Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, May 18, 2018

Coming of age in China

The dilemmas facing rural migrants in urban China

In China’s cities, young people with rural ties are angry
Over the past 40 years, hundreds of millions have [moved from village to city], providing the blood, sweat and tears of China’s economic miracle. The Communist Party has often congratulated itself that such a vast movement of people has happened without mass unrest. But those… who have left rural areas more recently challenge the party’s sense of security. They face a wider range of problems than earlier participants in the rural exodus. They are dissatisfied with their lot and have little to lose. They may prove less quiescent than their predecessors.

When observers of China think of threats to the party, they often focus on the rapid growth of the country’s new middle class… But many Chinese analysts… fret about turmoil created by members of a social underclass: poor workers in the cities whose family ties are rural…

A study published in 2009 in the Beijing-based Economic Research Journal said the younger migrants wanted “personal development”, unlike their parents who were focused on more basic needs. The new generation, it concluded rather snobbishly, “is no longer willing to stay in the dirtiest jobs, is not frugal enough to save money to send home and not able to earn enough to build a married life.” Its members are less stoical and unwilling to suffer in silence.

Young migrants share four characteristics that worry the party… they are not well educated. The men face more of a “marriage squeeze”… ie, a shortage of women of marriageable age from similar backgrounds. They similarly earn low wages and face official discrimination as a result of the hukou system that shuts many of them out of subsidised urban services such as education and health care. But they are more dissatisfied and pessimistic than their parents were. Their hopes of carving out a future in big cities are being wrecked by high living costs, demographic change and the hostility of local governments…

The younger generation are products of China’s one-child policy… The ratio of boys to girls at birth soared in the 1980s, peaking in 2005, when there were 122 baby boys for every 100 baby girls, one of the most distorted ratios ever seen…

The new generation is entering a difficult period. Its men will remain unmarried and its children will often be educated away from home. Many will be on low, insecure wages… [T]he party’s reaction to any discontent is likely to be greater repression. That would make solving migrants’ deep-seated problems harder, and an explosion of rage more likely.

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Breathe deeply.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The "belt and road" opens

China's "Belt and Road" project opens its first connection to Europe.

First China-Belgium freight train from China's Tangshan arrived in Antwerp
After travelling 16 days and covering a distance of 11,000 km, the first China-Belgium freight train from China's Tangshan port has arrived in the Belgian port of Antwerp.

The train with 41 containers which left Tangshan on April 26, was officially welcomed on Saturday in Antwerp. The direct railway link between China and Belgium is part of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative…

Luc Arnouts, Director International Networks, Antwerp Port Authority, said at the welcoming ceremony that "This direct train link puts our port on the BRI (the Belt and Road Initiative) map and will further strengthen our ties with China. We have long been working on this project, which represents an important milestone in our trade relations with China."

In his speech, Guo Jianjun, economic counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Belgium, pointed out that given the ongoing escalation of trade friction threats in major global economies, it is even more necessary for all parties to strengthen cooperation…

"The arrival of the first China-Europe freight train sent by Tangshan to Antwerp today is historic and will have a profound and positive impact on China-Belgium cooperation", Guo concluded.

The train has travelled through Kazakhstan,Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany to reach its final destination, Antwerp. It is the first ever direct train service from China to Antwerp.

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Don't Panic


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Analysis of Iran's presidential politics

Washington Post reporter Erin Cunningham offers this perspective on the race for president in Iran.

His nuclear deal and economy are crumbling, but don’t write off Iran’s president yet
The Iranian president’s signature achievement, a landmark nuclear deal with world powers, is starting to unravel, and his economy is in distress even before renewed U.S. sanctions begin to bite, with Iran’s currency swooning to record lows against the dollar.

His domestic opponents are clamoring for his resignation…

Longtime observers say it is far too early to count Rouhani out. They point to his skills as a shrewd political operator, honed over decades as a government insider, as well as his long-standing ties to Iran’s ruling clerics.

For now, Iran’s pragmatist president continues to enjoy the support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who wields the ultimate authority in the country…

The mild-mannered Rouhani, a rotund cleric known for his constant smile, put a fresh, moderate face on Iran’s foreign policy. And while Rouhani and Khamenei have sparred openly over matters such as the economy and nuclear talks, the supreme leader is loath to return Iran to the chaos of the Ahmadinejad years…

The nuclear agreement… has helped ease Iran’s international isolation, offering major sanctions relief in return for restrictions on Tehran’s atomic energy program. Rouhani had pinned his legacy to the deal.

Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington, said that declarations of Rouhani’s demise have failed to take into account the support among Iran’s political elite for these nuclear negotiations. Senior figures in Iran’s political and security establishments in addition to Khamenei — including the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps — have stopped short of calling for Iran to immediately leave the agreement.

In the short term, Rouhani’s popularity should keep him afloat…

But his approval rating, the firm said, also has steadily declined in recent months…

Iranians are fed up with joblessness, soaring prices and a depreciating currency. Nationwide protests broke out in the winter over the ailing economy after a leaked government budget proposal showed cuts to subsidies for the poor…

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Don't Panic. 

The multiple choice section of the exam will ask questions about

  • Introduction to Comparative Politics (5%)
  • Sovereignty, Authority, and Power (20%)
  • Political Institutions (35%)
  • Citizens, Society, and the State (15%)
  • Political and Economic Change (15%)
  • Public Policy (10%)

That's all.


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Monday, May 14, 2018

Now, that's embarrassing

The Chinese company that made shoes for Ivanka Trump's company exports jobs to Ethiopia.

Chinese firm featured in government-backed propaganda film accused of labour rights abuses
Huajian Group, a company that made shoes for Ivanka Trump and stands accused of serious labour violations plays an unexpected role in a blockbuster propaganda film about China’s renaissance under President Xi Jinping.
Huajian factory in Ethiopia

The state-backed documentary Amazing China portrays the Huajian Group as a beneficent force spreading Chinese influence and prosperity – in this case, by hiring thousands of Ethiopians at wages a fraction of what they would have to pay in China. But in Ethiopia, Huajian workers told Associated Press they work without safety equipment for pay so low they can barely make ends meet…

With epic cinematography, Amazing China articulates a message of how China would like to be seen as it pursues President Xi Jinping’s vision of a globally resurgent nation, against a reality that doesn’t always measure up…

The film’s director, Wei Tie, said he was not aware of the controversy surrounding Huajian… That is not surprising given the years of positive coverage Huajian has enjoyed in China’s Communist Party-controlled media…

Wei said he featured the company because it is “introducing China’s experience of prosperity to Africa”.

The film celebrates Huajian as a model of the inclusiveness at the heart of a much larger project – Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to spread Chinese infrastructure and influence across dozens of countries…

Don't Panic! Read the verbs!


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Friday, May 11, 2018

How violence affects the economy in Mexico

It's not just on the levels of regime and government that violence affects the political culture.

Mexico violence: Clowns protest over Acapulco murder rate
Clowns dressed in white marched down a central street in the Mexican resort of Acapulco on Monday demanding an end to the city's crime wave.

With their faces painted and carrying signs reading "peace", they said that they were "tired of so much violence".

They complained that they were losing business because residents no longer threw parties out of fear of becoming targets of crime…

Officials said they had recorded almost 50 more murders in the first three months of 2018 than in the same period last year.

Most of the murders are believed to be related to warfare between rival criminal gangs in the region…

In January, the US state department prohibited US government employees from travelling to the state of Guerrero, including Acapulco.

It warned of armed groups "operating independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero".

"Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travellers," the advice said.

Federal police and soldiers were deployed to the resort in December 2014 but have so far failed to quell the violence.

Don't Panic Get some sleep.


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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Women in Nigerian politics

While woman are represented in the Nigerian bureaucracy and diplomatic corps, they are not well-represented in electoral politics.

Women politicians who will shake 2019
Since the return of democracy in 1999, women have persistently cried marginalization when it comes to clinching electoral offices but many of them have remained undeterred, endlessly making moves to win important positions. There are indications that many of them have rolled up their sleeves ahead of 2019…

[O]nly seven out of the 109 senators serving in the 8th National Assembly are women. There is no single woman in many state assemblies and this is amidst clamour by various groups on the need to widen the door for them to have their way during contests…

However, with few months to party primaries, some women have defied the odds and thrown their veil into the ring once again.

