Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Give orders to solve problems

The Nigerian Senate has told the bureaucracy to solve the problem of gasoline shortages. That should do the trick.

Senate gives NNPC 7 days ultimatum to end petrol scarcity queues in Nigeria
The Senate on Thursday urged the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to, within seven days, end lingering scarcity of petrol and clear queues in filling stations across the country.

In the report presented by its Chairman… the committee recommended that NNPC should be given seven days ultimatum to end long queues in fuel stations in the country.

The committee stressed the need for security agencies to ensure effective border patrol to check diversion of petroleum products to neighbouring countries.

It also recommended that the Department for Petroleum Resources (DPR) should double efforts to enforce compliance with government’s regulated pump price of petroleum products…

“We also engaged with the NNPC and other stakeholders and we were informed that there were challenges of supply coupled with massive smuggling of petroleum products to neighbouring countries for higher prices. “

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Go north, young businessmen

An expression of soft power that promises benefits for China, its customers, and its markets.

China to develop Arctic shipping routes opened by global warming
China has announced plans to develop shipping lanes through the Arctic to become a "Polar Silk Route".

Beijing said global warming meant viable shipping routes through the Arctic would become increasingly important for international trade.

It said China would work with Russia and other Arctic countries to develop the polar route.

It is part of an ambitious bigger scheme to transform China's land and sea connections to Europe and beyond.

President Xi Jinping's $1tn (£700bn) Belt and Road Initiative seeks to rebuild much of Eurasia's infrastructure of ports, roads and rails, and put China at its centre…

"China hopes to work with all parties to build a 'Polar Silk Road' through developing the Arctic shipping routes," China said in its first official policy paper on the polar region.

It said every country's "rights to use the Arctic shipping routes should be ensured"…

The north-east passage offers China a faster sea route to many ports than the current routes using, in many cases, the Suez or Panama canals.

The new route could take 20 days off the 48 days it currently takes to get to Rotterdam from China via the Suez Canal, estimates suggest…

The paper does acknowledge China's interests in oil and gas, minerals, fishing and other resources in the region, but it expresses an interest in developing them co-operatively with other nations and Arctic states.

The paper encourages businesses to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages in the Arctic.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

They protest too little

There are small protests. There will be an election. Neither will matter.

Russians Brave Icy Temperatures to Protest Putin and Election
Protesters across Russia braved icy temperatures on Sunday to demonstrate against the lack of choice in a March presidential election that is virtually certain to see President Vladimir V. Putin chosen for a fourth term…

The protests, expected in almost 100 cities, were called by Aleksei A. Navalny, a charismatic, anti-corruption opposition leader, after he was barred from running for the presidency because of legal problems widely seen as manufactured to prevent his candidacy…

Mr. Navalny was detained before he reached the several thousand demonstrators gathered in Pushkin Square in central Moscow and other main avenues closer to the Kremlin…

The boisterous crowd in Pushkin Square chanted slogans including “These are not elections!” and “Down with the czar!” At one point, they urged more people to join them, chanting, “There is still time to come, the weather is not bad.”

Mr. Navalny organized anti-corruption protests across Russia in March and June, mobilizing, in particular, middle-class youths, and his campaign has vowed to organize repeated protests before the March 18 election to underscore that the elections are a fraud, with the Kremlin manipulating the entire process…

The demonstrations on Sunday had a moderate turnout, drawing hundreds in many places, and were generally peaceful… In the far eastern part of the country and in Siberia, they were held despite frigid temperatures, with Yakutsk approaching minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 45 degrees Celsius)…

Mr. Putin has been the most powerful man in Russia since 2000, governing as president for all but a four-year stretch when term limits forced him to serve as prime minister for one term. Another presidential term, which would run six years, until 2024, would make him the longest-serving leader since Stalin…


Today’s anti-Putin protests weren’t huge. But they showed the breadth of simmering Russian discontent.

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Do the right thing

The government in Nigeria is trying to convince people to declare their incomes and pay their fair share of taxes. Here's one of the tools they're using. How effective do you think it is?




Soft power and royalty

The UK seems adept at exercising soft power with its royal assets. What soft power assets do other countries have?

Crown jewel: the soft power of William and Kate’s Nordic visit
From the colourful cobbled squares of Stockholm to the snowy enchantment of Holmenkollen hill, Oslo, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to both countries... will deliver myriad photo-ops to saturate local media.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
The royal couple will also deliver, the Foreign Office hopes, a clear message: Britain may be leaving the EU, but we are still part of Europe.

Ever since Henry VIII invited Francis I of France to the jousting and feasting extravaganza at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the so-called “soft power” of the royals has been harnessed as a diplomatic resource…

Royal overseas visits are decided by the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], with schedules drawn up by the British ambassador to the host country, who accompanies the royal visitor throughout. Since the vote for Brexit the Cambridges have been dispatched to France, Poland and Germany, Prince Harry has travelled to Denmark, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have visited Romania, Italy and Austria, and Kate has undertaken a solo trip to the Netherlands…

An intimate black-tie bash for up to 30 guests in Stockholm, hosted by the British ambassador, will yield photographs of hereditary royalty alongside the Hollywood variety. The Swedish actors Alicia Vikander, star of Testament of Youth, and Stellan Skarsgård, TV’s River whose numerous films include Good Will Hunting and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, are invited…

Superficially, it seem these visits are all about the pictures. “And they are important,” said David McClure, the author of Royal Legacy and the forthcoming The Queen’s True Worth. Soft power, however, is “relational”, he said. It cannot hinge on “two youngish good-looking royals”. Norway and Sweden have their own monarchies…

The business and strategy consultants Brand Finance estimated that the monarchy would bring the UK £42bn in “intangible” economic benefits from tourism, trade, charities and media. “Members of the royal family can also proactively encourage trade by acting as ambassadors for the UK during their international visits,” it reported. Royal patronage or a visit are “extremely helpful to push big deals over the line”, said David Haigh, the CEO of the consultancy.

