Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Surprise, surprise

Do you think the National Peoples Congress will approve the appointments and the reorganizations?

CPC Central Committee adopts state leadership candidates, gov't restructuring plan
The 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) adopted a list of candidates for state leadership positions and a government restructuring plan as its second plenary session closed Thursday.

The 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC)
The list will be recommended to the presidium of the first annual session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC), according to a communique issued after the plenary session…

During Thursday's plenary session, the CPC Central Committee adopted a plan on institutional restructuring and the functional transformation of the State Council and suggested that the State Council submit it at the national legislature's session, according to the communique.

The meeting's participants vowed to push forward the reform of China's administrative system and further separate government administration from enterprises, investment, social undertakings and communal management, the communique said.

They stressed the importance of building a public service-oriented government featuring scientific function, an optimized structure, cleanness and high efficiency.

The government restructuring plan aims at simpler and decentralized administration, as well as improved administrative efficiency…

According to the communique, market and social forces will be given a greater role in allocating resources and managing social affairs, respectively…

The document called on the CPC and people of all ethnic groups to unite and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping as its general secretary.

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Progress in the midst of stasis

I've been studying Nigeria for fifty years. It was that long ago that I met Joaquim Nwabuzor and began being fascinated by the country. Joe and I lost touch with each other after he returned to Nigeria, but he's now Dean of the Faculty of Art and Education at Benson Idahosa University, Benin City. (The wonderful things you learn by searching the Internet.)

Over the years I've marveled and despaired over the state of affairs in Nigeria. Every time there's something like the apparently honest election in 1993, there's something like the awful dictatorship of Sani Abacha.

Here's a hopeful story.

A slow but steady new chug
Train to Kano
[A]fter a ten-year absence this revamped [railroad] link between Nigeria’s two biggest cities is a welcome relief. Travelling the 1,126km (700 miles) at an average speed of less than 50km an hour with endless stops, it is no wonder the trip takes so long. But for most Nigerians the low fares are worth it. A second-class ticket from Lagos to Kano costs around $12, roughly a quarter of the price of a more treacherous bus ride…

The service was relaunched last month after improvements costing $166m. Nigeria’s railways, started in 1898, have deteriorated in the past 20 years owing to those old engines of decay, corruption and mismanagement. Nigerians’ domestic travel options are limited. Most cannot afford to go by air, so take to the roads. Overfilled lorries, usually packed with dozens of passengers sitting on cargo, precariously negotiate crater-sized potholes…

As well as being dangerous, Nigeria’s woeful transport network slows the economy. A rejuvenated rail network could unplug one of the biggest business bottlenecks. In the short run, freight trains are the priority…

The success of the Lagos-Kano route, however slow, indicates the demand for a modern rail network. There are plans to invest in rehabilitating lines along the eastern corridor between Port Harcourt in the south and Maiduguri in the north-east. There is even talk of monorails in a couple of cities. As people scramble on board the new train, it is clear that the Nigerian Railway Corporation will be puffing hard to keep up with demand.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Promoting morality or keeping women down?

Please refer back to the earlier post here about ethnocentrism when thinking about the question in the title of this blog post.

Every spring, as temperatures rise in Iran, conservative clerics and the morality police get more active in identifying, chastising, and sometimes prosecuting women who dress improperly. Here's a new approach.

Political socialization begins early in life. Would these proposed lessons in Iran be in social studies classes?

Baby steps? Toddlers in Iran taught chastity, hijab lessons
Islamic dress and notions of chastity will be taught to toddlers in Iran, as part of a move by the country to instill Islamic teachings into the younger generation, a report on Wednesday revealed.

The governor of Tehran, Morteza Tamadon, has recently stressed the importance of “popularizing” chastity and hijab among Iranians, advising that kindergarteners be taught, “before reaching those in higher education,” the Guardian reported.

“We cannot expect to see hijab and chastity exist in society without proper cultural work,” he said. “Our goal in the social transformation plan devised by the government is institutionalizing chastity and hijab as a natural [demand] in society,” he said…

As for a program targeting toddlers, the welfare office of the Iranian city of Qom is reportedly “training 400 experts on hijab and chastity who will be sent to kindergartens across the city,” according to the Guardian.

The report added that 1,530 kindergartens under the jurisdiction of a north-eastern province have already held “chastity and hijab exhibitions” in recent months…

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Please discuss

If you pick a few trenchant paragraphs out of this essay, you can instigate a good discussion. The discussion might be one of those that recurs over the course of the semester.

Is the discussion about comparative politics? That's one of the topics. You might guess from my choice to post this that I think it is.

The essay is by Adam Etinson, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Of Cannibals, Kings and Culture: The Problem of Ethnocentricity
Montaigne
In August of 1563, Michel de Montaigne… was introduced to three Brazilian cannibals who were visiting Rouen, France… The three men had never before left Brazil… Despite this, they still had enough poise to lucidly respond to Montaigne’s questions about what they thought of their new surroundings.

