Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sounds like a man in charge

Some people might be impatient with Yar'Adua, but his second rearrangement of the cabinet makes it seem that he's a man in charge.

from THISDAY (Lagos)
Yar'Adua Sacks 20 Ministers

"There was no inkling that something like that was in the offing yesterday: the list of ministers to be dropped from President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's cabinet, which Nigerians had waited for in the past five months.

"But when the list eventually came around 7.30 pm, it was shock and surprise galore.

"Twenty ministers were dropped from the cabinet...

"THISDAY learnt some of the ministers were dropped for non-performance or poor performance, while others were axed for alleged in-fighting, which former ministers of FCT, Environment and Water Resources were said to be pronounced in..."

from Vanguard (Lagos)
Yar'Adua Sacks 20 Ministers

"PRESIDENT Umaru Yar'Adua, yesterday, relieved 20 of his ministers of their appointments soon after a valedictory photo session with all the ministers at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting..."

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Baba Go-Slow?

An analysis of Nigeria's president from outside of Nigeria, reported in The Economist:

Please hurry up: People are worried about Umaru Yar’Adua’s slow pace of government

"AS GOVERNOR of a sparsely populated state in northern Nigeria, President Umaru Yar’Adua was known fondly as 'the silent achiever'. But a year-and-a-half into his first term as his country’s president, more and more people are muttering that his unhurried style is failing to move the machinery of Africa’s biggest and most boisterous nation. Nowadays he has a new nickname, taken from Nigeria’s notorious traffic jams: 'Baba Go-Slow'.

"Many Nigerians are complaining that their soft-spoken president has failed to fulfil his inaugural promises...

"So far, as president, there have been no big decisions, so no big mistakes. He rarely pontificates in the media. But he did make a slew of promises at his inauguration in May last year. Top of his list was restoring peace in the Delta and revamping Nigeria’s dreadful electricity system. Now he is even further away from doing so than when he took office...

"But Mr Yar’Adua’s admirers say his deliberative style is right for a country with a feeble infrastructure and an array of problems that cannot be solved simply by having oil cash thrown at them. Few think he is personally corrupt—a rare compliment for a Nigerian leader. Some think he should take credit for a relative absence of religious and ethnic strife since he took over a country of 140m people speaking some 250 languages..."

Another expression of similar sentiments: The Nigerian-American blogger at Grandiose Parlor, expresses his frustration this way, "Nigerians are tired and irritated by the Yar’Adua’s administration, whose agenda has remained one of the most guided secrets in national history."

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chinua Achebe

It's been over a year since I recommended the ideas and writing of Chinua Achebe. Since The Economist mentioned him on the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first great novel, Things Fall Apart, I'll mention him again.

If you're looking for an explanation of Nigerian political culture, I don't think there's a better place to begin than with Achebe's books. Details on my recommendations are in the July 2007 blog entry, Chinua Achebe, or the April 2007 entry, Nigerian elections or crisis?.

A golden jubilee

"CHINUA ACHEBE’S Things Fall Apart, which celebrates its golden jubilee this year, is Africa’s best known work of literature. The slim novel has been translated into 50 languages and has sold 10m copies. Never once has it been out of print...

"Now known as the grand-daddy of African fiction, Mr Achebe has had a more difficult life. In 1990 he was involved in a car accident in Nigeria, and has since been a paraplegic. He and his wife, Christie, live in upstate New York, where he is professor of languages and literature at Bard College.

"The golden jubilee of Things Fall Apart was presaged by the announcement in June 2007 that Mr Achebe had been awarded the second Man Booker international prize. In contrast to Man Booker’s older and better known annual counterpart which lauds a single new book, the international prize celebrates an 'achievement in fiction'. Asked what the panel had been looking for among the 80-or-so living authors whose work was considered for the prize, Nadine Gordimer, the oldest of the three judges and the only Nobel-prize-winner, gave an immediate response: 'illumination'.

"Elegant in his wheelchair, dressed in his Nigerian chief’s robes and his red domed hat, Mr Achebe has been receiving accolades the world over...

"The festivities continued in London earlier this month where Mr Achebe was the guest of honour at a lunch at the House of Lords and then the subject of a two-day conference at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The highlight will be a ceremony early next month at the Library of Congress just before the author’s 78th birthday.

"For Mr Achebe, the end of the celebrations will mark a welcome return to his peaceful life at Bard College... An autobiographical essay, Reflections of a British Protected Child, about his childhood in the British Protectorate of Nigeria, is finished and now in the hands of his agent.

"His next project will be to translate “Things Fall Apart” into his native Ibo for the first time..."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The same only different

The politics of presidential elections may have more cross-cultural similarities than we realize. This report is from London's Guardian:

Election doubts over Ahmadinejad's health

"Speculation about the hyperactive leader's physical condition was prompted this week after a speech to the state statistics and planning body on Wednesday was cancelled at the last minute and a cabinet meeting took place without him. A speech to a martyr's commemoration event was also called off. A senior aide, Amir Mansour Borghei, told journalists that the president was 'indisposed'.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, helped by his bodyguards, at a religious ceremony on Saturday in Tehran. An official news agency said Sunday he was suffering from exhaustion.

"That explanation has triggered rumours that Ahmadinejad, 52, is suffering from a long-term illness that may force him to abandon plans to stand for re-election next year...

"The reports of cancellations come at a time when Ahmadinejad is wrestling with acute political problems, including near 30% inflation, rising unemployment, plummeting oil prices, a market traders' strike over a plan to impose VAT, and demands for the resignation of his interior minister...

"But more worrying is that the rumours appear to have given his critics a new stick to beat him with. Fellow hardliners inside Iran's so-called principalist - or fundamentalist - camp are calling for the president to withdraw from the presidential election unless doubts about his health are cleared up.

"Issa Saharkhiz, an Iranian political analyst, said the reports could have been fanned by Ahmadinejad's opponents, including the Tehran mayor, Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, who are preparing to run against him..."

Officials Counter Ahmadinejad Health Rumors

"President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is suffering from exhaustion because of the strain of his job, the official news agency IRNA reported Sunday in an unusual disclosure about the health of the country’s top elected leader. But the news agency quoted a political ally as saying Mr. Ahmadinejad would make a full recovery...

