Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 26, 2010

Nigerian analysis

Solomonsydelle, writing on the blog, Nigerian Curiousity, offers an interesting and detailed analysis of reasons for Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria. If you go to the blog, you'll find numerous embedded links to background sources.

[T]he main question on every Nigerian's mind is why did Yar'Adua choose now to return to the country after spending 3 months abroad? There are likely various reasons for this choice but some key factors spelling the significantly diminished political capital of Yar'Adua and his supporters could be a main reason…

Whatever condition Yar'Adua is presently in, the fact that he is yet to be seen or heard from directly is a complication for Nigeria's political landscape. Political elites that have seemingly dismissed the president and possible foreign interference made it crucial for a return. Not to mention an oil-peace hanging in the balance, Northern elites concerned about their political control, supporters concerned about their fortunes tied to a sick/dead/dying President, The stakes are incredibly high...

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Mao and/or Confucius

Canadian Daniel A. Bell is professor of political philosophy at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the author of China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society (not to be confused with sociologist Daniel Bell, emeritus professor at Harvard). He once again tries to explain why Confucian ideas seem to be on the rise in China.

The Chinese Confucian Party?
Four decades ago, it would have been suicidal to say a good word about Confucius in Beijing. Confucius was the reactionary enemy, and all Chinese were encouraged to struggle against him...

How times have changed. Today, the Chinese Communist Party approves a film about Confucius starring the handsome leading man Chow Yun-Fat. The master is depicted as an astute military commander and teacher of humane and progressive values, with a soft spot for female beauty. What does this say about China's political future?…

In the Cultural Revolution, “Confucius” was often just a label used to attack political enemies. Today, Confucianism serves a more legitimate political function; it can help to provide a new moral foundation for political rule in China. Communism has lost the capacity to inspire the Chinese, and there is growing recognition that its replacement needs to be grounded at least partly in China's own traditions. As the dominant political tradition in China, Confucianism is the obvious alternative...

But the revival of Confucianism is not just government-sponsored. On the contrary, the government is also reacting to developments outside its control. There has been a resurgence of interest in Confucianism among academics and in the Chinese equivalent of civil society… More controversially – because it's still too sensitive to publicly discuss such questions in mainland China – Confucian thinkers put forward proposals for constitutional reform aiming to humanize China's political system...

Confucian reformers generally favour more freedom of speech in China. What they question is democracy in the sense of Western-style competitive elections as the mechanism for choosing the country's most powerful rulers…

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trust in Mexican institutions

Dan Wilson, writing in the blog Under the Volcano, has been providing some very useful information about politics in Mexico. Here's another one. This time it's about the political culture and values.

In spite of the headline, it makes President Calderon's decision to use the army in the campaign against drug cartels look like a good one. Look at what's at the bottom of the poll results.

Confidence in Army declines sharply
Mitofsky’s nationwide survey of confidence in institutions showed a decrease in confidence in the most admired institutions in Mexico. Those saying they had a “high” degree of confidence in the Army fell 6.6% to 34.4% from 41% in January 2009… Confidence in the Presidency also decreased. Political parties remain the least respected institutions in Mexico, with only 5.6% having a high degree of confidence in them.

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You are probably familiar with the sadly hilarious Onion video in which a panel of news analysts babble on about Niger when they were supposed to be discussing Nigeria.

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

Well, here is a headline I found at the New York Times site this morning:

President Returns to Nigeria, but Not to Work

President Umaru Yar’Adua’s return from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia had raised concerns that a power struggle might unfold between him and the vice president.

* Video via Reuters
* Junta Pledges to Restore Democracy in Nigeria

Of course, that last article was actually about Niger.

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Political reform efforts in Mexico

It might be the right time for change in the middle of the president's term. Then again... (Thanks to Daniel Wilson at Under the Volcano)

Senate president predicts passage of political reform this session
Senate president Carlos Navarrete (PRD) predicted that the Senate will pass a political reform package during March, in order to send it to the Chamber of Deputies for its vote before the session ends on April 30th… The PRD political reform proposal consists of 12 major points, including congressional ratification of cabinet officers and recall elections for the President, governors, and mayors, that are in sharp contrast to the President’s proposed reform package (which most analysts believe would strengthen the executive). (Universal 2/20, PRD Senate 2/18)

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is this why Yar'Adua had to return?

Top people in the ruling party fear losing their protector if Yar'Adua is out of office. This example might be one tip of the iceberg.