Dr Salma Anas Kolo
  • Dr Salma Anas Kolo: A former Commissioner of Health in Borno State, Dr Kolo is vying for the Borno South Senatorial District under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC)…
  • Binta Bello: In Gombe, the member representing Kaltungo/Shongom Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, Hajiya Fatima Binta Bello, is said to be eying the Gombe South Senatorial seat under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)…
  • Mimi Adzape-Orubibi: She is the current Chairman of Benue State Internal Revenue Service (BIRS) and is said to be eyeing the Benue North East Senatorial District presently occupied by Senator Barnabas Gemade…
  • Senator Gbemisola Saraki: She is a former senator from Kwara Central Senatorial District, who contested for the governorship post in 2011. It was however gathered that she was told from the beginning not to waste her time because people of Ilorin Emirate will not consider a woman become governor on the grounds that they regard whoever is the state governor as religious leader. Now that Senator Gbemisola, a younger sister to Senate President Bukola, has decamped to APC, some political analysts said she might be eyeing the governorship position again.
  • Senator Rose Oko: Apart from Senator Rose Oko who represents Cross River North Senatorial District, no other woman has yet shown serious interest at either challenging her or aspiring for the remaining two districts although few other men have shown desire to replace her…
  • Pastor Margaret Inusa: She may not exactly be categorised as a prominent woman in the political circle but has earned a name among young Christians in Plateau State. With the recent pronouncement by Governor Simon Bako Lalong to re-contest his seat and many politicians expressing interest within the PDP, Pastor Margaret remains the only female aspirant to express interest in the number one seat under the Action Democratic Party (ADP)…
  • Senator Patricia Naomi Akwashiki: She is the only women that have declared interest to contest for the governorship position in Nasarawa State… She is currently contesting for the governorship ticket under the PDP and the party had already zoned the governorship position to northern part of the state where she comes from…
  • Remi Tinubu: The former first lady of the state and two-term Senator, Remi is married to the former Lagos State Governor and the National Leader of APC, Bola Tinubu. Based on her status, Remi is seen as an underground power broker in the state…
  • Binta Masi Garba: Binta Masi Garba, former chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Adamawa State was the first female chairperson of a political party in the country. She was elected Senator for the Adamawa North Senatorial District in 2015 under the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC)…
  • Aisha Dahiru Ahmed: Popularly known as “Binani”, Aisha Ahmed defeated her male opponents in 2011 general elections to emerge as Member representing Yola North/Yola South/Girei Federal Constituency in Adamawa State under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)…

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Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Is China Marxist?

President Xi seems to think that China needs a reminder that it's a socialist country.

Stick to Karl Marx’s true path,
China’s Communist Party is “totally correct” to stick with Karl Marx’s theory, President Xi Jinping has said in a speech ahead of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the German philosopher whom he described as the “greatest thinker of modern time”.

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has stressed the party must not forget its socialist roots as it works to attain the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”…

“We must win the advantages, win the initiative, and win the future. We must continuously improve the ability to use Marxism to analyse and solve practical problems,” Xi said beneath a massive portrait of Marx on a stage bedecked with scarlet and gold curtains.

Xi also instructed all party members to adopt the reading of Marxist works and the understanding of Marxist theories as a “way of life” and a “spiritual pursuit”…

Today, China, the world’s largest self-identified socialist country, outwardly displays all the trappings of a modern capitalist society, from rampant consumption to a massive gap between the urban elite and rural poor.

The apparent contradiction between party rhetoric and appearance has prompted many analysts to suggest the party is no longer really motivated by Marxism but puts practical and economic concerns above all else.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Effects of violence on government and politics - 2

How are the demands on government and the state in Mexico similar to and different from those in Nigeria?

Mexico’s murder rate heads for a new record
IN APASEO EL GRANDE, a town in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, the bodies are stacking up… In the first three months of this year the municipality of 85,000 people had 43 murders, up from 20 in all of 2016. That is about the same as London, a city 100 times larger and currently panicking about its high murder rate…

The town and the state it belongs to are suffering from a double blow. One is a national crime wave, during which the murder rate broke through its previous record of 2011. That peak came after the then president, Felipe Calderón, deployed the army to fight drug gangs. His tactic of capturing or killing kingpins caused the gangs to split into warring factions and to enter new lines of business. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office in 2012, promised to halve the murder rate. Instead, after an initial decline it rose sharply…

The rise in violence is among the main issues in the general election scheduled for July 1st. Nearly half of Mexicans say crime is the main problem in their area…

Guanajuato’s prosperity, once thought to deter crime, now seems to be attracting it. The state’s south is part of an industrial corridor that stretches from Aguascalientes to Querétaro. Factories in the region produce cars and other goods for tariff-free export to the United States and Canada under the North American Free-Trade Agreement. A quarter of Guanajuato’s workforce is employed in manufacturing…

