr. Makarkin said, avoiding any statements that would alienate Mr. Putin…

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