The former prime minister David Cameron once described the UK as “the soft power superpower”, while the government told a 2014 House of Lords select committee the monarchy was “a unique soft power and diplomatic asset”…

Not all share the FCO’s steadfast belief in royalty’s soft power. “Visits abroad by the royal family may raise the profile locally of the UK,” said Gary Rawnsley, a professor of public diplomacy at Aberystwyth University who has researched soft power. However, research showed that “this does not necessarily convert into affection for the UK – its values or its policies. Neither do such visits change opinion about or behaviour towards the UK, especially when relations at government level are fraught.

“Audiences can have high levels of positive opinion about the royals, but a low opinion of the British government and the way it behaves at home and abroad,” Rawnsley said…

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Unspoken ethnic politics

The media don't need to say everything about events in Nigerian politics. Everyone there knows that President Buhari belongs to the Fulani ethnic group and that most of the cattle herders involved in the violent conflicts in the Middle Belt are Fulani. The man Buhari replaced as president, Goodluck Jonathan, belongs to the Ijaw ethnic group. And former president Obasanjo is Yoruba, the major ethnic group in the southwest of Nigeria that makes up about 20% of the population. Many Middle Belt farmers are Yoruba and Ijaw.

BTW: Do you recognize how this warning is connected to the "Fake News in Nigeria." (See the words used in the first paragraph below.)

Don’t contest in 2019, Obasanjo warns Buhari
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, warned President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek re-election in the 2019 polls.He urged the incumbent not to “over push his luck” or “over tax the patience and tolerance of Nigerians, no matter what his self-serving, so-called advisers” say…
Obasanjo on camera in Nigeria

In a letter titled, ‘The Way Out: A Clarion Call For Coalition For Nigeria Movement’, he maintained that Buhari needed a “dignified and honourable dismount from the horse… "

He stressed: “President Buhari does not necessarily need to heed my advice,” but insisted: “Whether or not he heeds it, Nigeria needs to move on and move forward.”…

The former president accused the Buhari-led government of “wittingly or unwittingly” allowing the herdsmen crisis to “turn sour and messy.” According to him, “It is no credit to the Federal Government that the herdsmen rampage continues with careless abandon and without an effective solution…

Obasanjo listed three cardinal sins of the current administration. He cited “nepotistic deployment, bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotistic court…

The second, according to Obasanjo, was a “poor understanding of the dynamics of internal politics. This has led to wittingly or unwittingly making the nation more divided, with inequality widening and becoming more pronounced…

The third, Obasanjo noted, was “passing the buck.” He said blaming the Governor of the Central Bank for devaluation of the naira… and blaming past governments “is to say the least, not accepting one’s own responsibility…

The National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bolaji Abdullahi, “asked to be given the opportunity to study the statement,” saying: “We shall respond appropriately afterwards.”The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), however, described Obasanjo’s advice as courageous, timeous and patriotic…

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Russian role in Mexican election?

Real of not, the threat of Russian involvement in other countries' elections is a force to be reckoned with.

Mexico's leftwing frontrunner laughs off Russia jibes and says: I'm no Moscow stooge
Andrés Manuel López Obrador [known as AMLO], a populist former mayor of Mexico City, has become the focus of escalating – if unsubstantiated – allegations of Russian interference in the 1 July election…
AMLO

In December, the US national security adviser HR McMaster said there had been “initial signs” of Russian meddling in Mexico. He offered no details…

According to western officials, Russia has used hackers, bots and fake news to influence campaigns from the US presidential election to the Brexit referendum and Catalonia’s independence vote.

And as the presidential election draws closer, similar suspicions have been voiced in Mexico – though evidence remains elusive…

But the suggestion that López Obrador is a Trojan horse for a foreign power has also brought back memories of the country’s contentious 2006 election, in which Amlo was ahead in the polls until attack ads compared him with the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez; Amlo’s support cratered and he lost by less than a percentage point.

Many Mexicans poured scorn on the idea that Russia could further destabilizing Mexico… or undermine its democracy, which has long been plagued by vote-buying and excessive campaign spending.

“If the point of Russian intervention in the electoral process is to undermine confidence in democratic institutions, the truth is there isn’t much left to do in Mexico. The Mexican political class has already done this work, without their help,” tweeted Carlos Bravo Regidor, professor at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics…

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

How things work in Iran

If you have any doubt about the opaque ways politics and economics work in Iran, here are some things to consider.

How Corruption and Cronyism in Banking Fueled Iran’s Protests
The weeklong demonstrations across Iran, centered in religiously conservative, working class towns and cities rather than Tehran, were the broadest display of discontent since the Green Movement protests in 2009… The outpouring of anger was directed not only at President Hassan Rouhani, who won re-election promising to revitalize the economy, but also the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei…
Economic protest signs in Tehran last fall

The cascade of [bank] defaults, economists say, was not just the result of risky banking practices, but also a case study in official corruption — a major reason Iranians found their losses so infuriating. Adding to their outrage, Iranian officials made a series of statements blaming the victims for not being more careful with their money.

