Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More commemoration of revolution in Iran?

Trying to read Grazia in Iran

"A crackdown on Zanan, a popular woman's magazine, is symptomatic of wider suppression of free media in the country.

"Women's magazines notoriously come and go, operating in a volatile publishing market and sinking if they don't get the celeb/fashion/lifestyle mix right.

"Things are a little different in Iran. It would be true to say that Grazia and Elle are not widely read (or indeed available) in the Iranian republic. Until a year ago, however, one Iranian women's magazine was – Zanan (in Persian "women"), an award-winning monthly founded in 1992 by Shahla Sherkat.

"However, that was then. Last January, Sherkat was abruptly informed that Zanan's licence was to be cancelled. She was accused of 'offering a dark picture of the Islamic Republic through the pages of Zanan'...

"Iranian academics have been troubled by the suppression of what Dr Ziba Mir-Hosseini, from the centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, describes as a 'distinctive feminist voice in Iran'. Two features of Zanan's approach and style were novel, reckons Mir-Hosseini: it explored the case for women's rights as a distinct project in post-revolutionary Iran, and it promoted a brand of feminism stemming both from Islam (while not ignoring gender inequalities in many current interpretations of sharia) and western feminism...

"It seems that Zanan was finally judged too heady a mix by the ever-twitchy Iranian authorities. But it's not just Zanan that is currently under the cosh. On 21 December, the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (an NGO run by Shirin Ebadi, Iran's leading human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace prize winner) was raided and closed...

"Meanwhile, Iran's nationwide women's rights movement, the Campaign For Equality (CFE) continues to see its supporters suffering arbitrary arrest, detention, and raids on their homes and meetings. Even a Californian graduate student, Esha Momeni, found herself in trouble when on a recent visit to her family she attempted to research CFE for her thesis. She was arrested and has still not been able to leave Iran. The closure of Zanan and the crackdown on women's activists comes against a backdrop of wider suppression of free media in Iran. This week, leading international news websites like Deutsche Welle, the Farsi version of Radio France Internationale and the pan-Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya have had their websites blocked in the country and more than 50 pro-reform online publications and scores of internet cafes have been closed or threatened with closure. For good measure, the Iranian police have seized thousands of satellite dishes from homeowners..."

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Iranian celebrations

Iran remembers the revolution

"Iran's leaders have gathered at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to pay tribute to the man who led the country's Islamic revolution 30 years ago...

"Khomeini arrived in Tehran on February 1, 1979 but his return is being celebrated on January 31 this year because it is a leap year in the Iranian calendar...

"Iran has organised 10 days of celebrations to mark the anniversary of the overthrow of the US-backed shah, who ruled Iran for four decades."

Iranians mark Islamic revolution

"Iran has begun 10 days of celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that overthrew the US-backed former ruler, the Shah.

"Speaking in the capital, Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the revolution was 'lively and alive'...

"'We are still at the beginning of the path and greater changes are ahead,' President Ahmadinejad was quoted by AFP news agency as saying, at a ceremony at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini - the father of the revolution.

"'Although the Islamic revolution happened in Iran it is not limited to Iranian borders,' the president was quoted as saying..."

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Request for help for an AP course

Michael Harvey, who will be teaching a year-long AP Comparative course at a new school in Abu Dhabi, is looking for examples of audits or advice about the audit process for a year-long comparative course.

If you have done an audit you're willing to share or if you have experiences you are willing to discuss, let me know and I'll pass on the message OR leave a message as a comment here.

Thanks for sharing.


Economic policy 13

If you and your students have time, comparing Mexico's policies with those in China would probably be a fruitful and interesting study.

Economic policy in Mexico -- Damage control

"A Latin American country softens recession with counter-cyclical policies

"MANUFACTURERS and banks are firing workers. The value of wages fell last year. Credit card debts are piling up. The economy began to contract in the last quarter of last year. Mexico has been here before. But there are two big differences between this recession and the three that preceded it in the past quarter of a century. This time the problem stems from economic mismanagement in the United States, not at home. And for the first time Mexico’s government is in a position to lean against the economic cycle with expansionary fiscal and monetary policies.

"On January 16th the Bank of Mexico, the independent central bank, cut its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point (to 7.75%). It was the first cut since April 2006, but will not be the last...

"Days earlier President Felipe Calderón unveiled fiscal measures amounting to an injection of 1% of GDP, including cuts in energy prices, extra investment in roads, railways and oil wells, and measures to extend medical cover, welfare benefits or temporary jobs to the unemployed. That comes on top of an expansionary budget for this year, and a previous fiscal stimulus last October (which included extra payments to poorer Mexicans). All told, the government is injecting about three percentage points of GDP.

"Officials are under no illusion that this will prevent recession...

"Officials hope, however, they can at least limit the damage from the global credit crunch...

"In past recessions Mexico has had to cut public spending. That it is different this time is tribute to the health of public finances..."

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Threats to the Mexican state?

How would your students evaluate the state of the Mexican state?

Calderon seeks to dispel talk of 'failing state'

"Stark assessments of the threat that drug crime poses to Mexico's stability have put the government of President Felipe Calderon on the defensive...

"Rising violence, spurred in part by Calderon's 2-year-old offensive against drug traffickers, has prompted some officials and analysts in the United States to warn that Mexico faces a risk of collapse within several years...

"Mexican officials and most analysts here scoff at depictions of Mexico as a failed or failing state. They say it bears little resemblance to basket cases such as Somalia, Haiti or Sudan, with their weak central governments, sectarian blood-letting or fleeing populace...

"Few deny that lawlessness prevails in cities such as Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, and that corruption has chewed deep into law enforcement agencies and the courts. Still, many analysts say, the government's basic authority remains intact in most of the country, and the daily violence is nothing like that of a civil war...

"Denials by Mexican officials, however vehement, probably won't be enough to stanch the grave assessments as long as the nation shakes with violence.

"'They're pushing back, but I think the evidence is on the other side,' said George W. Grayson, a Mexico scholar who teaches at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. 'You've got more cartels, in more diverse activities. They're in more states. They're killing more people. They're kidnapping more people and getting more attention for the savagery of their acts.'..."

