Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vote for me because of who I am

This little case study is a good one for illustrating the role that ethnic group identity can play in Nigerian politics.

Three thoughts:
  • The issue of domestic migration is a big one in many parts of Nigeria. Not only are major cities magnets for migrants seeking more opportunities, but so are prosperous farming areas. But migrants almost always move into areas dominated where they are in ethnic minorities. Sometimes there are religious differences between the "indigenes" and the settlers.

  • Everyone goes to great lengths to avoid using the words tribe or tribal. Thus we refer to ethnic groups and cleavages between ethnic groups. The primary source of this "political correctness" is the incredible misunderstandings about relatively small, indigenous communities that Europeans, when they arrived the the Americas and Africa, called tribes. Rather than perpetuate First World misperceptions, it's better to make the effort to use the ethnic group term.

  • As the letter's author, Sola Odunfa, writes in the conclusion, it might be better for us to pay attention to the political cleavage between rich and poor in Nigeria rather than constantly focus on ethnic divisions.
Letter from Africa: Playing the ethnic card
I laughed in amazement shortly after an otherwise well-informed friend living abroad telephoned to alert me about a serious political crisis about to burst in Nigeria.

He said that the Igbo people of the south-east and the Yoruba of the south-west were smarting for war over alleged maltreatment meted to some Igbo people residing in Lagos, the commercial capital…

I then told him that I heard the story when it first hit the airwaves two weeks earlier. The accounts available from Anambra [a state in the southeast, where Igbo are the largest group] were so disjointed that I did not find them credible…

Suddenly, it occurred to me that the state governor, Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (Apga) party, would be facing an election in two months' time.

The governing party at federal level, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) had launched a strong campaign to oust him from power.

Also, a new opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), had joined the fray.

A few of the 400+ language/ethnic groups in Nigeria
So, the governor fell back on a line which was sure to resonate with the justifiably angry electorate: Igbo people were being persecuted in Lagos and he was standing up in their defence! I don't know of a better election winner…

Meanwhile, the more important constitutional issue of the freedom of Nigerians within Nigeria has been swept under the carpet.

Soon, the federal government will "abduct" poor people and the destitute from the streets of the capital, Abuja, and send them away.

State governments - all of them - are doing this in the name of urban renewal.

As it is, only the rich and comfortable are guaranteed the enjoyment of freedom of movement, of residency and of speech stated in Nigeria's constitution.

The rest of us are at the mercy of the various governments.

Ethnicity has little or nothing to do with it. It is a case of the elite versus the rest, the rich versus the poor.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

PR campaign or analysis?

This analysis seems primarily based on an interview with a former Iranian government official. It's unsigned, so there's no hint about whose ideas shaped the analysis. And, we have to ask whether this is analysis or part of a campaign to put a more reasonable face on the government of Iran.

In spite of those reservations, the description of the limits on the Supreme Leader sound reasonably accurate. Just don't forget to use a grain of salt.

Iran’s supreme leader does not rule supreme
Though supreme leader, Khamenei does not rule supreme.

“Of course Mr. Khamenei has his own personal viewpoints… and he insists on them and repeats them,” said Ali asghar Ramezanpoor, a former deputy culture minister, listing Khamenei's deep distrust of the United States, Western cultural influence and his insistence on the nuclear program as a red line.

Khamenei
Himself president from 1981 to 1989, Khamenei “knows that on administrative issues of the country he must be flexible,”Ramezanpoor told Reuters.

The Iranian political system is a complex mix of Shi'ite Muslim clerical authority and an elected president and parliament, overseen by numerous appointed regulatory councils.

Then there are the elite Revolutionary Guards who, as well as being engaged abroad… also control large parts of the oil-based economy.

Though all roads lead to the leader, Khamenei also has to satisfy these constituencies and balance their interests, especially those of the Revolutionary Guards.

“Khamenei is not a dictator in the classic sense, but there is no question that on particular issues such as the nuclear file he probably will have the last word,” said Gary Sick, an Iran expert and former U.S. National Security Council official…

Khamenei's public comments suggest he believes that even if Iran were to give up atomic energy work that the West deems a smoke screen for attaining a nuclear arsenal, the United States is bent on regime change and so any concessions are futile.

Indicating he will at least give Rouhani a chance to try out the new posture, Khamenei has most recently said he is also not against direct talks, but merely doubts they will succeed.

Khamenei allowed each of the two previous presidents, the reformist Mohammad Khatami and the populist hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a period of grace in which they pursued policies he disliked before he blocked them and rendered them ineffective…

The question of whether sovereignty comes from God or the people has often played out violently across the Middle East but appears to be contained within a perennial tug of war in Iran…

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Recalling Parliament

Kathryn Fuelling recommended this news from the UK's House of Lords as a way to better understand how the legislature functions. This is part of the regular news releases from Parliament.

Recall of House of Lords
House of Lords
Both Houses of Parliament are to be recalled for one day during this summer recess on Thursday 29 August following the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. The House of Lords is due to sit from 3.30pm.