Many of the institutions... were allowed to gamble with deposits or run Ponzi schemes with impunity for years, in part because they were owned by well-connected elites: religious foundations, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or other semiofficial investment funds in the Iranian state…

Iranians have a term for the growing class of victims: “property losers,”…

The International Monetary Fund warned last month that Iran’s banks and lenders “need urgent restructuring and recapitalization,” calling for write-downs of overvalued assets and a crackdown on loans to insiders. The problem has grown so big, the fund warned, that the money required to prop up the banks will “cause government debt and interest outlays to rise substantially.”…

The corruption underlying the bank failures has long been an open secret. In December, a lawmaker, Mahmoud Sadeghi, released a document listing the Top 20 debtors who had failed to meet payment deadlines for Sarmayeh Bank, which is co-owned by a pension fund for teachers. The loans totaled $1.9 billion, and almost all appeared to be held by well-known insiders…

After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the new Islamic Republic initially nationalized all banks, among other industries. It also created a variety of semiofficial holding companies controlled by the supreme leader, senior clerics or top military commanders. Over the years, many of the companies have evolved into sprawling conglomerates with major roles in even the ostensibly private economy.

Clerics controlled religious foundations, called bonyads, that acquired commercial businesses. The largest of these, under the supreme leader, now makes up “15 to 20 percent” of the Iranian economy, according to an estimate by Hooshang Amirahmadi, an economist at Rutgers University who studies Iran. The elite Revolutionary Guard Corps controls a separate business empire.

All the semiofficial holding companies have major advantages over private businesses in favorable access to capital, tax exemptions and political connections. And most or all of them have been plagued by accusations of inefficiency and mismanagement, in addition to insider dealing and other forms of corruption…

“The involvement of opaque government institutions like the Revolutionary Guards works contrary to transparency, and the lack of transparency is a recipe for poor banking practices,” said Sir Simon Gass, who was the British ambassador to Tehran from 2009 to 2011, in a recent interview…

When lenders began to fail over the past few years, some senior Iranian officials tried to blame the borrowers, noting that many of the institutions were not officially licensed or guaranteed by the Central Bank…

Mohammad Bagher Olfat, a Muslim cleric who is deputy chief of the judiciary, said that jilted borrowers shared the blame with the lenders and regulators…

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fake News in Nigeria

Really fake.

The Economist Disowns Publication On PMB [President Muhammadu Buhari ]
The Economist, a London-based magazine, has disclaimed a publication which claims that Nigerians have shown unprecedented level of patience with President Muhammadu Buhari.

The president’s special adviser on media, Femi Adesina, who revealed this in a statement, noted that the publication had been trending on the social media and on some websites in the country, and beyond.

He said: “A letter dated January 18, 2018, written and signed by Jonathan Rosenthal, the Africa editor of the magazine, reads: “It has come to my attention that an article has been circulating on social media and been published on various websites that purports to have been written or published by The Economist.

“The article with the headline ‘The Unprecedented Level of Patience Shown to Buhari’ was not written nor published by The Economist. Any claims connecting it to The Economist are false.”

“The Presidency enjoins Nigerians to be very watchful and circumspect about the kind of information they are exposed to, and share, especially in this period when purveyors of fake news abound.”

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Monday, January 22, 2018

If the poverty line is just below the median income...

Do you know how the official poverty line in the USA compares to the median income? In Iran, those two figures are very close together. What are the political implications?

Iran's wealth gap: tens of millions struggle to get by
Recent anti-government demonstrations in Iran exposed the growing divide between rich and poor.

While one or two percent of the population enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, millions of Iranians are struggling to make ends meet.

In 2017, Iran's government set the poverty line at about $480 a month per household.

Thirty-three percent of the population lives below the line, that's more than 24 million people. But it's also a struggle for many living above the line.

The median income for an average household is about $885…

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Efficiencies of privatization

Nigeria has long suffered from a lack of electricity. Black outs in urban areas have been normal. Anyone who can afford one, has a generator. When there was a black out, the sound of generators was very loud. How to fix the problem?

It's claimed that privatization results in more efficient production and thus lower costs. For some reason, that doesn't seem to be the case in the production of electricity in Nigeria. From The Guardian, Abuja.

Electricity - the High Cost of Living in Darkness
AS was often the case in the past, officials of the Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC, recently stormed the popular Festac Town in Lagos for another round of mass disconnection due to what they claimed was the continued refusal by the residents to pay their electricity bills. But it was a mission that almost turned into a tragic misadventure.

Unknown to the disconnection team before it embarked on this mission, information had earlier filtered to the residents about what was in the offing and they proceeded to lay an ambush. So, as soon as the EKEDC officials arrived the estate, they were confronted by a group of irate residents who promptly demobilised their vehicle and seized their ladders and other tools they brought along with them for the purpose of electricity disconnection. And while the confrontation lasted, members of the disconnection team were manhandled and held incommunicado as they were prevented from making phone calls.

However, the timely intervention of security agents probably prevented the EKEDC disconnection team from getting the mob treatment. The bitterly aggrieved residents had used the opportunity to give vent to their grouse which bordered on extortion of residents by the EKEDC through outrageous estimated bills, refusal of the electricity company to provide pre-paid meters as requested by residents, frequent mass disconnection, endless power outage, etc.

Incidentally this confrontational drama over electricity supply is not limited to Festac Town, it plays out rather too often across the country. Indeed most electricity consumers across the country are angry. They are angry because power supply has continued to deteriorate while tariffs have increased way beyond reason.