The observations shared by the native Brazilians have a certain comical quality. Because they looked on French society with such fresh eyes, their observations make the familiar seem absurd. But they are also morally revealing… [T]he Brazilians were shocked by the severe inequality of French citizens, commenting on how some men “were gorged to the full with things of every sort” while others “were beggars at their doors, emaciated with hunger and poverty.”…

Montaigne makes the… provocative claim that, as barbaric as these Brazilian cannibals may be, they are not nearly as barbaric as 16th-century Europeans themselves. To make his case, Montaigne cites various evidence [including] the fact that some European forms of punishment — which involved feeding people to dogs and pigs while they were still alive — were decidedly more horrendous than the native Brazilian practice of eating one’s enemies after they are dead…

Montaigne most certainly wasn’t the first to make note of our tendency to automatically assume the superiority of local beliefs and practices; Herodotus, the Greek historian of the fifth century B.C., made very similar observations in his Histories, noting how all peoples are “accustomed to regard their own customs as by far the best.”…

Philosophers have responded to the pervasive influence of culture on our moral beliefs in various ways. Many have embraced some form of skepticism… John L. Mackie (1917-81) famously cited ethnocentrism as evidence that there are no objective moral facts, or at least none that we can access…

Many have argued, for instance, that the influence of culture on our moral beliefs is evidence… of moral relativism: the idea that the moral truth, for any given people, is determined by their culture… We know from various sources, including Plato’s dialogues, that some Ancient Greeks defended such a view…

[H]owever obvious it may be that culture plays an important role in our moral education, it is nevertheless very hard to prove that our moral beliefs are entirely determined by our culture… For it’s not at all clear why the influence of culture on our moral beliefs should be taken as evidence that cultures influence the moral truth itself…

J. S. Mill
Most important of all is the fact that there are other, more straightforward, and less overtly skeptical, ways of responding to ethnocentrism. Chief among these, in my view, is the simple but humbling acknowledgment that ethnocentrism is a danger that confronts us all, but not one that should disillusion us from the pursuit of truth altogether. This is the sort of response to ethnocentrism one finds, for instance, in the work of the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill… The fact that our deepest-held beliefs would be different had we been born elsewhere on the planet (or even, sometimes, to different parents farther down the street), should disconcert us, make us more open to the likelihood of our own error, and spur us to rigorously evaluate our beliefs and practices against alternatives, but it need not disillusion…

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Teaching tools about Nigeria

Ken Halla and Rebecca Small have been cooperating again. And I'm listening in on Google+ so I can pass along more good ideas from them.

One of the gems they mentioned is a CNN page about Nigeria from January 2012.

There are news reports on the attempt last year to reduce or remove the government subsidy for fuel (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, etc.), the sad state of Nigeria's infrastructure (electrical grid, highways, safe water, airports, etc.), and on the danger to Jonathan's presidency caused by all those things.

 In addition, I offer a May 2012 interview with President Jonathan. The first topic is the fuel subsidy. Later he talks about Boko Haram. Most of us Americans will have difficulty understanding Jonathan because of his accent. You'll have to concentrate.
  

Here also is a January 2013 interview of President Jonathan by Christiane Amanpour.


And if all that's not enough, here's a cartoon from Nigeria about one of the effects of rising fuel prices.


And finally, here's a 22-minute video about oil spills.


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Protecting our morals

The photo almost says it all. The version on the right showed up in Iranian media. The original US broadcast is on the left.

Spot the difference? Michelle Obama’s dress gets Iranian photoshop restyle

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Rebels need better public relations?

Way back in '94, the Zapatistas made a splash in international media, if not in Mexican politics. Then they sort of faded from public notice. The fading was so complete that even though I try to monitor news sources that cover things Mexican, I haven't heard anything about them for a long time. Chris Arsenault, writing for al Jazeera asserts that the reemergence of the PRI might have brought the Zapatista movement back on to the political stage.

Zapatistas break silence to slam Mexico elite
After years of silence, secluded in their base communities in Mexico's impoverished south, indigenous Zapatista rebels have re-emerged with a series of public statements in recent weeks, attempting to reignite passions for their demands of "land, liberty, work and peace".

Subcomandate Marcos
In December, 40,000 Zapatista supporters marched through villages in Chiapas, re-asserting their presence. In January and February, Subcomandate Marcos - the Zapatistas' pipe-smoking, non-indigenous spokesman and an international media darling - issued a series of communiques slamming the government of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which assumed power in December…

The group first made international headlines on January 1, 1994, when they captured six towns in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state and one of the country's poorest regions.

The Rand Corporation, a research group with links to the US military, said Chiapas is "characterised by tremendous age-old gaps between the wealthy and impoverished - kept wide by privileged landowners who ran feudal fiefdoms with private armies".

For nearly two decades, the Zapatistas have attempted to build a system of autonomous governance, emphasising indigenous dignity and collective agriculture. Indigenous members of the group could not be reached by Al Jazeera for comment, due in part to a lack of easy phone access.

The group had been quiet in recent years before the December rally and subsequent communiques. "They have been busy, building up their base as a social movement at the community level, even if they hadn't been in the media," Mark Berger, visiting professor of defence analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School, told Al Jazeera. There are between 100,000 and 200,000 people living in communities which support the Zapatistas, he said…

Previous attempts to unify Mexico's social movements, from independent trade unionists, to feminists, students, punks and other indigenous people, have been met with mixed results…

The PAN had little interest in dealing with the Zapatistas or the broader issues faced by indigenous Mexicans. Today, the PAN is out of office in a development that could change dynamics for the Zapatistas.

The PRI, which… was in power when the Zapatistas first rebelled. The return… could benefit the Zapatistas as they seek to rebuild alliances with social movements outside of Chiapas and reinvigorate their national presence.

It remains unclear if the Zapatistas will be able to capitalise on these potential changes, but their re-emergence in the public eye is being met with interest across Mexico and beyond.

"Recent communications are specifically directed at re-activating their national and international base," said one long-time supporter… "The Zapatistas are hoping, I think, that people will create the conditions of autonomy and self-sufficiency in their local areas; they want supporters to bring the ideas of the revolution home."

