Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Checking in on state capacity

Are victims of disasters ever satisfied with the response from the state? Are the levels of response related to physical capacity or politics? I noted that the area hardest hit by the earthquake is a Kurdish area. What do you know about Kurds in Iran?

Iran-Iraq earthquake: Rouhani vows action over collapsed buildings
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has vowed to "find the culprits" responsible for buildings collapsing in a 7.3-magnitude earthquake on Sunday.

He suggested that government-built buildings had collapsed while privately-built ones remained standing.

As he spoke in the worst-affected city, Sarpol-e Zahab, he gestured to two buildings, one of which had collapsed while the other had not…

A photograph circulating on social media shows an unaffected private building next to a collapsed building that was part of the Mehr project, a scheme created by previous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to build two million housing units for people on low incomes.

Mehr is Farsi for kindness, and under the scheme hundreds of homes were built…

Government's slow response criticised
Analysis by Jiyar Gol, BBC Persian
Forty-eight hours after the earthquake, thousands of people complain that still they have no tents, food or water. They complain about the lack of co-ordination between security forces and aid agencies. Although many soldiers showed up, they didn't have enough ambulances or proper machinery to move rubble.

More than 1,900 Kurdish mountain villages have been affected. The villagers say no one from the government has come to their rescue but ordinary Iranians from neighbouring cities and provinces have started sending aid.

Most of the government-sponsored affordable housing complexes for the poor were damaged severely, and many died inside…

President Rouhani brought attention to this, saying those responsible for the projects - initiated under his predecessor's presidency - must be held accountable…

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Nigerian history: where do cleavages come from?

If history provides a needed frame of reference for understanding politics, this recent CNN report will be very helpful.

What you should have been taught about Nigeria
In 1914 Nigeria’s colonial master, Great Britain, set off a chain of events that would lay the foundation for the secessionist conflict known as the Biafran War. The conflict lasted from 1967 to 1970 and reportedly killed 1 million of the Igbo ethnic group, which had attempted to break away from the country. The Biafran War, though omitted in most history textbooks, is an important chapter in the story of Nigeria’s internal division.

Before the advent of colonialism, Nigeria was not a nation-state as we know it now. It was a collection of independent native groups not states]—more than 300 in total. The largest groups were the Igbos, who populated 60 to 65 percent of the southeast region; the Hausas, who populated 60 percent of the north, and the Yorubas, who made up 70 percent of the west. Each group was separated by distance and had its own distinct and proud political traditions, culture, language, and religion.

Ignoring the value of these distinctions, Britain “unified” the country in 1914, joining the Northern Protectorate (the Hausas) and the South (the Yorubas and Igbos) as one nation: Nigeria.

Of all the three groups, the Hausas were most adaptable to Britain’s administrative strategy, because they had always operated a feudal system that deposited all political power and religious authority in one person: the Sultan…

Conversely, the Igbos and Yorubas had more participatory and democratic systems of government in which citizens had a say in political and economic decisions. They were also, unlike the [mostly Muslim] Hausas, more open to Christian missionaries and Western education. This accelerated industry and ambition in the south—especially among the Igbos—to become the first set of civil servants for the British government…

Education and wealth soon joined the list of differences between the regions. Politically they remained sharply divided…

In 1956, oil was discovered in the southeastern region, and economic potential suddenly added fresh questions to the already brewing flashpoints between the regions. Who would control the oil? Who would benefit most from it?…

Nigeria gained its independence in October 1960; four years later an election was disputed amid accusations of fraud. The foremost party in the north—the Northern Peoples’ Congress—emerged victorious…

On Jan. 15, 1966, a group of majors—mostly Igbos from the east… attempted to overthrow the elected government in a coup, citing electoral fraud… The coup was broadly seen as a move by the Igbos to dominate the country, an accusation intensified in the context of their other perceived advantages…

Seven months later, Col. Ojukwu [the military governor of the eastern region] declared the eastern region, to be called Biafra, an independent nation. On July 6, 1967, the Biafran War commenced.