See also:

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The intricacies of law enforcement

The Nigerian police have a suspect and a problem. How does a democratic system deal with popular beliefs that strain credulity?

In Iran, people are convicted without any public evidence. What's wrong with that trial? (trial?)

Can your students find other cases? How would they go about comparing them to one another?

Nigeria police hold 'robber' goat

"Police in Nigeria are holding a goat handed to them by a vigilante group, which said it was a car thief who had used witchcraft to change shape.

"A police spokesman in Kwara State has been quoted as saying that the 'armed robbery suspect' would remain in custody until investigations were over...

"The belief in witchcraft and the power to change shapes is common in Nigeria...

"[National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said], 'The vigilante group arrested the goat and took it to the police, then they told the media.'

"The next morning journalists turned up demanding to see the goat, he said.

"'But of course goats can't commit crime.'..."

Iranian police have convicted two doctors without revealing any evidence

Iran doctors jailed over 'plot'

"Two prominent Iranian Aids doctors have been jailed for a total of nine years for their part in an alleged coup plot.

"Brothers Arash Alaei and Kamyar Alaei were accused of being "key elements" in a plan Iran said was backed by the CIA.

"The prison sentences were imposed after a secret trial and have provoked strong protests from human rights groups...

"Lawyer Massoud Shafiie said he would appeal against the charges and ask for the brothers' release, 'as there is no evidence proving their accusations'..."

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Economic policy 12

When does economic policy become social welfare policy?

A video accompanies this Los Angeles Times report.

Mexico City opens the 1st of 300 planned soup kitchens

"As Mexico slips into the profound economic crisis circling the globe, unemployment is rising along with food prices. Inflation is running about 8% annually, but some basic "family basket" items such as cooking oil and rice are going up about 200% a year, said Cesar Cravioto, head of the city's Institute of Social Assistance.

"City officials hope to dish out 65,000 free or inexpensive meals a day at the soup kitchens, he said..."

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Transparency and opacity

In a political system where transparency is optional, rumors begin with little things. Well, are those things really little? This case reminds me of the rumors about the Nigerian president.

Reports: Iran leader sidelined by a cold

"Iran's president has canceled all official business for four days because of a cold, Iranian media reported yesterday, raising questions about the hard-line leader's health a few months after he said he was suffering from exhaustion...

"The 53-year-old president said in October that he was suffering from exhaustion, an apparent attempt to combat rumors that he was seriously ill and might not be able to compete for reelection in June. Ahmadinejad's allies said at the time that the strain of his job had worn him down.

"Parliament member Ismail Kosari, a supporter of the president, repeated that position yesterday, telling the semiofficial Fars news agency that Ahmadinejad only has a cold..."

See also: The same only different

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Hey, let's make things more complicated

At least to outsiders, proposals like those described in this article from Leadership in Abuja, sound like offers for more confusion. But in a nation-state where there are so many cross-cutting and coinciding (reinforcing) cleavages, recognizing them may be the most politically intelligent thing to do.

Bankole Calls for Constitutional Role for Monarchs

"Speaker of the House of Representatives,Hon Dimeji Bankole, has called for a clear cut constitutional role for traditional rulers in the country as the nation embarks on constitution amendment exercise.

A Nigerian king meets the British queen

"Bankole made the call over the weekend in Azare, Bauchi State when he paid a courtesy call on the Emir of Katagun, Alhaji Mohammed Kabir Umar, as part of the commissioning ceremony of an Educational Research Centre...

"He said he was aware of the stabilising roles of the royal fathers in the running of the society...

"He equally assured of the possibility of creation of Katagum State from the present Bauchi State as a way of developing the area which he said is lagging behind on major human development indices in the areas of health, education and poverty alleviation.

"Earlier on, the governor of Bauchi State, Malam Isa Yuguda, declared his support for the creation of Katagum state..."

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January 26

The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, incorporating elements of a lunar calendar with those of a solar calendar. This measure of time is not exclusive to China, but followed by many other Asian cultures. It is often referred to by the Western cultures as the Chinese calendar because it was first used by the Chinese. In most of East Asia today, the Gregorian calendar is used for day to day activities, but the Chinese calendar is still used for marking traditional East Asian holidays such as the Lunar New Year (Spring Festival)


Sunday, January 25, 2009

EU economics

Rebecca Small, who teaches in Herndon, Virginia, pointed out Sunday's New York Times article on the problems of the euro.

It offers a good chance to give students another aspect of the EU to discuss, debate, and analyze.

Once a Boon, Euro Now Burdens Some Nations

"The adoption of the euro just a decade ago was meant to pull Europe together economically and politically, ending the sometimes furious battles over who could devalue their currency the fastest and beggar their neighbor.

"For the Continent, the currency signaled the potential to one day rival the United States. For its poorer countries, winning admission to the euro zone was a point of pride, showing that they had tamed their budget deficits and set their financial houses in order.

"Now, in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the euro’s birth, a new view is emerging — especially as the creditworthiness of Greece, Spain and Portugal, one after the other, has been downgraded. The view is that the balm of euro membership allowed these countries to gloss over serious economic problems that have now roared to the fore...

"While sharing a currency with some of the mightiest economies in the world helped Europe’s poorer nations share in the wealth, a boon during boom times, in hard times the rules of membership are keeping them from doing what countries normally do to ride out economic storms, including enormous spending.

"So Germany, France and the Scandinavian countries are mounting billion-dollar stimulus plans and erecting fences to protect their banks. But the peripheral economies are being left to twist in the market winds.

"With the need for stimulus to deal with the severe downturn, these countries find themselves caught in an awful policy bind: credit is available, but only at punitive rates; and further borrowing not only breaks with European Commission dictates but raises broader questions about their solvency.

"Bond and currency speculators have demonstrated that they intend to punish countries with dubious economic prospects, just as they have punished banks...

"Few experts expect Greece or the other Mediterranean countries to run out of money or leave the euro. But the widening gap between the interest rate that Greece and larger economies like Germany have to pay to borrow reveals the first cracks in what so far has been a fairly solid fortress Europe..."

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

More rumors about Nigerian president

President Yar'Adua unexpectedly goes on vacation. The Nigerian newspapers are full of speculation about his health -- again. When hard facts are not apparent, speculation rages. And the political results are...?