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Globalization promoting better government and politics

If Thomas Friedman, in his New York Times analysis, is right, economic globalization is pushing positive changes in Mexico's government and politics. (See his last paragraph.)

The idea that prosperity will promote democratization is a popular idea. Is this part of that? And is globalization having the same effects on China? on Russia? on Nigeria? Why or why not?

And, as a follow-up, are economic sanctions on Iran isolating that country from the beneficial results of globalization?

How Mexico Got Back in the Game
In India, people ask you about China, and, in China, people ask you about India: Which country will become the more dominant economic power in the 21st century? I now have the answer: Mexico.

Impossible, you say?… Everything you’ve read about Mexico is true: drug cartels, crime syndicates, government corruption and weak rule of law hobble the nation. But that’s half the story. The reality is that Mexico today is more like a crazy blend of the movies “No Country for Old Men” and “The Social Network.”

Mexico has signed 44 free trade agreements… more than twice as many as China and four times more than Brazil. Mexico has also greatly increased the number of engineers and skilled laborers graduating from its schools. Put all that together with massive cheap natural gas finds, and rising wage and transportation costs in China, and it is no surprise that Mexico now is taking manufacturing market share back from Asia and attracting more global investment than ever in autos, aerospace and household goods.

“Today, Mexico exports more manufactured products than the rest of Latin America put together,” The Financial Times reported…

“Twenty years ago, most Mexican companies were not global,” explained Blanca Treviño, the president and founder of Softtek, one of Mexico’s leading I.T. service providers. They focused on the domestic market and cheap labor for the U.S. “Today, we understand that we have to compete globally” and that means “becoming efficient. We have a [software] development center in Wuxi, China. But we are more efficient now in doing the same business from our center in Aguascalientes, [Mexico], than we are from our center in Wuxi.”

Mexico still has huge governance problems to fix, but what’s interesting is that, after 15 years of political paralysis, Mexico’s three major political parties have just signed “a grand bargain,” a k a “Pact for Mexico,” under the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to work together to fight the big energy, telecom and teacher monopolies that have held Mexico back. If they succeed, maybe Mexico will teach us something about democracy…

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New Revised edition of What You Need to Know

The 5th Edition of the review book for Comparative Government and Politics, What You Need to Know, is now available. You can order it from the book's website.


The price remains the same and there is no charge for Priority Rate postage.

It will soon be available from other sources as well.

New to this 2013 edition of What You Need to Know

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Then keep opposition leaders in jail (at home)

Last week, Iran jailed journalists who were suspected of intending to report on politics. Of course, they've keep the losing presidential candidates locked up in their homes for a long time.

Call for Iran to end house arrest of opposition leaders
Six leading human rights organisations have called on Iran to the end the "arbitrary" house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been cut off from the outside world for nearly two years without being put on trial.

"For two years now Iranian officials have stripped these opposition figures of their most basic rights without any legal justification or any effective means of remedy," the Iranian Nobel peace prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi, said in a joint appeal signed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, International Federation for Human Rights, League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran, and Reporters Without Borders.

Mousavi and Karroubi
In mid-February 2011, following calls for street protests in solidarity with the pro-democracy movements in Egypt and Tunisia, dubbed the Arab spring, Iranian authorities placed Mousavi and Karroubi, along with their wives, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi, under house arrest…

The Islamic republic has so far refused to put the men on trial and the decision behind the house arrests is believed to have come from the very top, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei…

Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, one of Karorubi's sons who is currently living in exile in London, told the Guardian that for the last 18 months his father had been made to live in an apartment alone, at one point being denied family visits. "It's solitary confinement. These days he's allowed to visit family members once a week but there was a time we had no contact with him for over four months."…

Iran is due to hold its next presidential vote in June. Five months out, the authorities have escalated the crackdown on the press, arresting a number of journalists and forbidding any mention of an election boycott…

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

History intrudes on politics

If you're looking to offer some background to today's politics in China, there's a current trial that might offer some lessons. And, the BBC offers the story of a BBC employee who grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution.

China Cultural Revolution murder trial sparks debate
The trial in China of an elderly man accused of murder during the Cultural Revolution has sparked online debate.

The man, reportedly in his 80s and surnamed Qiu, is accused of killing a doctor he believed was a spy…

Ordinary citizens - particularly the young - were encouraged to challenge the privileged, resulting in the persecution of hundreds of thousands of people who were considered intellectuals or otherwise enemies of the state.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Shanghai says the topic of what went on during the Cultural Revolution remains highly sensitive in China and public discussion of it is limited, but that the trial has caused fierce debate online…

The state-run China Youth Daily published an outspoken editorial comparing the excesses of the period to the Nazi atrocities in Europe.

"The most shocking thing about the Cultural Revolution was the assault on human dignity. Insults, abuse, maltreatment and homicide were common. The social order was in chaos," it said.

It suggested that unless the period was finally allowed to be openly reviewed there was a danger of the chaos and violence returning, warning that many people harbour nostalgic views of it.

Poster titled "Proletarian revolutionary rebels unite"
Growing up a foreigner during Mao's Cultural Revolution
Paul Crook's Communist parents met in China in 1940 and brought up their three sons in Beijing. In the 1960s, Paul was caught up in the Cultural Revolution, a chaotic attempt to root out elements seen as hostile to Communist rule…

Mobilised by Chairman Mao, millions of young people became Red Guards.

