Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Presidential poll in Mexico

A snapshot of how the candidates rank in February.

Mexican leftist extends lead in presidential race, poll shows
Mexican leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador increased his lead ahead of July’s presidential election, while the ruling party’s contender continued his downward trend, according to an opinion poll published in a local newspaper…
Obrador

Lopez Obrador, who has run twice for president, led the pack of hopefuls with 27.1 percent in February, according to the survey by pollster Mitofsky published in El Economista newspaper.

The former Mexico City mayor gained 3.5 percentage points over Mitofsky’s January poll, putting him nearly 5 percentage points ahead of his closest rival…

Former finance minister Jose Antonio Meade of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) came in third with 18.0 percent, down from 18.2 percent in January and 19.4 percent in December.

Meade’s campaign has been dogged by a backlash against PRI following a series of corruption scandals and a murder rate that surged last year to a record high.

Ricardo Anaya, former leader of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), ranked second with 22.3 percent, up from 20.4 percent in the prior survey, the poll said. Anaya resigned from the party in December to pursue the presidency in an alliance with the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)…

Of 1,000 people surveyed in the poll, 31.4 percent said they believe Lopez Obrador will become Mexico’s next president, up from 25 percent in January. That compared with 23.4 percent who see Meade winning, and 20.7 percent that believe it will be Anaya…

The survey was conducted Feb. 9-11 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Maybe the Mexicans don't need the Russians to get involved in their election

It seems that many people expect their own intelligence service to interfere in the upcoming election.

Mexican presidential candidate accuses government of spying on him
A Mexican presidential candidate has accused the country’s intelligence service of surveilling his campaign – part of a pattern of alleged espionage against opponents of President Enrique Peña Nieto…

Ricardo Anaya
Ricardo Anaya… posted a tweet on Tuesday showing him confronting a person following him in a Jeep. After an awkward handshake, the driver readily identified himself as working for Cisen, the Mexican intelligence service. He said he was following Anaya “so that there’s no problem”…

The left-leaning poll-leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also said that he and his family have been spied upon. He has promised to disband Cisen if he wins the 1 July election.

The latest accusations come as Mexico prepares for a contentious presidential campaign. The ruling Institutional Revolutionary party has been bogged down by corruption scandals and the sedate style of its proposed candidate…

Anaya, a former congressman with the right-leaning National Action party, has placed second in most polls…

Cisen has a history of targeting political opponents. “What we were usually subject to were these strategic leaks of recorded conversations that put the person in a bad light,” said Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.

The interior minister, Alfonso Navarrete, rejected the allegations, saying Cisen personnel were simply “following public activities and events occurring in the country”.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Referendum or revolution

It's difficult for outsiders to know the reality of Iranian politics. But here are some hints.

Iranian intellectuals call for referendum amid political unrest
A group of prominent Iranian intellectuals have said they have lost hope that the Islamic Republic can reform, and have called for a referendum to establish whether the ruling establishment is still backed by a majority.

A day after Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, touted the idea of holding a referendum as a means to heal Iran’s deepening political divisions, 15 figures – including some based in Iran – said leaders had failed to deliver on republican ideals…

Rouhani did not elaborate on what he was proposing to put to a vote, but he has sounded increasingly frustrated about the political stalemate…

Meanwhile, the Iranian currency has taken another dive against the dollar in recent days, adding to fears about the state of the economy.

Speaking last week, Rouhani expressed concern about what he said was the unwillingness of his hardline opponents to listen to the voices of ordinary people, particularly after a wave of unrest that began in late December.

“The previous regime, which thought that its rule would be lifelong and its monarchy eternal, lost everything because it did not listen to the voices of criticism, advice, reformers, the clergy, elders and intellectuals,” he said, referring to the late shah’s rule. “The previous regime did not listen to the voice of people’s protests and only listened to one voice, and that was the people’s revolution. For a government that only wants to hear the sound of revolution, it will be too late.”