"The official news accounts apparently were meant to rebut rumors that Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is in his early 50s, may be ill and not up to running for re-election in June. Those rumors, on nongovernment Web sites including some associated with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s political rivals, have suggested that his condition could be more serious, particularly since he has canceled several events in the past week...

"The news came as Parliament moved on Sunday to impeach Interior Minister Ali Kordan, a close ally of Mr. Ahmadinejad over claims of lying about his university degrees. A vote was set for Nov. 4..."

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Press freedom

Here's a contention from Al Arabia news service that your students can critique.

Arabs have more press freedom than Israel: group

"Despite being hailed models of democracy countries like the United States and Israel rank lower than most Arab countries in terms of press freedom, a media report said Wednesday.

"In the post 9/11 world of fear-mongering and insecurity the world's top democracies are slowly but surely doing away with press freedoms, Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) press freedom index of 2008 said...

"The Paris-based group ranked the U.S. at 119 outside its own territory while Israel, whose armed forces killed a Palestinian journalist this year, was 149th on the list for press freedoms beyond its frontiers.

The annual report listed 173 countries with the highest ranked Middle Eastern country as Kuwait at 61 followed by Lebanon at 66 and the United Arab Emirates at 69...

See the RSF ranking and explanations..

Iceland, Luxembourg, and Norway are tied for #1. The UK is tied for the 23rd spot. Nigeria comes in at 131 and Mexico at 140. Russia is at 141; Iran at 166; China at 167.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Limits on state power

I think it's fair to read "weak" whenever the following article talks about "small" countries. Now, it's true that the Scandinavian countries have strong states, but their strength is limited much more than their capacity. Size and productivity are important.

Doug Sanders, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail also suggests that the financial crisis could bring an end to the Scottish independence movement and a halt to further devolution in the UK.

Market meltdown teaches Europe that size really does matter

"In the centre of Scotland this week, separatist leader Alex Salmond discovered that size has become a problem. He has pegged his political future to the idea of an 'arc of prosperity' uniting small countries from Iceland to Ireland through Scotland to Scandinavia.

"That sounded good two months ago, when those Celtic tigers and Icelandic miracles were the talk of the economic world and small countries were boasting about their big banks and independent currencies.

"Suddenly, the 'arc of prosperity' is being called an 'arc of insolvency' as small countries have become the biggest victims of the financial crisis.

"In the past few weeks, Iceland has gone bankrupt and is now being bailed out by the International Monetary Fund. Ireland is suffering Europe's first real recession and has slashed its government and raised taxes to keep its beleaguered banks afloat. Scandinavian countries are talking seriously for the first time of ditching their currencies, which have plummeted, in favour of joining the big, stable euro.

"Across Europe, people are moving their savings and possibly their political support to the security of big countries, big governments, big political parties and big currencies.

"Small countries from Lichtenstein to the Cayman Islands are learning that being a tax-sheltered banking haven is a fleeting pleasure...

"In a new era when government has become the guarantor of financial stability and the lender of first resort, nobody wants to touch those countries whose banks are bigger than their economies...

"'What the voters are realizing is that Scotland is a small country, and it's small countries that are really getting hammered in this economic crisis,' Conservative candidate Maurice Golden said while campaigning against Mr. Salmond's Scottish National Party on Tuesday.

"'People are realizing that if Scotland had been independent, it would not have survived this situation.'

"To make matters more humiliating, Mr. Salmond is an economist whose previous employer was the Royal Bank of Scotland, which would be bankrupt today if it had not been bought by the British government last week...

"The flight to the sanctuary of size has transformed politics across northern Europe, as well. Until this month, the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Denmark and Sweden – were proud of their independent currencies and fiercely resistant to any pressure to join the euro...

"But one of the interesting effects of the crisis has been that large, widely held currencies – notably the dollar, the euro and the pound – have remained relatively stable, while small-nation currencies (including, to an extent, Canada's) have taken a beating..."

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Political fund raising scandal in the UK

The Tories have their own funding scandal. Is this evidence that the electoral system in the UK is not as different from the US system as the textbooks suggest.

Tories face call to repay Rothschild £1m loan

"The Conservative party faced demands last night to repay a huge loan from a member of the Rothschild banking family made through a company set up with the sole purpose of protecting her anonymity.

"An Observer investigation has found that the party has benefited from a £1m loan from Lady Victoria de Rothschild, made via a 'non-trading' company that conducts no business and has had no other function in its four-year history than to lend the Tories money...

"Legislation barring anonymous loans, and those from non-trading companies, was introduced in 2006, after the de Rothschild loan was made, so the Tories can legitimately claim all parties were acting within the law...

"The revelation comes amid a fierce row triggered by allegations the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, discussed with the Tories' chief fundraiser, Andrew Feldman, a possible donation from Oleg Deripaska, after meeting the Russian billionaire on his yacht in Corfu last summer...

"The party is still braced for the findings of an inquiry into shadow cabinet minister Caroline Spelman's use of Commons expenses to pay her nanny. A report from the parliamentary standards commissioner is not expected until later this autumn."

See also

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Subliminal issue

In Comparative Politics, gender is an issue that is always just beneath the surface. "Comparativists" don't have a good handle on how to include it their studies and textbook authors don't have good ways to include the topic in their books. I don't have a good way to regularly raise the issue either.

Nonetheless, the question needs to be asked, perhaps especially in a comparative context, "Why, even in regimes and political cultures where voting rights and grassroots participation rates are equal, are women (over 50% of the population almost everywhere) so much less likely to be heads of state, heads of government, high-level officials, and legislators?"

Or, "How do the political cultures of the nation-states in Scandinavia (where women's participation in high levels of government approaches 50%) differ from the other Western European states?"

Maybe this cultural change stuff proceeds at a more glacial pace than we imagine. Perhaps the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society is an important part of the change process.

For Women Who Lead, a Forum of Their Own

Ingrid Betancourt, left, the freed hostage, and Christine Ockrent, of French television, in Deauville, France, last Thursday.

"The annual meeting of the Women’s Forum, which ended here on Saturday and included 1,200 women, is modeled on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the famous global talkathon. The Women’s Forum offered three days of lectures, panels, brainstorming sessions and guided conversations on the issues of the moment: the global economic meltdown, the crisis of leadership, the American presidential election, foreign policy, environmental problems, China, Russia, India. Well-known politicians and speakers, both women and men, came from all over the world, with an emphasis on Europe...