And this is the link to Parliament's live broadcasts when it is in session.

And this is my reminder that Parliament has a great information web site that includes podcasts and videos about how it functions.

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Milestone of sorts

The host site for this blog has informed me that this is blog post number 3,000. And that those posts have been looked at over 260,000 times in the 7+ years I've been at this.

We should all get together and have a party. Well, not really, but I get to celebrate a milestone that's certainly not a millstone.

I hope you've found useful stuff here.


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Politics where it's not allowed

Susan Ikenberry, who teaches in D.C., recommended this editorial from her home town paper (about to be owned by an Internet entrepreneur). I agree that it offers good insights into the illiberal democracy of Russia.

A rogue candidate for mayor in Russia
Navalny on the campaign trail
There are few limits beyond which the Russian authorities will not go to harass, suppress and muzzle the candidacy of [Alexei Navalny, the anti- corruption rabble-rouser], the charismatic blogger-turned-opposition leader [who is running for mayor of Moscow]. Mr. Navalny, detested by high-ranking officials whose misdeeds he has exposed, became Vladimir Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1 by leading street protests after the tainted parliamentary elections in 2011.
Even though polls show the Kremlin-backed incumbent mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, with a massive lead, the authorities are sparing no effort to tilt the playing field so that Mr. Navalny is not just beaten in the Sept. 8 election but trounced…

Mr. Navalny is all but banned from state television, from which most Russians get their news. He has been the subject of a smear campaign in the media…

Mr. Navalny has also continued his muckraking — for instance by reporting that a Moscow apartment worth millions is registered to Mr. Sobyanin’s 16-year-old daughter, and another pricey apartment in St. Petersburg is owned by his 25-year-old daughter. Still, Mr. Sobyanin has brushed aside those exposés, and Muscovites, inured to corruption, have barely blinked…

For the time being, a country where politics and democracy have been reduced to a charade is at last witnessing something different: a bona fide dissident candidate, with grass-roots support, tilting against the entrenched powers. Mr. Navalny may be unlikely to win, but the mere fact of his candidacy offers an example to Russians starved for the oxygen of real choice.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Profile: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

K. Sue Witmer sent a link to a Foreign Affairs article profiling the Iranian supreme leader. Great for teacher background. Take some time to read it before teaching about Iran.

It's too long for excerpts here. The link is to the article, but the summary paragraph below is from the introduction.

I'd add to the summary, that Khamenei not only has to be convinced that the US is not out to overthrow the Islamic Republic, but Ganji says that Khamenei has to be convinced that the US and capitalism are not about to implode (in Marxist terms) from their internal contradictions.

Who Is Ali Khamenei? The Worldview of Iran’s Supreme Leader
Khamenei meets an American hostage, 1980
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not a crazy, irrational, or reckless zealot searching for opportunities for aggression, as this sweeping intellectual profile shows. That means there’s room for the United States and Iran to improve ties -- if Washington can convince Khamenei it’s not determined to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

The author is AKBAR GANJI, an Iranian journalist and dissident. He was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006, and his writings are currently banned in Iran. This article was translated from the Farsi by Evan Siegel.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Labour recruitment

Following the normal route to political power in the UK with some modern social media innovations. But she is an exception in the Labour Party.

A Political Star Rises in Britain, Helped by Twitter
Stella Creasy is young, female and very blond. But there aren’t many anecdotes about this British politician being mistaken for a secretary or an intern…

[M]ost stories told about Ms. Creasy these days are about her fearlessness, her connection to voters and, most intriguing, how she might be one of Labour’s best hopes to win back power. She is one of only 147 women in the House of Commons, which counts a total of 650 members.

Ms. Creasy has… a reputation as an effective campaigner who combines traditional politics with social networking savvy and a community organizing background that dates from her teenage days protesting on freezing shipping docks…

First she took on high-interest payday lenders in a drawn-out battle that forced the government late last year to give regulators the power to cap the cost of credit in Britain.

Then last month, in what might end up being remembered as the moment when she became a household name in Britain, she went after misogynist Twitter trolls — and Twitter itself…

Nicknamed “St. Ella” inside her own party, Ms. Creasy has no shortage of fans on the other side of the political divide. ConservativeHome, a Web site close to the government, called her “Labour’s most interesting member of Parliament,” applauding her “good sense” on public spending and government debt.

Currently the opposition’s spokeswoman on crime prevention, she may be appointed to a more prominent role in a reshuffle before the Labour Party conference next month…

Unlike the Conservative Party, which produced Margaret Thatcher, Labour has never elected a female leader. Ms. Creasy was elected from an all-female shortlist, but she acknowledges that her party still has “a road to travel” when it comes to gender equality…

A graduate of Cambridge University with a Ph.D. in social psychology from the London School of Economics, she has also been vocal about her belief that government should take an active role in regulating markets and stay close to people’s everyday concerns…

When she was 15 and had just joined the Labour Party, she had what she described as a “light bulb moment”: Shouting at sheep on a dock near her hometown of Colchester to protest their imminent export, she realized that winning local elections and gaining control over the port would be a more effective way of reaching her goal…

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Friday, August 23, 2013

High in Iran -- not in the mountains

Unexpected problem. Unexpected responses.