The activists’ letter… criticises the conservative-dominated judiciary, which acts independently of Rouhani’s government. “The judiciary is reduced to the executor of the political wishes of those who hold the reins of power…

Saeed Barzin, a London-based Iranian analyst, said Rouhani’s call for a referendum was a threat to push back the economic and political meddling of an unelected faction dominated by hardliners, in particular the Revolutionary Guards.

“The undercurrent issue is how the power will be distributed after Khamenei, and in a way the power struggle has already begun,” Barzin said. “Reformists feel under threat that the current situation might lead to people losing hope in reform or becoming radical or becoming apolitical. Hardliners, on the other side, might see an opportunity here to scapegoat Rouhani and even conduct a soft coup d’état, but it’s a gamble.”…

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Monday, February 19, 2018

My snake ate it

At times the claims of Nigerian spammers who want help claiming millions of dollars in strange bank accounts are bizarre. What are we to make of the claims of a government official who claimed that a snake ate millions of Naira inside a safe.

JAMB Reacts to 'Money-Swallowing Snake' Report
The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, has reacted to a bizarre report trending of a snake swallowing N36 million from the vault of one of its state branches.

The board said the case was that of pure criminality and fraud on the part of one of its staff…

According to a report in Sun news online, a mystery snake was said to have sneaked into the accounts office of the Board in Makurdi and 'stolen' N36 million cash…

"A sales clerk, Philomina Chieshe, told JAMB registrar and his team that she could not account for N36 million… In the course of interrogation, Philomena denied the allegations that she stole the money but confessed that her housemaid connived with another JAMB staff… to "spiritually" (through a snake) steal the money from the vault in the account office", the report said…

The spokesperson of the board, Fabian Benjamin said… investigation was ongoing to determine the kind of punishment that will be given to the suspect(s) involved.

"There are procedures in the civil service so the whole thing is still under investigation. She was queried, she appeared before disciplinary committee, although she confessed that money was missing and a snake swallowed it….

"Of course, the management did not believe the story. She is just trying to put an excuse forward. These are things the registrar is trying to unravel to put the board on the right footing…

Apparently reacting to the bizarre report, the anti graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on its official twitter page @officialEFCC jocularly said: "an eagle(EFCC) shows no mercy for money-swallowing snake(s)."…

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Serve the people

In 1944, Mao Zedong gave a speech which became famous as a guide for "good" Communists in China. It became known as "Serve the People." President Xi echoed that famous phrase recently. Maybe he's trying to collect enough aphorisms to fill his own Little Red Book. There's a video with subtitles attached to the original Xinhua article.

"My job is to serve the people," Xi tells villagers
"My job is to serve the people," President Xi Jinping told local villagers in suburban Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, on Monday.

Xi in Chengdu
Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, made the remarks when a senior resident of the Zhanqi Village said with excitement, "You are our good leader and the lucky star of the Chinese people!"

"Thank you. I am a servant of the public. My job is to serve the people," the president replied.

Xi was in the village to see their achievement in using the Internet to help sell local products. An elderly woman wanted to give a pair of her hand-made shoes to Xi as a gift, but the president smiled and insisted on paying for them…

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Capitalism with Chinese characteristics

Forty years ago, the people in this audience would have been arrested and sentenced to reeducation camps. Now, they're being urged to do the patriotic thing: make money.

China unwavering to support private sector: vice premier
China remains unwavering in its support of the private sector and will create favorable conditions for its development, Vice Premier Wang Yang said.

Governments will continue to improve the business environment, maintain stable policy expectations, and protect the rights and interests of private companies, Wang told entrepreneurs Friday at a meeting held to solicit their opinion.

The private sector has witnessed a boom since reform and opening up began 40 years ago and has become an important part of the economy. At the end of 2017, there were 65.8 million individually owned businesses and 27.3 million private enterprises, which employed 341 million people…
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang meets businessmen
Wang said he hoped private sector would improve risk control, help create jobs and improve incomes in poor areas, and develop an energy-saving and environmentally friendly industrial structure.