Nigerian accused of embezzling $100m
A former Nigerian state governor who serves as ranking member of the nation’s ruling party was arrested for allegedly embezzling $100 million of government money meant for public projects…

Agents from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arrested Abdullahi Adamu on Monday after a more than yearlong investigation…

Adamu served as governor of Nasarawa state, located just east of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja… [A]nticorruption officials believe [that] Adamu stole money from unfinished construction projects funded through his state’s budget…

Under Nigeria’s federal system, states receive large shares of the nation’s oil revenues and have budgets rivaling those of other African nations. Those budgets can prove to be tempting targets for graft in Nigeria, a West African nation consistently ranked as having one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

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Speculation from Nigeria

Speculation, analysis, and hope at Nigerian Curiousity:


"On the day Goodluck Jonathan sent his first letter as acting President to the National Assembly, it seems Nigeria's Yar'Adua returned from Saudi Arabia. Apparently, he returned on a Saudi air ambulance which was accompanied by the Presidential jet and landed in a secluded part of the runway at the Presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Already, residents of his home state Katsina, have taken to the streets in jubilation. Unfortunately, the return occurred late at night, lighting was dimmed dimmed on the tarmac and with no public sighting of Yar'Adua spurring many questions as to his current condition and what impact his return will have on Nigerian politics…"

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Sharing campaign methodology

The interaction between British and American political campaigns has been going on for a long time. Reagan learned from Thatcher. Clinton learned from Blair and Blair from Clinton. Now Brown hopes to benefit from lessons learned from Obama.

Yes we can: Labour election campaign to adapt Barack Obama's blueprint
In 1992 and 1996 Tony Blair and Gordon Brown came back from the Clinton Democrats with a suitcase of tools – the soundbite, the war room and rapid ­rebuttal – tools that helped them deliver an ­election landslide in 1997. Now Labour, facing a most difficult election, has returned to the Democrats for inspiration and insight.

In January 2009 Douglas Alexander, Labour's election coordinator, went to speak to the Obama team expecting them to tell him "modern campaigning begins and ends with the internet"...

Alexander quotes David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager arguing: "What people on the ground said to one another was just as important, if not more important, than what Obama said himself. We could not put a price on it — regular people briefing Obama's message to their neighbours, serving as our ambassadors, block by block, throughout the battleground states."

Labour has as a result invested ­heavily in a means whereby party members in their own homes can contact voters and build a relationship…

"Historically Labour has used tech­nology as a form of control. We would use ­pagers and faxes to send out ­messages telling people what line to take. The key learning from the Obama campaign is to use technology to empower your supporters."

The Tory database, Merlin, he believes, is nowhere near as empowering…

Labour: voters' 'submerged optimism' will stop Tory win
Labour plans to stop the Tories winning the general election by tapping into a "submerged optimism" about the future and by applying Barack Obama's reliance on word-of-mouth campaigning, backed by the internet, Douglas Alexander, Labour election co-ordinator, discloses today in a Guardian interview.

He also reveals that Labour's campaign slogan will be "A future fair for all" – a phrase designed to compete with what Alexander describes as David Cameron's "valueless promise of change"...

He said: "We must not allow the Tories to frame the election as a choice between status quo and change. What we want is a choice between two competing visions of the future."…

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The professor in charge - but for how long?

This morning's report that President Yar'Adua has returned to Nigeria might negate the importance of this analysis of Vice President Jonathan from a few days ago. But who knows?

Ailing Nigerian leader returns home
Ailing President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has returned home to Nigeria, though it was not immediately clear whether he was well enough to resume duties.,,

I can only second Adam Nossiter's theme in this New York Times profile. The situation in Nigeria is so unsettled that people there hope that an uncharismatic academic will become a political star. The fate of the republic probably depends on how well Goodluck Jonathan meets those expectations.

An Accidental Leader Stirs Hopes in Nigeria
The circumstances of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan’s accession to power are so odd that even he looks bewildered as he takes a self-effacing bow in this boiling, fractious nation.

He has not been elected. He has not exactly been appointed. He did not seize power in a coup, unlike many of his predecessors. And as a mild-mannered academic in a black fedora, he seems an unlikely fit in Nigeria’s tough-guy environment…

Is this the man who can pacify a country with simultaneous on-again-off-again rebellions in the north and south, startling disparities in wealth, a shaky Constitution holding together the biggest population in Africa and 36 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, but electricity output feebler than Puerto Rico’s?

That Mr. Jonathan, 52, a biologist with a doctorate in zoology and a former environmental official, is eliciting unusual hopes in Nigeria only a week into his tenure is testimony as much to the scale of the country’s neglected needs as to his relatively untainted biography...

“He’s not obsessed with power,” said Samuel Amadi, director of policy at the Good Governance Group, an activist lobby here. “He doesn’t have the usual swagger of Nigerian politicians.”…

SOME of his principal aides come from outside the traditional circles of wealth and power here, like Oronto Douglas, a leading environmentalist and former lawyer for Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Niger Delta activist whose execution by the military government in 1995 led to international protests and diplomatic isolation.

Early gestures also suggest a break with Mr. Yar’Adua’s hobbled presidency. Mr. Jonathan quickly demoted Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa, an official closely associated with backsliding on the president’s good-government promises. It was a “most important symbolic action,” Mr. Amadi said.