Yar'Adua Goes On Leave

"President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua is to proceed on a two week leave from official duties with effect from next Monday, the Federal Government announced yesterday...

"The statement signed by did not reveal how and where President Yar'Adua would be spending his annual leave...

"President Yar'Adua was away from the country for seventeen days between August and September last year officially on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. However while he was in that country there were repeated agency reports that he used his time in Saudi Arabia to seek treatment for some ailment..."

Jonathan Takes Charge, As Yar'Adua Goes On Two-Week Leave

"Vice President Goodluck Jonathan will for two weeks, effective Monday January 26, assume full presidential powers in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua who proceeds on leave...

"The matter of Yar'Adua's health became an issue since the days following his nomination as the PDP candidate for the April 19 2007 presidential election when he was rumoured to have died during a medical trip to Germany in the thick of the campaign...

"It is unclear if the two-week leave announced yesterday has anything to do with his health this time around.

"But the President is expected to conduct the wedding ceremony of his daughter, Nafisat and the Bauchi State governor, Isa Yuguda in Katsina today.

"After which he is expected to return to Abuja to host a wedding reception at the villa before proceeding on leave."

Yar'Adua Begins 2-Week Leave Monday

"After weeks of speculations about another trip by President Umaru Musa Yar'adua to seek medical treatment abroad, the Presidency yesterday confirmed that the President will be proceeding on a two-week leave...

"Yar'adua who is believed to have chronic kidney problems, travelled to Saudi Arabia for more than two weeks in August last year."

See also:

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Social mobility in the UK

When my students first confronted with the British class system, they often imagined a Medieval caste system. The recognition of class is so different from the American denial of class, it's easy to get confused. American students often assume that people are born into social positions that they cannot change.

This article from the January 17th Economist will probably help students acquire a more realistic image of the British class system.

It's still not fair

"Gordon Brown’s government announced its latest attempt to improve the chances of the poor and undereducated. The smorgasbord includes bonuses of £10,000 ($14,575) to persuade talented teachers to stay in unpleasant schools, a little bit of cash (£57m) to provide free child care for particularly deprived two-year-olds, a tripling (to 45,000) of the number of state-funded loans for retraining and promises to help bright but poor children gain entry to university. All perfectly good measures—and perfectly indicative of the government’s frustration.

"Labour came to power in 1997 pledging to make Britain a fairer society. For all the billions of pounds and litres of sweat expended, progress—good at first—has been patchy overall. An OECD study last year concluded that Britons enjoyed neither equal opportunities nor equal outcomes. Income is shared out less evenly than in most rich countries (among OECD members, only Italy and America are more unequal). Opportunities for the poor to better themselves relatively are hard to come by: a father’s income determines his son’s to a greater extent in Britain than in any other OECD country. True, the study found that inequality and poverty were falling in Britain, but its data ran only until 2005. More recent information from Britain’s Office for National Statistics suggests that the trend has now gone into reverse...

"Potentially the most significant announcement this week is that ministers are considering explicitly forbidding government departments from discriminating on grounds of social class. And Alan Milburn, a former health secretary who is leading a government commission on how to get more poor youngsters into professions such as medicine and law, frets that their access is being blocked by the sharp-elbowed middle-classes..."

See also: Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Third world city?

Thanks to Imnakoya, who posted this at Grandiose Parlor for directing me to this article.

Nigeria: Lagos Safe City Project - 10,000 Surveillance Cameras to be Installed

"Lagos, the largest megacity in Sub- Saharan Africa, plans to install 10,000 solar-powered closed circuit cameras all over the metropolis, under the Lagos Safe City Project...

"Lagos, the financial hub of Nigeria has one of the highest crime rates in the world, lacks a reliable emergency response services and efficient crime control system.

"The Lagos Safe City Project -- funded by the private-public sector generated Lagos Security Trust Fund -- hopes to address some these problems, via a Central Security Command Unit, where the cameras will be managed remotely (wireless connection), and used to coordinate security, emergency responses, and traffic needs of the state.

"'This is only one step in the whole platform", according to the Lagos State Governor. He stated 'Lagosians must recall that the platform started with the signing and naming of streets, providing directional signs for responders to get to crisis center on time with the deployment of the emergency number, 767 which is toll free. With this initiative, we are determined to make a difference.'..."

See also: An online discussion about the closed circuit television (CCTV) system in Lagos

After I posted this, I realized that I broke one of my informal rules and used the term "third world." It's a cold war era term that is now used to describe poor, non-Western countries, often in negative ways. It just shows how easy it is to fall into bad old habits.

Does anyone have a suggestion about at good alternative (besides just saying that Lagos is a Nigerian city)?

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Economic Policy 11

Will Communism Save China's Economy?

"So is China going to get pulverized by the economic downturn or will it escape bruised but unbowed? Two perspectives reveal a lot about what we know and don't know about China. One predicts that the Communist Party's capacity to meddle in China's economy is actually that nation's secret weapon.The other cautions that during downturns big exporters (like the United States during the Great Depression and China today) usually get hit harder than the rest.

"In its latest edition, Newsweek has a piece on China headlined "Crisis Winners: Why China Works," which argues that China is uniquely situated to ride out the global economic storm...

"If the Newsweek view is that China is going to dodge the bullet, the other view, presented in BusinessWeek, argues that the bullet is headed straight at China and other major exporting nations..."

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tempest in Commons

A report in The Guardian (UK) details a surprising development in the House of Commons.

It offers a good example of how Commons works and illustrations of a few of the everyday labels for bits of British lawmaking (like "three line whip").

This also appears to be a victory for transparency in government, online organizing, and an example of how a perennially small third party can influence major party actions.

Gordon Brown withdraws plan to keep details of MPs' expenses secret

"Gordon Brown today made a dramatic retreat from plans to exempt MPs' expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

"The surprise announcement during prime minister's questions follows the overnight collapse of a bipartisan agreement between Brown and David Cameron, the Tory leader, to back a parliamentary order exempting MPs' expenses from the act...

"The decision is a major victory for freedom of information campaigners and follows growing opposition led by the Liberal Democrats to the proposal, and website campaigns urging the public to email their MP objecting to the move...