Mexico’s location, between South America’s coca fields and the United States’ drugs market, makes it vulnerable. But the persistence of violence is the fault of a weak state, and especially of inadequate policing, prosecution and courts. Widespread corruption greatly worsens the problem…

Police investigate just a quarter of murders. In part that is because there are too few police… Police and officials are underpaid, and thus tempted to work for criminals rather than against them. They are also poorly trained. In many states, more than 90% of arrests are of suspects caught red-handed, which shows that police have little capacity to investigate crimes more than an hour or two after they happen…

Another problem is co-ordination. Mexico has municipal, state and federal police forces, plus the army, which Presidents Calderón and Peña pressed into service against criminals. In many states municipal and state-level police do not use the same radio frequencies and therefore cannot communicate…

Areas where violence has surged recently are especially unprepared to deal with it. Guanajuato has one forensics specialist per 10,000 crimes; the national average is 18. Police numbers there are less than a quarter of the interior ministry’s standard…

Mr Peña’s efforts to improve policing have largely failed. He proposed creating a 40,000-strong force that would establish control over areas infested by crime. But the government cut back its funding and the army refused to let civilians command it…

A more promising initiative is a reform of the criminal-justice system, which is taking place gradually across the country. This shifts courtroom procedures away from document-based decision-making by a judge [inquisitorial] to argumentative methods used in the United States [adversarial]…

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Effects of violence on government and politics - 1

A variation on violence in northern Nigeria brings on more demands on the state and the government.

Nigeria Kaduna: Bandits slaughter 51 villagers
A gang of what are said to be former cattle rustlers has killed at least 51 adults and children in a village in northern Nigeria, burning down homes…

Survivors say the attackers surrounded Gwaska on Saturday afternoon.

They set homes alight and fired shots, causing people to flee in panic - many straight towards the gunmen.

Residents have demanded that President Muhammadu Buhari's government urgently deploy more police and military to protect vulnerable villages on the state border with Zamfara…

Gwaska residents say Saturday's attackers used to be cattle thieves but had turned to banditry in the region's remote villages.

The victims include members of a self-defence force, formed after attacks by well-armed cattle thieves…


Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


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Monday, May 07, 2018

Another term for Putin

It's official, Putin is president.

Putin is inaugurated for fourth term as Russian president
Vladimir Putin has been sworn in for a fourth term as Russian president and pledged to harness the country's talents to "achieve breakthroughs"…

He has been in power for 18 years, as president and prime minister, and opponents have likened his tenure to the reign of a tsar, or emperor…

On Saturday riot police confronted protesters against his rule in Moscow and other Russian cities.

More than 1,000 arrests are said to have been made in 19 cities.

The biggest complaint among Russians surveyed by the Levada Centre, a major sociological research body, was that Mr Putin had failed to reduce the wealth gap (the top complaint for 45% of respondents).

Another big complaint (for 39%) was the failure to refund Russians who lost savings during market reforms…

Mr Putin was re-elected president with more than 76% of the vote, his best ever election performance, but widespread irregularities were reported by some international observers. Allegations of ballot-rigging had dogged previous elections too…

Domestic opponents accuse Mr Putin of undermining democracy in Russia - a policy dubbed "managed democracy" - to keep genuine opposition parties out of parliament and ensure that he and his allies retain power indefinitely…

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Exam coming? Don't Panic! Review!

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Unrest in Iran

It appears that economic protests are taking place in Iran. (See the original article for some important charts.)

Labor Strikes and Worker Protests Erupt Across Iran: ‘This is Slavery’
Teachers went on strike in central Iran’s city of Yazd. Steelworkers and hospital staff walked off the job in the southwest city of Ahvaz. Railway employees protested near Tabriz. And a bus drivers union in Tehran battled the private companies that control many city routes.

These were among the hundreds of recent outbreaks of labor unrest in Iran, an indication of deepening discord over the nation’s economic troubles. Workers are turning not only against their employers but also Iran’s government, piling pressure on leaders who promised but failed to deliver better times in the two years since economic sanctions were lifted in the nuclear deal…

Prices of eggs, meat and bread are rising more than 10% a year, compounding consumer woes. Unemployment is about 12%, and the Iranian rial has fallen sharply against the dollar,..