Privatization of the electricity sector

All that have happened after the privatisation of the electricity sector…

After decades of inefficient service delivery by the defunct National Electric Power Authority, NEPA… the Federal Government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to privatise the electricity sector…

Although the Obasanjo administration made a significant progress in the power reform process, it dragged on until the Goodluck Jonathan administration completed the privatisation exercise in 2013… However, four years after, the companies were either sold or given to private firms to manage, the Nigerian public continues to suffer the same inefficient service delivery…

There is no correlation between current tariffs and quality of service delivery. For instance, many residents in medium density areas of Abuja pay between N8, 000 to 15, 000 [$22-40], up from an average of N3,000 to N6, 000 [$8-16] pre-privatisation. However, there has been no significant improvement in service delivery…

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ideological amendments

Amendments to China's constitution don't look like amendments to the US constitution. The newest proposals are primarily ideological guides to government action.

Revisions to Chinese constitution will be key task for top cadres at plenum
A closed-door meeting of the Communist Party’s most powerful cadres begins on Thursday to discuss revisions to the constitution that include the addition of President Xi Jinping’s political theory…

The second plenum normally sets the tone for the upcoming National People’s Congress, when the new president, premier and other top cabinet figures will be formally named. This time, the two-day meeting will focus on the proposal to revise the constitution…

Next week’s meeting will discuss making the first amendments to the constitution for 14 years, which will then be endorsed by the NPC…

But a Beijing-based source familiar with the issue confirmed to the South China Morning Post that “Xi Jinping Thought” would be included in the preamble of the constitution.

Xi
The preamble states that the party is guided by Marxism and Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Three Represents – the latter three being the theoretical legacies of Mao, Deng and former president Jiang Zemin.

Xi’s tongue-twisting contribution to Chinese political theory – Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era – was enshrined in the party charter at the congress in October.

His interpretation of the “principal contradiction facing Chinese society” would also be added, along with some of his other ideas, according to the source…

It will be the fifth time the Chinese constitution has been amended since it came into force in 1982. Previous revisions include the replacement of “planned economy” with “socialist market economy” to describe the country’s economic system in 1993.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The "emperor" is not that far away

In traditional China, deviations from central authority directives were explained by saying, "The mountains are high and the emperor is far away." President Xi seems to explaining that the Communist "emperor" (with Chinese characteristics, probably) is not so far away.

Xi calls for fundamental improvement of CPC political ecosystem
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, on Thursday called for more anti-corruption efforts to "fundamentally improve the political ecosystem of the Party."…

"All-round efforts should see the Party's political building enhanced, its theory strengthened, its organizations consolidated, its conduct improved, and its discipline enforced, with institution building incorporated into every aspect of Party building," Xi said. "Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, and the CPC's leadership is a must for the country to advance its great cause."

Xi said that "the Party itself and its members have gone through essential and profound changes," which required higher quality of Party management and enhanced political and organizational functions of Party organs.

"We should push forward the campaign with heroism, and takes the bull by the horns with a fighting spirit that never steps aside in face of an enemy," he said.

"Senior Party members should be subject to higher and more rigorous standards and placed under tighter scrutiny, though all Party members should follow the rules," he said…

Xi asked CPC officials to remain loyal to the Party "at any time, and under any circumstance."

Xi said Party officials should "always be reliable, align themselves to the Party's central leadership in thinking and deeds, follow the Party's instructions and fulfil (sic) their responsibilities."

"Decisions and plans made by the CPC Central Committee should be implemented in full, by each and every Party organization," Xi said.

Xi warned against the resurfacing of undesirable work styles -- formalities for formalities' sake, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance…

To maintain close ties with the people, Xi said Party officials should "resolutely oppose privilege-seeking and work with and among the people to resolve their pressing concerns."…

"Those who work in disciplinary agencies must discipline themselves first," Xi stressed.

He urged all discipline inspection and supervision organs to follow higher standards and stricter discipline, and called on their staff to be loyal, resolute, responsible and maintain discipline and law, ensuring that the power bestowed by the Party and the people would not be abused…

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Decentralization or secession?

Escaping politics and drug gangs by building "walls."

Losing Faith in the State, Some Mexican Towns Quietly Break Away
The road to this agricultural town winds through the slums and cartel-controlled territory of Michoacán, ground zero for Mexico’s drug war, before arriving at a sight so strange it can seem like a mirage…

Local orchard owners, who export over $1 million in avocados per day, mostly to the United States, underwrite what has effectively become an independent city-state. Self-policing and self-governing, it is a sanctuary from drug cartels as well as from the Mexican state.

But beneath the calm is a town under tightfisted control, enforced by militias accountable only to their paymasters. Drug addiction and suicide are soaring, locals say, as the social contract strains…

Tancítaro represents a quiet but telling trend in Mexico, where a handful of towns and cities are effectively seceding, partly or in whole. These are acts of desperation, revealing the degree to which Mexico’s police and politicians are seen as part of the threat…

Each is a haven of relative safety amid violence, suggesting that their diagnosis of the problem was correct. But their gains are fragile and have come at significant cost.

They are exceptions that prove the rule: Mexico’s crisis manifests as violence, but it is rooted in the corruption and weakness of the state... 

Tancítaro: Nearly four years in, long after other militia-run towns in Michoacán collapsed into violence, the streets remain safe and tidy. But in sweeping away the institutions that enabled crime to flourish, Tancítaro created a system that in many ways resembles cartel control…

Cinthia Garcia Nieves, a young community organizer… set up citizens’ councils as a way for local families to get involved. But militia rule has accustomed many to the idea that power belongs to whomever has the guns…

Officially, Tancítaro is run by a mayor so popular that he was nominated by the unanimous consent of every major political party and won in a landslide. Unofficially, the mayor reports to the farm owners, who predetermined his election by ensuring he was the only viable candidate…

The citizens’ councils, designed as visions of democratic utopianism, hold little power. Social services have faltered.