"There were also workshops on specific challenges faced by women, to discuss how women could be most effective in science, politics, education, corporate life and the media...

"And there were sessions that featured prominent women. They included Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian presidential candidate and freed hostage; the designer Diane von Furstenberg; the sailor Ellen MacArthur; the exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin; the venture capitalist Molly F. Ashby; and French cabinet ministers like Fadéla Amara, who is in charge of coordinating plans for the racially mixed and poor Parisian suburbs, and Anne-Marie Idrac, responsible for foreign trade...

"Valérie Bernard, a French businesswoman who lives in Saint-Denis, a poor suburb to the north of Paris, maintains a blog, chroniquesmabanlieue.com. Since the conference began, she wrote, 'it’s been an emotional electric shock.'

"She described it as 'a kind of coaching seminar driven by a single aim, to boost your personal reserve of confidence and tolerance, within a collective dynamic: women in the service of progress.'

"The experience made her nearly speechless, she wrote. 'The intensity of the exchanges, the meetings, the level of the interventions — how can I possibly tell you everything?'"

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

New name in Mexican politics?

Could Marcelo Ebrard be a left-wing Boris Johnson?

Mexico City mayor aims high

"Marcelo Ebrard [left] has turned this balmy city into an ice skaters' wonderland. He's conjured sandy beaches far from the sea. He's made hordes of annoying hawkers vanish from the historic main plaza.

"In nearly two years as mayor of Mexico's capital, Ebrard has shown a bent for splashy initiatives to ease the strains of daily life in a huge and unruly city. But the question is whether the leftist mayor can succeed against the city's deep problems: legendary traffic, kidnappings, poverty, eye-stinging smog, water shortages, an aging subway system and crooked police. It is a tall order.

"If he does, the 49-year-old Ebrard could be a contender for the country's top office. A wonkish technocrat with years of working the halls of Mexico City's government, he has signaled his presidential aspirations, though the election is four years away...

"In an interview, the lanky and bespectacled mayor laid out a lofty-sounding vision for Mexico City, with elements of the economic dynamism of London and New York and urban integration of Barcelona, Spain.

"For now, though, he is pursuing a pragmatic, pothole-filling approach, leavened with such populist touches as turning public pools into artificial beaches...

"Ebrard was well-versed in Mexico City government long before he won the mayor's race by a wide margin in 2006. He was a top city deputy during the early 1990s, when the country was run by the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI...

"Ebrard bolted from the PRI and served as police chief and social development secretary under his predecessor and ally, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador...

"Ebrard lacks Lopez Obrador's charisma, but analysts say he is in a good position to inherit leadership of the Mexican left if Lopez Obrador clears the way..."

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sign of change or merely a safety valve?

The last line is the most telling.

Where Iranians go to let their hair down

"Kish, a tiny island 20 kilometres away from, and just beyond the full control of, the rest of the Islamic Republic.

"Twenty-nine years after the Iranian revolution brought in the tight-laced social restrictions that transformed a Western-backed monarchy into a strict Islamic republic, Kish provides a rare outlet for Iran's booming population of educated young people who are frustrated with the regime.

"There is no fun in Islam, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomaini once said. It's hard to guess what he would have thought of Kish. Live music is frowned upon in Iran, anything resembling a discothèque is banned outright. Alcohol is completely illegal, as is the mingling of unmarried members of the opposite sex. But in this one corner of Iran, it's as if the Islamic revolution never completely took hold...

"In reality, Kish is hardly sin city. Despite the occasional forbidden tipple, the island's restaurants openly serve only fruit juices, soft drinks, tea and coffee. Those who live and work here say that Kish is less freewheeling now than it was before hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005...

"Nonetheless, Kish remains a place where Iranians, as many as one million of them annually, come to let their hair down — and let it show — a little bit... Kish is at once the Hawaii of Iran, its Las Vegas and its Hong Kong. It's only a short flight from Bushehr, the city at the centre of Iran's controversial nuclear program, but to Iranians, the island is a rare escape from their country's economic woes, turbulent politics and repressive restrictions...

"The notorious religious police that keep an eye out for improper female attire and other social no-nos in Tehran and other cities seem to be absent here. Though there are separate men's and women's beaches... this is one of the few places in Iran where sunbathing is tolerated at all. Men and women ride jet skis and tandem bicycles together, and under the cover of night some of the more adventurous women even go wading into the water with their partners, albeit while fully clothed...

"'Men's beaches, women's beaches. It's silly, and it's not interesting for either side,' said Imjad, a 65-year-old retired Justice Department employee, snorting as he passed by a sign pointing to the island's men-only beach and speaking in halting French he learned before the revolution. 'We just have to hope that the rest of Iran becomes like Kish before Kish becomes like the rest of Iran.'"

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The fate of a rentier state

Nigeria cuts after oil price fall

"Nigeria has announced major budget cuts following recent falls in the price of oil, after a special cabinet meeting...

"The government had been expected to present its budget for 2009 to the national assembly next week.

"The oil price has fallen by more 50% in just three months and Nigeria relies almost exclusively on oil for its revenue...

"Our correspondent says oil money is Nigeria's lifeblood, and although most Nigerians see very little of the country's huge oil wealth, it does trickle down through the economy from the ruling elite...

"He also says that in the past, a falling oil price has meant more political tension as members of Nigeria's elite compete for access to the decreasing pot of cash."

And it's not just Nigeria. See 3 Oil-Rich Countries Face a Reckoning

"As the price of oil roared to ever higher levels in recent years, the leaders of Venezuela, Iran and Russia muscled their way onto the world stage, using checkbook diplomacy and, on occasion, intimidation.

"Now, plummeting oil prices are raising questions about whether the countries can sustain their spending — and their bids to challenge United States hegemony..."

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Monday, October 20, 2008

The economics of politics in the UK

How to regain some political support and respect in the midst of a crisis.

Brown's political fortunes revive

"Once dismissed as Britain's ditherer in chief, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has taken decisive action to rescue the nation's banks, charting the way for bailout packages in the United States and the European Union.

"If the coordinated push to save the global economy works, history may look back on Brown as a savior.

"For the moment, Brown may have more modest hopes: reviving his political fortunes on the back of the widespread praise he has received for his bold decision to take ownership stakes in ailing banks in a bailout worth $63 billion...