In his inaugural speech, Mr. Jonathan promised that “the war against corruption will be prosecuted more robustly,” and his aides suggested that the country’s top anticorruption official, Nuhu Ribadu, who was considered robust and effective until he was forced out by Mr. Aondoakaa and others, would be brought back…

Yet Mr. Jonathan’s biography, as described by aides and numerous accounts in the Nigerian press, raises questions about whether he will have the requisite toughness to negotiate the minefield that is political life here: 36 powerful state governors, some controlling immense oil-fueled budgets; a large military establishment that has spent much of Nigeria’s 50 years of independence meddling in politics; and factions of northern politicians resentful that one of their own, Mr. Yar’Adua, has been prematurely sidelined before the 2011 elections in favor of a southerner…

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

As the election nears, the race tightens

As expected, the undecideds decide and the gap between the major parties shrinks. But this is at least 2 months before the voting.

Hung parliament looms as Tory support crumbles
Support for David Cameron's Conservative party has crumbled to its lowest point for nearly two years, according to the latest monthly Guardian/ICM poll, leaving Britain on course for a hung parliament at the coming general election.

The survey, showing the Conservatives holding only a seven-point lead, will come as a relief to Gordon Brown as he continued to fend off potentially lethal claims over his complex character, including suggestions that he bullies staff…

All this suggests Labour and the Lib Dems are holding steady, while the Tories are losing ground to smaller parties. Nationalists are on 5%, Ukip and the Greens on 3% each and the BNP on 2%.
Estimates of what these shares would mean for the parties on polling day vary, but a 7% lead is at the margins of what the Tories think they need to win an overall majority...

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Too few lawyers?

China seems to be boasting about the increasing number of lawyers and the increasing number of billable hours.

Remember as you look at the numbers in this Xinhua release that the Chinese population is over 1 billion and the number of active attorneys in the USA is over 1 million.

China's law profession advances as nation builds rule-of-law system
China has seen progress in the development of the law profession as it strives to build a country based on the rule of law.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the country had more than 15,000 law firms, more than 166,000 lawyers, and more than 220,000 people working in the sector at the end of 2009.

By Oct. 2009, foreign law firms from 21 countries had set up 224 representatives offices in China, while law firms from Hong Kong Special Administrative Region had set up 65 offices on the mainland, the ministry said…

Statistics show in 2008, lawyers billed their clients 30.9 billion yuan (4.54 billion U.S. dollars) and paid more than 4 billion yuan in taxes.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The new elephant in Iran

Earlier in the revolution, the bonyads, religious foundations, were the hugely-important but nearly invisible players in the Iranian economy. In recent years, that role has been assumed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or Pasdaran.

Here's what Julian Borger and Robert Tait wrote about the IRGC in The Guardian (UK). You should point out how the Pasdaran resembles the Cultural Revolution-era PLA in China and the Soviet-era KGB.

The financial power of the Revolutionary Guards
The [IRGC], which was born as a ­volunteer militia in the heat of the 1979 revolution, is now unrecognisable from those early beginnings. It has grown into a behemoth which dominates both Iran's official and black economies. It is impossible to gauge its market share, but western estimates range from a third to nearly two-thirds of Iran's GDP – amounting to tens of billions of dollars…

Mohsen Sazegara, an exiled Iranian dissident who helped found the IRGC, calls it now "a very strange and unique organisation", comparing it to the Soviet-era KGB for its extensive intelligence wing. "It's also like a huge investment company with a complex of business empires and trading companies, while also being a de facto foreign ministry through the Qods force, which controls relations with countries in the region. They are involved in smuggling drugs and alcohol. I know of no other institution like the Revolutionary Guards."…

The IRGC operate in part through Iran's bonyads, ostensibly charitable foundations that operate as huge holding companies… After the revolution they were vehicles for self-enrichment by the ayatollahs. Now, in a reflection of the regime's continuing evolution, the IGRC is the dominant force, particularly through Bonyad e-Mostazafan, the Foundation of the Oppressed.

However, arguably the most powerful IRGC body today is Khatam al-Anbiya, which started life as the HQ of the corps' construction arm but is now a giant holding firm with control of more than 812 registered companies inside or outside Iran, and the recipient of 1,700 government contracts...

With the active support of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country's president, who has handed Khatam al-Anbiya a succession of huge no-bid contracts, its economic influence has ballooned exponentially over the past few years into just about every aspect of economic life…

"Using their whole economic base, they are expanding control over areas of what they see as the 'soft war', like the telecommunications field, to confront the threat they see," said Mark Fowler, a former CIA Iran specialist now working for the US consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton...

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Recovery of the PRI?

Daniel Wilson, in the blog Under the Volcano, notes that a recent poll shows that the Mexican president's popularity continues to slide and that PRI's popularity is rising.

Poll: Presidential approval slips further

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Online graphic novel on Iran

John Unruh-Friesen caught this one on Boing Boing. It could be a valuable resource. Thanks, John.