"[Tory leader] Cameron made a late decision to order his MPs to oppose the move after learning from Alan Duncan, the shadow leader of the Commons, that Labour MPs were being whipped to back it. But Cameron's action in turn became the catalyst for Brown's U-turn. It left Labour, despite the chance of winning a three-line whip vote, in danger of being isolated and blamed for imposing secrecy on MPs' expenses, which is very unpopular with the electorate..."

See also:

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Sensitive authoritarians

The BBC report includes a link to a video of the Chinese television broadcast of Obama's inaugural speech.

Obama speech censored in China

"China has censored parts of the new US president's inauguration speech that have appeared on a number of websites.

"Live footage of the event on state television also cut away from Barack Obama when communism was mentioned...

"In his inauguration address, President Obama said: "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions."

That entire passage was retained for an English-language version of the speech that appeared on the website of state-run Xinhua news agency.

"But in the Chinese-language version, the word 'communism' was taken out.

"President Obama's comments addressed to world leaders who 'blame their society's ills on the West' also fell foul of the censor's red pen.

"'To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history,' the president said.

"Once again, Xinhua included the passage in full in its English version, but the sentence was taken out of the Chinese translation...

"And websites were not the only media organisations that struggled to report some of the comments made by President Obama.

"China Central Television, the country's main broadcaster, aired the speech live with a simultaneous Chinese translation.

"But when the translator got to the part where President Obama talked about facing down communism, her voice suddenly faded away.

"The programme suddenly cut back to the studio, where an off-guard presenter had to quickly ask a guest a question..."

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Economic policy 10

Today, we have another bit of Chinese economic policy plus some interesting statistics about poverty in China.

China plans 9 billion-yuan aid for the impoverished

"China announced... an aid package totaling 9 billion yuan (1.32 billion U.S. dollars) for the country's needy people...

"About 74 million Chinese receiving the minimum living allowances or the "five guarantees" (namely food, clothing, medical care, housing and burial expenses provided by local governments to those without relatives or employment), would receive a one-off payment of 100 yuan if they live in the countryside and 150 yuan if they live in the cities...

"'The Chinese government attaches great concern to the livelihood of the disadvantaged population, especially in times of a global financial crisis,' Jiang Li, Vice Minister of the Civil Affairs said.

"Local authorities must make sure all needy citizens qualifying for the aid package receive the payment in time, 'so that they could enjoy a happy Lunar New Year,' he said.

"The average annual net income for rural workers in China is 4,140 yuan in 2007, against 24,932 yuan in cities.

"At present, about 62 million Chinese receive monthly minimum living allowances from the local governments, while 5.3 million people receive the "five guarantees."

"The average monthly allowance in 2007 was 182.4 yuan in urban districts per person and 70 yuan in rural areas. China had increased the monthly minimum living allowance by 15 yuan in urban districts per person and by 10 yuan for rural residents at the beginning of 2008."

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Comparative corruption

A Nigerian living in the US maintains a blog he calls, Grandiose Parlor.

In a recent post, the blogger does some comparative politics by examining the cases of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevic and some Nigerian governors charged with similar levels of corruption.

The comparison is not favorable to the Nigerian governors or the Nigerian regime.

Your students could do some research and come up with more and more complete comparisons. It is comparative government and politics, after all. Who are we to ignore an opportunity?

Musing on Illinois governor Blagojevic and his Nigerian counterparts

"A comparison between Blagojevic and Nigerian governors: while the two are corrupt — well, maybe not in equal measures, the political system in the state of Illinois is able to self-correct, promptly...

"[T]he Nigerian Guardian newspaper captures the Rod Blagojevic matter...

"'First, Mr Blagojevic and his admirers did not plead an immunity... Secondly, Mr Blagojevic was not blindly supported by his own political party... Third, the law enforcement agencies were not corralled out of intrepid investigation...

"'In contrast, Nigeria is unfortunately in the abyss of institutional and leadership collapse. The typical Nigerian state governor today, more or less Mr Blagojevic’s counterpart, is virtually unavailable to account to any institution or person...'"

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Laws and order in Nigeria

Sharia police block women's rally

"Islamic authorities in the northern Nigerian city of Kano have told organisers of a planned protest by divorced women to cancel the event.

The head of the Sharia police, or Hisbah [Hisbah police at right], said the planned protest was an 'embarrassment', and is 'un-Islamic'.

"The organisers have agreed to postpone their protest scheduled for 29 January.

"Women's rights activists say divorced women are often thrown out of their homes, lose custody of their children, and many end up destitute...

"The Hisbah are in charge of policing the morals of Muslims to make sure they are "Sharia-compliant".

They do not have the authority to ban the protest from going ahead, but told organisers they would report the demonstration to the police if they continued with it..."

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Iranian political culture

Are the youngest Iranians creating a new political culture? Massoumeh Torfeh, writing in The Guardian, thinks so.

But, is she in touch with more than the elite politics of the educated and the middle class? How many of the young unemployed men in Tehran use the Internet and are concerned about personal freedoms and women's rights?

Read the comments attached to the article. For instance, one reader added, "30 years ago Americans were running Iran and appointing the ministers, army officers, torturers etc. Now Iranians have the freedom to elect our own torturers every 4 years; it is not perfect, but better than how it was under the Shah..."

Irrepressible youth

"My mind rolled back to February 1979 when I left my life and family in London to go back to Iran convinced that the revolution would bring change. I was happy the Shah was being toppled. He had monopolised power since 1953, when the CIA coup reinstated him in place of the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq.

"Months of street protests had finally produced the desired headlines on 16 January 1979: "The Shah Has Gone!" People were dancing in the streets, holding up those headlines...

"The Islamic Revolution was the third major movement in Iran for democratisation in the 20th century and this, surely, could be it! I went back to Tehran, set up home, and began working as a journalist. But only a few months later I had to witness the rival political killings...

"Once again, a major attempt at democratisation in Iran had ended in the creation of an authoritarian state, this time more powerful and organised than ever before...

"Thirty years on, the revolution of 1979 has not produced that unified Islamic state envisaged by Ayatollah Khomeini. While religious ideology and revolutionary fervour remain the credo of the state, the younger generation that makes up 70% of the population appear neither very revolutionary nor very ideological in any classic sense, while at the same time they seem to be inventing a new politics for the 21st century..."