"For the British leader who has gone from political has-been to hero, it has been a remarkable turnaround. Since he replaced Tony Blair in June last year, Brown's Labor Party has suffered crushing defeats in a series of special elections and lost control of London's City Hall to the main opposition Conservatives."

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The more things change...

The British blogger who writes at Liuzhou Laowai made an interesting observation from his balcony.

A next door construction project has been completed and the temporary housing for the migrant construction workers is being torn down.

With the roofs removed, he noticed "the interior decoration. Yup! Someone has kindly ordered that every room bear an image of Chairman Mao. And you thought the Cultural Revolution was over?

"Is there anything less relevant to China today than him? I doubt it. But they can't let go. As they charge ahead, they are still looking back in fear."

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Guess what's back on the official Chinese news agency website

After its first appearance, all mention of land use rights for Chinese farmers, disappeared from the Xinhua web site and from the official end of CPC Central Committee meeting announcement.

Photo taken on Oct. 12, 2008, shows all nine members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Hu Jintao (C), Wu Bangguo (4th R), Wen Jiabao (4th L), Jia Qinglin (3rd R), Li Changchun (3rd L), Xi Jinping (2nd R), Li Keqiang (2nd L), He Guoqiang (1st R) and Zhou Yongkang (1st L) attend the third Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee, which was held from Oct. 9 to 12 in Beijing. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Now, what seems to be an almost identical news story is back up at Xinhua. (See Property rights in China)

China liberalizes farmers' land use right to boost rural development

"The Communist Party of China (CPC) issued a landmark policy document on Sunday to allow farmers to "lease their contracted farmland or transfer their land-use right" to boost the scale of operation for farm production and provide funds for them to start new businesses.

"The Decision on Major Issues Concerning the Advancement of Rural Reform and Development was approved by the CPC Central Committee on Oct. 12 at a plenary session.

"According to the full text of the document, markets for the lease of contracted farmland and transfer of farmland use rights shall be set up and improved to allow farmers to sub-contract, lease, exchange and swap their land use rights, or joined share-holding entities with their farmland...

"China will unswervingly stick to and improve the household contract responsibility system that entrusts the management and production of publicly-owned farmlands to individual households through long-term contracts, according to the document.

"The CPC Central Committee also urged more support be given to quicken the development of special rural cooperatives. This was in a bid to turn them into modern agricultural organizations to guide farmers to participate in domestic and global market competition..."

See also We will still have to check back on this one

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Friday, October 17, 2008

A sign of the times

Nigeria's telephone system was slower than its roads until the advent of cell phones. People in Lagos used to joke that it was faster to drive across the city through the "go slows" than it was to wait for a dial tone. Not so much anymore.

Nigeria: Telecoms - Country Overtakes South Africa As Largest African Market

"Nigeria has overtaken South Africa to become the Middle East and African region's largest market in the first quarter.

"The country has further stretched its lead in the latest period... Nigeria at the end of August hit the 55 million subscriber mark according to Engr Ernest Ndukwe, Vice Chairman of Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC).

"This makes it the 18th largest market in the world...

"Iran with a population of more than 70m has moved from sixth to third [in the Middle East and African region] over the course of last year..."

We know that text messages are important in Nigeria. In 2002, protests against the Miss World pageant in Abuja were organized by text messagers. Now this:

How to say I Luv U in Nigeria

"Nigerians are compulsive text senders.

"Corny "romantic" messages and jokes are constantly being sent, received and recycled.

"Many men complain that women send them 'hot' text messages, but all they really want is money, while women say they are pestered by men sending 'romantic' texts when all their suitors really want is sex...

"What may appear cheesy and ridiculous to western eyes may not be so creepy to Nigerians, says a well-known agony aunt. [In the Queen's English, an "agony aunt" is a newspaper columnist who gives advice about personal problems to readers who write for help.]

"Nana, who answers readers' questions about relationships in the Weekly Trust newspaper, says Nigerians might see the words differently to native speakers of English...

"'A lot of us in this part of the world are translating in our heads constantly from our local languages to English.'

"'A lot of Nigerian languages don't have a difference between "love" and "like", so a lot of these messages will come across as a love proposition when what the sender really means is "I like you".'"

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Transparency in China

When the system is not transparent, observers have to use clues that they think might be relevant to hypothesize about what is going on. Such is the case in China and the mystery of the vanishing rural development land policies.

From the New York Times:

Hints of Discord on Land Reform in China

"Chinese leaders have yet to announce details of a rural reform policy they said they adopted on Sunday, contributing to speculation that Communist Party officials are in disagreement on major aspects of the policy.

"Scholars and analysts inside and outside of China are discussing this week why the leaders have remained silent on the issue. When the Communist Party’s annual four-day planning session began last Thursday, officials in attendance began reviewing a draft of a sweeping land reform policy that President Hu Jintao was believed to have been backing.

"Scholars and government advisers said the proposed policy centered on two major changes: allowing peasants to engage in the unrestricted trade, purchase and sale of land-use contracts, and extending those contracts to 70 years from 30 years. Senior leaders, including Mr. Hu, intended to push the policy changes through at the session, scholars and advisers said.

"But the communiqué issued on Sunday did not mention that particular land reform policy. Instead, the party said broadly that it was adopting a rural reform policy that would double the per capita disposable income of farmers by the year 2020. Xinhua, the state news agency, said the government planned to 'set up a strict and normative land management system.'

"On Monday, the lead editorial in China Daily, the main state-run English-language newspaper, said details of the rural reform policy would be announced within days. That has not happened.

"Some scholars say Mr. Hu, who is also the general secretary of the Communist Party, may have met with strong opposition to his proposal during the session and is still fighting to get that particular policy approved..."

See: We still have to check back on this one

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We will still have to check back on this one

Policy making in China is obviously not transparent. Evidently it's not even transparent to all of those involved in making policy.

Should we ask, "Who's in charge?" It doesn't seem that we can say, "Hu's in charge."

Remember the announcement about the Third Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee meeting? (See Check back in awhile on this)

Or remember the announcement earlier this week about allowing farmers some rights to lease land? (See Property Rights in China)

By the way, the news stories about this meeting and rural development have all disappeared from the Xinhua web site.