Drug addiction in Iran: The other religion
THE Islamic Republic has always had its addicts. Its long border with Afghanistan, the world’s biggest opium producer, and the Islamic stigma against drinking alcohol mean that opium and its derivatives are cheap, strong and readily available. An official youth unemployment rate of 28% and inflation running at 42% a year, both aggravated by American and European economic sanctions, have helped to turn ever more Iranians to hard drugs. According to Iran’s own figures, 2m Iranians in a population of 75m are addicted, the world’s highest incidence. Most experts put the real figure even higher.

Crack (as Iranians call it), a cheap, highly addictive derivative of heroin unique to Iran, is rife in the poorer quarters of Iran’s big cities. Home-produced crystal meth, known as shishe, meaning glass, has also entered the market. It is favoured by many poor and disheartened young men and by many middle-class women trying to stay thin…

Davarze Ghar, a district south of Tehran’s sprawling main bazaar, is one of the capital’s most blighted. At its heart is a reservoir, encircled by a shabby park, where groups of men and women huddle together, smoking meth out of glass pipes or openly injecting crack-heroin. Health officials and social workers in the area complain that funds for outreach and rehabilitation programmes have—thanks to sanctions—been frozen.

Yet Iran has some of the world’s most go-ahead policies for addressing the problem, with methadone clinics, charities for tackling drug addiction and programmes for needle exchanges. At the same time, dealers are dealt with harshly. Hundreds of smugglers have been hanged…

If Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, can fulfil his promise to reduce youth unemployment and cure Iran of its economic malaise, he may prevent a generation of Iranians from becoming the most addled in the world.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

More on anti-constitutionalism

Chris Buckley, writing in The New York Times, emphasizes the anti-Western nature of the constitutionalism debate in China rather than the intra-party politics.

China Takes Aim at Western Ideas
Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society…

The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

Even as Mr. Xi has sought to prepare some reforms to expose China’s economy to stronger market forces, he has undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s periodic calls for discipline. The internal warnings to cadres show that Mr. Xi’s confident public face has been accompanied by fears that the party is vulnerable to an economic slowdown, public anger about corruption and challenges from liberals impatient for political change…

Since the [Party memo] was issued, party-run publications and Web sites have vehemently denounced constitutionalism and civil society, notions that were not considered off limits in recent years. Officials have intensified efforts to block access to critical views on the Internet…

“Promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership,” Cheng Xinping, a deputy head of propaganda for Hengyang, a city in Hunan, told a gathering of mining industry officials. Human rights advocates, he continued, want “ultimately to form a force for political confrontation.”…

“Constitutionalism belongs only to capitalism,” said one commentary in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily. Constitutionalism “is a weapon for information and psychological warfare used by the magnates of American monopoly capitalism and their proxies in China to subvert China’s socialist system,” said another commentary in the paper…

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Don't praise the constitution

Why would those in power denigrate their own constitution? The answer tells who really runs things.

Climbing trees to catch fish
The People’s Republic of China, founded in 1949, is… on its fourth constitution. Yet… the official press has turned an academic debate about “constitutionalism” into a political campaign against the idea that every institution, ie, the party, should be subject to the constitution—an idea so preposterous, the People’s Daily argued in one of three front-page editorials this month, that it was “like climbing trees to catch fish”. The paper said that constitutionalism is a plot hatched by American intelligence agencies…

In its New Year’s Day edition… an intellectual journal, equated constitutionalism with political reform…. The journal’s website was taken offline for a few days. The same month, a liberal newspaper, Southern Weekend, was censored for advocating constitutionalism…

The constitution has much for liberals to like: equality; freedom of speech, assembly and religion; respect for human rights; the prohibition of arbitrary detention; an independent judiciary; and an elected National People’s Congress—“the highest organ of state power”. Of course, it doesn’t really work that way.

For a start, the all-powerful Communist Party is largely absent from the constitution…

The stridency of the tirades in the press suggests not all is sweetness among the leaders… One possibility is that Mr Xi and his allies are preparing a radical set of economic reforms… Stressing the primacy of the party and attacking abhorred liberalism in its latest disguise—constitutionalism—may help Mr Xi to push through his economic agenda over the objections of hardliners and interests threatened by reforms…

Deng Xiaoping and his successors, down to Mr Xi, have argued that to ensure that economic development does not lead to instability or chaos, strong party rule is more imperative than ever. For the People’s Daily, the Soviet Union’s collapse offers a salutary lesson: Mikhail Gorbachev “was thoroughly defeated because he used Western constitutionalism as a blueprint”…
See also: A fight for the soul of Chinese Communist Party.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

From the opposition in Mexico

The son of the Mexican president who nationalized the oil industry has a plan to fix Pemex. Will anyone listen?