Anonymous Iranian dissidents launch online comic about Iranian current events
First Second Books is pleased to announce a new online serial project: Zahra's Paradise, a graphic novel about the social and political situation in today's Iran, will be serialized on line beginning 12:00 a.m., February 19, 2010 and be published in book form in 2011. In the beginning, the serialization will reflect events in Iran's recent past, but in the months to come, as current events unfold in Iran, they will be woven into the story.

Written by Amir, a human rights activist, and illustrated by Khalil, Zahra's Paradise tells the story of an Iranian blogger's search for his brother, Mehdi, a nineteen year old protester who has disappeared in Tehran after the June 2009 unrest. As the blogger and his mother, Zahra Alavi, begin their search for Mehdi, we are drawn into the underbelly of the Islamic Republic -- an elaborate labyrinth in which countless dissidents have vanished over the past decades. Although the characters are fictional composites of actual people in Iran, the context and events are real. The project is a roman-a-clef of history as it happens.

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Class cleavages in China

Pets offer a clear symbol of social class in China. What symbols could your students identify in other countries? Thanks to Chris Kuberski, who teaches in Chicago for pointing out this article.

(The article was written for Foreign Policy by Adam Minter, one of my former students. I can claim absolutely no credit for his perceptiveness or his writing ability. He was only in my class for a semester out of 17 years of formal schooling. Adam writes a blog about his work as a Shanghai-based free lancer called Shanghai Scrap. "Unfortunately," he had to go to Rio on assignment during Carnival and missed the excitement of Spring Festival or New Year in Shanghai.)

Rich Dog, Poor Dog
Famously, pet ownership had been outlawed as a bourgeois affectation during the Cultural Revolution, and though that prohibition is now history, the legacy of the prohibition remains strong outside China's more cosmopolitan quarters, where income, agricultural lifestyles, and culinary tastes have much in common with pre-boom China. Indeed, as incomes rise in China's wealthiest cities, those in rural China remain relatively stagnant, creating the oft-mentioned Chinese income gap. In 2009, for example, per capita income among China's urban residents was 3.34 times that of its rural residents, or $2,515 and $754, respectively. This income gap is also a social gap, expressed in differing access to education, social services, and even political rights, and the resulting cultural gap creates contempt and resentment. In Shanghai and other wealthy cities, few comedic tropes are quite so popular as the bumpkin come to the big city; in rural China, few figures are quite so loathed as the Shanghai sophisticate who looks down upon their long-held traditions…

Class tensions worry Beijing. Although there's no chance that pet ownership and animal cruelty could cause insurrection (though it has been the cause of protest in the past, including a raucous 2006 picket at a Beijing zoo), there's also little chance that leaders are going to allow passage of a largely symbolic, mostly unenforceable act that implicitly pits those who can afford a Shanghai dog license against those who can't and won't. Until that gap is bridgeable, China's stray dogs would best be advised to keep their tails down.

See also: Cats and dogs in the animal cruelty law
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Voting problems in Nigeria

One of John Unruh-Friesen's students in Hopkins, Minnesota, found this video about voting problems in the recent election of Anambra's governor. What problems can your students identify?

Irregularities mar governor elections in Nigeria

See also:
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Conservatives still lead in poll

The election must be held before June 3, 2010.

Tories Drop to 38%, Still Lead in Britain

The Conservative party is holding on to the top spot in Britain’s political scene, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 38 per cent of respondents would support the Tories in the next election to the House of Commons, down two points since late January.

The governing Labour party is second with 25 per cent, followed by the Liberal Democrats with 20 per cent. 16 per cent of respondents would vote for other parties...

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Mexican reform on the WWW

It's not just in Nigeria that civil society is being organized online. Daniel Wilson, writing on the blog, Under the Volcano, describes a government effort in Mexico.

New website for political reform
The Ministry of Government has launched a new website, Reforma Política 2010, to lay out the government’s proposals for political reform. The site includes space for citizen comment, a library of various useful documents on political reform, information on public forums on the reform, and a variety of other materials.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Coalition of Democrats for Election Reform in Nigeria

There's a new civil society group in Nigeria. It's so new that it's web site is incomplete. But it's seeking members and sponsors and has an ambitious agenda. The emphasis on Justice Mohammed Uwais' proposals might mean this is the beginning of a lobbying or party-like group.

Uwais is the retired Chief Justice of Nigeria. (As a sidelight, his name has been used by some "419" e-mail scammers.) Uwais was appointed by President Yar'Adua to head the Electoral Reform Committee after the most recent presidential election. That report, submitted at the end of 2008, proposed creating a number of independent agencies to deal with problems of electoral fraud.

Little has happened since. Inertia, people with a stake in maintaining the status quo, and Yar'Adua's absence have contributed to the inaction.