Though the new order is popular, it offers few avenues for appeal or dissent…

Monterrey: Rather than ejecting institutions, Monterrey’s business elite quietly took them over — all with the blessing of their friends and golf partners in public office.

But their once-remarkable progress is now collapsing…

Monterrey’s experience offered still more evidence that in Mexico, violence is only a symptom; the real disease is in government…

Mexico’s weak institutions, Jorge Tello, a security consultant, [said], make any local fix subject to the whims of political leaders. Countries like the United States, he said, “have this structure that we don’t have. That’s what’s so dangerous.”

Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, a million-resident sprawl outside Mexico City, was once known for poverty, gang violence and police corruption so widespread that officers sometimes mugged citizens.

Today, though still rough, it is far safer. Its police officers are considered “a really promising model,” John Bailey, a Georgetown University professor said, in a part of the country where most are seen as threats.

Neza inverted Monterrey’s model: Rather than establishing an independent police force and co-opting the political system, Neza established an independent political system and co-opted the police.

Mexico’s establishment parties are more than parties. They are the state. Loyalists, not civil servants, run institutions. Officials have little freedom to stretch and little incentive to investigate corruption that might implicate fellow party members. Most are shuffled between offices every few years, cutting any successes short.

Neza, run by a third party, the left-wing P.R.D., exists outside of this system. Its leaders are free to gut local institutions and cut out the state authorities…

But Neza’s gains could evaporate, Mr. Amador said, if crime in neighboring areas continued to rise or if the mayor’s office changed party…

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Friday, January 12, 2018

New Chinese Empire

Edward Wong, recently the Bureau Chief in China for The New York Times, offers an analysis of China's rising empire as a successor to the 20th century American empire.

This is probably too long and too complex for students, but I think it offers teachers opportunities and ideas for lesson planning.

A Chinese Empire Reborn: The Communist Party’s emerging empire is more the result of force than a gravitational pull of Chinese ideas.
Though unabashedly authoritarian, China was a magnet [in 2008]. I was among many who thought it might forge a confident and more open identity while ushering in a vibrant era of new ideas, values and culture, one befitting its superpower status…

From trade to the internet, from higher education to Hollywood, China is shaping the world in ways that people have only begun to grasp. Yet the emerging imperium is more a result of the Communist Party’s exercise of hard power, including economic coercion, than the product of a gravitational pull of Chinese ideas or contemporary culture.

Of the global powers that dominated the 19th century, China alone is a rejuvenated empire. The Communist Party commands a vast territory that the ethnic-Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty cobbled together through war and diplomacy… Once again, states around the world pay homage to the court, as in 2015 during a huge military parade.

For decades, the United States was a global beacon for those who embraced certain values — the rule of law, free speech, clean government and human rights. Even if policy often fell short of those stated ideals, American “soft power” remained as potent as its armed forces. In the post-Soviet era, political figures and scholars regarded that American way of amassing power through attraction as a central element of forging a modern empire.

China’s rise is a blunt counterpoint. From 2009 onward, Chinese power in domestic and international realms has become synonymous with brute strength, bribery and browbeating — and the Communist Party’s empire is getting stronger.

At home, the party has imprisoned rights lawyers, strangled the internet, compelled companies and universities to install party cells, and planned for a potentially Orwellian “social credit” system. Abroad, it is building military installations… and infiltrating cybernetworks. It pushes the “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative across Eurasia, which will have benefits for other nations but will also allow China to pressure them to do business with Chinese state-owned enterprises…

So far, Chinese soft power plays a minor role. For one thing, the party insists on tight control of cultural production…

President Xi Jinping is the avatar of the new imperium. The 19th Party Congress in October was his victory lap. Party officials enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought” in the party constitution, putting him on par with Mao Zedong…

China’s domestic security budget has exceeded that of its military in recent years, even as both grow rapidly, highlighting the nation’s investment in hard power…

Chinese citizens and the world would benefit if China turns out to be an empire whose power is based as much on ideas, values and culture as on military and economic might. It was more enlightened under its most glorious dynasties. But for now, the Communist Party embraces hard power and coercion, and this could well be what replaces the fading liberal hegemony of the United States on the global stage…

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

King/Queen of the United States?

Here's one for students to discuss. And there are enough assertions to be checked with research. (Are nations with monarchies "generally richer and more stable?") Does being a member of a titled aristocracy have any influence on opinions?

What’s the Cure for Ailing Nations? More Kings and Queens, Monarchists Say
Count Nikolai Tolstoy says, more kings, queens and all the frippery that royalty brings would be not just a salve for a superpower in political turmoil, but also a stabilizing force for the world at large.

“I love the monarchy,” Count Tolstoy, 82, said as he sat in his lush garden behind an expansive stone house. “Most people think the monarchy is just decorative and filled with splendor and personalities. They do not appreciate the important ideological reasons for a monarchy.”

The count… leads the International Monarchist League and is part of a loose confederation of monarchists scattered across the globe, including in the United States.

Their core arguments: Countries with monarchies are better off because royal families act as a unifying force and a powerful symbol; monarchies rise above politics; and nations with royalty are generally richer and more stable…

A recent study that examined the economic performance of monarchies versus republics bolsters their views. Led by Mauro F. Guillén, a management professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the study found “robust and quantitatively meaningful evidence” that monarchies outperform other forms of government…

Count Tolstoy insists that monarchists are not pining for the days of absolute rulers and the divine right of kings…

Dutch King Willem-Alexander
Instead, his group advocates constitutional monarchies, in which a king or queen is head of state and the real power rests with an elected Parliament…

Finding people to reject the monarchists’ vision is not hard, even in Britain, where Queen Elizabeth II is revered by many.