They hounded anyone who they thought was sabotaging the Communist Revolution, many of them highly placed members of the Communist Party…

After I left school, I worked in a farm implements factory, and later an automobile repair plant…

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Goring someone's ox

Off the top of my head, I'd guess that a bonyad controlled by some religious leaders owns a wireless phone company that wants to avoid competition.

Iran’s first encounter with 3G technology chastised by Fatwa
Four grand ayatollahs issued a fatwa that strips Iran’s third mobile phone operator from its rights to use a new 3G mobile internet operator.

The fatwa was issued towards Iran’s mobile service provider, Rightel, which enables customers to use video calling and multi-media messaging technology. The service uses 3G technology which is Iranian’s first encounter with telecommunication expansion.

Iran’s conservative parliament and the four grand ayatollahs are working on shutting down the 3G operator.
Ayatollah Alavi Gorghani said providing this technology to the public would inflict damages on the country’s political and religion systems.
Another ayatollah said the 3G service Rightel is leading to corruption of Iranians rather than benefiting them.

“It will cause new deviances in our society, which is unfortunately already plagued with deviances,” said ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi…

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Scandal or politics?

What I want to know is whether a Putin loyalist would be treated this way. Or is Vladimir Pekhtin a Putin loyalist?

Russian Parliament Ethics Chief Steps Aside Over Reports of Undisclosed Properties
The chairman of the ethics committee in Russia’s lower house of Parliament temporarily relinquished his authority on Wednesday after bloggers posted a raft of documents on the Internet showing him as the owner of expensive real estate, including a luxury oceanfront apartment in South Beach, part of Miami Beach, as well as valuable property in Russia that he did not list on required disclosure forms.

Pekhtin
The chairman, Vladimir A. Pekhtin, insisted in a televised statement that he had done nothing wrong, and that his voluntary surrender of authority over the ethics panel would last only for the duration of an investigation that he said would clear him.

But the documents, some of them easily available public property records, showed Mr. Pekhtin’s name on the deeds of at least three properties in Florida, including the South Beach apartment bought last year for nearly $1.3 million…

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Money finds a way around sanctions

Maybe I was influenced by the video I just watched about how well-connected Chinese "entrepreneurs" amass incredible wealth in a country run by a Communist Party.

When I saw this headline I thought "Islamic Republic with Iranian characteristics." Then I wondered how many of these luxury cars were purchased by the sons of powerful ayatollahs. (The GDP per capita in Iran is $13,100 and the unemployment rate is 15%. But, it's only 500 cars.)

Porsche lists no dealerships in either Iran or the UAE, but there is a dealer in Iraq.

Iran imports luxury cars by way of disputed island
An Iranian newspaper says at least 500 Porsche cars have been imported by way of a Gulf island that is also claimed by the United Arab Emirates.

Thursday’s report by the Javan daily quotes lawmaker Amir Khojasteh as saying it's unclear who the importer was or why the island of Abu Musa was used as the route to bring the vehicles into Iran.

Khojasteh is demanding that Industry Minister Mahdi Ghazanfari elaborate on the case.

Abu Musa is one of three Iranian-controlled islands close to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway through which about one-fifth of the world's oil supply passes.

Tehran says they have been part of states that existed on the Iranian mainland from antiquity until the British occupied them in the early 20th century.

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Changing course in Mexico's drug war

Mexico's new president has begun to announce the new directions of the war on drugs and drug cartels. Will the policy changes result in political changes?

Mexico unveils details of new security strategy
Mexico's new administration offered the first details on Tuesday of a long-touted shift in the country's war on drugs, saying the government will spend $9.2 billion this year on social programs meant to keep young people from joining criminal organizations in the 251 most violent towns and neighborhoods across the country.

The government will flood those areas with spending on programs ranging from road-building to increasing school hours…

Peña Nieto
"It's clear that we must put special emphasis on prevention, because we can't only keep employing more sophisticated weapons, better equipment, more police, a higher presence of the armed forces in the country as the only form of combating organized crime," Peña Nieto said.

The rhetoric of the announcement was a forceful rejection of Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who deployed thousands of troops to battle cartel gunmen and frequently boasted of the number of drug-gang leaders arrested and killed on his watch. But the speeches by Peña Nieto and Osorio Chong contained few specifics…

"The focus isn't new, but in Calderón's case it was much more of secondary importance, and at least the announcement today in Aguascalientes is about prioritizing the focus on prevention over punishment," said Erubiel Tirado, coordinator of the national security program at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City…

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Complications of independence

It may be that negotiations could resolve some of the issues, but if Scotland opts for independence, there will be many details to work out.

Scotland Faces More Hurdles if It Approves Independence
Scotland would have to renegotiate membership in the European Union and other international organizations if it votes for independence in a referendum next year, according to legal advice published on Monday by the British government…

[T]he document drew a prickly response from advocates of Scottish independence, who have treated the question of European Union membership for an independent Scotland as essentially a technical issue.

The European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, said last year that an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership. That raised the possibility that Scotland would, like other newly admitted members, be obliged to adopt the euro currency, an unpopular prospect in Scotland…

The legal advice suggests that if Scotland becomes independent, it will be a “new state,” while the “remainder of the United Kingdom” would be considered a “continuing state,”… The continuing state would automatically keep the rights, obligations, memberships, treaty relationships and powers under international law that the United Kingdom currently has, while the new state would have to start from scratch…

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Some things just scream organized crime

No matter where it happens, the combination of bodies and concrete seem a sure sign of organized crime activity, especially in the construction industry. Add this to the recent report of corruption in the rebuilding of churches.