Wang is a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Child(ren) per family

In the 1960s, China's poverty and birth rate were a combination for disaster. The country already had three times as many people as the USA, but only half as much farmland. Thus, the one child per family policy. Today, growing wealth and an aging population have set the stage for a need for more people. It's a planner's nightmare.

China is in a muddle over population policy
WHEN Li Dongxia was a baby, her parents sent her to be raised by her grandparents and other family members half an hour from their home… That was not a choice but a necessity: they already had a daughter, and risked incurring a fine or losing their jobs for breaking a law that prevented many couples from having more than one child. Hidden away… and at first kept in the dark herself, Ms Li says she was just starting primary school when she found out that the kindly aunt and uncle who often visited were in fact her biological parents...

The era that produced her unconventional childhood feels like a long time ago. The policy responsible for it is gone, swapped in late 2015 for a looser regulation that permits all families to have two kids. These days the worry among policymakers is not that babies are too numerous, but that Chinese born in the 1980s and 1990s are procreating too little…

[W]omen still have less than two children on average, meaning that the population will soon begin to decline. The government predicts it will peak at a little over 1.4bn in 2030… The working-age population, defined as those between 16 and 59 years old, has been falling since 2012… An ageing population will strain the social-security system and constrict the labour market. James Liang of Peking University argues that having an older workforce could also end up making Chinese firms less innovative…

Unwinding the one-child policy was supposed to help. But figures released in January confirm that after briefly boosting birth rates, its effect is petering out…

The reason is that as China grows wealthier… the population’s desire for larger families has waned. Would-be parents frequently tell pollsters that they balk at the cost of raising children. As well as fretting about rising house prices and limited day care, many young couples know that they may eventually have to find money to support all four of their parents in old age…

One big concern is that officials may end up trying to nudge busy and ambitious women into accepting more domestic roles. Leta Hong Fincher, an author and academic, argues that state media have helped popularise the concept of “leftover women”—a pejorative term for unmarried females in their mid-20s and later—in an effort to panic educated, urban Chinese into settling down sooner than they otherwise would. She thinks such propaganda is growing more aggressive. If that is indeed the kind of solution that is gestating within the bureaucracy, the hoped-for baby boom will be stillborn.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Comments from the UK

Alan Carter is "our" Oxford-based-correspondent. (He's a tutor at the local university there.) He offers some cogent reminders about the EU. I remember reading statements like this in a textbook when I first learned about the EU. These are great additions to Monday's (12 Feb) question-answering post here.

He reminds us that the EU is a process, not a status quo.

"Two of the EU's  most basic principles: widening [adding more members]  and deepening [moving towards political union e.g. the Euro]." Both imply movement, not stasis.

On the deepening topic, Alan reminds us that some leaders in Europe, like Germany's Martin Schulz, have federation as a goal.

"This," Alan continues, "is the dilemma for those 'remainers' like me who opposed leaving. The situation pre-June 23rd 2016 doesn't exist anymore." What would we be remaining in?

He also reminds us that the Conservative Party seems to be coming apart over this issue. One of the possible successors to PM May might be someone like Jacob Rees-Mogg. He was described, in an opinion piece in The Independent, as "a controversial figure in British politics. He has been praised as a conviction politician whose upper-class mannerisms and consciously traditionalist attitudes are entertaining; he has been dubbed the "Honourable Member for the 18th century"

And no one knows where a Labour government might lead.

"It's not over yet." he reminds us.

Thank you Alan.


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People on the run

Russia a democracy? Well there are eight people running against President Putin. (But you don't have to know anything about any of them.)

Strawberry tycoon among Putin challengers confirmed
Eight candidates have been officially confirmed to run in Russia's 18 March presidential election.

Vladimir Putin, hoping to win a fourth term, is the clear favourite. Opinion polls give him a lead of more than 60%…

Police have repeatedly arrested opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who wanted to run for president but was barred. For years the anti-corruption campaigner has organised mass protests against Mr Putin.