Coalition of Democrats for Eelection Reforms
Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER) is a grassroots organization established to campaign for reform of the electoral laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

CODER’s main objective is to devise appropriate institutional, legitimate, lawful and democratic means including media campaigns, town hall meetings and rallies, etc… to sensitise,  mobilise and educate Nigerians on the desirability of an acceptable electoral system that will guarantee the sanctity of the voters’ choice at all elections; and to produce a draft member bill based on the Justice Mohammed Uwais report on electoral reform which will be presented by CODER to the national assembly.”…

See also (from Daily Independent (Lagos): Coder's Call - That Our Votes May Count
At the recent launch of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER)which took place at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Abuja, the call for Nigerians to rise up to the formidable challenge of conducting free, fair and credible elections took the front burner of national discourse. The event drew the likes of Iroh Dan Musa, Ayo Opadokun, Ghali Na'aba, Aminu Masari, Audu Ogbeh and Bola Tinubu,a testimony to the non-partisan nature of the coalition.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chinese patriotic speech

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao made a speech last week. It was the Chinese version of coming out in favor of motherhood, baseball, and apple pie.

What would your students notice about what's missing?

Chinese Premier stresses development of social undertakings
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao [at right below]… urged to boost development of social undertakings and improvement of people's livelihoods while pushing forward the transformation of economic growth mode.

Speaking to a seminar for provincial and ministerial level officials… Wen said development of science, education and culture was key to the transformation of China's economic growth mode and its sustainable development.

He urged that plans should be made to forge a number of emerging strategic industries as the mainstay of China's economy as soon as possible, and that traditional industries should be upgraded with the latest technologies to enhance their efficiency and competitiveness.

He also called for stepped-up efforts in technological self-innovation, the creation and protection of intellectual properties.

Reforms in China's education system must also be carried forward so as to promote quality education and to give the schools more say in their operation, the Premier said...

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nigeria's acting president

Solomonsydelle, writing in the Nigerian Curiosity blog has a well-researched and well-documented explanation of what was done to make Goodluck Jonathan the acting president of Nigeria. Go to the blog, where you'll find more than a dozen links to background information about the situation.

After an absence of 79 days and an ensuing leadership vacuum that resulted in court cases, protests and confusion, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has been declared acting president of Nigeria. It took separate motions from both bodies of the National Assembly to convey executive power upon Jonathan… Section 145 of the Constitution was interpreted by many to require the President to issue a letter to the National Assembly asserting intent to temporarily transfer power. However, a court recently ruled that the President is not obligated to formally inform the National Assembly of prolonged absences thus, making the transfer of power automatic when he is away. But, this ruling did not dampen concerns about Jonathan's ability to act as President and Jonathan himself played it safe….

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Liberals in Russia

Politics seem rather settled and authoritarian in Russia. Then a radical think tank proposes more elections and less censorship. What's a Putin to think? Will he even notice?

Research Group’s Report Urges Radical Changes in Russia
A liberal-leaning policy organization that advises President Dmitri A. Medvedev on Wednesday recommended a startling agenda of long-term changes, including restoration of elections for governors, an end to censorship of the news media, Russian membership in NATO and dissolution of the Federal Security Service, successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B.

Igor Y. Yurgens, director of the Institute of Contemporary Development, said at a news conference that unless Russia modernized, it risked losing its brightest young people to the West and aggravating internal tensions to the point where Russia itself could break up…

Mr. Yurgens’s institute has regularly called for liberal reforms, and it is not considered to have particular sway over Mr. Medvedev, who serves as chairman of its board of trustees. But Wednesday’s report contained the group’s boldest proposals to date, and drew immediate rebukes from conservative lawmakers who said liberals were trying to take Russia back to the chaotic 1990s and the age of Boris N. Yeltsin…

Alexei V. Markarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, said there were signs of a loosening in Russian public discourse, in which “those questions which were too dangerous to discuss can now be discussed.”...

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Protest in a Russian "island"

Joshua Tucker, who is an Associate Professor of Politics at New York University and contributes to The Monkey Cage blog, wondered whether the Putin/Medvedev government was running into problems similar to those faced by Yeltsin and whether the results would be different.

Stirrings in Russia? Protest and the Economy
The popular perception of Russia these days is of a largely autocratic country with a fairly docile mass public… Nevertheless, it is certainly worth noting that figures released earlier this week show that the Russian economy contracted by 7.9% in 2009, the worst the economy has performed since 1994, which includes the economic collapse following the 1998 ruble default that did so much damage to the credibility of Yeltsin’s reforms.

While last weekend’s Anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow followed the traditional recent pattern of small numbers of protesters and a forceful response by the Russian policy, a protest in Kalingrad, a far-Western Russian region that is located between Poland and Lithuania, took an unexpected turn when upwards of 10,000 people joined the protest, and, perhaps even more unexpectedly, was widely reported on in Russian newspapers (although largely ignored on TV).