A London-based grass-roots organization called Republic, which wants the country to hold a referendum on the monarchy when the queen dies, says bluntly on its website, “The monarchy isn’t fit for purpose. It is corrupt and secretive.”…

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A second from the Supreme Leader?

After the Iranian president's remarks, the Supreme Leader might be seconding those sentiments.

Iran’s leader blames U.S. for unrest but says public demands ‘must be answered’
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that people have genuine grievances that should be addressed by the government…

His remarks — which come as demonstrations have dwindled — constituted a rare admission from the hard-line cleric, who wields ultimate authority in Iran…

Khamenei… accused the United States and Israel of a “carefully organized” plot to overthrow Iran’s government. He said “the enemy” had started chants against high prices, attracting Iranian demonstrators…

The remarks were standard fare for Khamenei, who has presided over Iran’s powerful clerical and security establishments for 29 years…

Still, Khamenei acknowledged that hardships have led to discontent in Iran. He pointed to what he called “problematic financial institutions” as having left many Iranians “dissatisfied” with the economic situation.

A handful of illicit credit institutions have collapsed across Iran in recent years, wiping out deposits from ordinary Iranians. Many aggrieved depositors have staged protests outside banks and government offices, demanding to be reimbursed…

His remarks appeared to align with those made by President Hassan Rouhani on Monday. Rouhani urged the government and his hard-line rivals to recognize the demonstrators’ demands…

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Pushing for historical relevance

Socialism with Chinese characteristics seems to what China has now (maybe with less corruption).

Xi emphasizes upholding, developing socialism with Chinese characteristics
Xi
Chinese President Xi Jinping… asked senior officials to consistently uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics and promote the "great new project of Party building."

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks at the opening of a workshop attended by newly-elected members and alternate members of the CPC Central Committee…

The workshop is focused on the study and implementation of "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" and the spirit of the 19th CPC National Congress.

"Socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era must be upheld consistently as it is both the achievement and continuation of the people's great social revolutions led by the CPC," Xi said. "Both history and reality have proved that a long historical process is needed when a social revolution is declared a final victory."…

Socialism with Chinese characteristics does not drop from the sky, but comes out of the practice of 40 years of reform [Deng Xiaoping's reforms] and opening up and the practice of exploration since the establishment of the People's Republic of China nearly 70 years ago, he said.

It is also the result of the 97-year practice of the people's great social revolutions under the CPC leadership, the 170-plus-year historical process [beginning with the Opium wars] during which the Chinese nation becomes prosperous from decline, and the inheritance and development of Chinese civilization in the past 5,000-plus years, Xi added.

"It is extremely difficult to achieve the outcome," the president said.

The success of scientific socialism in China is of great importance for Marxism, scientific socialism and socialism across the world. It is most fundamental for the CPC to hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics so as to realize its historic mission in the new era, Xi said.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Defusing the Iranian protests

Whether his words have any affect on policy or not, the message might reduce protests.

Iran Can’t Keep Dictating Lifestyle, Its President Warns
Rouhani
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran lashed out at his hard-line opponents on Monday, saying the protesters who have shaken Iran in recent weeks objected not just to the bad economy but also to widespread corruption and the clerical government’s restrictive policies on personal conduct and freedoms.

In his most extensive comments yet on the protests, Mr. Rouhani said that those people who took to the streets across the country did so because they were seeking a better life. “Some imagine that the people only want money and a good economy, but will someone accept a considerable amount of money per month when for instance the cyber network would be completely blocked?” he asked. “Is freedom and the life of the people purchasable with money?…

Mr. Rouhani, a moderate, has been seeking a relaxation in social controls, but he faces resistance from hard-liners in unelected power centers like the judiciary, vetting councils and the state news media. They want to keep in place the framework of Islamic laws that effectively dictate how people should live, despite enormous changes in Iranian society in the past decade alone.

Iran’s judiciary and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blame the country’s “enemies” for the protests in over 80 cities, which started on Dec. 28. They said the actions were organized by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia with the aim of bringing down the Islamic government…

Several political supporters of Mr. Rouhani say that the first protest in the city of Mashhad was actually masterminded by the hard-liners, in an attempt to discredit the government…

But the protesters have also spoken of a host of other problems, including endemic corruption and the government’s expensive support for the Syrian government and Shiite groups throughout the Middle East, particularly Hezbollah, the Shiite movement in Lebanon.

Seeking to blunt criticism over the economy, Mr. Rouhani stressed the breadth of the protesters’ demands as well as their validity.

“The people have demands, some of which are economic, social and security-related, and all these demands should be heeded,” he said on Monday. He did not directly refer to slogans calling for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to step down, but he said that no one was exempt from criticism…

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Election in 2024

If the 2018 election in Russia has already been decided, what about the one in 2024?

Training Early for Post-Putin Politics
Presidential elections are normally a major affair. The competition may be more or less open, the candidates more or less exciting, the outcome more or less uncertain, but electing a head of state usually captures a nation’s attention. These days in Moscow, though, with glitzy “2018” signs illuminating the city center, you would be forgiven for thinking that the soccer World Cup, hosted by Russia, is the event to watch this year…

Since [Putin's] approval ratings hover around 80 percent, that puts him on course to be in office until 2024. By then, he will have been in power for 24 years. No wonder he is running as an independent candidate this time: President Putin does not need a party to support him — he just needs to run as President Putin. His legitimacy stems from holding power since the day the millennium was born…

The idea of post-Putinism is emerging slowly as an object of political study…

An entire generation is looking forward to post-Putinism. Its members have not yet been allowed on stage, but they are definitely rehearsing.