So who is running against Mr Putin?
  • Pavel Grudinin: Nicknamed the "strawberry candidate", the 57-year-old engineer and farmer is backed by the Russian Communist Party (CPRF).
  • Vladimir Zhirinovsky was an established politician before most Russians had even heard of Vladimir Putin… His Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) - in reality hardline Russian nationalist - was the first registered opposition party in post-Soviet Russia…
  • Ksenia Sobchak: The 36-year-old TV celebrity casts herself as "the candidate against all the above", calling for a democratic renewal of Russia. Ms Sobchak told the BBC she wanted "evolution, not revolution" of the Putin system. She would support reformist politicians who have Mr Putin's approval…
  • Grigory Yavlinsky: He held economic management posts in the USSR, and helped liberalise the Soviet economy under Mikhail Gorbachev. Later he disagreed with the rapid privatisation that created a new class of super-rich oligarchs and deepened the poverty of millions…
  • Boris Titov: Mr Titov casts himself as an economic liberal, and… he was chosen last year as the presidential candidate of the small Party of Growth…
  • Sergei Baburin: This 59-year-old nationalist is deputy speaker of the Duma and the candidate of the Russian All-People's Union… he says, Russia is mired in corruption and injustice…
  • Maxim Suraikin: "Comrade Maxim", 39, is the candidate of Communists of Russia, a party that broke away from the CPRF Communists in 2012…

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Questions about Brexit

Probably some of your questions are in this report, along with answers. A good self-study guide or one for a study group.

Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU
Here is an easy-to-understand guide to Brexit - beginning with the basics, then a look at the negotiations, followed by a selection of answers to questions we've been sent.

  • What's happening now?
  • What does Brexit mean?
  • Why is Britain leaving the European Union?
  • What changed in government after the referendum?
  • Where does Theresa May stand on Brexit?
  • How did the snap 2017 election change things?
  • What has happened to the UK economy since the Brexit vote?
  • Brexit negotiations
  • What is the European Union?
  • What is Article 50?
  • What date will the UK will leave the EU?
  • What's going to happen to all the EU laws in force in the UK?
  • What is the Labour Party's position on Brexit?
  • What is the single market?
  • What's the difference between the single market and the customs union?
  • How long will it take for Britain to leave the EU?
  • Why might Brexit take so long?
  • So why can't the UK just cut all ties in March 2019?
  • What happens if there is no deal with the EU?
  • What does the fall in the value of the pound mean for prices in the shops?
  • Will immigration be cut?
  • Could there be a second referendum?
  • Will MPs get a vote on the final Brexit deal?
  • Has any other member state ever left the EU?
  • What does this mean for Scotland?
  • What does it mean for Northern Ireland?
  • How much has Brexit cost so far and how much will it cost by the end?
  • How will pensions, savings, investments and mortgages be affected?
  • Could MPs block an EU exit?
  • Will leaving the EU mean we don't have to abide by the European Court of Human Rights?
  • What about the European Court of Justice?
  • Will the UK be able to rejoin the EU in the future?
  • Who wanted the UK to leave the EU?
  • What were their reasons for wanting the UK to leave?
  • Who wanted the UK to stay in the EU?
  • What were their reasons for wanting the UK to stay?
  • How much does the UK contribute to the EU and how much do we get in return?
  • What is the 'red tape' that opponents of the EU complain about?
  • What impact will leaving the European Union have on the UK's long term political influence in Europe?

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Forced national integration

The Chinese method for integrating minorities.

What It’s Like to Live in a Surveillance State
Imagine that this is your daily life: While on your way to work or on an errand, every 100 meters you pass a police blockhouse. Video cameras on street corners and lamp posts recognize your face and track your movements. At multiple checkpoints, police officers scan your ID card, your irises and the contents of your phone. At the supermarket or the bank, you are scanned again, your bags are X-rayed and an officer runs a wand over your body — at least if you are from the wrong ethnic group. Members of the main group are usually waved through.

You have had to complete a survey about your ethnicity, your religious practices and your “cultural level”; about whether you have a passport, relatives or acquaintances abroad, and whether you know anyone who has ever been arrested or is a member of what the state calls a “special population.”