What followed was three years of armed conflict that shocked the world… Nigeria blockaded all transportation routes into Biafra, starving millions and leaving children malnourished…

The Biafran War is conspicuously absent from the curriculum of the country’s educational system…

Yet a particular group—the Igbos—have not forgotten this history. How could they? They remain politically marginalized… There is no federal infrastructure—such as highways and roads that would aid in the transport of goods and people—in the east as there is in the other regions…

This has fueled the echoing of secessionist calls…

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Earthquake in Iran

We have recent records of earthquakes in China and Mexico. Now is the time to compare the capacity of Iran to deal with an earthquake with the capacities of China and Mexico.

Iraq-Iran earthquake: Deadly tremor hits border region
A strong 7.3-magnitude earthquake has rattled the northern border region between Iran and Iraq, killing scores.

At least 61 people died in western Iran, state media said, with four more reported dead in Iraq. The death toll is likely to rise.

The earthquake sparked panic, with residents fleeing their homes for the streets.

Mosques in the Iraqi capital Baghdad have been saying prayers through loudspeakers.

Iranian news channel IRINN said rescue teams have been despatched to western parts of the country.

"Damage has been reported in at least eight villages," Morteza Salim, the head of Iran's Red Crescent Organisation, told the channel.

"Some other villages have suffered power cuts and their telecommunications system has also been disturbed."

The earthquake was felt in Turkey and Israel too.

It struck in the evening local time south of the Iraqi town of Halabja at a depth of 33.9 km (21 miles), the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Corruption

Corruption is a factor in government and politics. Is it part of the curriculum? For China. For Iran. For Russia. For Mexico. For the UK. For Nigeria.

Nigerian president sacks senior official amid claims of corruption
Babachir Lawal
Nigeria’s highest ranking civil servant [Babachir Lawal] has been sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari following allegations that he diverted aid funds intended for the humanitarian crisis in the country’s north-east.

A preliminary report by the Nigerian senate alleged that funds intended to cover the cutting of weeds to prevent flooding in refugee camps and other vulnerable areas had been diverted through companies set up by Lawal…

Femi Adesina, the president’s spokesperson, said Lawal had been replaced following the internal investigation.

“Everything that the president ought to have done as regards the matter has been done already as per our statement,” said Adesina, who did not indicate whether Lawal would face criminal charges or whether the internal report would be released…

Lawal is the latest casualty of a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that critics in Nigeria claim is partisan…

Babachir Lawal declined to comment on the allegations.

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Sorting out government, state, rule of law, and politics

Be very glad you're not trying to analyze Saudi Arabia.

In Saudi Arabia, Where Family and State Are One, Arrests May Be Selective
King Salman’s close relatives not only rule Saudi Arabia. They are also in business with it.

A major Saudi investment firm founded by one of the king’s sons, and now chaired by another, owns a significant stake in a conglomerate that does extensive government business… A smaller firm founded by another of his sons says it invests in health care, telecommunications, education and other regulated or state-funded fields.

None of that apparent conflict of interest seems to be against the law.

But now their brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is leading a sweeping crackdown against what he has labeled “corruption”… But his immediate family’s complicated and mostly undisclosed business interests are raising questions about what that accusation means in a kingdom where the law has so far included little or no regulation of what other countries have labeled and outlawed as self-dealing.

Saudi laws, issued by royal decree or derived from Islamic law, have so far included little or no regulation of the sprawling royal family and its closest clients. The family has never disclosed the sources of its income, how much its members might take from the country’s oil revenues, how much they earn from state contracts or how they afford their lavish lifestyles…

The kingdom, an absolute monarchy, has also never attempted to create an independent court system to adjudicate claims…

And it was unclear which branch of the court system might hear the cases — the main Shariah court system or the more specialized board of grievance courts that handle administrative complaints.

“The law is not meant to govern the ruling family in any meaningful way, or to govern the relations between the ruling family and the state,” said Nathan J. Brown, a scholar at George Washington University who studies Arab legal systems.

“Ultimately, the king and some high members of the royal family can do what they want and make it legal later,” he said, and the lack of regulation over royal self-dealing “opens the door wide to what would be considered corruption in other systems.”…

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Scandal and politics

Almost as if it were contagious, accusations of sexual abuse have weakened the government in the UK.