Navalny
Their most visible actor is Alexei Navalny, the only candidate who has been running a real presidential campaign so far. Unsurprisingly, on Dec. 30 Russia’s Supreme Court barred him from taking part in the election, citing a fraud conviction that he says was based on trumped-up charges…

Since then, he has become the No. 1 opposition figure, which has harmed him — he is sometimes jailed briefly, frequently attacked, constantly harassed — but it also has protected him… For over a year, Mr. Navalny has been crisscrossing Russia to build a political organization, with a network of regional headquarters and tens of thousands of volunteers. The crowds at his rallies are not huge, but they are young and committed, making this operation look very much like a solid investment.

Sobchak
And there is a surprise entrant, who popped up in late October and announced her candidacy. Ksenia Sobchak, 36, is a household name in Russia: Her father, Anatoly Sobchak, was the first elected mayor of post-Soviet St. Petersburg. A reformist, he made Vladimir Putin his deputy… Inevitably, the big question in Moscow has become: Is she a Kremlin stooge?…

Beneath the surface, other actors are taking stock…

“People are tired of the regime, but they value stability,” Olga Mostinskaya, 36, a former Foreign Ministry translator, said. "Apathy has its limits. When nothing moves at the top, grass-roots activism may well be the best recipe to get ready for post-Putinism."

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Monday, January 08, 2018

More killings in the Middle Belt

When long-standing cleavages begin to overlap violence often takes place. Nigeria's Middle Belt, especially east of the Niger and Benue Rivers is an area where the violence is increasing.

Benue Killings - Police Arrest Eight Herdsmen
The Police in Benue say they have arrested eight herdsmen over the death of 10 persons and seven livestock guards in Guma and Logo Local Governments of the state on Monday.

Benue State
"Eight herdsmen, six in Guma and two in Logo, had been arrested in connection with the attacks," the police spokesman said…

He said: "They attacked Tomater village in Sengev Council ward, Akor village in Nzorov council ward and Bakin Kwata village in Umanger council ward of Guma LGA.

"Among those killed were seven (7) members of Benue State Livestock Guards, their vehicle burnt and an uncertain number of persons injured…

According to him, five combined teams of mobile and conventional policemen led by Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operations, Emmanuel Adesina, have engaged the armed herdsmen in a gun duel in Guma…



Buhari speaks on Benue killings
President Muhammadu Buhari has commiserated with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State over the reported killings, injury of several persons and wanton destruction of property in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state in the New Year.

Mr. Ortom said on Tuesday that armed herdsmen killed over 20 and injured over 30 in Benue between Monday and Tuesday in Guma and Logo local government areas…

In his reaction, Mr. Buhari, while expressing sadness at the “wicked and callous” attacks, assured the governor and people of the state that relevant security agencies have been directed to do everything possible to arrest those behind the regrettable incidents and avert further attacks.

“This is one attack too many, and everything must be done to provide security for the people in our rural communities,” he said.

Mr. Buhari also commiserated with families of the victims and wished the injured speedy healing…

Attacks and counter attacks by migrant herdsmen on farming Benue communities led the state government to put the anti-open grazing law in place. The law bans open grazing in all Benue communities.

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Friday, January 05, 2018

Fatalities in Mexican Politics

When most of the murdered politicians come from a single party, people become suspicious.

Five Mexican politicians killed in past week ahead of elections in the summer
To commemorate the new year, a mayoral candidate in a small Mexican town sent a Facebook message Sunday morning asking residents to unite to improve society.

“We only need maturity, seriousness, and responsibility to face the challenges that confront society,” Adolfo Serna Nogueda wrote.

Later that day, Serna was fatally shot outside his home in Atoyac de Alvarez, along the Pacific Coast in the western state of Guerrero.

Serna, a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], was one of at least five politicians killed in the past week in Mexico on the eve of an important election year.

Politician's funeral
Two days earlier, the [PRD] mayor of another Guerrero town, Petatlan, about two hours north along the coast, was killed while eating with friends at a restaurant. And the day before that, a [PRD]state congressman from Jalisco was gunned down while driving with his son. A former [PRD] state congressional candidate and a town council member also were killed in the past week.

The violence was another reminder of the serious dangers inherent in Mexican politics, particularly at the local level, where drug gangs regularly exert influence…

“We are six months from the presidential election, and of course these attacks against our members are taken as a warning against participating,” Ángel Ávila Romero, secretary general of the PRD, said last week, according to El Universal newspaper…

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Thursday, January 04, 2018

More analysis on Iran

Thomas Erdbrink, writing in The New York Times offers some analysis on events in Iran.

Hard-Liners and Reformers Tapped Iranians’ Ire. Now, Both Are Protest Targets.
Antigovernment protests roiled Iran on Tuesday, as the death toll rose to 21 and the nation’s supreme leader blamed foreign enemies for the unrest. But the protests that have spread to dozens of Iranian cities in the past six days were set off by miscalculations in a long-simmering power struggle between hard-liners and reformers…

But the anger behind the protests was directed against the entire political establishment.

While the protests that swept Iran in 2009 were led by the urban middle class, these protests have been largely driven by disaffected young people in rural areas, towns and small cities who have seized an opening to vent their frustrations with a political elite they say has hijacked the economy to serve its own interests.

Unemployment for young people — half the population — runs at 40 percent, analysts believe. Meanwhile, Iran has spent billions of dollars abroad in recent years to extend its influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The initial catalyst for the anger appears to have been the leak by President Rouhani last month of a proposed government budget. For the first time, secret parts of the budget, including details of the country’s religious institutes, were exposed.

