Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Election of aristocrats

Electing aristocrats? It seems to be an oxymoron. But it's going on now in the UK's House of Lords.

House of Lords: 27 hereditary peers stand in election
A seat in the House of Lords is up for grabs, with 27 hereditary peers vying to join or, in several cases, re-join the Upper House.

The result of the "by-election" [was] triggered by the death of Lord Lyell…
House of Lords session

Among the candidates are relatives of ex-premiers Harold Macmillan and David Lloyd George and Lord Harlech, who at 30 would be among the youngest peers.

All peers currently sitting in the Lords were entitled to vote…

Under current conventions, when a hereditary peer dies, a by-election is held to elect a successor. This election was open to all those with hereditary titles on the register kept by the Clerk of the Parliaments…

The 27 contenders were asked to make the case for themselves in a series of short statements and potted biographies, in which they was also asked to indicate their political allegiances…

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Russian media integration

Media integration in Russia is done less directly than in China, but the results are very similar.

In Putin’s Russia, the hollowed-out media mirrors the state
Today, the three major Russian TV channels are either directly owned by the state, operating as state enterprises… or owned by a subsidiary of one of Russia’s largest oil and gas companies…

Members of Putin’s administration – today it’s his deputy chief of staff Alexey Gromov – control the political coverage and decide both what foreign and domestic policies are to be covered, and how and, more importantly, what is not to be covered…

The editors-in-chief of all the major media in Russia attend regular “strategy meetings” with Putin’s staffers. It’s like Fight Club: no member will admit to its existence – but it’s fairly easy to deduce, given how coordinated the coverage is on the most watched TV shows across all three major news channels…

In their minds, reporters working for state news outlets – which effectively are almost all news outlets in Russia – are public servants first and journalists second (if at all)…

Today, the Russian state employs both hard and soft power to further its grip on the country’s media. New restrictive laws are passed with dispiriting predictability: foreign media franchise owners are forced out of their stakes in international brands such as Forbes or Esquire based in Russia, fines and other penalties are introduced for not covering controversial subjects such as terrorism and drug abuse in terms that “do not explicitly discourage the behaviour”. Independent outlets are threatened into self-censorship and choked of the things they need to survive – such as cable services or access to print shops – if they don’t comply…

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hard power and soft power

The most recent (March 25) issue of The Economist has a great pair of articles. One on China's use of soft power and another on Russia's use of hard power.

China is spending billions to make the world love it
IMAGES of China beam out from a giant electronic billboard on Times Square in the heart of New York city: ancient temples, neon-lit skyscrapers and sun-drenched paddy fields. Xinhua, a news service run by the Chinese government, is proclaiming the “new perspective” offered by its English-language television channel. In Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, children play beneath hoardings advertising swanky, Chinese-built apartment complexes in the city. Buyers are promised “a new lifestyle”. Across the world, children study Mandarin in programmes funded by the Chinese state. Some of them in Delaware don traditional Chinese robes and bow to their teachers on Confucius Day.

… [T]he Chinese government has been trying to sell the country itself as a brand—one that has the ability to attract people from other countries in the way that America does with its culture, products and values…

In the Middle East, Russia is reasserting its power
THE black fur hat looked odd on a Libyan warlord. But fur is de rigueur in wintertime Moscow, which has become an essential stop for Middle Eastern leaders like Khalifa Haftar, who visited twice in 2016. This month his rival, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, dropped by. Jordan’s King Abdullah, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu have all stopped at the Kremlin for audiences with Vladimir Putin this year.

The visitors are a sign of Russia’s growing activity in the Middle East. “The policy is wider than just Syria,” says Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank. Russia’s interests in the region include security, arms sales and oil. But most important, the Middle East offers a platform to reinforce Russia’s status as a global power. “Those who have strong positions there will have strong positions in the world,” says Fyodor Lukyanov of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, a government advisory body.

Serving as a power-broker in Syria has helped Russia to cultivate relationships. It strives to maintain contacts across the Sunni-Shia and Israeli-Arab divides. While fighting alongside Iran in Syria, Mr Putin helped broker an oil-supply pact with Saudi Arabia. He has also developed a rapport with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, repaired ties with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the downing of a Russian jet over Syria, and maintained friendly links with Israel’s Mr Netanyahu, even angling for a more active role in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

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Murderous journalism

Politics is deadly in Russia. In Mexico journalism is deadly.

Miroslava Breach third Mexican journalist to be killed this month
Breach
A journalist has been shot dead in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the third to be killed in the country this month.

Miroslava Breach was shot eight times in her car outside her home in the state capital, Chihuahua…

Mrs Breach had reported on organised crime, drug-trafficking and corruption for a national newspaper, La Jornada, and a regional newspaper, Norte de Juarez.

The gunmen left a note saying: "For being a loud-mouth."…

The Committee to Protect Journalists… says 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992.

See also: List of journalists and media workers killed in Mexico


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Murderous politics

Russian politics can be deadly.