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Globalization, democratization, and human rights

The January 17th issue of The Economist offers opportunities to teach about a number of the important concepts in comparative politics.

It never stays long

"WHETHER your purpose is to promote freedom, to curb it, or to quibble about its definition, the reports of Freedom House, an American lobby group, make good reading. The new 2009 edition paints a sombre picture of how the world fared during George Bush’s time in office...

"[T]he number of 'electoral democracies' (those with tolerably free and fair elections) dropped by two, to 119 (thanks to four demotions and two promotions). The general trend was down too, with declines in freedom of expression and association, and a weaker rule of law...

"A similarly heavyweight annual report from another American outfit, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), takes direct aim at what its director, Kenneth Roth, terms 'spoilers'... He pointedly criticises the stance taken by India and South Africa, which uphold human rights at home but undermine international efforts against regimes such as Burma, Sudan or Zimbabwe..."

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Another indicator of state capacity

Perhaps we should expand our definition of "shock therapy."

Study Looks at Mortality in Post-Soviet Era

"Rapid and widespread privatization in several former states of the Soviet Union and former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s contributed to rising mortality rates, particularly in Russia, according to a study published Thursday.

"The report... said the results varied among the countries, depending on the pace of privatization, the official response to unemployment and the level of support from social organizations...

"'Rapid mass privatization as an economic transition strategy was a crucial determinant of differences in adult mortality trends in post-Communist societies,' [the authors] wrote in the report. The effects of privatization were 'reduced if social capital was high.'

"The report contends that life expectancy diminished in the early to mid-1990s in countries that were being rapidly transformed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even though the governmental and economic transitions occurred nearly two decades ago, the report said, 'only a little over half of the ex-Communist countries have regained their pretransition life-expectancy levels.'...

"The contrast between Russia and other countries, notably the Czech Republic and Poland, was striking because Poland was one of the first Eastern European countries to pursue what became known as the “shock therapy” model... Despite the immense upheaval, the transformation did not lead to higher mortality rates in Poland, the report says, possibly because of the country’s strong social institutions and also because Poles could emigrate or rely on Poles in Western Europe and North America for support...

"The authors suggest that the existence of trade unions, churches, sports, political organizations and other social organizations played a significant role in cushioning adults’ stress during the transitions..."

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Crows as a measure of state capacity?

If the government cannot "deliver" air clean enough for the big black birds, is that a sign of other limitations on the effectiveness of a government? a regime? a state? What else is the state unable to deliver?

As the crow flies: birds flee Tehran's polluted air

"Tehran's notoriously bad air pollution has long been a health hazard for its 12 million people, but now the toxic mix of fumes has sent a different set of residents fleeing – the city's black crows.

"Environmentalists say the hitherto pollution-resistant population of crows have fled in large numbers in recent days after air quality reached crisis levels...

"The crow exodus occurred less than three weeks after high levels of carbon monoxide and other gases in the air drove off other species of bird, including nightingales and pigeons...

"The polluted air is traditionally at its worst in winter, when a thick curtain of smog hangs over the city for days on end – frequently forcing residents to wear protective face masks. On occasions the poor air quality has prompted the authorities to close schools and urge people with respiratory ailments to stay indoors.

"The city council estimates that 80% of the toxic gases are caused by cars, with large numbers of motorbikes compounding the problem."

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

A commission in Nigeria

It may be a theme of Yar'Adua's presidency. Last fall he appointed a commission to deal with the problems in the Delta. Now, he's appointed a commission to deal with the fiscal crisis caused by the collapse of oil prices.

New team to tackle Nigeria crisis

"Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua has put together a new team of economic advisers to tackle a looming financial crisis after the oil price collapse...

"President Yar'Adua has warned that there are tough times ahead for Africa's largest oil exporter.

"'We are saddled with the twin task of maintaining macroeconomic stability in an environment of global economic meltdown, delivering shared prosperity to our citizens in the face of dwindling national revenues,' President Yar'Adua said...

"Nigeria's economy is heavily tied to oil, which accounts for 95% of its government revenue...

"One surprise addition to the new economic team is the former union leader and opposition party member Adams Oshiomhole, now the governor of Edo state.

"Mr Oshiomhole has been very critical of the ruling People's Democratic Party in the past..."

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Political astroturf in China

Are your students familiar with the term "astroturf" as it relates to the idea of "grassroots?"

How about astroturf politics in China?

[Thanks to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing for pointing this one out.]

China's internet 'spin doctors'

"China is using an increasing number of paid "internet commentators" in a sophisticated attempt to control public opinion.

"These commentators are used by government departments to scour the internet for bad news - and then negate it.

"They post comments on websites and forums that spin bad news into good in an attempt to shape public opinion...

"To do this, they use specially trained - and ideologically sound - internet commentators.

"They have been dubbed the '50-cent party' because of how much they are reputed to be paid for each positive posting (50 Chinese cents; $0.07; £0.05)...

"A document released by the public security bureau in the city of Jiaozuo in Henan province boasts of the success of this approach..."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A chink in the great wall of Iran

Kathy Green, who teaches at Benilde-St. Margaret's in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, pointed me toward this article. I'd seen the headline, but hadn't expected the political content.

How would the countries your students are studying respond to a BBC satellite channel being beamed into their citizens' homes?

BBC launches Persian TV channel

"The BBC's newest satellite TV channel has gone on air, a Farsi language service for viewers mainly in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan...

"Iranian officials have branded the channel a "security threat" and say they will take "necessary" steps...

"As part of the BBC World Service, the new channel is funded by the UK Foreign Office at an annual cost of £15m ($22m) but it is editorially independent of the government.

"The head of BBC World Service, Nigel Chapman said it was important to provide TV in Farsi because of the numbers of people accessing news and information through television. He called them 'a very important audience... who trust the BBC, who value it'...

"[T]he authorities have warned citizens not to get involved with the new TV channel, and the BBC has advised viewers not to risk getting themselves into trouble in order to take part in phone-ins and other interactive broadcasts."

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A sign of a new politics in China?

A series of photographs of a decrepit school building compared to lavish government buildings has become a phenomenon on the Web in China. Will this bring about change? Is the publication of the photographs the change?