Russian Legislator’s Body Is Found in a Barrel Filled With Concrete
Mikhail Pakhomov
The body of Mikhail Pakhomov, 36, a missing city legislator and construction tycoon was found in a private basement garage on the city’s outskirts, inside a rusted metal barrel filled with concrete, the police said Monday…

The killing recalled the brutal violence that routinely emerged from business disputes in the 1990s. Mr. Pakhomov, who was reported missing last Tuesday, was a promising young star in United Russia, the ruling party founded by President Vladimir V. Putin, and had served as head of a construction company that was reported to have won large contracts to develop utilities and infrastructure in several cities.

Sergei B. Ivanov, Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, last year called housing and utilities services one of Russia’s most corrupt sectors. Many lucrative contracts are doled out on the municipal level, and large sums of money are at stake…

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Nigerian political values

As some textbooks report, the political elite in Nigeria hold mostly democratic values. However, one thing elite and the masses agree on is not very democratic. They agree that inequality is natural and normal.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, who is a novelist and a fellow with the African Leadership Institute, writes in this New York Times analysis about the difficulties that presents. Are there reasonable expectations for a democratic system in Nigeria if nearly everyone is convinced that some people have fewer abilities and rights than others?

In Nigeria, You’re Either Somebody or Nobody
In America, all men are believed to be created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. But Nigerians are brought up to believe that our society consists of higher and lesser beings. Some are born to own and enjoy, while others are born to toil and endure.

The earliest indoctrination many of us have to this mind-set happens at home. Throughout my childhood, “househelps” — usually teenagers from poor families — came to live with my family, sometimes up to three or four of them at a time. In exchange for scrubbing, laundering, cooking, baby-sitting and everything else that brawn could accomplish, either they were sent to school, or their parents were sent regular cash…

Househelps were widely believed to be scoundrels and carriers of disease. The first thing to do when a new one arrived was drag him off to the laboratory for blood tests, the results of which would determine whether he should be allowed into your haven. The last thing to do when one was leaving was to search him for stolen items…

Every family we knew had similar stories about their domestic staff. With time, we children learned to think of them as figures depressed by the hand of nature below the level of the human species, as if they had been created only as a useful backdrop against which we were to shine.

Not much has changed since I was a child. My friend’s daughter, who attends one of those schools where all the students are children of either well-off Nigerians or well-paid expatriates, recently captured this attitude while summarizing the plot of my novel to her mother. “Three people died,” the 11-year-old said, “but one of them was a poor man.”…

The average Nigerian’s best hope for dignified treatment is to acquire the right props. Flashy cars. Praise singers. Elite group membership. British or American accent. Armed escort. These ensure that you will get efficient service at banks and hospitals…

This somebody-nobody mind-set is at the root of corruption and underdevelopment: ingenuity that could be invested in moving society forward is instead expended on individuals’ rising just one rung higher, and immediately claiming their license to disparage and abuse those below…

Nigeria is one of Africa’s largest economies; it produces around two million barrels of crude oil per day. And yet, in 2010, 61 percent of Nigerians were living in “absolute poverty” — able to afford only the bare essentials of shelter, food and clothing. In one state in northern Nigeria, where extremist groups like Boko Haram originate, poverty levels that year were as high as 86.4 percent.

Economic growth will continue to bypass the majority, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen, so long as we see ourselves as divided between somebodys and nobodys…
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Monday, February 18, 2013

Transnational gridlock

How will checks and balances work out this time?

EU lawmakers threaten to veto tightened budget
The leaders of the European Parliament are threatening to veto the bloc’s multi-annual budget because of its deep cuts.

The Christian Democratic EPP, the largest group in the legislature, said the 7-year budget worth €960 billion ($1.28 trillion) must be revised to realistically reflect the EU’s growing competences and responsibilities.

Socialist leader Hannes Swoboda called the budget — which needs parliament’s approval — unacceptable and said there won’t be a majority for the proposed plan.

The EU’s 27 member states earlier this month agreed on a budget deal that foresees the first cuts in the bloc’s history for the years 2014-2020.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy defended the plan as shifting funds toward growth-friendly investment while recognizing the need to tighten belts currently felt across Europe.

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Unofficial religion in Russia

This topic is probably peripheral to the main themes of Comparative Government and Politics, but if your students are especially interested in Russia, Russian religion, or Russian history, this might be intriguing. The video is 25 minutes long and reminds me of reports on the CBS program "60 Minutes."

Orthodox corruption?
Less than three decades ago, it would have been unthinkable for a Russian premier to have exchanged public expressions of solidarity and goodwill with the head of the country's Orthodox Church.

For years under communism the institution had been suppressed, its priests harassed by the authorities, its churches closed or given over to communal secular pursuits, its devotees scorned for their 'superstitious' adherence to doctrines that the state and the party regarded with deep suspicion.

Indeed, the Soviet Union was the first nation to have elimination of religion as an ideological objective and tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of people paid very dearly for their beliefs as a consequence.

But things have changed...

From its foundation in the 10th century when the Orthodox Church broke from Roman Catholicism, its power and influence grew until it became central to the nation's very identity, synonymous with Holy Mother Russia. Now, its champions will tell you, after the barren wilderness years of Soviet hostility, the Church is merely reclaiming that rightful pre-eminence...

But there is more to this closeness than just mutual admiration. Physical signs of the Orthodox Church's resurgence can be found all over Moscow where a massive state-funded programme, worth billions of roubles, to restore hundreds of Orthodox churches is currently underway.

Though the initiative is undoubtedly returning some of the Russian capital's ancient architectural wonders to their full glittering glory, it has caused some to wonder whether the Church should be choosing its friends more wisely.