Leftist leader wants to repair, not privatize Mexico's oil industry
Mexico’s most prestigious leftist leader on Monday challenged President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposal to open the national oil industry to private investment…

Cardenas
Cuauhtemoc Cardenas said the state oil monopoly, Pemex, is in dire need of repair, but that amending the Constitution… is unnecessary and makes Mexico’s resources dangerously vulnerable to outside exploitation.

Instead, Cardenas offered an eight-point plan that would give Pemex financial and administrative autonomy, relieving it, he said, of the onerous state bureaucracy that cripples its ability to grow and become more efficient. The plan would also lower Pemex’s tax burden; currently, the company pays up to 70% of its revenue to the government.

Peña Nieto most likely has the votes he needs in Congress to pass the bill he has proposed, thanks to his Institutional Revolutionary Party and the all-but-certain support of the conservative National Action Party. But the left has the potential to stir bitter debate and galvanize public opposition to the president’s plan, a cornerstone of his young government’s agenda…

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Globalization as nationalism

So, can you explain why Pemex, that supports so much public spending, doesn't have money to invest in new research and technology?

Energy reform in Mexico: Giving it both barrels
TO MEXICANS, state ownership of their oil is a bit like gun ownership in the United States—steeped in history. So President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposal, unveiled on August 12th, to change the constitution to allow private investment in Mexico’s oil industry for the first time since 1960, is a taboo-buster.

To clear the historic hurdles, he niftily dressed up the reform proposal as a return to the regime that prevailed after Mexico’s patriotic hero, President Lázaro Cárdenas, seized the oil industry from foreign hands in 1938…

In fact his intention is nakedly economic. It starts from the premise that Mexico is running out of easy-to-access oil in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Pemex, the national oil and gas monopoly, has neither the funds nor the expertise to take advantage of the shale and deepwater deposits that have proved so bounteous across the border in the United States. So it needs partners…

Mr Peña has his work cut out to change the constitution. His Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), its small coalition partners and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) have enough votes between them to muster the two-thirds majority needed in the upper and lower houses of Congress to change the constitution. They also dominate the state legislatures…

Meanwhile, the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution is incensed…

A bigger threat to reform may come from the street. An army of left-wing nationalists loyal to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who came second to Mr Peña in last year’s presidential election, plans to stage protests in Mexico City…

[T]he president should explain why this reform will be different from some of the headline-grabbing privatisations of the 1990s, whose lack of transparency left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Given Mexico’s sinking oil production, Mr Peña’s proposals are undoubtedly a step in the right direction. But the more open the discussion about them, the better.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Things we knew

The CIA recently acknowledged the existence of Area 51.
But anybody curious about it had already seen photos of the landing strip. No word from the spooks about freezers full of alien corpses and hangers full of UFOs.

Now, the CIA has publicly acknowledged that it helped overthrow the prime minister of Iran back in 1953. Again anybody interested has already read about it, but it's no longer classified by the spy agency.

Once again, I'm indebted to K. Sue Witmer for the reference, because I don't usually read Foreign Policy.

CIA Admits It Was Behind Iran's Coup
Mossadegh
Sixty years ago… modern Iranian history took a critical turn when a U.S.- and British-backed coup overthrew the country's prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The event's reverberations have haunted its orchestrators over the years, contributing to the anti-Americanism that accompanied the Shah's ouster in early 1979, and even influencing the Iranians who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran later that year.

But it has taken almost six decades for the U.S. intelligence community to acknowledge openly that it was behind the controversial overthrow…

Why the CIA finally chose to own up to its role is as unclear as some of the reasons it has held onto this information for so long. CIA and British operatives have written books and articles on the operation -- notably Kermit Roosevelt, the agency's chief overseer of the coup. Scholars have produced many more books, including several just in the past few years. Moreover, two American presidents (Clinton and Obama) have publicly acknowledged the U.S. role in the coup…

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Intermittent

in·ter·mit·tent Pronunciation: \-ˈmi-tənt\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin intermittent-, intermittens, present participle of intermittere
Date: 1601 : coming and going at intervals : not continuous ; also : occasional — in·ter·mit·tent·ly adverb 
Source: Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Intermittent Retrieved 2 December 2010

I know some of you are back in class. The rest of you are preparing for classes.

Please don't hate me for taking a vacation. For over 60 years, I started the school year around Labor Day. Now I get to visit some of my favorite places as fall begins.

So, while I'm hiking in the Rockies and trying to steer clear of bears fattening themselves up for winter, I'll be thinking of you once in a while, but I might not be scanning my usual dozen newspapers for relevant headlines, and I won't be posting things here every day.

Cascade Canyon

If you find a bit of information that might be useful for teaching comparative politics, post it at Sharing Comparative or send me a note with the information.  

Remember, nearly all of the 3,000 entries here are indexed at the delicio.us index. There are 78 categories and you can use more than one category at a time to find something appropriate to your needs.