English version: The Most Run-down School in Guangdong

Chinese version: 广东省最破烂的学校

"This is the Jiutang School in Fukeng district, Zhongba town, Zijin county, Heyuan city, Guangdong province. It has seen 60 years of storms but the students are still learning under such appalling conditions. During the rainy season each year, the teachers and students live in fear. These conditions have existed for several decades. However, the Heyuan city leaders, the Zijin county leaders and the town government have not paid any attention. Should these young flowers of the motherland be subjected to such devastation?..."

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Some cleavages are more unequal than others.

What impediments to political stability and economic growth would your students identify from this description of inequality in Nigeria? How does Nigeria compare to the other countries they are studying?

Good sources for the comparisons would include the CIA World Factbook, the World Bank, and the United Nations Statistics Division.

Women Constitute 70 Percent of the Poor in Country

"The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Chukwuma Soludo has disclosed that while Nigeria's poverty incidence is 54 percent with some areas as high as 95 percent, women make about 70 percent of the poor in Nigeria...

"In a recent lecture titled, 'Creating an Inclusive Economy for the Nigerian woman' at the 2008 International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Week... the CBN boss further noted that women provide 70 per cent of Nigeria's agricultural labour force and are self-employed, with less than 5 per cent having bank accounts.

"'Women have little or no rights to land in Nigeria; women work longer in the poorest paying jobs and women have much less access to formal financial services than men', he added...

"This trend, he insisted, must be reversed to create an all-inclusive economy for, 'the Nigerian economy to be one of the Next 11 countries (N11s), after Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) which have the potential for tremendous economic growth in the next two decades...'"

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Niger Delta backgrounder

If you're looking for a brief description of the conflict in the Niger Delta, the BBC has published a good article by Sue Lloyd Robers. There is also a 1-minute video attached to this article.

Fighting for Nigeria's oil wealth

"The Niger Delta, a region the size of England, is littered with violence and gas flares - the offshoot of oil extraction - whose roar and heat you can feel for hundreds of metres around...

"People here blame the fallout from the oil industry for their ruined environment, ill health and unemployment...

"With unemployment at 90%, many people of the Delta are tempted to join the criminal gangs who terrorise the area, kidnapping foreign oil workers and launching raids on oil platforms...

"For the time being, guns on both sides will continue to exchange fire on the creeks of the Delta and the communities who live at the heart of the oil-producing areas will continue to wonder whatever good the oil wealth has ever done for them."

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

An argument against democracy?

How would your students analyze this one?

Yi Jianlian and the argument against democracy in China

"Those who follow sports will know that the starters for the NBA All-Star game are chosen by fan ballot... As a result of fan voting presumably from China and, possibly, Newark, Yi Jianlian [on the right in the photo], the 21 or 24-year old forward for the New Jersey Nets, has surpassed several established stars and is threatening the starting position of Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett...

"Interesting dilemma… support the democratic rights of the large number of Chinese fans who want to see Yi hoop it up against the NBA’s best or else insinuate that such large-scale movements can be a detriment to overall interests and goals."


Friday, January 09, 2009

Policy road to superpowerdom

Chinese global expansion is not a haphazard project spearheaded by lots of self-interested companies. It's a matter of government policy. The reactions from the "beneficiaries" of Chinese interest resembles the range of reactions to other superpowers.

China's New Empire

"In less than a decade, China has spun a web of strategic investments that stretches from Latin America to the former Soviet Union, from the remotest islands of the South Pacific to the huge oil fields of Angola and Sudan. In a range of resource-rich countries, China is diligently cultivating its interests.

"It is winning political connections, gaining new markets and capturing vital resources. On some continents, China has matched — or even surpassed — the trading muscle of the traditional empire-builders of Europe and the United States.

"China has become a presence in almost every country that has fallen off the mental maps of American and British geopolitical planners. This is how a superpower is born — one sphere of influence at a time.

"It would be naive to see this as normal capitalism. State-controlled Chinese companies obey a policy of "walking out" into the world and acquiring properties for the national interest — nickel and copper projects to feed China's voracious manufacturing sector, oil fields to fuel its cars and industry, logging projects to supply its furniture factories and coal and natural-gas projects to satisfy its energy needs.

"It all has carefully calculated benefits to the Chinese state, which doesn't require short-term profits from these projects. And it is scarcely affected by the Western financial meltdown. Recessions and stock-market crashes are minor speed bumps on China's expressway to global power...

"The President of Senegal put it bluntly: 'The Chinese are more competitive, less bureaucratic and more adept at business in Africa than their critics,' Abdoulaye Wade wrote. 'China's approach to our needs is simply better adapted than the slow and sometimes patronizing post-colonial approach of European investors.'...

"As the global financial crisis deepens, Chinese state companies are increasingly seen as 'white knights' — ready to step in to acquire companies that might otherwise fall into distress. When the Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley struggled this fall, China's wealthy CITIC group reportedly was considering a takeover bid.

"Less than five years after creating the concept, China now supports 249 Confucius Institutes in 78 countries around the world — the equivalent of the British Council or Germany's Goethe Institute, to promote China's language and culture — advancing the cause of the country's "soft power" abroad. In the same time period, it has helped 60,000 teachers promote its language internationally: An estimated 40 million people are now studying Chinese as a second language around the world...

"China's military, too, is following the soft-power strategy: After decades of isolation from UN peacekeeping operations, China is now a highly active participant, having sent more than 10,000 peacekeepers to 18 missions in recent years. This week, Beijing dispatched three naval ships to the coast of Somalia on an unprecedented mission to fight piracy, and confirmed for the first time that it is "seriously considering" building an aircraft carrier for its navy — a dramatic increase in its ability to project power on the world stage.

"But it is China's giant, state-owned multinational corporations that have been the most active in carving out new zones of influence..."

China sails into new world order

"This week, three Chinese vessels join an international task force operating in the Gulf of Aden to protect shipping from attacks by Somali pirates, marking the first time since the 15th century that Chinese warships have sailed so far from home.

"This reflects a marked strengthening of Chinese military capabilities since the country shifted its focus three decades ago from supporting revolutionary movements around the world to the development of its economy...