This personal information, along with your biometric data, resides in a database tied to your ID number. The system crunches all of this into a composite score that ranks you as “safe,” “normal” or “unsafe.”Based on those categories, you may or may not be allowed to visit a museum, pass through certain neighborhoods, go to the mall, check into a hotel, rent an apartment, apply for a job or buy a train ticket. Or you may be detained to undergo re-education…

A science-fiction dystopia? No. This is life in northwestern China today if you are Uighur.

China… boasts gleaming bullet trains, luxury malls and cellphone-facilitated consumer life. But when it comes to indigenous Uighurs in the vast western region of Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) has updated its old totalitarian methods with cutting-edge technology.

The party considers Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking ethnic group native to the nominally autonomous region of Xinjiang, to be dangerous separatists. The Qing Empire conquered Xinjiang in the 18th century. The territory then slipped from Beijing’s control, until the Communists reoccupied it with Soviet help in 1949. Today, several Central Asian peoples, including Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrghyz, make up about half of the region’s population; the remainder are Han and Hui, who arrived from eastern China starting in the mid-20th century.

Over the past several years, small numbers of Uighurs have violently challenged the authorities, notably during riots in 2009… But the C.C.P. has since subjected the entire Uighur population of some 11 million to arbitrary arrest, draconian surveillance or systemic discrimination. Uighurs are culturally Muslim, and the government often cites the threat of foreign Islamist ideology to justify its security policies…

How does the party think that directives banning fasting during Ramadan in Xinjiang, requiring Uighur shops to sell alcohol and prohibiting Muslim parents from giving their children Islamic names will go over with governments and peoples from Pakistan to Turkey? The Chinese government may be calculating that money can buy these states’ quiet acceptance. But the thousands of Uighur refugees in Turkey and Syriaalready complicate China’s diplomacy.

Tibetans know well this hard face of China. Hong Kongers must wonder: If Uighur culture is criminalized and Xinjiang’s supposed autonomy is a sham, what will happen to their own vibrant Cantonese culture and their city’s shaky “one country, two systems” arrangement with Beijing? What might Taiwan’s reunification with a securitized mainland look like? Will the big-data police state engulf the rest of China? The rest of the world?

As China’s profile grows on the international stage, everyone would do well to ask if what happens in Xinjiang will stay in Xinjiang.

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Analogy for Nigerian politics

Are presidential politics in Nigeria like the story of Br'er Rabbit?

Muhammadu Buhari gears up for a second presidential term
THE mantle of power is so heavy in Nigeria that presidential candidates must be begged to run for office, or at least give that appearance. There was no serious doubt that the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, would run in 2015; that was his fourth attempt to win through the ballot box. Yet even he had to maintain the fiction ahead of that vote, with allies saying that they had pleaded with him to stand. Now, little more than a year away from the next presidential election in 2019, the theatrics are starting again…
Buhari
Yet before the 74-year-old Mr Buhari can even consider winning an election, he has to secure the full support of his party and his allies. And that is not necessarily a given, particularly since his approval rating slumped to 45% in December, from a high of 80% in October 2015…

In mid-January Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president and still-powerful statesman, wrote an open letter urging him to quit after one term… Last year Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president and serial party-switcher, defected back to the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP)…

The pivotal figure is Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state, whose domination of politics in Nigeria’s south-west won Mr Buhari the presidency… Mr Tinubu, no spring chicken at 65, is thought to want the top job himself.

But Nigeria’s main parties cling to a convention that ensures the presidency rotates between northern and southern politicians after two terms. If Mr Buhari is eased out after one term, he should be replaced by another northerner. If so Mr Tinubu’s first shot at the presidency would be in 2023, so people think he would rather throw in his lot with Mr Buhari than back a different northern politician who might want to serve two terms.