Carry on the fight against ignorance.


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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Confucius with Communist characteristics

John Delury, writing in Foreign Affairs, suggests that Chinese economic policy has more to do with morality than with economics.[Many thanks to K. Sue Witmer, who teaches in Manchester PA for recommending this article.]

Austerity with Chinese Characteristics
This year, to the consternation of the world’s luxury-goods producers, “austerity” became one of Beijing’s most prominent political buzzwords. Since becoming head of the Chinese Communist Party last November, Xi Jinping has announced a steady stream of belt-tightening measures… It’s only natural that Western commentators have been quick to interpret China’s austerity drive in terms of their own long-running debate about macroeconomics… politicians and economists are arguing the economic merits and drawbacks of budget-cutting and deficit spending.

But it would be a big mistake to interpret Xi’s ban on shark-fin soup as an extension of… the West’s “turn to austerity” since 2010. Whereas Western austerity has been an economic policy tool, in China its essence is primarily political. China has a long history of turning to frugality not to stimulate business confidence but, rather, to combat the disease of corruption. It’s safe to say that Xi has been thinking less of Milton Friedman or John Maynard Keynes than of China’s own political reform tradition, stretching from Confucius to the Communists.

Confucius?
The Confucian approach to ensuring virtuous government through frugality has been a consistent thread in Chinese politics well into the modern era… Mao demanded that Communist Party cadres reject the slightest hint of bourgeois comfort, including by wearing a uniform of a nondescript Mao suit… he was effective at creating the perception that the Communists were incorruptible, in stark contrast to the Nationalist Party’s reputation for graft. As Confucius would have predicted, this helped the Communists win the “hearts and minds” of the people.

This is a standard trope among Chinese reformers going back to Sun Yat-sen and Feng Guifen, who argued that elections and representative assemblies would reduce the distance between the people and the government, and thus tighten the bonds of the nation. Xi too wants to keep the people close to the Party, but to do so through austerity, not democracy.

It is clear, then, that Xi sees a lot more at stake than mere GDP growth; austerity implicates the very future of the polity. The Communist Party wants to win the “people’s trust” with top-down anti-corruption campaigns based on austerity exhortations, as well as punishments for high-profile officials who get caught with their hand in the cookie jar… To put it bluntly, whereas in the EU and United States the alternative to austerity is stimulus, in China austerity’s alternative is democracy.

In this light, it is worth remembering that the last major challenge to Communist Party rule -- when millions of Chinese occupied Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989 -- centered on two popular demands: more democracy and less corruption… This helps to explain the real significance of Communist Party austerity, and why Xi has made fighting corruption from the top down a centerpiece of his agenda.

In the short run, it may be easier for the party to try to discipline itself, and to regain public confidence by catching the “tigers and flies” who abuse power at the people’s expense. But in the long run, Xi might find that the burdens of this top-down, self-policing approach are too much to bear for Beijing's most powerful. The only sustainable solution for deeply rooted corruption will likely be to strengthen democratic mechanisms and civil society organizations, and empower the media and the courts, so that top-down discipline is matched with bottom-up accountability. Whatever austerity's merits as an economic policy, as a method of political reform, it will probably soon reach its limits.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Unleash the criminals… er, entrepreneurs

The transition from Soviet communism to a more market oriented economy has been difficult in Russia. Some things that were economic crimes are appropriate capitalistic behavior. During the transition, it has been easier to avoid detection. Corruption and cronyism continue to obscure real motives.

But release economic criminals to jump start the economy? Now that's really a novel idea.

Economic stimulus, Russian style: Putin plans to kick start moribund Russian economy by releasing jailed entrepreneurs
More than 110,000 people are serving time for what Russia calls “economic crimes,” out of a population of about 3 million self-employed people and owners of small and medium-size businesses. An additional 2,500 are in jails awaiting trial for this class of crimes that includes fraud but that can also include embezzlement, counterfeiting and tax evasion.

But with the Russian economy languishing, President Vladimir V. Putin has devised a plan for turning things around: offer amnesty to some of the imprisoned business people.

Not you, Khodorkovsky
“This can be understood in the Russian context,” Boris Titov, Putin’s ombudsman for entrepreneurs’ rights, said of what is… a highly unusual stimulus effort.

The amnesty is needed, he said, because the government had “overreacted” to the threat of organized crime and the inequities of privatization and over-prosecuted entrepreneurs during Putin’s first 12 years in power as president and prime minister…

Putin told an audience of chief executives at an economic forum… that releasing some businessmen would help revive the economy with “the values of economic freedom and the work and success of entrepreneurs.”…

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mass line in action

A top Chinese official is charged with corruption and removed from the Party and his job. As the BBC's Martin Patience says, it's a "rare victory" in the anti-corruption campaign. But it is a victory. Did Mr. Liu cross some line between acceptable and unacceptable corruption or did he cross someone above him in the hierarchy? Or did he just get caught red-handed?

China sacks top economic official Liu Tienan
A former top economic official in China has been expelled from the Communist Party and removed from public office, state media report.