"It is very likely that, once the Chinese ships begin their patrols, they will find it advantageous to co-ordinate their actions with warships from other countries. This in itself would be a positive development since it would, in effect, revive a military-to-military dialogue with the U.S. that China suspended to protest against arms sales to Taiwan...

"But the bottom line is that China is not only integrated into the world economy but also into all aspects of global life. Protecting its shipping is part and parcel of China's participation in the new world order."

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

New president in Ghana

The presidential election in Ghana was mentioned here earlier as a comparison to the recent Nigerian election. After a run-off, the process seems to have been successful.

New Ghana president sworn in

"John Atta Mills, Ghana's new president, has taken office following a peaceful but tense election that secured the country's status as one of the continent's few stable democracies.

"Tens of thousands of people crowded Independence Square in Accra, the capital, for the inauguration of Atta Mills, who won a run-off election last month with over 50 per cent of the vote.

"The closest election in the country's history marked the second time power in Ghana has been transferred from one legitimately elected leader to another.

"Analysts say the handover proves democracy in the country has matured after an era of coups and dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, but tensions still ran high during the election and some had feared violence could erupt...

"Atta Mills, 64, served as vice president under Jerry Rawlings, a former coup leader who stepped down in 2001, and will have to dispel any notion his rule will hark back to Rawlings' strongman era.

"The election was the third time Atta Mills had run for president.

"He spent much of his career teaching at the University of Ghana and served as the country's tax chief under Rawlings.

"Atta Mills earned a doctorate from London's School of Oriental and African Studies before becoming a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California."

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Rule of bureaucracy

Because students have limited experience with non-school bureaucracy, this is a difficult topic for them to get a good handle on. Maybe this article will help.

No stamp of approval for Mexico bureaucrats

"Arturo Sandria visited government agencies not once, not twice, not three times. (Hint: Try an even dozen.) He stood in mind-numbing lines, filled out forms, took another number, filled out more forms and, he says, paid $250 in bribes.

"But after six months, he was still in pursuit of his prize: a permit to paint his house...

"'There could be three or four more,' said Sandria, a stocky man in a red Miami Heat jacket. 'I could get up there and they could say, "You're missing a check mark or a period.'"'

"Sandria's ordeal in red tape is excruciatingly familiar to many Mexicans, who long ago learned to weather a day-to-day obstacle course of bureaucratic requirements, or tramites (TRAH-mee-tehs), that would probably send most Americans into fits of hair-pulling.

"As in the United States, there are tramites for opening a business, registering a car, building a porch. But what puts Mexican red tape in a league of its own are the reams of required paperwork -- identification, proof of residence, birth certificates, deeds and titles -- and a bureaucracy that can be as picky as it is ponderous.

"Too often, many Mexicans complain, only bribes seem to get the creaky wheels of government turning. [A study last year by the nonprofit group Transparency Mexico found that Mexico's 105 million residents annually pay bribes totaling more than $2 billion, often for basic services such as getting a water line installed or garbage collected.]

"So it stirred a sense of sweet vengeance when the government of President Felipe Calderon recently offered cash prizes in a contest to identify the country's 'most useless tramite.' An ad campaign depicted a haggard resident, laden with files, standing before a glowering bureaucrat...

"Despite Calderon's call to slim down the government, today there are more than 4,200 federal tramites, nearly double the number in place before his conservative party took over from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose 70-year rule ended in electoral defeat in 2000.

"Officials say the big jump resulted from bureaucrats run amok as they sought to reshape the Mexican system, and from the PAN's effort to codify government procedures after the PRI's long rule, during which benefits were often doled out willy-nilly by local bosses...

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rule of law but not jury in Russia

Russia ends jury trials for some crimes

"Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paused in the last quiet hours of a dying year to sign a controversial law that eliminates jury trials for 'crimes against the state,' a measure that lawyers and human-rights groups fear will be the start of a dangerous exertion of Kremlin control over government critics.

"The law does away with jury trials for a range of offenses, leaving people accused of treason, revolt, sabotage, espionage, or terrorism at the mercy of three judges rather than a panel of peers...

"A parallel piece of legislation, pushed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and still awaiting discussion in parliament, seeks to expand the legal definition of treason to such a degree that observers fear that anybody who criticizes the government could be arrested and, because of the law signed Wednesday, tried without a jury...

"The changes also seek a stronger hand for the FSB, the modern incarnation of the Soviet KGB, by giving the state wider latitude in cases that fall under the intelligence agency rather than police jurisdiction. Some critics point to the days of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as a comparable legal structure...

"Medvedev's last-minute signing had all the trademarks of a pre-holiday news dump engineered to generate the least possible media coverage. New Year's Eve is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia, and even those watching the news were distracted by the failing negotiations over shipments of Russian gas to Ukraine. The law was announced by a single sentence on Russia's Interfax news agency..."

See also: Rule of law in Russia

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

inside the blog

If you're curious about the sources of the stories that show up in this blog, here's a quick description.

I get suggestions from you. If you see an article about a topic that could be a useful teaching tool for comparative politics and government, pass it on. I'll try to spread the word.

I built a web page with links to the news sources I consult most often. That web page resides on my hard drive. My morning web browsing begins on this page. If you have suggestions for additions to this page, please let me know.

Sources -- click on the image to see it full sized

Every morning, just before or just after my "constitutional" (as Harry Truman used to call them), I spend time reading headlines and interesting articles in the first dozen of these sources.

I also consult the next half dozen, but by then I'm looking for local, personally-relevant news.

About once a week, I consult some of the others and search Google and Yahoo news pages for relevant stories.

When I post a link to a news item, I try to suggest a hook for using it when teaching. That become the introduction to the blog entry.

You'll notice that there's a "Comment" link at the end of every blog entry. If you have a teaching idea, and insight, or a further source to add, please use the "Comment" link to create a discussion.

And BTW, The Guardian (London) announced that my news gathering is now more mainstream than reading newspapers. And I thought I was a pioneer when I cancelled my last newspaper over a year ago. (I still subscribe to several magazines.)

Web overtakes newspapers as source of news in US survey

"For the first time, more Americans are getting their news online than from traditional ink and paper, although the popularity of television still eclipses all other forms of media.

"In an apparently sharp shift in habits, the Washington-based Pew Research Centre found that the number of consumers using the web as a main news source surged from 24% to 40% in a year, overtaking the 35% who rely on newspapers. Television slipped from 74% to 70%..."