Russian Agent Killed Lawmaker in Kiev, Ukraine Officials Say
The assassin who gunned down a prominent Russian opposition figure on a sidewalk in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev was identified by Ukrainian officials on Friday as a 28-year-old Russian agent…
Voronenkov's body removed
The gunman was himself grievously wounded by a bodyguard for the target, Denis N. Voronenkov, and subsequently died in the hospital. The allegation was immediately dismissed by Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, as “absurd.”

Mr. Voronenkov was a member of the Russian Parliament before defecting to Ukraine last year…

A former prosecutor before joining Parliament, Mr. Voronenkov had socialized with people in Mr. Putin’s circle…

Critics and opponents of Mr. Putin and his Kremlin cronies have been assassinated in a variety of ways over the years, often in spectacular fashion so as to send a message, Kremlin watchers say. The most celebrated was the poisoning of Alexander V. Litvinenko with a rare and deadly radioactive isotope, polonium 210, administered in a drink in the Millennium Hotel in London in 2006.

When the prominent opposition figure Boris Y. Nemtsov was murdered in 2015, his body fell on the sidewalk of a bridge with the Kremlin and the domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral as a backdrop.

Sometimes the killings are more prosaic. Numerous potential witnesses to the death of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer who died of neglect in a Russian prison, have disappeared, been poisoned or suffered “heart attacks” that were later found to be the result of ingesting a rare Chinese herb.

See also:Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways

See also:Key Putin Opponent Arrested in Moscow During Anti-Corruption Protests



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Friday, March 24, 2017

Media integration in China

I suspect that media integration as conceived by leaders of the Communist Party of China means something very different from that imagined by Westerners.

Senior CPC leader calls for media integration
A senior Communist Party of China (CPC) leader, on Wednesday called for media integration and creating favorable public opinion for the upcoming party congress.

Liu Yunshan
Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, made the remarks during an inspection tour of the People's Daily.

Liu urged staff on the newspaper to make more new media products and extend their influence to the Internet. He also stressed that new media should shoulder social responsibility and guide online public opinion.

"Media integration needs to abide the CPC's ideology and the Marxist idea of the press," Liu said. "Content is the key to the development of media integration, and more new media workers must be trained."…

Liu said the most important issue for the Chinese media this year was preparing for the 19th National Congress of the CPC.

He called for strengthening political responsibility, enhancing representation of mainstream public opinion, and providing opinion for the stability of the economy and society.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does China need more than criminal law?

The more things change in China, the more obvious is the need for civil law.

China finally starts to write a proper civil code
THE National People’s Congress (NPC)… wrapped up its annual session… Usually its business is unremarkable. This year, however, a piece of legislation that was passed on the final day may prove unusually important. It is known by the unlovely name of the General Principles of Civil Law. It sets the stage for China to pass its first civil code, an overarching law governing legal disputes other than those involving crimes…

[U]nder Communist rule, China has muddled through without a unified civil code. It has bits of one. It passed an inheritance law in 1985, a contract law in 1999 and a property law in 2007. But there are big gaps and inconsistencies…

China’s current leaders… hope [a civil code] will provide a stable legal framework for a rapidly evolving society racked by increasingly complex disputes. In 2014 they decided to try again, aiming to write one by 2020. This week’s approval of the code’s general principles is the first fruit. It covers everything from individual rights and the statute of limitations to whether fetuses can own property (they can).

Some of the new principles have been set out before. Privacy rights, for example, are in the tort bill of 2009. But their inclusion in the revised preamble gives them more authority.

Not all the changes are for the better. In a section on protecting personal reputations, the new preamble makes it an offence to defame “heroes and martyrs”. That is likely to have a chilling effect on historical inquiry…

A civil code—embracing laws of property, contract, inheritance, family and marriage—will not guarantee fairness. The Communist Party will continue to ignore the law when it wants to. But for all the legal system’s flaws, many people still use it. The code may make it less opaque and outdated, and judges’ lives easier.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mexico's next president?

It's been asked before. Now it's being asked again.

Mexico’s populist would-be president
WHEN Andrés Manuel López Obrador winds up a stump speech in the main square of Jilotepec, a small town in the eastern state of Veracruz, the crowd surges forward. It takes him 15 minutes to pass through the commotion of backslapping, selfies and jabbing microphones to reach the car parked outside the tent where he spoke. The point of the rally is to promote Mr López Obrador’s party, Morena, in municipal elections to be held in Veracruz in June. But his main goal is much bigger: to win Mexico’s presidency on his third attempt, in 2018.

López Obrador
That is a prospect that thrills some Mexicans and terrifies others. A figure of national consequence for more than 20 years, AMLO, as he is often called, has fulminated against privilege, corruption and the political establishment. Sweep away all that, he tells poor Mexicans, and their lives will improve…

Mexico, like some richer countries, may now want more drastic politics. Voters are enraged by corruption, crime, which is rising again after a drop, and feeble economic growth…

AMLO proposes to answer graft with his own incorruptibility, and Donald Trump’s nationalism with a fiery nationalism of his own…

Mr López Obrador is the early front-runner for next year’s election… In a one-round election, he could win with as little as 30% of the vote. If that happens, Mexico will embark on a perilous political experiment.