Liu Tienan
Liu Tienan, formerly deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, "accepted huge amounts of bribes", Xinhua news agency reported…

Mr Liu "took advantage of his position to seek profits for others," Xinhua reported, citing the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

He was found to "seek benefits for his relatives' businesses by breaking relevant regulations" and had accepted "cash and gifts", Xinhua said…

The downfall of Mr Liu is now being seen as rare victory for public efforts to expose official corruption…

However the reality is that the Chinese authorities still tightly control the internet, and any serious allegations against senior leaders are immediately censored unless they have been officially sanctioned, our correspondent adds…

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Royal No No

If the British Royals want to risk their "allowances" from the government, all they have to do is appear to be involving themselves in politics. Tut, tut, Charles.

Prince Charles Facing Political 'Meddling' Claims
Prince Charles has had 36 private meetings with British Cabinet ministers in the last three years, and the large number has spurred accusations that the heir to the throne is meddling in politics…

They include seven with Prime Minister David Cameron since the May 2010 election.

The heir to the throne is expected to be politically neutral, but 64-year-old Charles has expressed strong opinions on issues including education, architecture, religion, the environment, organic food and homeopathy.

In an editorial, the usually pro-royal Daily Mail accused Charles of a "campaign of meddling."

Charles'… office said Monday that the prince had a duty "to bring his unique perspective" and experience into meetings with officials.

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Self-Insufficiency

When most people in Nigeria were subsistence farmers, the country produced enough food to feed everyone (albeit at a low level). Today food imports are huge. The problem, as most, is complex. (From Daily Trust in Abuja.

Why Nigeria Imports N1bn Rice Daily
A major rice farmer and merchant, Alhaji Haruna Ibrahim Jega… said bad government policies on self sustenance and greed by Nigeria's business class who are making a fortune from the imports are responsible for 'this wasteful venture.'

"Nigeria has vast fertile land good for the production of rice and other food and cash crops. The only problem with rice production in this country is poor policies and inadequate support from government. Let government provide enough fertilizer to all classes of farmers; smallholders and the big farmers at subsidized rates; provide improved rice seeds that can produce long grain rice that can compete with the imported ones and give farmers loans with single digit interest to enhance production…

"But a situation where government itself encourages patronage of imported rice by abandoning local rice and buying the imported ones for school feeding, as relief materials to foreign and local beneficiaries is very discouraging," he said…

When this reporter visited… markets in Abuja, the federal capital, assorted imported rice in bags, water proofs and packets were seen in almost every foodstuff stores with very few of them selling the local rice variety.

At some of the supermarkets and shopping malls in the city, no trace of local rice variety was seen on display as assorted packets of imported rice from different countries were seen on display in the shops.

One of the women seen buying packets of the imported rice, Hajiya Nafisatu Isa, said, "I cannot remember when last I ate the local rice milled in Nigeria because it has a lot of stones, it looks dirty, it is not attractive and very expensive…

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Ahmadinejad on the Expediency Council? Is that an oxymoron?

The former president's new job seems to add another dimension to the conflicts in an institution meant to resolve differences. And it's good to remember that Rafsanjani seems to be some sort of mentor to the new president.

Ahmadinejad given post-presidency seat in top Iran council
Ahmadinejad
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was given a post-presidency seat in the country’s top political arbitration body [the Expediency Council] on Monday…

The council is dominated by conservatives and acts as an advisory body for Khamenei, who has final say on all key policies, including nuclear talks and foreign policy.

But an avid critic of the outgoing president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, heads the council. Ex-president Rafsanjani had repeatedly criticized Ahmadinejad during his turbulent eight-year presidency for his controversial political and economic policies…

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

The tone is different. Will government work differently?

The mainstream journalists seem to agree. Hassan Rohani sounds more comfortable than his predecessor.

Iran’s new president, Smoother operator: Hassan Rohani strikes a liberal tone as he ascends to the presidency
Hassan Rohani
SINCE his election on June 14th, the Iranian president-elect has pleased almost everyone except diehard conservatives, who lost the vote. In several public statements before his inauguration on August 4th he promised reforms desired by many Iranians. “A strong government does not mean a government that interferes and intervenes in all affairs,” he said in a speech to clergy…

The president-elect also talked of lifting or reducing internet censorship, a big bugbear for Iran’s computer-literate people. “Gone are the days when a wall could be built around the country. Today there are no more walls,” he said on state-run television…

Though wary after eight years of conservative rule under his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, ordinary Iranians have largely welcomed the new tone. Educated in part at Glasgow’s Caledonian University, Mr Rohani has also raised modest hopes in Western capitals…

How much of this is window-dressing by an unpopular autocratic elite? Ultimate power in the Islamic republic lies not with the president but the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. If Mr Rohani is to have much impact, he will have to accommodate him…

Hints of change appeared in July. The once-feared morality police have all but vanished from the streets of Tehran, the capital. The usually truculent chief of police… has admitted that forcing confessions was common among some officers and vowed to dismiss those responsible… But with the economy in the doldrums owing to Western sanctions, Mr Rohani will find it hard to sustain his popularity. Greater transparency will only get him so far.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Remember Gapminder?