In U.K.’s Clubby Parliament, Abuse Complaints Became Weapons
A spreadsheet began to circulate last week among journalists covering Britain’s Parliament, matching up the names of three dozen Conservative Party officials with brief descriptions of misconduct…

A dam-burst of accusations has engulfed Westminster over the last 10 days, released by the revelations about the sexual misconduct of the Hollywood power broker Harvey Weinstein.

Complaints about leading political figures have accumulated for years, in part because of the power asymmetry within the halls of Parliament. Young staff members… are told to inform party whips, in-house disciplinarians who were widely believed to stockpile compromising information for their own purposes. Newspapers, for their part, have often sat on reports of abuse rather than risk libel claims…

The scandal has hit Prime Minister Theresa May at a difficult time, as she struggles to control warring factions in her party and break free from a deadlock in negotiations for Britain’s exit from the European Union, known as Brexit…

In all, about a dozen members of Parliament, eight from the Conservative Party and four from Labour, are under investigation. One Tory, Charlie Elphicke, was suspended after “serious allegations” were referred to the police, the party has said. He has denied any wrongdoing…

“Britain’s political class feels pretty fragile right now,” said Tom McTague, the chief Britain correspondent for Politico…

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Monday, November 06, 2017

Fighting poverty in China

The peasants' revolt that Mao Zedong led in the 1930s and '40s has not ended the way Mao or Marx would have guessed. Maybe it has not ended.

Xi Jinping Vows No Poverty in China by 2020. That Could Be Hard.
From his home in the mountains of northeast China, Li Zhi has watched from a distance as prosperity has transformed China into a land of high-speed trains, billionaires and skyscrapers.

But the economic boom that made China rich never came to Chashan, a desolate village of 40 people about a six-hour drive from Beijing. Mr. Li, 72, spends his days limping along dusty roads to collect trash in exchange for tips. Stiff and gaunt, he subsists on a diet of rice, steamed bread and hard liquor.
Farmyard in Chashan
Nearly seven decades after the Chinese Communist Party rose to power on a promise of prosperity for all, President Xi Jinping has vowed to fulfill the Communists’ original intent, staking his legacy on an ambitious plan to complete the eradication of rural poverty by 2020.

The plan targets the more than 43 million people who still live on the equivalent of less than 95 cents a day, the poverty line set by the Chinese government…

But Mr. Xi’s lofty vision clashes with a harsh reality across much of rural China. In many villages, young people have gone, leaving older residents to fend for themselves…

“The whole idea of socialism was that all Chinese would have a reasonable living standard,” said Kerry Brown, a China scholar at King’s College London. “The nagging concern is that the Communist Party has created billionaires and a strong middle class, and yet there are still a lot of poor people. That seems to be a massive contradiction.”…

[D]uring a speech marking the beginning of his second five-year term as party leader, Mr. Xi described eradicating poverty by 2020 as one of his chief priorities, vowing to “leave no one behind in the march toward common prosperity.”…

While international organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank have praised the government’s work in helping hundreds of millions of Chinese rise out of poverty in recent decades, some experts worry that Mr. Xi’s plan is more about making headlines than bringing lasting change to poor communities.

Some say the government’s focus on 43 million people is too narrow, noting that millions more live just above the official poverty line in conditions that are not much better. Others say that by concentrating on rural areas, Mr. Xi is neglecting the plight of the urban poor, many of whom are rural migrants…

But the hardest work remains ahead. As many as half of the 43 million people who are officially classified as in poverty could be disabled…

Corruption has emerged as a problem, with more than 1,800 people having been investigated last year for embezzling antipoverty funds…

Then there is the fact that Mr. Xi’s campaign is not focused on urban areas. There are more than 200 million rural migrants in China’s cities, where many struggle to receive education, heath care and other benefits because the local government does not consider them residents. Some fall into unemployment or bad health and live in squalid conditions.

“This is a very big hole in the overall picture, which the government rarely addresses,” said Philip G. Alston, a scholar and adviser to the United Nations who issued a report this year on extreme poverty and human rights in China. “The reality is that many of them are living in extreme poverty.”

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