Iranians discovered that billions of dollars were going to hard-line organizations, the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and religious foundations that enrich the clerical elite. At the same time, the budget proposed to end cash subsidies for millions of citizens, increase fuel prices and privatize public schools…

In reaction to the protest in Mashhad, Hesamodin Ashna, a trusted adviser to President Rouhani, sent out a Twitter message on Friday, highlighting “the unbalanced distribution of the budget.”

Iran’s military forces, active in several countries in the Middle East, saw their budget increase to $11 billion, a nearly 20 percent rise, he said. The budget for representatives of the supreme leader in universities was increased. An institute run by the hard-line cleric Mohammad Taghi Meshbah-Yazdi was to receive eight times as much as a decade ago…

As protests took off in about 40 cities across the country, Tehran remained largely quiet. In 2009, over three million people took to the streets disputing the elections.

But this time, many said they feared the raging, leaderless protests.

“They are angry, and have a right to be, but there is just nothing more, no plan for the day after,” said Hamidreza Faraji, a cosmetic and honey salesman…

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

More protest in Iran

Just a reminder that it was Ayatollah Khomeini who said, "Economics is for donkeys." Are the donkeys coming home to roost?

Iran Protests Have Violent Night; At Least 12 Dead Overall
Nationwide protests in Iran saw their most violent night as "armed protesters" tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, bringing the death toll in the unrest to at least 12, state television reported Monday.

The demonstrations, the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, began Thursday in Mashhad…

Iranian state television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze. It reported that clashes Sunday night killed 10 people…

On Sunday, Iran blocked access to Instagram and the popular messaging app Telegram used by activists to organize. President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the public's anger over the Islamic Republic's flagging economy…

Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election…

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More on Iranian protests



Iranian protests are complex jigsaw puzzle, say observers
A striking image, taken by an amateur photographer on a smartphone, shows a young woman in Tehran taking off her hijab, perching on a telecoms box, and holding her headscarf aloft on a stick.
It may look as if she is waving a white flag of truce, but given her geographical location, in a country where wearing hijab is obligatory for women, it is a small – yet audacious – act of resistance, embodying the aspiration of a young nation frustrated with economic grievances, but also lack of social and political freedom…

The geographical scale of the unrest in provinces, and the harshness of the slogans chanted are unprecedented since the 1979 Iranian revolution…

But the new protests, labelled by many on Twitter as “Eteraz-e-omomi” (or “the general strike” in Farsi) are posing more questions than answers, puzzling observers about how it all started, why it spread so quickly, and what it means for the future of the Iran…

Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, the son of an Iranian opposition leader under house arrest said that after Rouhani won a landslide victory with the support of reformists, his unexpected conservative turn since had disappointed his base. “It’s always been the reformist youth who pumped hope inside the country and they’re silent now – that’s the government’s weakness, people are hopeless and when reformists are not pumping hope, they’re becoming even more disgruntled.”…

While the middle class and the elites were behind the 2009 protests, this new wave appears to be led by the working class, which is most affected by the country’s economic woes.

Others say it is too soon to fully comprehend the new protests. “It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” said one commentator who did not want to be identified. “There might be other reasons at play too, such as internal rivalries between different factions especially as Khamenei becomes older and the succession race becomes serious.”…

Mohammad Marandi, a Tehran University professor sympathetic to the Islamic Republic, blamed Rouhani government’s economic policy over the protests, which began just weeks after the president unveiled next year’s budget.

“There are obviously economic problems ... I think that perhaps the government policy seems to some as leaning towards the liberalisation of the economy, rising the price of gasoline and removing subsidies, and at the moment because the economy is not doing so well, it has created a sense of concern among a lot of people,” he said…

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Stop it!

Given the bloody history of the Iranian governments, this should not be considered an empty threat. (Check out the analyses following the article.)

Iran protests: Citizens told to avoid 'illegal gatherings'
The Iranian government has told people to avoid "illegal gatherings" in the wake of two days of angry anti-establishment protests in the country.

Scores have been arrested in protests over corruption and living standards.

Small groups have continued to gather at Tehran University and elsewhere.

But Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli urged people "not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens".

The Iranian authorities are blaming anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers for the outbreak of anti-establishment protest.

In the US, the Trump administration warned Iran overnight that the world was watching its response. Iran's foreign ministry called the comments "opportunistic and deceitful".

Meanwhile, thousands of pro-government demonstrators attended rallies on Saturday.

These official rallies were organised in advance of the anti-government protests, to mark the eighth anniversary of the suppression of major street protests.

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Protests in Iran

Don't be misled by the appearance of stability in Iran.

Protesters in Iran raise slogans against Rouhani, Supreme Leader
Thousands of residents n a number of Iranian cities including the north-eastern city of Mashhad took to the streets on Thursday demonstrating against unemployment, poverty and the rising cost of living.

Protesters raised the slogans "Death to Rouhani, and Death to the Dictator". Usually the term "dictator" is addressed to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Protesters also waved banners denouncing Iran's interference in the Arab region.

Similar protests were held in cities of Neyshabur, Shahroud, and Yazd.

There were angry chants of “Death to the Dictator” and “Death to Rouhani.”

The demonstrators also chanted “Forget about Syria, think about us”, “Don’t be scared, we are all together.”…

Earlier this week, demonstrations broke out in Isfahan, central Iran, in protest against the unemployment crisis.

Officials in Isfahan warned of the worsening unemployment crisis, with statistics indicating that more than 27,000 people were fired from their jobs because firms went bankrupt over the past nine months…

Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) [said]… “[A]s long as this regime is in power the economy and the welfare of Iranians will deteriorate, and the only solution to the economic and social ills and the crisis is the regime’s overthrow”…


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