I searched this blog and found that I've mentioned Gapminder eleven times since 2006. Really, it's that good and valuable. Whether you use it to prepare presentations for students or ask them to use the Gapminder tools to create presentations to your class, it well worth whatever time and effort it takes.

Kevin James reminded me once again of Gapminder on his AHS Comparative Government blog.

You can use the Gapminder tools to display the relationships between variables and try to determine whether there are simply correlations of actual cause and effects.

You can choose from a large number of variables for each axis of the graph. And you can choose a specific year or a number of years. You are able to choose specific countries for the graph (UK, Russia, China, Nigeria, Mexico, and Iran, perhaps?). Each country is represented by a bubble in which size indicates the size of the population. The default setting for colors is each country's continent, but you can change that as well. If you choose a number of years, you can "play" the sequence in order to watch changes over time.

At the Gapminder site, you can access a great number of resources, including some specifically for teachers. There's a version of Gapminder (Gapminder World Offline) you can use on your computer, so you don't need to have Internet access for projects or demonstrations. There are videos, handouts, and lesson plans. There are Teacher's Guides to the Global Development Quiz and to Hans Rosling's presentation, "200 Years that Changed the World."

Rosling's presentation "Human Rights and Democracy Statistics" is a great introduction to that topic and to Gapminder's potential.

"The River of Myths" is a recent presentation that is also worth taking a look at.

Write in the comment section, and tell us about your experiences using Gapminder.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The PRI reforms Pemex?

How do you go about changing the political culture, the constitution, and an institution all at once?

Mexico's president on dangerous ground as he pushes Pemex reform
If Mexico had a crown jewel, it would be the giant state oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. Year after year, it has poured billions of dollars into the state treasury, historically paying for schools, hospitals, dams, highways, ports and more.

The seizure of foreign oil companies 75 years ago that created the company is a cause for annual celebrations affirming Mexico's fierce sense of independence from outside interference.

Yet even as the country's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, credits Pemex with building the nation, his administration acknowledges that the notoriously inefficient conglomerate is in trouble: If it is not opened to private and foreign investment, Mexico, the world's ninth-largest oil producer, will become a net energy importer by 2020, officials say.

As Peña Nieto moves ahead with a plan to overhaul Pemex, he is navigating the most perilous political minefield of his young presidency. He is toying with taboos and challenging revered perceptions surrounding the nation's top revenue earner. And he is meeting with impassioned opposition…

The government and industry experts contend that Mexico needs advanced technical expertise from outside companies to find and retrieve oil and gas from deep water and shale-rock formations that are believed to hold more than half the country's estimated 14 billion barrels of reserves.

But "Pemex is not allowed … to choose associations … to reduce the level of risk that you run" in deep-water exploration, Carlos Morales Gil, Pemex director of exploration and production, said in an interview. "What Pemex needs is budget autonomy and flexibility" to form joint ventures, he said.

Making that possible could require changing the constitution, and that could prove a bruising battle for Peña Nieto. The matter is so sensitive, so wrapped up in Mexico's ability to assert its independence from foreign meddling, that when Peña Nieto, speaking in London, suggested that the other major political parties had already agreed to reform, several politicians back in Mexico went ballistic.

Yet the problems plaguing Pemex are legendary. With corruption, poor management, a union that demands enormous benefits and a corporate structure that fosters duplicate jobs, Pemex is a model of how not to run an oil company…

For Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, the challenge is to reverse an allegiance to the very myths of nationalism and identity that built and sustained the party for seven decades of nearly unchallenged rule. Energy reform was a centerpiece of Peña Nieto's presidential campaign platform last year. He now appears confident he can muster unity within his party to support his initiative and expect backing from the conservative National Action Party, or PAN…

As compelling as the argument is for reform, the opposition is just as vehement.

"No, no, definitely no," said Jesus Zambrano, head of the PRD. Peña Nieto, he said, seems willing "to sell the golden eggs and the goose that laid them!"

Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a founder of the PRD, is the son of none other than Lazaro Cardenas, the Mexican president widely regarded as a hero for nationalizing the oil industry. The younger Cardenas has announced his opposition to the "privatization" of Pemex.

"They must tell us why they want to privatize," Cardenas, a former presidential candidate, said. "They must give us figures; tell us where the money is lacking; why; why they can't get loans." The constitution, he said, must not be rewritten…

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Monday, August 05, 2013

Well, here's the new lineup

A new president and a new government. Will any of this matter?