The photo above is from the protest, and the sign mocks the ruling United Russia party by saying “United Russia - United Against Russia”. For those interested in more analysis, see this post on the always excellent Power Vertical blog at RFE/RL.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Iranian exiles wearing green

Nearly half a million Iranians live in Dubai. Jeffrey Gedmin talked to more than 30 of them while writing an article for Foreign Policy and found them to be refugees from the Iranian government and determined to oppose it in whatever ways they can. Is this a population in exile? Can it be the foundation for a political change movement? How does it compare to the expatriate community around Los Angeles?

They're Wearing Green in Dubai
Dubai may be possibly the closest thing to being in Iran itself…

Estimates put the size of the Iranian expat community at 400,000, nearly a third of a 1.3 million population. Iranians work everywhere in Dubai… Daily flights connect Tehran and Dubai (it's an hour and 40 minutes flying time), with 200 weekly flights between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, most of them to Dubai... Regime members and well-heeled loyalists are said to maintain luxurious weekend homes here. Young people come to let their hair down, the women literally. Roughly 60 percent of Iran's population is under 30. Not surprisingly, Dubai's bling offers a seductive break from the dreary and increasingly repressive life afforded under the Islamic Republic.

What do the Iranians I've met think about current developments in their country? The first part of the answer is easy. Those I've met here loathe and despise the regime. I couldn't find an exception…

By all accounts, the regime has made two big mistakes. First, there was the fraud -- or at least the widespread presumption of mass fraud -- in June's election. The regime's steadfast refusal to deal with public concern quickly led to public outrage. I've heard, time and again here, that the regime's brazen lying is an "insult," an unforgivable "humiliation." Second, the viciousness with which the regime has cracked down on dissent has shocked people, including those who thought they could no longer be shocked...

It's not surprising that so many of the Iranians I've spoken to -- educated, professional, largely from urban centers -- concede they're concerned by the prospect of another bloody revolution or a post-clerical moment that could lead to civil war. As one young businessman told me, it's one thing to reject the regime, but no one wants Iran to look like Lebanon. Cooperation between moderate secularists and religious Iranians is important now and will be crucial once the current regime eventually expires...

Today, it's hard to gauge precisely just how the mood inside the country is really evolving. It's true the men in power have the guns and money. The opposition movement still lacks a real leader. Everyone confirms there's a dreadful lack of coordination, tactics, and strategy. And the green movement has become a catchall for a variety of groups. Some are desperate for political freedom. Others are infuriated over the regime's mismanagement of the economy. Still others think the ruling clerics have betrayed the revolution's religious values. This movement's diversity is its challenge, its charm and potential strength...

Here in Dubai, there's no sign that the green movement is fading. At the airport, one of my first impressions was a family coming through the arrivals hall. The mother wore a bright green veil, the father a solid green T-shirt, their teenage son a green wristband. At a Persian restaurant in central Dubai, I listened to a female singer who donned a bright green dress...

Predicting political change, let alone revolutions, is tricky business. The United States got it spectacularly wrong in 1979… Meanwhile, [the] government is adding even more flights to Dubai. The logic? Better to occupy the rabble-rousers with shopping across the gulf than to have them at home, crowding the streets with their slogans and shouts of discontent. Eastern European communists tried similar techniques, pushing troublemakers into Western Europe. It worked. For a while.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Rumor or fact?

This kind of news suggests that perhaps a backroom deal has been made by the proverbial big men. It's taken weeks. It might also be that this is a rumor built on wishful thinking. It was widely reported in Nigeria on Friday, and now the BBC reports on Saturday. It also might suggest that the Nigerian president is in worse health than his cabinet has maintained until now.

Sick Nigeria President Yar'Adua 'to hand over power'
Nigeria's ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua will write a letter handing power over to his vice-president, his adviser has told the BBC.

The letter, formally informing the Senate that Mr Yar'Adua is on "medical vacation", automatically means his deputy becomes acting president.

The president's allies have previously resisted calls for him to step aside…

The BBC's Caroline Duffield in Lagos says Nigeria's political struggle over the president's fitness to rule may be nearing an endgame.
The president's special adviser on legislative affairs, Abba Aji, did not say when Mr Yar'Adua would write the letter but he said there would be no "undue delay"…

Political tensions have been high - government business has stalled and legislation been frozen and cracks have appeared in the uneasy peace in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

Earlier this week, the first signs of a split emerged in Nigeria's cabinet, when Information Minister Dora Akunyili urged her colleagues to admit that the president was no longer fit to govern…

Nigeria's split between the mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south has complicated the issue, analysts say.

Northern power-brokers may be reluctant to see Mr Yar'Adua, a northerner, hand over power to Vice-President Jonathan, from the south, before the next scheduled presidential elections in 2011.

Since the return to civilian rule, power has usually rotated between the regions.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Devolution in Northern Ireland

The BBC has a main article and links to a couple dozen background articles that could be the core of a case study.

Northern Ireland justice powers to be devolved in April

"A deal between NI's biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, could see policing and justice powers devolved to Northern Ireland on 12 April.

"A cross-community vote on devolving the powers will be held in the NI Assembly on 9 March..."