Some even talk darkly about corruption, about the less-than-transparent way publicly funded reconstruction projects have been contracted out, about the oddly commercial relationships of certain Church institutions and the controversial use of taxpayers' money for church related projects in what is still officially a secular country.

Orthodox Corruption? A film by Simon Ostrovsky and Veronika Dorman


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Friday, February 15, 2013

A balancing act in China

Maintaining democratic centralism and fighting corruption. Sounds like a plan; almost like the name for a new mass campaign. The balancing might be real or it might only be an act.

Vows of Change in China Belie Private Warning
When China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, visited the country’s south to promote himself before the public as an audacious reformer following in the footsteps of Deng Xiaoping, he had another message to deliver to Communist Party officials behind closed doors.

Despite decades of heady economic growth, Mr. Xi told party insiders during a visit to Guangdong Province in December, China must still heed the “deeply profound” lessons of the former Soviet Union, where political rot, ideological heresy and military disloyalty brought down the governing party. In a province famed for its frenetic capitalism, he demanded a return to traditional Leninist discipline…

Xi
In Mr. Xi’s first three months as China’s top leader, he has gyrated between defending the party’s absolute hold on power and vowing a fundamental assault on entrenched interests of the party elite that fuel corruption. How to balance those goals presents a quandary to Mr. Xi, whose agenda could easily be undermined by rival leaders determined to protect their own bailiwicks and on guard against anything that weakens the party’s authority…

“Everyone is talking about reform, but in fact everyone has a fear of reform,” said Ma Yong, a historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. For party leaders, he added: “The question is: Can society be kept under control while you go forward? That’s the test.”…

The tension between embracing change and defending top-down party power has been an abiding theme in China since Deng set the country on its economic transformation in the late 1970s. But Mr. Xi has come to power at a time when such strains are especially acute…

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Inching toward private property

In the US, Thomas Jefferson proposed a system of surveying land that is basically still used today. He was concerned with the organized sale of "wilderness" lands that the USA claimed to own after the American Revolution.

China's system for defining land "ownership" is much more traditional and local. Add to that the land redistributions of the 1950s, the commune movement of the 1960s, and the urban migrations of the 1980s and '90s, and the system poses immense problems for new reforms centered on recreating private ownership and encouraging more efficient agriculture.

Satellites Put Small Farms on China's Map
The bare light bulbs, unheated rooms and elderly residents of the whitewashed village of Yangwang in eastern China make it seem an unlikely place for an experiment in cutting-edge satellite technology.

But the tiny village in Anhui Province was home to a pilot project that for the first time mapped farmers’ land, putting Yangwang on the front line of China’s efforts to build a modern agricultural sector that can underpin the country’s food security — a policy priority for the Communist Party.

The mapping is a tedious but crucial task to make farmers feel more secure about their rights so that they become more willing to merge fields into larger-scale farms. It could also help protect them from land grabs by local officials, a leading cause of rural unrest…

Reforms in the 1980s assigned farmland to households, with formal ownership reserved for the village collective. But land certificates are imprecise at best, and more than half of rural households lack documentation — leaving possession dependent upon villagers’ knowledge and officialdom’s whims…

Fields near the Yangtze River
Most Chinese farmers till about eight mu, or a little more than an acre… per household. Each household’s land tends to be subdivided into five or more plots…

China legalized land transfers in 2008 to formally allow villagers to aggregate land. Most Chinese agriculture remains small-scale, however, which does not facilitate investments that would increase productivity enough to feed a growing urban population…

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Efficiency vs Politics

All that messy compromise and agreement stuff seems to get in the way of efficient government. Do we really need all that democracy stuff?

BTW: should somebody tell the MEPs about iPads and "the cloud" so they don't have to haul trunks full of paper back and forth?

Europe's costly double parliament: a movable beast
The morning high-speed train from Brussels pulled into the lonely train station of the provincial French city of Strasbourg. As the doors opened, the chaotic scramble for cabs, cars and buses heralded an extraordinary phenomenon of international politics: the European Union’s ‘‘traveling circus’’ was back in town.

Hundreds of EU parliamentarians and their staff were completing their monthly 435-kilometer (270-mile) legislative migration, one that takes them from their own parliament in Brussels to, well, their own parliament in Strasbourg — for just four days.

EU Parliament in Strassbourg
The cost to the EU taxpayer: an estimated €180 million ($245 million) a year…

The EU set up two parliaments, one at headquarters in Brussels, the other in Strasbourg, as part of a complex diplomatic dance in which France and Germany, the chief architects of the European project, were eager to find an emblem for their postwar reconciliation…

EU leaders are hoping to use their two-day summit to trim more out of a €1 trillion ($1.35 trillion) seven-year budget… The head of Cameron’s Conservative party at the EU Parliament was clear on where he would look for savings: ‘‘We cannot stand here in Strasbourg at our second seat — this icon of EU profligacy — and say that there is no money that can be saved,’’ Martin Callanan told his fellow legislators…

Often fiercely fought over by Germany and France in centuries of fighting, Strasbourg has both Gallic and Teutonic influences, from its street signs to its gastronomic specialties. Tucked on the French side of the Rhine river, it became an emblem of the warm ties France and Germany had nurtured since World War II. For France, the Strasbourg parliament also evolved into a symbol of its status as a European heavyweight, and a boon for the local economy…

‘‘The outside world looks on with amazement that all of these years after the Second World War we are still perpetuating this anachronistic homage to the Franco-German reconciliation,’’ said British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott.