Iranian President Is Sworn In and Presents a New Cabinet of Familiar Faces
The new president
Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as Iran’s president during a ceremony in Parliament on Sunday, after which he presented a new cabinet dominated by technocrats who had previously served under a moderate former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani…

By choosing to stock his cabinet with old hands from the Rafsanjani years, Mr. Rouhani appeared to be looking to a more moderate past to solve current problems and plan for the future, analysts said. And he showed that the former president would wield considerable influence in the new government…

Among the Rafsanjani protégés is the proposed minister of oil, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, who is widely regarded as the modernizer of Iran’s oil industry, having invited in Western companies to help carry out the work. The incoming minister of housing, Abbas Akhondi, held the same position during Mr. Rafsanjani’s tenure, from 1989 to 1997.

The proposed head of the influential Ministry of Industries and Mines, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, is a former member of the Revolutionary Guards who is now strictly opposed to involvement by that organization in the economy.

Mr. Rouhani’s choice for foreign minister, Javad Zarif, raised the most eyebrows. Mr. Zarif, 53, has lived half his life in the United States, is a fluent English speaker and served from 2002 to 2007 as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. He was also part of Mr. Rouhani’s nuclear negotiating team, which in 2003 struck a deal with European nations to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment.

“These appointments mean Mr. Rouhani’s cabinet is technocrat-dominated and geared towards changing domestic and international affairs, like what we saw during Mr. Rafsanjani’s time,” Nader Karimi Joni, a political analyst who has been critical of Iran’s leaders, said…

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Overcoming cleavages in Nigeria

Bridging the gaps between ethnic/religious/geographic groups in Nigeria has always been difficult. Let's see how this effort goes.

It's a new dawn for Nigeria, says new opposition party
Nigeria's newly-registered main opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC), has described its emergence as the dawn of a new era for Africa's most populous nation…

The party said its emergence meant that Nigerians now have an alternative to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ''that has taken the people for a bad ride in the past 14 years''…

PANA [this news service] reports that the APC, which is a merger of three opposition political parties - Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressive Change - is now the country's main opposition party and the country's second largest party after the PDP…


Nigeria approves opposition political coalition
Nigeria's electoral commission on Wednesday approved the creation of an opposition coalition that will join three political parties and is expected to present a strong challenge to President Goodluck Jonathan and his party in 2015 elections.

The commission announced that the parties met all statutory requirements for their merger into the All Progressives Congress that includes powerful Muslims from the north and equally influential Christian southerners.

Muhammadu Buhari
Among them are former military ruler Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a popular northerner who some consider a strong anti-corruption fighter…

The coalition's most powerful figure from the south is Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former senator and past governor of Lagos State who is considered a kingmaker…

Jonathan now is presented with the double challenge of a strong opposition and rifts within his own People's Democratic Party that could damage any bid to extend his presidency. Jonathan has not yet decided whether he will run, his office announced this week. He came to power by default as he was vice president when President Umar Yar'Adua died in 2010 and he then won the presidential election in 2011.

Northern politicians are opposed to Jonathan, a southerner and Christian, running for a second four-year term in 2015, objecting that northerners have been cheated of their chance at the presidency by Yar'Adua's death. While there is nothing in the constitution about it, there is an unwritten agreement in the ruling People's Democratic Party that power must be shared between the north and the south and a northern president should be succeeded by a southerner, to balance power in Africa's most populous nation…

The new coalition is considered the first viable option to PDP rule. But it too faces challenges in deciding who to present as its presidential candidate. Buhari, who appears an obvious choice, is a strong contender in the north but likely would have difficulty garnering votes from Christian southerners, even with the support of the coalition's southern partner, Tinubu's Action Congress of Nigeria…

Profile of Muhammadu Buhari on Wikipedia
 

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Terrorism spreads south

Boko Haram, hunted in the north of Nigeria, may be taking refuge far from its Islamic homeland.

Nigeria Arrests 42 Boko Haram Suspects in Lagos, Ogun
Nigerian authorities have arrested 42 suspected members of Islamist sect Boko Haram in Lagos and the neighboring southwest state of Ogun, a police spokesman said on Tuesday.

During a four-year insurgency Boko Haram's attacks have been focused mostly in the Muslim north, far from the commercial capital Lagos and the southern oil fields which provide more than 2 million barrels per day to world markets.

The sect, which wants to carve out an Islamic state in the religiously-mixed country, has never claimed responsibility or been blamed for an attack in Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city.

"We have arrested 42 suspected members of Boko Haram in Lagos and Ogun," said a spokesman for Lagos police, Kingsley Umoh. "Some have already confessed to being Boko Haram and said they fled the northeast due to the military efforts there."…


Nigeria's Kano city hit by blasts targeting bars

At least 28 are people have been killed in a series of explosions that targeted bars in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, a hospital source tells the BBC.

Witnesses said the blasts shook a Christian neighbourhood that has previously been attacked by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram.

The army said 12 people had been killed when explosions placed in packages were dropped in the area on Monday evening…

The same neighbourhood has been targeted in the past by the militant Islamist Boko Haram group, which is fighting to create an Islamic state in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria…

Correspondents say the Muslim majority in the city are now anxious about possible reprisals, as people come out onto the streets after breaking their daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan…


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