There are links to 8 recent news stories and 13 backgrounders -- including 3 "Q&A" articles. There are also links to 4 video reports.

There will probably be more news and analysis stories in the near future.
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Future of Iranian politics and regime

An academic uses the term "dictatorship" in an analysis of Iran (see yesterday's blog post) and a politician uses it in a political argument. Do they agree with one another? Are the assertions about dictatorship accurate? How can we find out?

Opposition Hardens Line Inside Iran
Mir Hussein Moussavi, the Iranian opposition leader, made some of his harshest remarks to date against Iran’s rulers on Tuesday in an interview on his Web site, calling their behavior dictatorial and terrifying.

The remarks by Mr. Moussavi, whom supporters regard as the real winner of Iran’s contested presidential election last June, appeared to be part of a broader opposition effort to counter an intensified crackdown by the government ahead of the Feb. 11 anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when many expect new street protests to erupt…

“The majority of people believed in the beginning of the revolution that the roots of dictatorship and despotism were abolished,” he said. “I was one of them, but now I don’t have the same beliefs. You can still find the elements and roots that lead to dictatorship.”

Mr. Moussavi served as prime minister in the first eight years after the revolution…

A former senior official close to the opposition said that Mr. Moussavi “has taken his attacks against the regime one step further up.”…

Iran Opposition Leaders Urge Rally on Anniversary
Throwing up a challenge to the increasingly violent tactics of Iran’s ruling elite, the country’s two leading opposition figures are urging protesters to defy the government and take to the streets in an antigovernment rally on Feb. 11...

The statements by the two opposition leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hussein Moussavi, appeared to reflect a unanimous decision to stand fast in the face of the brutal treatment of protesters by the government...

Opposition Web sites reported Wednesday that the authorities had unleashed a new wave of arrests ahead of the planned rally on Feb. 11, the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution...

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Iran's future

Said A. Arjomand is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies, State University of New York Stony Brook, New York. He wrote recently about how he views the future of the Iranian regime. In the process he makes some interesting assertions about revolutions and dictatorships.

Iran’s Revolutionary Echoes
Iran’s continued unrest, now extending through the 30th anniversary of the revolution that toppled the Shah, raises the question of whether the Islamic Republic is about to fall. As in 1979, millions of Iranians have taken to the streets, this time to protest electoral fraud in the presidential vote last June.

The cheated presidential candidates, both veterans of the revolution, instinctively thought of a replay of history...

And yet we risk being led astray by memories of 1979. It is far too soon to predict another revolution. But the divide between Iran’s society and its government is much greater today than it was under the Shah 30 years ago. Change seems just as inevitable...

The greatest difference between 2009 and 1979 was created by the revolution itself. Revolutions give birth to a new political class, and Iran’s Islamic revolution was no exception. The Iranian leadership formed after the revolution consisted of a narrow ruling stratum and a much broader supporting group that was given charge of administration and political mobilization.

In the 20 years since Khomeini’s death, the composition of this political class has changed drastically. The clerical elite has gradually lost power to the military-security groups, from whose ranks President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emerged. Bureaucratic and security services dominated by the Revolutionary Guards and its militia, the Basij (Mobilization Corps), are now firmly in command.

The leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blessed the Revolutionary Guards’ decision to steal the presidential election. By identifying squarely with the military-security apparatus headed by Ahmadinejad, Khamenei has alienated an important segment of the ruling clerical elite. He has also reduced his own status as the ultimate arbiter in Iranian society…

The growth of Khamenei’s personal, extra-constitutional power introduces a strong element of uncertainty into Iran’s future. Political regimes that rely on personal power, commonly known as dictatorships, prove to be fragile in crisis. This was the weakness of the Shah’s regime, which collapsed as he became paralyzed in his decision-making…

The ayatollah-dictator and the Revolutionary Guards have tried their best to discredit their opponents by concocting, through forced confessions at show trials, a conspiracy of regime change based on a “velvet revolution” produced by “Western social sciences.”

Deep down, they know there is no conspiracy. Their fear is grounded in what they see in front of them: the forward march of history.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Google is (is not) a country

Here's one for students to consider. Is Google a country? Why or why not? The article is a bit disappointing for not following through on its contention about the statehood of Google, but students could practice with a textbook definition of country or nation-state and decide what's accurate and what's not.

Google is another country
Google is not a country. Eric Schmidt – who would be prime minister if it was – kept repeating the point at a briefing he gave at Davos... They didn't have a police force, they didn't have jails, they didn't have their own prosecutors. Only once did he slip and say : "Nevertheless we have to secure our borders."...

How does [Schmidt] feel about heading a company which is constantly being attacked? "Ah, the Barbara Walters question," he said. "How do you feel? Well, from a Google perspective it feels as if we're in the right place." They would always have these issues – it was endemic to being Google. If you were going round the world being that disruptive there was no point in crying "Oh my God it's a big crisis". That's just how life is going to be...