In France, it’s a different story.

On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande, after conveniently flying in from Paris, celebrated Strasbourg’s role.

‘‘I defend Strasbourg, the capital of Europe, because it is history that teaches us the role Strasbourg has to play,’’ Hollande told EU legislators. ‘‘Strasbourg is both the history and the future of Europe.’’…

France also said that all EU nations, including Britain, formally agreed on the dual parliament in 1992. And since any change requires unanimity, France remains in full control of Strasbourg’s destiny…

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Caging power

While the new Party leader in China can't say "rule of law," he did talk about keeping power within a "cage." Perhaps Chinese dissidents should talk about cages rather than constitutions.

Reformers Aim to Get China to Live Up to Own Constitution
After the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the surviving Communist Party leaders pursued a project that might sound familiar to those in the West: Write a constitution that enshrines individual rights and ensures rulers are subject to law, so that China would never again suffer from the whims of a tyrant.

The resulting document guaranteed full powers for a representative legislature, the right to ownership of private property, and freedoms of speech, press and assembly. But the idealism of the founding fathers was short-lived. Though the Constitution was ratified in 1982 by the National People’s Congress, it has languished ever since.

Now, in a drive to persuade the Communist Party’s new leaders to liberalize the authoritarian political system, prominent Chinese intellectuals and publications are urging the party simply to enforce the principles of their own Constitution.

The strategy reflects an emerging consensus among advocates for political reform that taking a moderate stand in support of the Constitution is the best way to persuade Xi Jinping, the party’s new general secretary, and other leaders, to open up China’s party-controlled system. Some of Mr. Xi’s recent speeches, including one in which he emphasized the need to enforce the Constitution, have ignited hope among those pushing for change…

Through the decades, party leaders have paid lip service to the Constitution, but have failed to enforce its central tenets, some of which resemble those in constitutions of Western democracies. The fifth article says the Constitution is the supreme authority: “No organization or individual may enjoy the privilege of being above the Constitution and the law.” Any real application of the Constitution would mean severely diluting the party’s power.

It is unclear whether the latest push will be any more successful than previous efforts…

Deng Yuwen, an editor at Study Times, said he had so far only seen talk from Mr. Xi. “We have yet to see any action from him,” Mr. Deng said. “The Constitution can’t be implemented through talking.”

And since taking power, Mr. Xi has appeared more concerned with maintaining party discipline than opening political doors. In remarks made during a recent southern trip that have circulated in party circles, Mr. Xi said China must avoid the fate of the Soviet Union, which broke apart, in his view, after leaders failed to stick to their socialist ideals and the party lost control of the military…

Nonetheless, talk of constitutionalism has become daily fare on literati Web sites like Gongshiwang, a politics forum. Typical was a Jan. 24 essay that ran on the site by Liu Junning, a political scientist, who seized on Mr. Xi’s most recent remarks on “caging power” and traced the concept to the Magna Carta and the American Constitution.

“Constitutional governance is restricted governance,” Mr. Lui wrote. “It is to tame the rulers. It is to shut the rulers in a cage.”
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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's a Putin to do?

This analysis of Russian politics comes from Nick Hayes, a professor of history (especially Russian) who holds the university chair in critical thinking at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minn.

Putin’s cruel politics behind the ban on Russian adoptions
Despite Vladimir Putin’s victory in the presidential election last year, long-promised and delayed reforms of education, social welfare, health care, infrastructure investment and taxation have gone nowhere. Meanwhile, the Russian parliament is working on legislation that would ban blasphemy, the use of foreign words and phrases in the Russian language, and “homosexual propaganda” from the press.

It is the season of non-issues in Russian politics…

[Putin's] decision to embrace the ban on U.S. adoptions underscores his political vulnerability. Ever since his announcement in fall 2011 that he would run for a third presidential term and basically dump the erstwhile President Dmitry Medvedev and his liberal entourage, Putin has turned to the hard-line Russian right for his base of support…

The controversy over adoption plays out in the nationalist angst in Russia over its demographic decline. Life expectancy rates remain at Third World levels. Russia reached below-zero birth rates decades ago…

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No civil society here, thank you

In the Soviet Union (and Tsarist Russia before it) any organization, from stamp collectors to football players, from knitters to gardeners, was run by the government (or the Communist Party in the USSR). In the People's Republic of China, any organization outside the Party or the government is suspect and likely to be persecuted.

Independent civil society is a threat to the power and control of the powers that be. In Putin's Russia, as surveillance, nationalism, obedience, and official religion are becoming more and more important, uncontrolled civil society organizations are less and less welcome.

In Russia, volunteers step up
A country doctor, a tiny, dilapidated village hospital, an indifferent health bureaucracy — and now, coming to the rescue, volunteers from distant Moscow, bringing furniture, equipment, money and, maybe most important, good cheer.

In the background, though, is the parliament — weighing a law to bring any volunteer activity under the purview of the state, on the theory that people who organize themselves to do good work are a threat to the state’s power.

The past year or so has seen an upwelling of a trend unprecedented in Russia — people getting together on their own to help others in need. Personal initiative, always suspect here, is suddenly taking off…

The rapid emergence of volunteer efforts, fueled in large part by social media, coincides with the eruption of public political protest — and that’s not by happenstance. There is an overlap between the political opposition and those who have become fed up with a corrupt government that delivers little and who have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Legislation to regulate volunteers has been introduced in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, by President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. Backers say it will ensure that volunteer activity conforms to the government’s priorities and doesn’t conflict with Kremlin policy.