He began his political career in the southern state of Tabasco as an operative of the PRI… As an official of the National Indigenous Institute he spent five years living with the Chontal, an Indian community. Hence his preoccupation with the poorest Mexicans…

His talent for political showmanship helped make him mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005. He ran twice for the presidency, in 2006 and 2012, losing to Mr Peña in the second contest. In 2014 he split from the PRD over its support for Mr Peña’s economic reforms and founded Morena, the Movement of National Regeneration…

As Mexico City’s mayor, Mr López Obrador caused less mayhem than his image suggested he might. He built roads and introduced a small universal pension… He left office with an approval rating of 84%…

For now, Mr López Obrador has the political field to himself. Morena is basically a one-man party, which means its quota of party-propaganda broadcasts can focus on promoting him. Other parties have to divide their resources among various politicians…

The PRI’s nominee for president, whoever it is, will be tainted by association with the current government. The likeliest PAN candidate, Margarita Zavala, is popular, but she is the wife of a former president, Felipe Calderón, who is widely blamed for an upsurge of violence provoked by his inept crackdown on crime. The PRD has little support…

His victory is no sure thing. His momentum would be slowed if Morena does badly in the governor’s election in the State of Mexico in June. Anybody-but-AMLO voters could unite behind one candidate; nearly half of voters have a negative view of him, a much higher share than for any other potential candidate. He has a talent for self-destruction. In 2006 his 16-point lead vanished after he refused to participate in the first televised debate and called the president, Vicente Fox, chachalaca, a bird noted for its loud cackle.

Much of Mexico’s elite prays that such buffoonery will again prove his undoing. But he has become smoother and more disciplined. The danger is that, even if he is shrewder about obtaining power, he may be no wiser about how to exercise it.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Procedural elections

Three Norwegian political scientists try to explain why dictators hold elections. Does what they say apply to China? to Iran? to Mexico? to Russia? to Nigeria?

You’d think dictators would avoid elections. Here’s why they don’t.
Elections are a hallmark of democracy. So why do dictatorships around the world also hold them? While autocratic elections are often characterized as “sham elections,” with the official vote winner clear beforehand, elections in fact have systematic and substantial effects on the durability of dictatorships.

In a recent article in World Politics, we examine 389 elections in 259 dictatorships…

Elections often bring regime-threatening protests or coup d’etats — and that’s why they’re so dangerous to autocratic regimes. But autocrats also gain something from holding elections… Elections confer long-term benefits. The regime can co-opt members of the opposition, for instance, or learn more about the strength of the opposition. Elections also help dictators build a strong organizational apparatus and signal their strength to intimidate potential opponents.

The flip side… is that elections also can produce short-term instability by enabling opposition groups to coordinate their actions right around when the election takes place…

We find clear evidence that the period around and right after an autocratic election — and during the election year in particular — is associated with a greatly increased risk of regime breakdown…

There’s also some evidence, although not as clear-cut, that holding elections makes for more stable dictatorships in the long term…

Here’s how these long-term benefits played out in Mexico’s autocratic regimes from 1929 to 2000. The party in power, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for decades managed to conduct elections without seeing major threats to its grip on power.

In fact, studies by political scientists argue that the PRI used these elections as a device to prolong its rule. The party used elections to selectively co-opt supporters — but deter opponents by displaying organizational strength and broad public appeal. These stabilizing effects continued long past election day…

Our research indicates that opposition actors in autocratic regimes may find a unique window for dissent around election time, when autocratic incumbents are particularly vulnerable…

Authors: Carl Henrik Knutsen is professor of political science at the University of Oslo, Håvard Mokleiv Nygård is a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and Tore Wig is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Sharpen your critical thinking skills

Up until a decade ago, Chinese government propaganda was easy to spot. It was full of stock phrases and awkward English and paranoia. Not so much anymore. PR execs with degrees from American universities?

China's political propaganda gets a digital makeover
China has been trying and failing for years to get its people, especially its young people, to care about its political system. Could it now be close to working out how to do just this?

Every March, the National People Congress (NPC), China's biggest annual political event, goes virtually unnoticed by the vast majority of the Chinese people…

But as the propaganda platform shifted from rice paper to LED screens, the government has developed new tricks.

One of its first big successes was the music video of "Shisanwu", the 13th Five-Year Plan, which came out in 2015. So how do you sell the idea of the 13th five-year social and economic development strategy to young people?
Shisanwu

An animated music video with a foreign band singing in English of course.

It became an instant hit on social media with young people talking about it, sharing it and even learning to sing it…

The Chinese State Council also released a series of newsy digital videos featuring people's wishes in the run-up to the congress.

They even interviewed carefully-chosen celebrities, such as Hu Weiwei, entrepreneur and founder of China's most successful shared electronic bikes and a viral sensation in China…

The propaganda initiative has even stretched as far as a group on WeChat, China's most popular social media app…
WeChat screen

Critics say it's the same old propaganda, just on new platforms.

But they show a desire to innovate on the part of the government and state-run media and engage the public on the platforms where they know people prize such innovation.

They can claim success in one respect: at the very least they are getting young people to talk about the congress.

Five years ago this was not happening.

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The Comparative Government and Politics Review Checklist.