Well, check this story from the Los Angeles Times:

China land reform disappears from radar

"Leaders in Beijing were expected to enact a bold program allowing farmers to eventually buy, sell or lease their fields. But the issue wasn't even mentioned in the meeting's closing statement.

"A funny thing happened on the way to the Third Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee, where China's Communist Party leaders were expected to finally enact a bold land reform program allowing farmers eventually to buy, sell or lease their fields.

"Coverage of reform issues had been stepped up in the official press. And President Hu Jintao made a high-profile trip to rural Anhui province, where state media said he told farmers that they would be able to transfer their land rights.

"Yet by the time the closed-door meeting wrapped up Sunday, the issue had all but disappeared from public view. It wasn't even mentioned in the final communique from the 368-member decision-making body.

"That has led some analysts to speculate that hard-liners who benefit from the status quo managed to fight off the reforms. Others say that, given the vague nature of many Chinese official statements, the measures still may be implemented.

"At stake is a system of ownership restrictions that hinders China's 740 million farmers trying to improve productivity, often leaving them at the mercy of corrupt local party officials...

"Some Communist hard-liners say enhanced ownership rights would solidify Western capitalism, undercutting the party's grip on power. Others argue that they would prompt the mostly uneducated farmers to sell their land for a song, and eventually drift into the cities, homeless and penniless...

"Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao spent much of their careers in the countryside. They understand the farmers' plight and want to make changes, said a long-standing Communist Party member who asked not to be identified.

"But this is an extremely complex social problem, he said, and intent isn't enough. It requires a solid legal framework and the political will to implement such wide-ranging change...

"In a short statement Sunday, China's state news agency said the Central Committee passed a package of rural policies and discussed the global financial crisis. But it made no mention of land reform. The communique referred vaguely to 'raising land yields.'"

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Details, details

There are several important supplements to textbook accounts of Iranian politics in Thomas Erdbrink's report in the Washington Post and Nazila Fathi's article in the New York Times. Their descriptions of the roles played by the bazaaris in Iranian politics are worth noting.

Iran Halts New Sales Tax After Merchants Strike

"A series of private-sector strikes has forced the Iranian government to suspend the implementation of a new sales tax borne most heavily by the politically powerful merchant class, marking a setback for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's plans for economic change.

"In a rare show of public protest, angry shopkeepers refused Wednesday for the second straight day to open stores in the central bazaar in the city of Esfahan. Many shopkeepers in Tehran, Mashad and Tabriz also refused to sell goods in protest of a tax measure that took effect in the final week of September...

"The measure is one element of Ahmadinejad's plan to revise the country's antiquated tax code and banking systems... The president's goal is to cut government spending and lower inflation, which rose in September to 29.4 percent, according to Iran's Central Bank...

"The bazaars, traditionally the business centers of Iranian cities, are also hubs of political ferment... The shopkeepers played an important role in the eventual downfall of the Western-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, using private-sector strikes and their financial resources to support his opponents...

"'The situation in the Esfahan bazaar was very chaotic,' Mohammad Aref, the head of the council of associations, told the Iranian Labor News Agency. 'There were worries that the strike would turn political. The law has now been postponed.'...

"Many merchants in Tehran said they did not object to paying the sales tax but feared the implementation would be arbitrary.

"'In Iran, if you have connections, you don't have to pay any taxes,' said Mahmoud Askari, a carpet salesman in the Tehran bazaar. 'But we don't have those connections. So we probably have to pay double.'..."

The New York Times account adds more valuable textbook supplement.

Tax Delay Fails to Quell Iranian Protest

"A strike in Iran’s traditional bazaars expanded on Sunday despite an order by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to suspend a new tax on sales that ignited the protest more than a week ago.

"The main entrance to the Grand Bazaar in Tehran was closed, as major traders like carpet and textile merchants joined the jewelers, who had started the strike in Tehran. The strike continued in the traditional bazaars in several other large cities, including Isfahan, where it erupted first on Oct. 4...

"Bazaars are the backbone of the country’s traditional economy. The merchants wield significant power, and this is the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in which they helped overthrow the shah, that they have protested on so large a scale...

"Last year, Parliament approved the tax in an effort to increase the government’s revenue and make the traditional trade more transparent. The government began enforcing the law in late September, at a time when the annual inflation rate was hitting 30 percent and traders were frustrated by a decline in sales. International sanctions were also taking their toll.

"'Merchants do not want to pay sales tax,' said the carpet seller who declined to be quoted by name. 'There has been little trade in the bazaar since March because of the inflation. We cannot import or export anything because of bad relations with most countries and economic sanctions. And the government is increasing the pressure by enforcing new regulations every day.'...

"Meanwhile, traditional traders at the bazaar have resisted modernization and greater transparency, lest they be further exposed to taxes and government regulation.

"The bazaar guilds wield great power. Different trades have their own guilds, which set import and export rules and price regulations. They have an efficient network to mobilize the merchants and enforce their decisions.

"After the revolution, many influential traders had positions in the government, and the government counted on the bazaar as a powerful ally...

"Sarmayeh published an analysis on Sunday that said the rift between the government and the bazaar suggested mistrust of government economic policies from different sectors of society.

"'Even the affluent section of society feels threatened,' the newspaper quoted Saeed Madani, a sociologist and university professor, as saying. Mr. Madani was referring to rich traders who have joined the strike..."

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Apology without a particular message

I was so enamored with this story about a corruption fighter in Iran that I posted it twice. NOT!

The real problem was that I neglected to shuffle the file into the "Done" folder after I posted it the first time.

If you missed it, it's here

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Governance in Africa

Africa: Governance Improving in Africa - Survey

"Governance has improved in nearly two-thirds of sub-Saharan African nations between 2005 and 2006 with Liberia showing the biggest leap in government performance in the period, while Mauritania deteriorated the most, a survey published yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has shown.

"The 2008 Ibrahim Index of African Governance said 31 of 48 sub-Saharan nations recorded higher scores than in last year's survey, with Liberia the best improver...

"The survey, which ranked Mauritius, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Botswana and South Africa the best-governed countries on the continent, placed Nigeria as the 39th best-governed country, a slip from its previous 38th position...

"Compared to last year's survey, 31 countries improved their governance scores...

"'People look at headlines from two or three countries and forget there are 55 countries in Africa and in most of them life is normal,' Mo Ibrahim [a Sudanese-born telecommunications entrepreneur] told Reuters during the launch of his foundation's index in Ethiopia.