Nor is the opposition standing still. Mr Abubakar has a huge war-chest and he is formidable on the campaign trail. But his wealth and party-hopping are viewed with suspicion. “The greatest asset Buhari has right now, politically, is the incompetence of the opposition,” says Chris Ngwodo, an analyst. If the incumbent wins the backing of Mr Tinubu again, their electoral machine will be hard to beat.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Chinese "expansion" in Europe

The goals and methods of China's soft power initiatives in Europe are a bit different.

With everyone focused on Russia, China is quietly expanding its influence across Europe
Shortly after the turmoil surrounding President Trump’s repeatedly rescheduled visit to Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on a trip to Beijing where she celebrated a new “golden era” and was cheered by the Chinese news media for not bringing up pesky human rights issues.

When it was President Emmanuel Macron’s turn earlier in January, the French leader similarly announced his “determination to get the Europe-China partnership into the 21st century.”…

Two new studies, however, suggest that Europe’s embrace of China, even as it warns against Russian meddling, might benefit from a certain degree of wariness. When it comes to Beijing, they argue, European leaders appear to too willing to overlook China’s authoritarian ambitions…

[R]esearchers examined a number of covert and more public means the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is believed to be using to influence European politics, such as infrastructure investments in eastern and southern Europe in cash-strapped countries such as Greece. Improved Chinese-Norwegian trade ties have coincided with a Norwegian effort to drop some of its human rights criticism of Beijing. China has also pushed its narrative in advertisements taken out in leading media outlets across the continent…

[R]esearchers explain, “By comparison, the CCP leadership’s buildup of influence across Europe is reinforced by China’s emerging status as a successful socioeconomic model. . . . It is China that is set to be the bigger long-term challenge to Europe’s values and interests.”…

“China senses that a window of opportunity to pursue its goals has opened, with the Trump administration seen as withdrawing from the role as guardian of the liberal international order that the U.S. has long played,” the authors write.

In its quest to gain more international leverage and respect, China has gone far beyond European borders. Beijing is especially active in Africa where it has offered sweeping trade and infrastructure deals to a number of nations and is expanding its network of educational Confucius Institutes as part of a soft power outreach effort. Critics say that those efforts are overshadowed by more covert activities. In January, French newspaper Le Monde claimed China had bugged and systematically hacked the African Union’s headquarters in Ethiopia for years — a building built and financed by the Chinese…

While both Russia and China appear to be keen on exploiting the E.U.’s weaknesses, China has found a way to also make Europe thank it for doing so.

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Soft power or imperialism?

Last week the American President reminded Latin American countries of the Monroe Doctrine and warned them about Chinese efforts to spread China's influence.

China moves into Latin America
WHILE Donald Trump was in Davos last week trying to persuade the global plutocracy that “America First” does not mean “America alone”, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, was promoting globalisation, free trade and co-operation in Latin America. For his hosts, the contrast was striking. Mr Trump has insulted Mexico, El Salvador and Haiti, discourages investment in the United States’ southern neighbour, and talks trade protectionism. China, in the soothing words of Mr Wang, offers Latin America a “strategy of mutual benefit and shared gain”.

He was speaking at a meeting between China and the Confederation of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a talking shop comprising all the region’s 33 countries…

The meeting marked the maturing of a relationship that has developed precociously in this century. Total annual trade between China and Latin America shot up from almost nothing to more than $200bn by 2014… Latin America’s exports to China increased by around 30% last year…

The biggest changes are in Chinese investment and lending. Until recently, these focused on oil, mining and Venezuela. Now they are centred on Brazil and Argentina, and are in more sectors…

China’s interest in Latin America is not matched by other big powers. The Trump administration has no clear strategy… The European Union (EU) remains the largest single source of foreign investment. But the conclusion of a long-awaited trade agreement with Mercosur, which includes Brazil and Argentina, has so far been thwarted… “The EU hasn’t worked out clearly what it wants of Latin America,” concludes a new report by the Elcano Institute, a think-tank in Madrid.