Two pages summarizing the course requirements to help you review and study for the final and for the big exam in May. . It contains a description of comparative methods, a list of commonly used theories, a list of vital concepts, thumbnail descriptions of the AP6, and a description of the AP exam format. $2.00. Order HERE.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Well, if the queen says it's okay…

The final step of making a law in the UK

Brexit: Queen gives Royal Assent to Article 50 bill
Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen has given Royal Assent to the Brexit bill, clearing the way for Theresa May to start talks to leave the European Union.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was passed by MPs and peers on Monday.

It allows the prime minister to notify Brussels that the UK is leaving the EU, with a two year process of exit negotiations to follow…

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Scotland to ask for another independence referendum

Nicola Sturgeon says it's necessary to protect Scotland's interests.

Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon to seek second referendum
Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed she will ask for permission to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Ms Sturgeon said she wanted a vote to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of the following year.

The Scottish first minister said the move was needed to protect Scottish interests in the wake of the UK voting to leave the EU.

She said she would ask the Scottish Parliament next week to request a Section 30 order from Westminster.

The order would be needed to allow a fresh legally-binding referendum on independence to be held.

Prime Minister Theresa May has so far avoided saying whether or not she would grant permission…

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The City of London

If you read British newspapers, you will see references to "the City" and the power it holds in British politics. The power is based on the banking and industrial companies that are headquartered in "the City."

If the previous paragraph is confusing, here are some short videos to help clarify things.

The (Secret) City of London (Part 1)

The (Secret) City of London (Part 2)



The (Secret) City of London (Part 2)


The City of London (a more textbook like description)




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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What's on the minds of NPC delegates?

Journalists are always looking for stories behind the story. So the National Peoples Congress is in session. What are delegates talking about (that's not in the official press releases)? Read the social media.

What’s Under Discussion at One of China’s Biggest Political Gatherings
It’s that time again, when more than 5,000 delegates to China’s National People’s Congress… meet in Beijing to endorse legislation and discuss government plans for the coming year. They talk about their policy ideas… and coverage of their proposals and the online comments they attract provide glimpses into some of the issues on the minds of Chinese today.

End All Birth Restrictions. Lower the Marriage Age…

Drop English from the University Entrance Exam…

Make Parental Negligence a Crime…

More Holiday Time… [for Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, known as Spring Festival]…

Stack the Dead… [cemeteries are too expensive]

Make It Easier for People to be Registered Where They Work…

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Monday, March 13, 2017

News, alt-news, propaganda

In looking for articles that might help illustrate concepts and examples for comparative politics, I regularly look at government-run sources. The main ones are the BBC and Xinhua. BBC has earned a reputation as a straightforward, trustworthy source of factual information. Xinhua carefully presents Communist Party positions, and I try to remember to label those articles for readers here.

I also look at Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned news service that presents news from a "pan-Arab" persepective (some would say "pro-Saudi" perspective and Al Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, which is often seen as promoting Islamist points of view.

I do not actively seek out articles from Russian, Mexican, Nigerian, or Iranian government sources.

As you consider the critique of RT below, remember that the US government operates Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Europe. They are remnants of the Cold War and report with a perspective that represents the US government. (See also Radio Free Asia, Radio y Television Marti, and Alhurra.)

And how does RT affect the news in the US? Is it different from the BBC or Al Jazeera? And how does it connect to social media?

Russia’s RT Network: Is It More BBC or K.G.B.?
The London newsroom and studios of RT, the television channel and website formerly known as Russia Today, are ultramodern and spacious, with spectacular views from the 16th floor overlooking the Thames and the London Eye…

Even as Russia insists that RT is just another global network like the BBC or France 24, albeit one offering “alternative views” to the Western-dominated news media, many Western countries regard RT as the slickly produced heart of a broad, often covert disinformation campaign designed to sow doubt about democratic institutions and destabilize the West.

Western attention focused on RT when the Obama administration and United States intelligence agencies judged with “high confidence” in January that Mr. Putin had ordered a campaign to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process…

The agencies issued a report saying the attack was carried out through the targeted use of real information, some open and some hacked, and the creation of false reports, or “fake news,” broadcast on state-funded news media like RT and its sibling, the internet news agency Sputnik. These reports were then amplified on social media, sometimes by computer “bots” that send out thousands of Facebook and Twitter messages…

But if there is any unifying character to RT, it is a deep skepticism of Western and American narratives of the world and a fundamental defensiveness about Russia and Mr. Putin.

Analysts are sharply divided about the influence of RT. Pointing to its minuscule ratings numbers, many caution against overstating its impact. Yet focusing on ratings may miss the point, says Peter Pomerantsev, who wrote a book three years ago that described Russia’s use of television for propaganda. “Ratings aren’t the main thing for them,” he said. “These are campaigns for financial, political and media influence.”

RT and Sputnik propel those campaigns by helping create the fodder for thousands of fake news propagators and providing another outlet for hacked material that can serve Russian interests…

Whatever its impact, RT is unquestionably a case study in the complexity of modern propaganda. It is both a slick modern television network, dressed up with great visuals and stylish presenters, and a content farm that helps feed the European far right. Viewers find it difficult to discern exactly what is journalism and what is propaganda, what may be “fake news” and what is real but presented with a strong slant…

For RT and its viewers, the outlet is a refreshing alternative to what they see as complacent Western elitism and neo-liberalism, representing what the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov recently called a “post-West world order.”