"'Governance performance across a large majority of African countries is improving...I hope these results will be used as a tool by Africa's citizens to hold their governments to account.'...

"The survey, entitled the "Ibrahim Index of African Governance", which is produced by a team from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the United States, supported by an advisory council of African academics and corporate leaders, ranks African countries using 57 criteria in five categories:
  • safety and security (assessing the effects of conflict and violent crime)
  • the rule of law, transparency and corruption
  • participation and human rights (which examines the freedom to vote and respect for press freedom and other rights)
  • sustainable economic opportunity and
  • human development (which considers poverty levels, health and education provision)."

See also: Mo Ibrahim Foundation

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Monday, October 13, 2008

More Chinese political economy

The Economist reviewd Yasheng Huang's research on China's political economy, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Entrepreneurship and the State.

Some of his conclusions are surprising. How do they compare to what's in the textbook your students are reading? How do the author's ideas fit with the proposals announced yesterday (see Property Rights in China)?

The long march backwards

"MOST people, particularly those living outside China, assume that the country’s phenomenal growth and increasing global heft are based on a steady, if not always smooth, transition to capitalism. Thirty years of reforms have freed the economy and it can be only a matter of time until the politics follows.

"This gradualist view is wrong, according to an important new book by Yasheng Huang, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology...

"In the 1980s rural China was in the ascendancy. Peasants, far from being tied to the land, as has been assumed, were free to set up manufacturing, distribution and service businesses and these were allowed to retain profits, pay dividends, issue share capital and even a form of stock option. State banks rushed to provide the finance...

"But then, in 1989, came the Tiananmen Square protests. A generation of policymakers who had grown up in the countryside, led by Zhao Ziyang, were swept away by city boys, notably the president, Jiang Zemin, and Zhu Rongji, his premier. Both men hailed from Shanghai and it was the “Shanghai model” that dominated the 1990s: rapid urban development that favoured massive state-owned enterprises and big foreign multinational companies. The countryside suffered. Indigenous entrepreneurs were starved of funds and strangled with red tape...

"True, China’s cities sprouted gleaming skyscrapers, foreign investment exploded and GDP continued to grow. But it was at a huge cost. As the state reversed course, taxing the countryside to finance urban development, growth in average household income and poverty eradication slowed while income differences and social tensions widened. Rural schools and hospitals were closed, with the result that between 2000 and 2005 the number of illiterate adults increased by 30m...

"But what about the growing cohort of Chinese companies starting to strut the world stage? Surely that is evidence of a healthy and expanding private economy. Mr Huang’s evidence shows that, on closer inspection, these firms are either not really Chinese or not really private. Lenovo, a computer group, has succeeded because it was controlled, financed and run not from mainland China but from Hong Kong (a happy legacy of the founder’s family connections there—not something enjoyed by most Chinese businessmen)...

"Could China genuinely embrace entrepreneurial capitalism again, as it did in the 1980s? Its current leaders under President Hu Jintao, who cut his teeth in Guizhou and Tibet, two of the poorest and most rural provinces, talk about supporting the countryside and reducing social inequality. But nothing much has been done. China’s deep problems demand institutional and political reform. Sadly, as Beijing’s heavy-handed control of the Olympics suggests, there is scant hope of that."

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Property rights in China

The brainstorming (see Check back in awhile on this) about how to make things better for China's farmers (still a majority of the population) has come up with a decidedly not-socialist idea.

Chinese farmers could be allowed to sell land

"Thirty years after first setting out on the capitalist road, China's ruling Communist party has approved new proposals aimed at liberating 700 million peasants from state-owned land.

"The plans, passed at today's plenary session of the party central committee, could allow farmers to exchange or sell their plots or use them as collateral for loans.

"Experts hope the measures will boost rural incomes, improve productivity and help households to raise the money needed to move to cities...

"China's countryside was at the centre of the party's efforts to rejuvenate its sclerotic command economy in 1978, but the focus had shifted to the industrialised east within a decade...

"Meanwhile, the gap between the urban rich and the rural poor has continued to widen.

"The latest official statistics show that per capita city incomes are 3.3 times bigger than those in the countryside - the biggest difference since reforms began in 1978.

"As China shifts inexorably towards the "socialist market", the Communist party is continuing to try to reconcile the requirements of capitalism with the shibboleths of its Maoist past.

"Government figures have rejected talk of privatisation, and the new proposals will not formally break with the principles of collectivisation.

"Land will continue to belong to the state, but 'leases' introduced by reformers in 1978 could now be lengthened to 70 years, giving farmers far greater freedom over what to do with their land...

"However, the government's real priorities could lie elsewhere.

"'Hu Jintao, discussing land transfer problems, said that [the new measures] were aimed at achieving economies of scale,' Professor Xu Xianglin, of the Communist party school, said.

"That could cause problems. Sceptics are concerned that, without a functioning social safety net in the countryside, the new system will merely persuade indigent farmers to sell cheaply to big agricultural conglomerates.

"The number of landless farmers, already a growing problem, could multiply..."

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Tilting at cooling towers

I have to wonder how far this candidacy will go.

Leading Iran Reformist to Run In 2009 Presidency Vote

"A leading Iranian reformist said on Sunday he would run in next year's presidential election, challenging conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is widely expected to seek a second four-year term.

"Former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karoubi, the first major political figure to declare his candidacy...

"Karoubi said earlier this year Iran should be ready for talks with its foes, particularly the United States...

"Reformists seeking political and social change have criticized Ahmadinejad, who came to power four years ago on a pledge to revive the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution, over his failure to rein in climbing double-digit inflation...

"They have also questioned the president's handling of the nuclear issue, saying his fiery speeches have riled the West, which has led efforts to impose U.N. sanctions. They say more diplomacy would have been better...

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Fashion and politics

Here's a seemingly logical response to the growing threats of violence in the drug wars in Mexico. Does this fashion trend suggest anything about government and politics there?

Right Thing to Wear at the Wrong End of a Gun

"MEXICO CITY — Exclusive clothing boutiques line Avenida Presidente Masarik here. A Burberry coat? A Corneliani suit? A Gucci scarf? Have enough pesos, and they are yours.