Monday, January 05, 2009

More on Iranian pre-campaign politics

Ahead of Election, Iran’s Hard-Liners Crack Down

"As the race for Iran’s presidential election heats up, hard-liners are cracking down on activists who have supported reformist candidates in the past...

"Last week, the authorities shut down the daily Kargozaran, one of the few major reformist newspapers... Iranian Web sites say pressure on students to end their political activities has also increased...

"And in another clear signal to activists, some 150 radical students demonstrated outside the house of Shirin Ebadi, the human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, on Thursday, accusing her of supporting the killing of Palestinians in Gaza...

"Last month, government officials shut down the group she founded, the Center for Defenders of Human Rights, and last week they raided her office, taking her computers and files. Ms. Ebadi has received death threats in the past but this was the first time that authorities had taken action against her...

"'The crackdowns are all part of the efforts to prevent Mr. Khatami from winning the elections,' said Farzaneh Roostai, the foreign editor of the daily newspaper Etemad...

"Hard-liners have increased pressure on political activists before previous elections. And the Guardian Council, a body of clerics and jurists that vets candidates for office, has prevented many reformers from running. But Mr. Khatami is a high-profile and charismatic leader, and it would be difficult for the Guardian Council to block his candidacy...

"Meanwhile, the issue of whether Mr. Khatami should run has set off a debate in political circles. Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former vice president to Mr. Khatami, said on his Web site last week that a senior conservative politician asked him in a meeting to urge Mr. Khatami not to run. 'If he becomes a candidate, we will be forced to support Ahmadinejad,' Mr. Abtahi said the official told him...

"Yet Saeed Leylaz, a reformist political and economics analyst, said that many reformers were urging Mr. Khatami not to run. 'First of all, there are many who think even if Khatami gets elected, he will face the same obstacles that he did when he was president before,' he said, referring to the opposition of powerful conservative institutions when Mr. Khatami was president from 1997 to 2005.

"'Secondly, there are serious concerns that they won’t let Mr. Khatami win under any circumstances, even if it means rigging the elections,' Mr. Leylaz said."

See Basiji strike again

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State capacity: What is common in one place is rare in others

Ask your students to project from this example to other functions that government might try to carry out and predict what the government of Nigeria is capable of.

From Punch

Nigeria’s official website shutdown

"The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili [left], has lamented the shutting down of the nation’s official website – www.nigeria.gov.ng – as a result of the inability of government officials to maintain the national flagship.

"Akunyili, who spoke at the first meeting she had with heads of parastatals under the ministry in Abuja late on Tuesday, also gave all agencies in the ministry a deadline of March 2009 to establish their own websites...

"[Akunyili] said, 'Today, we live in an information age where access to information should be made readily available, and yet information about Nigeria from Nigeria is not easily accessible...

"'It is also very discomforting that our flagship corporation, Nigerian Television Authority, does not have a website. It is unfortunate that the official government website www.nigeria.gov.ng, which was launched in 2005, and recoded 1.3 million visits in its first year, making it one of the most viable national websites in the world, has been shut down for many months...

"'Every parastatal must have an active and vibrant website up and running before the end of March 2009, and I am ready to support you to make sure that this happens. On our part, before the end of March 2009, this ministry will create a vibrant website that will enable people around the world to find everything they need to know about Nigeria in a click...'"

Thanks to the Nigerian who blogs at Grandiose Parlor for pointing out this story to me and noting that the defunct official web site "was a multimillion dollar project, as we were told in 2005..."

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Economic growth equals political stability

The Economist (January 3) contains a good article about the changing political situation in Russia which also points out similarities between Russian and Chinese political-economic policies.

Uncle Volodya's flagging Christmas spirit

"The Russian government is beginning to run out of the goodies that it has traditionally used to buy popular acquiescence...

"Russian interior ministry officials admit that the country’s worsening economic situation could spark further protests among the working population over unpaid wages or threats of lay-offs. The risks are especially high in 'monocities' that depend on a single large factory or industry for employment...

"What Russia’s economic crisis certainly marks is the end of an implicit social contract between the Kremlin and the people. This was based on rising real incomes and selective repression. Economic growth, which has averaged 7% a year recently, has now come to an abrupt halt. Indeed, Russia faces a real risk of recession, as industrial production is declining fast. Real incomes, which have been growing even more rapidly than the economy, fell in November by 6.2% on a year earlier; wage arrears have almost doubled. The rouble is steadily losing value against the dollar. There is little doubt that Russia is heading into one of its most difficult years.

"Television propaganda, which has portrayed improving living conditions as part of the Kremlin’s grand design for lifting Russia off its knees against the ill wishes of the West, has proved helpless when it clashes with cold reality. One recent opinion poll shows that, over the past two months, trust in media coverage of the economic situation has declined dramatically. Only 28% of Russians now think that their media coverage is objective (against 37% two months ago)...

"It is unclear what a new social contract might look like, but some political shift is inevitable... But if Russia runs out of money before oil prices recover, Mr Putin’s magic will quickly run out."

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Basiji strike again

A political force for conformity

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi of Iran is threatened at her home

"Scores of young men gathered around the Tehran home-office of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, shouted slogans against her and vandalized her home in the latest episode by hard-line political groups close to the government to intimidate the human rights lawyer...

"The apparently unarmed young men, chanting, 'Death to the pen-pushing mercenary,' included one who told the Iranian Students News Agency, or ISNA, that he was a member of the Basiji militia. The hard-line group answers to the elite Revolutionary Guard, a parallel branch of the military, and supreme leader Ali Khamenei, the country's highest political and religious authority...

"Thursday's demonstration was the third time in 11 days that authorities or forces close to them have moved against Ebadi..."

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Don't forget to "serve the people"

Using a phrase reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese vice-president urges young, educated leaders to "serve the farmers."

Respect and serve farmers, Chinese leader tells students-turned village chiefs

"Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping... urged village chiefs selected from college graduates to respect and serve farmers so as to win their trust and support...

"Appointing village chiefs from college graduates is a strategic decision to develop rural economy and strengthen the foundation of the ruling of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the countryside, said Xi, who is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee..."

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