With its slogan, created by a Western ad agency, of “Question More,” RT is trying to fill a niche, Ms. Belkina said. “We want to complete the picture rather than add to the echo chamber of mainstream news; that’s how we find an audience.”…

Michael McFaul, a Stanford professor who was the United States ambassador to Russia during the Obama years, said that RT should not be lightly dismissed. “There is a demand in certain countries for this alternative view, an appetite, and we arrogant Americans shouldn’t just think that no one cares.”

But there is a considerably darker view, too. For critics, RT and Sputnik are simply tools of a sophisticated Russian propaganda machine, created by the Kremlin to push its foreign policy, defend its aggression in Ukraine and undermine confidence in democracy, NATO and the world as we have known it.

Robert Pszczel, who ran NATO’s information office in Moscow and watches Russia and the western Balkans for NATO, said that RT and Sputnik were not meant for domestic consumption, unlike the BBC or CNN. Over time, he said, “It’s more about hard power and disinformation.”…

Probably more important than RT, [Robert Pszczel, who ran NATO’s information office in Moscow] said, are Sputnik and local language outlets sponsored by Russia, like the Slovak magazine “Zem a Vek,” known for its conspiracy theories. Sputnik is the largest source of raw news in the Balkans, he said, “because it’s a free product in local languages.”…

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Friday, March 10, 2017

The president returns

Nigeria's president returned to the country from the UK.

Nigeria President Buhari: I've never been so sick
Buhari
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has said he has never been "so sick" as he has felt in recent weeks.

He was speaking to dignitaries in the capital, Abuja, after returning from seven weeks of medical leave in the UK…

The 74-year-old flew into an air force base in the northern city of Kaduna from London on Friday morning.

Despite talking about how he felt, Mr Buhari did not reveal any details of his condition.

He did say he was "feeling much better now" but added that further medical checks would be required…

President Buhari was in good spirits, joking with senior officials and journalists.

But as his address went on the president appeared to ramble, referring to the importance of technology and education. He even urged Nigerians not to self-medicate.

These comments will do little to reassure critics who are questioning whether the president is fit enough to hold office…

Comparisons will also be drawn to the vice-president, who displayed an energy as acting leader in the past few weeks that was strikingly different to President Buhari's own style…

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Is "deep state" a real thing?

The concept of a "deep state" is being thrown around in American politics. Ishaan Tharoor, writing in the Washington Post tries to clarify the idea. As I read it, I thought of ways in which there are elements of a deep state in Nigeria, Russia, Mexico, and Iran. Which elements of the regime and civil society might be part of a deep state in each. And could a deep state be part of the political systems in China or the UK?

Is the concept of deep state different from the concept of an iron triangle?

What an actual ‘deep state’ looks like
Key figures in the White House see themselves locked in a battle with the "deep state" — a term they're using, as my colleagues explained, to describe "a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures" as well as the media…

[T]here has been a great deal of chatter — and a good number of articles — pondering the "deep state" and its reach in the United States… Some observers on the American left see the nexus of the national security apparatus, arms companies and corporate lobbies as the basis for a kind of all-pervasive shadow government dominating political life in the country…

But the "deep state" in its more well-established contexts is something more concrete. The term is most closely associated with the turbulent politics of Turkey, a country whose democracy was for decades routinely interrupted by cabals in the military and civil bureaucracy…

The concept of the "deep state" also resonates strongly in countries where the military is vast and difficult to check. Think of Egypt, where an army-led putsch ousted an elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013; or Pakistan, where the military and its powerful intelligence arm remain the most influential actors within the state…

The distinction between these countries and the United States is incredibly important: "In the American case, the bureaucrats themselves don’t control, or want to control, the system they are trying to protect," wrote Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations…

Turkish experts will tell you that discussion of the "deep state" flourishes in a climate of conspiracy and political polarization. It encourages the public to doubt the pillars of civil society — from the judiciary to the press — and take shelter in the shadow of a populist leader…

See also Rumblings of a ‘Deep State’ Undermining Trump? It Was Once a Foreign Concept from The New York Times.

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

It's not just in Scotland that Brexit is causing change

Besides the three kingdoms of the UK there's Northern Ireland. None of the non-England territories voted for Brexit, but the prospect is causing political change throughout the country.

Northern Ireland Voters Give Sinn Fein Its Biggest Win Ever
Sinn Fein, the main Catholic nationalist party in Northern Ireland, won its greatest share of legislative seats ever after a snap election this weekend, creating a virtual tie with its Protestant rivals and throwing nearly two decades of peaceful power sharing into turmoil.

The election comes at a time of increased polarization and fears that Britain’s planned exit from the European Union could lead to customs and security checks along the border with Ireland, economic strife and a return to sectarian conflict. Never before has the Protestant majority, which has used its status to shape social policy and defeat a ballot on merging with Ireland, been so threatened politically.