"But tucked on a leafy side street in the Polanco neighborhood is a shop unlike the others, one whose bustling business says much about the dire state of security in this country. At Miguel Caballero, named after its Colombian owner, all the garments are bulletproof.

" There are bulletproof leather jackets and bulletproof polo shirts. Armored guayabera shirts hang next to protective windbreakers, parkas and even white ruffled tuxedo shirts...

"As Mexico grapples with an increase in drug-related violence, sales are steadily on the rise, the company said, though it declined to provide precise figures...

"There is a whole lot of shooting going on in Mexico today. Every day, the papers are full of victims, bodies lying out in grotesque poses with bullet wounds all about. Some are garden-variety crime victims, but the drug cartels that control much of the Mexican countryside are behind the overwhelming majority. They pay off politicians and police officers and they act as shadow governments in town after town along their transit routes. Cross them, and they do not hesitate to pull the trigger...

"Studies have shown that more and more anxious Mexicans are pouring their money into defensive measures. Families and businesses across Mexico invest $18 billion in private security measures, a recent study by the Center for Economic Studies of the Private Sector found..."

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Drugs, violence, and politics in Mexico

Another connection between Mexico's drug wars and politics

Killing of Mexico mayor sends message

Mourners fill the streets of the resort town at the weekend funeral of Mayor Salvador Vergara Cruz, killed by hooded assassins while he and others were driving home.

"Until he was gunned down over the weekend, Salvador Vergara Cruz was a man of some influence with a promising future in his political party. Mayor of an important resort town outside Mexico City, and a close confidant of his state's governor, Vergara apparently felt sufficiently at ease to travel without a specially assigned team of bodyguards despite receiving death threats from purported drug lords.

"The 34-year-old Vergara was killed by hooded assassins armed with semiautomatic rifles as he drove with other officials toward his home city of Ixtapan de la Sal on Saturday afternoon.

"The killing of a sitting elected official may turn out to be one of the more significant political slayings in Mexico's raging drug war, not so much because of who he was as for what his death represented.

"Prosecutors in the state of Mexico say Vergara was killed because he refused to allow drug gangs to move into and operate freely in his city, along a transit route for drugs into the nation's capital...

"The killing of Vergara may also have been intended as a message to Enrique Peña Nieto, the charismatic, high-profile governor of the state of Mexico and likely presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI...

"'We will soon know what Enrique Peña Nieto is made of,' commentator Francisco Garfias wrote in the Excelsior newspaper.

"'He has the opportunity to show that he's got what it takes to aspire to the Big One in 2012,' the year of the next presidential election.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Anecdote without a particular message

There are many possible lessons to be learned from this story out of Iran. What would your students make of it?

Criticism of perks provokes uproar in Iranian parliament

"There are many ways for an MP to win over fellow parliamentarians but for Hasan Kamran, blowing the whistle on their cushy expenses was never likely to be one of them...

"The expenses, partly in the form of an interest-free loan, are given at the start of each four-year term in addition to the MP's estimated £6,000 annual salary.

"Kamran, a supporter of Iran's populist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the semi-official news agency Fars that the perks showed the MPs behaved like nobility while millions of Iranians suffered economic hardships.

"He suggested that many members never repaid the borrowed money and questioned their need for private cars when the parliament provided its own transport system. 'The authorities should live like the people. When people see their leaders not living like them, they lose trust.'

"Kamran also criticised the parliament's speaker, Ali Larijani, for providing members with free fruit at the state's expense.

"Furious MPs condemned him in a parliamentary debate and Larijani avenged Kamran's criticism by denying him the right to respond to the attacks.

"That prompted an angry Kamran to brief journalists outside the chamber. The briefing was abruptly ended when Ghodratollah Alikhani, a reformist MP and cleric, approached Kamran from behind and covered his head with his robes before manhandling him away."

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From Lords to the cabinet

If cabinet ministers in the UK must be members of Parliament, what does a PM do if a person he wants hasn't been elected to Parliament? (Hint: Perhaps Gordon Brown wants to re-think the proposal to elect members of the House of Lords.)

I noticed but didn't pay particular attention to the appointment by PM Brown of one of Tony Blair's "old boys" to the cabinet. Then Alan Carter wrote from Oxford pointing out this Telegraph article.

Peter Mandelson's route to cabinet follows modern precedent

"Peter Mandelson's route back into the top flight of British politics, by joining the House of Lords, is not new.

"Sidestepping the electorate, Prime Ministers can use their powers of patronage to bring political appointees into government while still satisfying the requirements of parliamentary democracy.

"On taking power last year, Gordon Brown used a series of appointments to the Lords to bring expertise from outside into what he billed his 'Government of all the talents', but with distinctly mixed success.

"The former director-general of the CBI, Sir Digby Jones - now Lord Jones of Birmingham...

"Mark Malloch-Brown, the former Deputy Secretary General of the UN who was brought into the Foreign Office as Lord Malloch-Brown while Admiral Sir Alan West, a hero of the Falklands War, joined the Ministry of Defence as Lord West...

"When criticised for the 'presidential' practice of bringing non parliamentarians into government Labour cited the precedent of Lord Young. Plucked from the world of business by Margaret Thatcher in 1984..."

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Call for a new Nigerian state

The desire for more states in Nigeria continues. It's a matter of ethnic pride and a feeling by some of under-representation in government. It's also important to remember that government is single biggest employer in the country.

Nigerian states by population: Map from Wikimedia Commons (click on the map to see full-size image)

This story is from Leadership in Abuja.

Hausa Community Calls for More States in South-East

"The leader of the Hausa community in Abia State, Alhaji Yaro Danladi, has appealed for the creation of additional state in the South-East geo-political zone...

"Yaro said an additional state in the zone would benefit the Hausas and other Nigerians who reside in the area...

"The traditional ruler stressed the need for Nigerians to continually promote peace and unity among the ethnic groups as well as tolerate each other's religion...

"In a related development, the member, representing Aba central constituency in the state House of Assembly, Chief Uzor Azubuike, has advocated for the creation of Aba State for balance in the number of states in the six geo-political areas as well as the establishment of a local government system in the Constitution to enable it stand on its own..."

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Economics in the US; politics in Mexico

And the political effects are...

Less money going to Mexico as U.S. economy falters

"The money that Mexicans living in the U.S. send home, a lifeline for both the economy here and millions of families, has suffered its steepest decline on record, dragged down in large part by the American financial crisis.