Officials aren’t the only ones hostile to volunteerism. Russia’s Soviet past, when the government controlled all aspects of life, has left it with a population that is accustomed to the idea that the government should provide for its citizens and that is suspicious of volunteer organizations. A 2012 poll found that more than half the population disapproves of them... 
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Monday, February 11, 2013

How much of a problem is ambiguity?

One of the themes of my review book is ambiguity (thanks to Chip Hauss).

For students who want to memorize the "right" answers, ambiguity causes problems, and comparative politics is full of ambiguity. So is the exam which asks students to identify best answers or better answers in its questions.

This analysis by Max Fisher in the Washington Post is a great illustration. It's not definitive and it won't answer all your questions about legitimacy, but it can be a good beginning of discussion and thinking. Or it can be a good prompt for a free response question.

Is the Iranian government legitimate?
At a White House press conference... a reporter asked a deceptively simple question: “Does the president believe the government of Iran is legitimate and elected?”... 

White House spokesperson Jay Carney sidestepped the question, which had to be asked a second and a third time before he finally said, “Look, it’s the government that we deal with, and it is the government that continues to flout its international obligations, and that behavior is illegitimate.” In other words, he wasn’t willing to say whether or not the U.S. considers the Iranian government to be legitimate…

[T]here’s another reason that the White House is probably not eager to make any public stands on the legitimacy of the Iranian government: it would beg the obvious follow-up question, why or why not? And, even worse, it would invite world leaders to consider what other government did or did not meet Obama’s standard of legitimacy.

The truth is that the question of what makes a government legitimate is a notoriously complicated one. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations with strong U.S. support, [identified]… a political theory called “the consent of the governed,” which says that governments get their legitimacy from a willfully governed populace and which was championed by 17th century English philosopher John Locke…

Our world is a little more complicated today, with a number of regimes such as Iran’s, authoritarian in its grip on power but also earnestly supported by some number of citizens. Are they legitimate? Where is the line between a government that rules through force rather than consent and one that has consent but is not actually democratic?…

“Despite the acknowledged importance of legitimacy, political science remains divided about its meaning and its sources,” Bruce Gilley, of Princeton University, wrote… “As a result, there is no existing cross-national data set on the legitimacy of states, much less an agreed way of creating one.”

In other words, there is no list of legitimate and illegitimate governments because, as Gilley shows, it is not a simple binary. Rather, he defines legitimacy as a question of degrees. “A state is more legitimate the more that it is treated by its citizens as rightfully holding and exercising political power,” he writes… But if you’re looking for the thin line that divides the legitimate governments from the illegitimate, you’re not going to find it.

Earlier scholars have argued that there are three ways that an individual citizen can shed legitimacy on his or her government, whether knowingly or not: through views of legality, views of justification and acts of consent. Democracy, of course, tends to fulfill all three. But perhaps you can see ways here that other forms of government, even if in practice they are headed by people we don’t like and tend to do some very bad things, can still pick up some legitimacy. Presumably, some number of people in Iran, not all of them, believe that the government’s crackdowns in 2009 were justified to maintain order. Or maybe they hate the government but, to get through the week, they still go to their civil service job. That doesn’t make Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei legitimate in a categorical sense, but it does offer him some degrees of legitimacy…

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

The depths of belief

This is really more current events than political science, but it illustrates another dimension of the problems faced by the challenged political system in Nigeria.

Some poorly educated radicals in Muslim countries have preached that polio vaccines are Western or American attacks on Islamic people. Some politically motivated terrorists have followed up with killings of public health workers trying to eliminate polio.

Before anyone gets all proud of rational Western scientific attitudes, remind yourself that there are people in the USA and Europe who claim that vaccinations cause autism. Some of them endanger the rest of us and our children by not having their children vaccinated. [The vaccine-autism controversy has been brewing ever since Andrew Wakefield published his infamous 1998 paper in The Lancet. Fourteen years later, the study has been retracted and scientists have had no luck finding a legitimate link between childhood vaccinations and autism. Yet, the debate rages on.]

Nine Polio Health Workers Gunned Down
Unknown gunmen shot dead nine women involved in Nigeria's polio-vaccination campaign in the northern city of Kano on Friday in two separate attacks, press reports said on Friday…

The attacks on the health workers on Friday will likely further complicate Nigeria's efforts to eradicate polio. Some influential Muslim leaders oppose polio vaccination, saying it is harmful and aimed at Muslim children.

Nigeria is one of three countries where polio remains endemic, including India and Pakistan. Islamist militants in Pakistan last month attacked health workers involved in the polio eradication campaign there.

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Grass roots law enforcement

Vigilantes and mobs have a deservedly bad reputation when it comes to law enforcement. And in Mexico, grass roots activism is notably rare. So there are high standards to meet if this local effort to end crime and violence is to be judged.

And we have to ask if there are political dimensions to the situation. Is there an ambitious local jefe involved in the movement as well as widespread frustration with mounting violence?

Mexico's vigilantes turn over 11 detained suspects
The Mexican farmers who took up arms against drug-gang violence and crime in the mountains of southern Mexico have turned over to authorities 11 of 53 people that the vigilantes have detained over the last month as suspected criminals.

Movement leader Bruno Placido says the 11 are the detainees accused by local residents of the most serious crimes… The vigilante movement sprang up in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero after a series of kidnappings in early January.
The Guerrero state government says Placido's group has agreed to turn over "the first 20" detainees, implying more will eventually follow. But Placido says a residents assembly in the township of Ayutla will determine the next step.

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