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Growing inequality

Is this a political issue? Should it be a public concern?

Unequal Britain: richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest
A detailed and startling analysis of how unequal Britain has become offers a snapshot of an increasingly divided nation where the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society...

The report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, scrutinises the degree to which the country has become more unequal over the past 30 years. Much of it will make uncomfortable reading for the Labour government, although the paper indicates that considerable responsibility lies with the Tories, who presided over the dramatic divisions of the 1980s and early 1990s...

It concludes that the government has failed to plug the gulf that existed between the poorest and richest in society in the 1980s...

Harriet Harman, minister for women and equality, said the issues raised meant the government needs to "sustain and step up" action introduced by government over the past 13 years, such as children's centres and tax credits. "It takes generations to make things more equal," she told Radio 4's Today programme.

Social mobility was "essential" for the economy, she said. "The government should take action to ensure everyone has a fair chance."

A central theme of the report is the profound, lifelong negative impact that being born poor, and into a disadvantaged social class, has on a child. These inequalities accumulate over the life cycle, the report concludes. Social class has a big impact on children's school readiness at the age of three, but continues to drag children back through school and beyond...

It echoes other recent research suggesting that social mobility has stagnated, and concludes that "people's occupational and economic destinations in early adulthood depend to an important degree on their origins". Achieving the "equality of opportunity" that all political parties aspire to is very hard when there are such wide differences between the resources that people have to help them fulfil their diverse potentials, the panel notes...

See also:
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Monday, February 01, 2010

Another "country" heard from

Nigeria needs some more outside agitators.

North Africa Qaeda offers to help Nigerian Muslims
An al Qaeda group in North Africa has offered to give Nigerian Muslims training and weapons to fight Christians in the West African country, where more than 460 people were killed in sectarian clashes last month...

It was signed in the name of Abu Mus'ab Abdel-Wadoud, who was described as the "emir", or leader, of the group, and appeared on Islamic websites that often carry statements from groups using the al Qaeda name around the world.

"You are not alone in this test. The hearts of Mujahideen are in pain over your troubles and desire to help you as much as possible, in the Islamic Maghreb, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya," it said...

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Nigerian political music

Chris Pears, who teaches at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota, pointed out the PBS Soundtracks feature on the music of Fela Kuti and his son Seun who have been the heart of Afrobeat political music in Nigeria. The PBS program was broadcast here in Minnesota last night. Thanks, Chris

Lagos, Nigeria. The country's largest city teems with people hustling to make a living. Despite Nigeria's oil wealth, daily life remains a struggle. Necessities like clean water and electricity remain elusive to many, and the government consistently ranks among the most corrupt in surveys by international organizations.

Against this backdrop, Fela Kuti [left] in the 1970s created Afrobeat, a powerful concoction of American funk and jazz, West African highlife, and incendiary, rebellious lyrics. "Afrobeat is the African truth," says Fela's youngest son, Seun. "Nobody speaks for a lot of us in Africa. They speak for themselves and their business, but they don't speak for the people."

Fela challenged the military rulers of Nigeria and portrayed the plight of his people in songs like "Shuffering and Shmiling," which he sang in the dialect of the streets: Every day my people dey inside bus, suffering, and smiling. Every day my people dey inside bus, suffering, and smiling. Them go reach house, water no dey. Them go reach bed, power no dey. In response, the government dispatched 1,000 soldiers to destroy Fela's compound in 1977. The soldiers beat him, killed his mother by throwing her from a second story window, and torched the building. Fela was arrested more than 200 times in his lifetime.

Today, Fela's youngest son Seun [right] is carrying his father's torch. He recently released his debut album, "Many Things," in which he delivers his own criticisms of the government. Unfortunately, things have actually gotten worse in Lagos, Seun tells reporter Marco Werman. In the Kuti family nightclub, The Shrine, Seun sings: As time dey go, things dey spoil more and more. As time dey go, children dey die more and more. No food to eat. No light to see. No water to drink. Nowhere to stay.

The episode is Black President and is available on the PBS web site.

You can also access a 5-minute story about "Fela! The Musical, which is now playing on Broadway and a music video by Seun Kuti, "Mosquito Song," about the fight against malaria.

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Globalization Index

The Globalization Index, like other comparative surveys offers opportunities for creating exercises seeking correlation and maybe even causations for students.

For instance how do the statistics for globalization compare with those for transparency? How do they compare with those for economic freedom? wealth? human rights? human development? other comparative rankings?

The Swiss Economic Institute (KOF) Globalization Index measures the economic, social and political dimensions of globalization. The current analysis refers to the year 2007. Consequently, the developments triggered by the financial and economic crisis are not yet included.

Globalization in the economic, social and political fields has been on the rise since the 1970s, receiving a particular boost after the end of the Cold War.

Political and economic globalization advanced once again compared to the previous year.

In contrast, social globalization is stagnating - and has been since 2001.

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