"The bad news, announced Wednesday by the Bank of Mexico, follows government assurances that the U.S. crisis would not have a severe effect on Mexico...

"Remittances are Mexico's second-largest source of foreign income, after oil exports...

This chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

"Countless Mexican towns are feeling the pinch, with small businesses failing and families struggling to make ends meet.

"The central bank also calculated that unemployment is running considerably higher among Mexican immigrants working in the U.S....

"Economic analyst Rogelio Ramirez de la O warned that the government minimizes the effect of the U.S. crisis at its own peril...

"'The government must first understand the reality and then communicate it clearly to Congress, to business leaders and to the public,' Ramirez wrote in Wednesday's El Universal newspaper. 'If the government does nothing, as it has so far, it will take this country down a dead-end road.'"

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Back to xiaozu?

During the Cultural Revolution, virtually everyone was organized by local Party cadres into "study groups" (called xiaozu) to learn the latest intricacies of the mass line. Cadres taught lessons based on readings from "the little red book." Perhaps General Secretary Hu thinks it's time to bring back those groups. Maybe this could be coordinated with the establishment of unions in all foreign-owned companies. (See Unionization, Chinese style)

Hu Jintao urges Party members to better learn socialist theory

"Communist Party of China (CPC) chief Hu Jintao has urged Party members to learn the theory on socialism with Chinese characteristics more conscientiously.

"Hu, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, made the remark at a seminar which was participated in Sunday afternoon by members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee...

"Presiding over the seminar, Hu said the theory on socialism with Chinese characteristics is a fundamental guideline of the Party and government for social and economic construction.

"Party members should understand the basic principles of the theory and use them in their practical work, he added.

"Hu asked Party organs at all levels to make the theory accessible and understood by every Party member and draw long-term plans to promote and develop the theory. "

See also: Ideological and throretical basis of CPC

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Check back in awhile on this

Well, the big shots in the Party Central Committee are meeting in a couple weeks about the issues facing rural people in China, but lets tune in in mid-October to see if anything is done.

Senior CPC members to discuss rural reform in mid-Oct

"Senior members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will meet from Oct. 9 to 12 in Beijing to discuss major issues about promoting reform and development in the rural areas...

"The political bureau members decided that the country must unswervingly push forward rural reform and development for the sake of social harmony. In this process, efforts must be made to consolidate and strengthen agriculture as the foundation of the economy...

"The participants also reached consensus that China should continue sticking to the policy of relying mainly on domestic production to achieve grain self-sufficiency on the whole.

"According to the meeting, the state will beef up support to and protection of agriculture, accelerate agricultural modernization, protect farmers' rights and interests, and promote innovation in rural development.

"Economic and social development in urban and rural areas must be coordinated and efforts should be made to ensure farmers benefit from China's economic development, according to the meeting."

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Viral sovereignty

Here's a topic for considering the meaning and implications of sovereignty. How would your students respond?

The article is by Richard Holbrooke, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, who is president of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

When “Sovereignty” Risks Global Health

"Here’s a concept you’ve probably never heard of: 'viral sovereignty.' This dangerous idea comes to us courtesy of Indonesia’s minister of health, Siti Fadilah Supari, who asserts that deadly viruses are the sovereign property of individual nations – even though they cross borders and could pose a pandemic threat to all the world’s peoples...

"The vast majority of avian flu outbreaks in the past four years, in both humans and poultry, have occurred in Indonesia. At least 53 types of H5N1 bird flu viruses have appeared in chickens and people there, according to the World Health Organization.

"Yet, since 2005, Indonesia has shared with the WHO samples from only two of the more than 135 people known to have been infected with H5N1 (110 of whom have died). Worse, Indonesia is no longer providing the WHO with timely notification of bird flu outbreaks or human cases. Since 2007, its government has openly defied international health regulations and a host of other WHO agreements to which Indonesia is a signatory...

"A year ago, Supari’s assertions about 'viral sovereignty' seemed anomalous. Disturbingly, however, the notion has morphed into a global movement, fueled by self-destructive, anti-Western sentiments...

"Indonesia argues that a nation’s right to control all information on locally discovered viruses should be protected through the same mechanisms that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization uses to guarantee poor countries’ rights of ownership and patents on the seeds of its indigenous plants...

"It is dangerous folly, however, to extend this policy to viruses. If the concept of 'viral sovereignty' had been applied to HIV 25 years ago, we would not have central repositories of thousands of varieties of HIV today; these allow scientists to test drugs and vaccines against all the different strains of the virus that causes AIDS. It is even more ludicrous to extend the sovereignty notion to viruses that, like flu, can be carried across international borders by migratory birds.

"In this age of globalization, failure to make viral samples freely available risks allowing the emergence of a new strain of influenza that could go unnoticed until it is capable of exacting the sort of toll taken by the pandemic that killed tens of millions in 1918...

"Outrageously, Supari has charged that the WHO would give any viruses – not just H5N1 – to drug companies, which in turn would make products designed to sicken poor people, in order 'to prolong their profitable business by selling new vaccines'...

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Legitimacy through accomplishments

On China's national day (October 1), there are questions that must be asked. Can China's Communist Party legitimize its governance through nationalistic deeds like the Beijing Olympics and space walks in the face of earthquakes and poisoned milk? Will economic growth and the Three Gorges Dam compensate for corruption and the ill treatment of peasants? How can we judge?

Celebrations in Beijing mark China's National Day

"A reception gathering and a concert were held in Beijing on Sunday night to celebrate the 59th anniversary of the founding of the New China.

"Members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China(CPC) Central Committee Jia Qinglin, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang joined more than 3,500 overseas Chinese, compatriots from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan in a reception held in the Great Hall of People..."

China's landmark spacewalk mission ends

"Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said it is the Chinese people's persistent aspiration to develop the manned space-flight technologies for the peaceful exploration and use of the outer space..."

Where will next wave of economic growth occur?

"Amid worries about a global economic downturn, the 2008 Summer Davos forum, also known as the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2008 of the World Economic Forum, concluded Sunday afternoon in the northern China metropolis of Tianjin...

"Many people at the forum believed that emerging economies, including China and India, would play a larger role in the next wave of growth. Data released at the Forum showed that in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), these emerging economies combined to account for two thirds of world economic growth..."

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