Sinn Fein won 27 of 90 available posts in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Its rival, the Democratic Unionist Party, made up of Protestants who support remaining a part of Britain, lost 10 seats and were left with 28.

Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to the decades-long sectarian strife known as the Troubles, Catholics and Protestants share governance of the region, along with the British government. The two parties must now form a new government within the next three weeks or else return to a period of “direct rule” from Britain…

The Democratic Unionist Party is allied with Britain’s Conservative Party, which is pursuing Brexit, while Sinn Fein wants Northern Ireland to stay in the European Union and eventually merge with Ireland.

There is also growing indignation about a perceived lack of concern from London about Northern Ireland…

If the two leading parties do not reach agreement within the three-week time frame imposed by the British-appointed secretary of state for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, the government must either call another election or reimpose direct rule.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

It's the economy

While Nigerians and observers worry about the absence of President Buhari, the economy might be more worrisome.

Who’s running Nigeria?
The economy shrank by 1.5% in 2016. Inflation has more than doubled to 18.7% in 12 months. Meanwhile, the president, Muhammadu Buhari, has been out of the country since January 19th… There could hardly be a worse time for the 74-year-old former military dictator to be incapacitated. But much of the blame for Nigeria’s current economic troubles can be laid at his door…

On national security he has made progress: Boko Haram, now splintered into two factions, no longer controls any big towns. But it is far from defeated…

Elsewhere, clashes between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and largely Christian farmers in southern Kaduna, in Nigeria’s fractious Middle Belt, have killed at least 200 people since December. Oil production has not fully recovered after money-hungry militants attacked pipelines and rigs in the Niger Delta last year. When it comes to corruption, a number of bigwigs have been arrested and bags of seized money paraded before the media. Yet there have been no high-profile convictions… The state may be led by a former strongman, but it is still fundamentally weak.

It is the troubled economy, though, that looms largest now in Africa’s most populous country…

The IMF predicts Nigeria’s economy will expand by 0.8% this year. That would lag far behind population growth of around 2.6%. But the government will tout any recovery as a victory. “That’s the real danger, that they will take that as validation their policies are working,” says Nonso Obikili, an economist. Meanwhile, Nigeria continues to take out expensive domestic and foreign loans..

Osinbajo
If Mr Buhari remains in London much longer, his absence could provide a window for Nigeria’s technocratic vice-president Yemi Osinbajo to push through a proper devaluation. Mr Osinbajo, currently in charge, has proved an energetic antidote to his ponderous boss, visiting the Delta for peace talks and announcing measures intended to boost Nigeria’s position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, in which it currently ranks a lowly 169 out of 190…

Mr Osinbajo’s appointment as acting president has followed constitutional protocol. In 2010, by contrast, it took three months for Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, to be cleared to rule while Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the northern president, lay dying in Saudi Arabia. There are ghosts of that power struggle in rumours that Mr Buhari’s closest allies are manoeuvring to try to keep the presidency with a northerner should their boss die or be forced by ill health to step down. That could split the ruling All Progressives Congress into three or four factions, destabilising policy-making. Nigeria’s best chance of reform in the short run, then, is probably for the president to rest up in London a while longer.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

What's a student (or a teacher) to do?

Even if your textbook was published in 2016, it's out of date. Does your textbook correctly identify the British PM? Does it discuss Brexit? Does it identify President Xi of China?

The thing to remember is that your comparative government and politics course is neither a history course nor a current events course. The article here discusses internal politics in the EU. You won't be asked about the current state of those politics on your exam, but reviewing them might help you remember the basics about the regime and the political forces within the EU.

E.U., Pressured from Inside and Out, Considers a Reboot
The European Union took a step toward coming to terms with the obvious on Wednesday: The 27 diverse nations in the bloc do not necessarily agree on the direction they are moving, how fast to get there, or how closely they should remain together.

For decades, the Eurocrats [EU employees] leading the bloc have usually insisted that there is one direction and one speed — an inevitable momentum toward an “ever closer union.” But with Britain preparing to soon formally leave the bloc, and with other crises creating internal strains, Jean-Claude Juncker, the leader of the group’s executive body, is offering something new on the menu: a buffet of options for leaders to consider over the next year or so.

Juncker
Mr. Juncker set out five potential paths for the bloc’s future on Wednesday. Several envision things continuing as they are or even tighter integration, while others acknowledge that Europe can work at different speeds and would roll back some of the powers of the European Commission [where the Eurocrats work], the permanent bureaucracy, which Mr. Juncker heads…

Speaking to the European Parliament, Mr. Juncker urged governments, which hold the real power in the bloc, to “stop bashing the E.U.” for problems, like youth unemployment and low economic growth, that are the responsibility of nation states…

In conceding that there could be more than one way forward, Mr. Juncker may have helped the European establishment fend off those critics who say countries must leave the bloc in order to regain greater control of their sovereignty…

The issues are sensitive. Even the suggestion of a varied Europe brought some howls. Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialist Democrats in the European Parliament, suggested that Mr. Juncker had shied away from choosing a single pathway to restore faith in the European project because of political cowardice…

Which of Mr. Juncker’s scenarios is likely to prevail will depend on the outcome of elections in those countries and on the winners of the next round of European elections, to be held in 2019.