The same applies to Latin America in its embrace of China. This brings undoubted benefits. Apart from money, Latin American governments like—and take at face value—China’s stance on global governance and climate change. But the region is entering into a political entanglement with an external power that has no interest in democracy…

See also: Beware of ‘predatory’ Chinese investment in the Americas, warns Rex Tillerson 

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Externality

When developments outside a political system cause changes within the system, we label those developments externalities. Often externalities, like this one, are unexpected.

With U.S. competition hurting its marijuana business, Mexico warms a little to legalization
For decades, marijuana flowed in one direction across the U.S.-Mexico border: north.

These days, drug enforcement agents regularly seize specialty strains of retail-quality cannabis grown in the United States being smuggled south.

Widespread legalization in the U.S. is killing Mexico's marijuana business, and cartel leaders know it. They are increasingly abandoning the crop that was once was their bread and butter and looking elsewhere for profits, producing and exporting drugs including heroin and fentanyl and banking on extortion schemes and fuel theft.

So when Mexico's tourism secretary this week boldly declared his hopes that Mexico will legalize marijuana for recreational use in an effort to reduce growing violence across the nation, some balked at the notion that marijuana was driving the bloodshed.
Legalization protest last May
[T]hat a Cabinet member was willing to advocate such a policy marks a dramatic shift from a time when Washington dictated a hard-line drug policy across Latin America…

The legalization debate comes amid Mexico's bloodiest wave of violence yet. There were more than 29,000 homicide victims in 2017, more than in any year since the government began releasing homicide records two decades earlier.

The drug trade generates between $6 billion and $8 billion a year for Mexico, according to the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, which estimates that 15% to 26% of that comes from marijuana…

The tourism secretary, Enrique de la Madrid… a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, is one of a growing number of Mexican leaders who have called for pot legalization…

In the U.S., marijuana is legal in some form in a majority of states and will soon be permitted for recreational use in eight. Cannabis is already legally sold for recreational use in Uruguay and will be later this year in Canada. Several Latin American countries, including Chile, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica and Colombia, have changed laws to make marijuana more available for either medical or recreational use.

Full legalization faces an uphill battle in Mexico, where a majority of voters and the Catholic Church are opposed to the idea. A 2015 poll conducted by the newspaper El Universal found that two-thirds of Mexicans oppose decriminalizing cannabis, although 63% said they backed a debate on the issue…

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Iranian protests

Do big changes begin with small gestures?

Tired of Their Veils, Some Iranian Women Stage Rare Protests
Climbing atop a five-foot-tall utility box in one of Tehran’s busiest squares… an Iranian woman removed her head scarf, tied it to a stick and waved it for all to see.

It was no small feat in Iran, where women can be arrested for publicly flouting the Islamic requirement that they cover their hair.

But there she stood, her curly hair blowing in the breeze. No one protested. In fact, she was applauded by many people. Taxi drivers and older women took her picture. The police, who maintain a booth in the square, either did not see her or decided not to intervene…

She was not alone…. several other women, a total of six, according to social media accounts, made the same symbolic gesture: taking off their head scarves in public and waving them on a stick, emulating a young woman who climbed on the same sort of utility box on Dec. 27 and was subsequently arrested. Activists say she has since been released, but she has still has not resurfaced in public…

The protests, still small in number, are nevertheless significant as a rare public sign that dissatisfaction with certain Islamic laws governing personal conduct…

And some said this might just be the beginning. “My guess is that more of these protests will follow,” said Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and human rights activist. “It’s obvious that some women want to decide for themselves what to wear.”

That remains to be seen, but the protests have already gained enough attention to provoke angry reactions in some quarters.

“These protests are done by instigators, saboteurs and vandalists and anarchists,” said one critic, Kazem Anbarlooie, the editor in chief of the hard-line newspaper Resalat. “Recently our enemies were communists and liberals, now Americans are provoking masochists against us.”…

The Islamic head scarf, or hijab, is seen by Iranian ideologues as a pillar of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The law regarding the scarf has been enforced since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and a head scarf is obligatory for every woman in the country, even tourists and visiting foreign dignitaries…

During the past decade, influenced by the rise of the internet, satellite television and cheap foreign travel, many Iranians have grown deeply resentful of rules that they can see for themselves are out of step with most of the rest of the world. Many have become relatively secular and feel increasingly unwelcome in the fixed-in-stone state version of Shiite Islam, and many have taken to flouting the rules whenever and wherever they feel free enough to do so…

In past years, the morality police zealously enforced the rules, arresting women and men who violated them. But under the current president, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, those officers have largely been taken off the streets.