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Monday, March 06, 2017

Licenses for your car, your motorcycle, your bike, and your television. Television!??

If you marvel at the productions of the BBC, you ought to marvel at the license fee for televisions in the UK.

HEADLINE
The UK's annual television licence fee is to rise to £147 from £145.50 [$182], the government has announced.

The increase, which will come into effect on 1 April, marks the the first rise in the licence fee since 2010…

Last year, the government announced that it would rise in line with inflation from April 2017 for the next five years.

The Government is responsible for setting the level of the licence fee, which covers all BBC services and contributes to the costs of rolling out broadband to the UK population.

It also helps to fund the Welsh Language TV channel S4C and local TV channels…

Licence fee payers will receive a payment plan or a reminder reflecting the new amount when their licence is next due for renewal, the BBC said in a statement.

Those buying or renewing a licence after 1 April will pay the new fee.

Those already buying a licence on an instalment scheme which started before 1 April will continue to make payments totalling £145.50 until their licence comes up for renewal…

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Saturday, March 04, 2017

Directly from China

Xinhua, the source of this article, is the Chinese government's news agency. This article could be an excerpt from a Chinese textbook on the regime in the Peoples Republic of China.

People's congresses: democracy behind China's success story
China's system of people's congresses is in the spotlight again as the fifth session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature [opened] Sunday.

Rather than creating policy conundrums or delays -- as is often the case with parliaments in some Western nations when the ruling party or coalition does not hold a majority -- the people's congress system lends support to and supervises the government to achieve effective governance and rule of law…

According to the Constitution, the people's congress system is the fundamental political system in China, with about 2.6 million deputies at various levels.

At the pinnacle of the system sits the NPC, which supervises the State Council, China's cabinet, as well as the top court and procuratorate.

With nearly 3,000 deputies, the NPC is different from the legislatures in Western political systems.

In China's political system, the NPC is the supreme organ of state power. The central government, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate answer to the NPC and are supervised by it. In the West, the parliament stands equally with the administration and justice arms, and the three balance and checks each another.

This vertical design has the advantages of uniting different forces in governance and avoiding internal frictions…

Compared with legislators in the West who make politics their career and usually have a staff and campaign team, NPC deputies are part-time and many of them are ordinary citizens.

A deputy to the NPC can be the country's president or a farmer, a celebrated tycoon or a migrant worker, a lawyer or an official…

Though they are part-time, NPC deputies are actively engaged in state affairs. At the annual full session, they review and vote on important legal documents and personnel changes, including electing president and vice president of China every five years, as well as submit motions and proposals.

At the 2016 session they approved the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), a fundamental guide to ensuring China becomes a well-off society. This year the deputies will review the draft general provisions of civil law of China, a landmark move by China to step up protection of civil rights and advance rule of law…

There are five levels of people's congresses. The deputies are elected by their respective constituencies, either directly or indirectly. NPC deputies are elected by the people's congresses of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. At the lower levels of township and county, deputies to people's congresses are elected directly by voters…

Unlike multi-party systems in the West, there are no majority party or minority parties in the NPC. The NPC upholds the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The proposition of the CPC becomes the will of the state upon the approval of the NPC…

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Friday, March 03, 2017

Another absent Nigerian president

Some Nigerians are anxious about Buhari's "medical tourism."

Why is Nigeria's President Buhari still in London?
As Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was beginning his latest visit to London more than a month ago, a new series of Big Brother Nigeria was getting under way.

A former military ruler known for his no-nonsense style would appear to have little in common with a reality TV show where contestants engage in attention-seeking behaviour.

But both subjects were soon generating headlines for the same reason - neither of them were in Nigeria…

[T]he clamour over Nigeria's leader's extended medical stay in London is not going away.

President Buhari's absence comes as Africa's most populous nation is gripped by its worst economic crisis in decades, and faces the threat of famine in north-east Nigeria, which has been devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency…

The latest statement issued by the government said there was "no cause for worry" about the president's health but his medical leave was being extended.

Nigerians have now heard their leader's voice for the first time since he left for the UK after a telephone conversation with the governor of the northern state of Kano was played out loud at a prayer meeting…

In a country where rumours are rife, the presidential statements have done little to dampen the speculation about the leader's health.

Nigerians are acutely sensitive to leaders travelling abroad for medical reasons after President Umaru Yar'Adua died while in office in 2010.

For months, the public was kept in the dark while he received treatment in Saudi Arabia.

The period of uncertainty created deep political instability in the country.

The current president's supporters say that is emphatically not the case this time.

They point to the fact that President Buhari constitutionally handed over power to his vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, as he has done on previous trips, rather than governing from afar…

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Peña Nieto less popular in Mexico than Donald Trump?

It's good that Peña Nieto can't run for re-election.

In Mexico, President Peña Nieto more unpopular than Trump
Discontent runs so deep over domestic issues here — including a recent 20% hike in gas prices — that many Mexicans express more frustration with President Enrique Peña Nieto than with Mexico-bashing… Donald Trump...

Peña Nieto
Despite Trump's litany of criticisms, Mexicans are increasingly upset with their own government. This month they marched in the streets, blocked highways, looted stores and closed gas stations to protest gasolinazo, the jump in the government-set gasoline price.

Peña Nieto holds a low approval rating of 12%, according to a poll… in the Reforma newspaper, as Mexico is engulfed with deep public debts, sluggish oil revenues and political scandals.

“There’s a sense of grievance” with the government, said Ilán Semo, a political historian at the Iberoamerican University…

Trump’s threats have already caused turmoil in Mexico, which has transformed over the past 25 years from a closed economy to one so open that more than $500 billion in goods annually cross the border.

The impact has especially hit the automobile industry, which has expanded rapidly and “represents about one-third of total Mexican manufacturing and roughly about one-third of total non-oil exports,” said Jonathan Heath, an independent economist in Mexico City…

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Thursday, March 02, 2017

House of Lords and Brexit

The House of Lords has thrown a small monkey wrench in PM May's Brexit plan. There's a great diagram of legislative process in the article that's too large to add to the blog. Take a look at it.

Government defeated on Brexit bill
The government has been defeated after the House of Lords said ministers should guarantee EU nationals' right to stay in the UK after Brexit.

The vote, by 358 to 256, is the first Parliamentary defeat for the government's Brexit bill.

However, MPs will be able to remove their changes when the bill returns to the House of Commons…

The amendment backed by the Lords requires the government to introduce proposals within three months of Article 50 to ensure EU citizens in the UK have the same residence rights after Brexit.

But it could be overturned when MPs, who have already backed the Brexit bill without amendments, vote on it again.

The government is expected to attempt to overturn the defeat when the legislation returns to the Commons…

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Roles of Iran's Revolutionary Guard

Heshmat Alavi is an activist who writes for a wide variety of publications. Here, he writes in Al Arabiya about Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The thrust of the article is an argument favoring the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. The value for students of Iran's regime is in the description he makes of the Revolutionary Guard's roles in the regime. Are his numbers reliable? verifiable?

Why Iran’s Revolutionary Guards deserve to be blacklisted
If the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] is blacklisted, this very important entity for the Iranian regime will be placed under the following restrictions according to US laws:

- All IRGC assets in the US will be subject to confiscation
- No US citizen of company, or sister company, are authorized to engage in goods or service transactions with the IRGC
- US banks are banned from financial transactions with the IRGC
- The US can confiscate or inspect ships and boats belonging to the IRGC in international waters

The IRGC is considered the main pillar of the mullahs’ regime, in charge of pursuing Tehran’s policy of domestic crackdown and exporting terrorism abroad…
IRGC Commanders
The IRGC is a large economic powerhouse. There are no exact statistics of the budget or revenue the IRGC enjoys through its economic activities. There is no doubt, however, that the IRGC, along with its long slate of entities and affiliated organizations, has an in-depth presence in all aspects of Iran’s life. This includes the oil and gas industry, communications, major construction projects, transportation, power projects and imports.

Experts estimate the IRGC is in control of around 20 to 40 percent of Iran’s economy. The IRGC runs 812 companies registered inside the country and abroad…

Currently, the IRGC is involved in 1,700 government contracts… These contracts have transformed the IRGC into the largest economic force not only in Iran, but across the Middle East… Reuters reported the IRGC empire has an annual sale of $10 to $12 billion…

The IRGC has been the main element behind oppressing social rallies and protests. The 2009 uprising was quelled only after the IRGC was dispatched into the city streets…

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Budgets, not just for households

The US government budget is not the only one being debated these days. In the UK, budget makers are looking forward to more austerity. And what are the alternatives?

Government looks for new spending cuts of up to 6%
Government departments have been told to find spending cuts of up to 6% as part of plans to save £3.5bn by 2020…

Treasury… said the NHS and core schools budgets would not be included, with savings found by councils to be spent on under-pressure social services…

Departments have already faced significant cuts in their budgets since 2010, but they will now be told to find further savings of between 2% and 6% by 2019-20, the Treasury said, with up to £1bn to be reinvested in "priority areas"…

McDonnell
[S]hadow chancellor John McDonnell said further cuts would put councils in an impossible position and "it was difficult to see" how they would maintain services.

With interest rates so low, he said there was an "overwhelming case" for government to borrow to fund spending on infrastructure, such as roads, rail and broadband.

"The government has said schools and hospitals are going to be protected. That is simply not true. The NHS is suffering the biggest crisis since its foundation and schools are having the first budget cut per head since the 1970s… "

Public spending as a share of GDP has fallen steadily since 2010 when it totalled 45%. This year's figure is forecast to be 40%…

Chancellor Hammond
But ahead of his first Budget on 8 March, Mr Hammond is under pressure to increase spending on a number of fronts amid signs that stronger-than-expected tax receipts could give him additional room for manoeuvre…

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said the effects of an ageing society, on top of underlying financial pressures, were creating a "perfect storm" for the health service.

She said the NHS needed a cash "lifeline" in the Budget and that plugging gaps in day-to-day spending by re-allocating capital spending was a "false economy".

The government is being warned that a further dose of austerity, without better financial planning and reform, could push some public services to "breaking point"…

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