Their removal was a gesture to a radically changed society, but it was also a recognition that there were not enough enforcers available to control a society that resents and rejects the rules. Women without head scarves can been seen everywhere in Tehran, in their cars, in shopping centers and even on the street, but always with the scarves draped over their shoulders, as if they have only just slipped off…

See also: Iranian Chess Player, Shunned for Refusing to Wear Hijab, Will Play in U.S. 

Iran and Saudis’ Latest Power Struggle: Expanding Rights for Women

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Friday, February 02, 2018

Philosophy beyond government and politics

Does it still all boil down to which words we use?

This is probably beyond what is required for your course, but you and some of your students might be interested in pursuing one of philosophy's big ideas.

Liberalism is the most successful idea of the past 400 years
OVER the past four centuries liberalism has been so successful that it has driven all its opponents off the battlefield. Now it is disintegrating, destroyed by a mix of hubris and internal contradictions, according to Patrick Deneen, a professor of politics at the University of Notre Dame.

The gathering wreckage of liberalism’s twilight years can be seen all around, especially in America, Mr Deneen’s main focus. The founding tenets of the faith have been shattered. Equality of opportunity has produced a new meritocratic aristocracy that has all the aloofness of the old aristocracy with none of its sense of noblesse oblige. Democracy has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd. And technological advances are reducing ever more areas of work into meaningless drudgery…

Mr Deneen uses the term “liberalism” in its philosophical rather than its popular sense. He is describing the great tradition of political theory that is commonly traced to Thomas Hobbes and John Locke rather than the set of vaguely leftish attitudes that Americans now associate with the word…

The legitimacy of the system is based on a shared belief in a “social contract” between consenting adults. But this produces a paradox. Because the liberal spirit mechanically destroys inherited customs and local traditions, sometimes in the name of market efficiency and sometimes in the name of individual rights, it creates more room for the expansion of the state, as marketmaker and law-enforcer…

He does an impressive job of capturing the current mood of disillusionment, echoing left-wing complaints about rampant commercialism, right-wing complaints about narcissistic and bullying students, and general worries about atomisation and selfishness. But when he concludes that all this adds up to a failure of liberalism, is his argument convincing?…

[L]iberalism contains a wide range of intellectual traditions which provide different answers to the question of how to trade off the relative claims of rights and responsibilities, individual expression and social ties…

The late 19th century saw America suffering from many of the problems that are reappearing today, including the creation of a business aristocracy, the rise of vast companies, the corruption of politics and the sense that society was dividing into winners and losers. But a wide variety of reformers, working within the liberal tradition, tackled these problems head on. Theodore Roosevelt took on the trusts. Progressives cleaned up government corruption. University reformers modernised academic syllabuses and built ladders of opportunity. Rather than dying, liberalism reformed itself.

Mr Deneen is right to point out that the record of liberalism in recent years has been dismal. He is also right to assert that the world has much to learn from the premodern notions of liberty as self-mastery and self-denial. The biggest enemy of liberalism is not so much atomisation but old-fashioned greed… But he is wrong to argue that the only way for people to liberate themselves from the contradictions of liberalism is “liberation from liberalism itself”. The best way to read “Why Liberalism Failed” is not as a funeral oration but as a call to action: up your game, or else.

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Thursday, February 01, 2018

The campaign starts now

A former president has publicly asked President Buhari not to stand for reelection. The response may have come from Assistant to the President on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie. The election is a year away, but the campaign is underway.

Corruption: Only President Buhari can stand out among past, present leaders – Lauretta Onochie 




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