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds from the nuclear agreement have gone to Iran’s military involvement in Syria and support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah rather than the national economy, critics of the deal say…

Iran’s labor disputes are extending a panoply of protests in the Islamic Republic that stem from social, economic and political strains…

Leaders of the new Islamic Republic hobbled the rise of independent labor unions, which were viewed as a potential threat. While Iran has state-sanctioned Islamic labor councils, international labor groups don’t view them as independent of the state. Some leaders of independent unions face arrest…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


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Friday, May 04, 2018

Cartoon subversion

Peppa Pig, subversive symbol of the counterculture, in China video site ban
The latest subversive symbol in China is a small pink cartoon pig: Peppa Pig to be precise.
Peppa Pig and family
The wildly popular children’s character was recently scrubbed from Douyin, a video sharing platform in China, which deleted more than 30,000 clips. The hashtag #PeppaPig was also banned, according to the Global Times, a state-run tabloid newspaper.

The seemingly innocuous cartoon’s downfall appears to be no fault of its creators. Instead the problem is Peppa’s association with counterculture memes and “society people” – a slang term for lowlifes and gangsters.

People who upload videos of Peppa Pig tattoos and merchandise and make Peppa-related jokes “run counter to the mainstream value and are usually poorly educated with no stable job”, the Global Times said. “They are unruly slackers roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the [Communist] party tries to cultivate.”…

Peppa Pig was introduced to Chinese audiences in 2015, when the cartoons were aired on state broadcaster CCTV, and has since become immensely popular. Two Peppa Pig theme parks, in Beijing and Shanghai, are set to open next year…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


Just The Facts! is available. Order HERE.

Amazon's customers gave this book a 5-star rating.







The Comparative Government and Politics Review Checklist.



Two pages summarizing the course requirements to help you review and study for the final and for the big exam in May. It contains a description of comparative methods, a list of commonly used theories, a list of vital concepts, thumbnail descriptions of the AP6, and a description of the AP exam format. $2.00. Order HERE.

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Protest messages on money

It seems as if protesters find new methods of expression as often as the Iranian government shuts down avenues of protest.

Iranians launch banknote protest to get round censorship
"Banknotes are our un-censorable messengers," one user wrote, referring to a rumoured plan to permanently block the popular messaging app Telegram, which is by far the most popular digital communication tool in Iran.

Slogans included "I am an overthrower".

Some of the sayings were originally chanted during mass anti-establishment protests at the turn of the year.

In late December, demonstrators took to the streets then to express their dissatisfaction with the social and economic situation in the country.

Telegram was believed to have been the main platform people used to obtain and share information about the protests, which took place across Iran from late December 2017 to January 2018.

Nearly 8,000 tweets have been posted since 28 April under the hashtag #Onehundredthousand_talking_banknotes in Persian, according to BBC Monitoring. Most posts are aimed at raising awareness about the new online movement…

Most tweets were posted anonymously, making them hard to independently verify…

One account… published a photograph of a note featuring a drawing of a protester in a hijab - a tribute to the recent "Girls of Enqelab (Revolution) Street" movement against the compulsory Islamic dress code in the country…


Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


Just The Facts! is available. Order HERE.

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Thursday, May 03, 2018

Official version of history

Remember what George Orwell said about history in his book 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

The Communist Party in China is intent on controlling the past.

China criminalizes the slander of its ‘heroes and martyrs,’ as it seeks to control history
China’s Communist Party has always understood the importance of policing its history.

On Friday, it tightened the screws further with a new law banning the slander of “heroes and martyrs” — figures drawn from wartime propaganda said to have given their lives in defense of the Communist Party or the nation.

Lei Feng
Chinese schoolchildren are taught about the heroic deeds of figures who fought against the Japanese during World War II, or who gave their lives for the Communist Party in the civil war with the Nationalists. Memorials to some of the most famous dot the country.

Now, it will be illegal to suggest that those tales might not be wholly factual…

(See Fact-Checking a Chinese Hero)

The law is part of a much broader and long-standing attempt by the Communist Party to mold or rewrite history in its interests. It has obfuscated the causes and extent of the famine that killed tens of millions of people during the disastrous Great Leap Forward that began in 1958, as well as the chaos of the Cultural Revolution that followed. It has made a determined attempt to erase from history the 1989 pro-democracy movement and the subsequent deaths of many demonstrators.

The “Heroes and Martyrs Protection Act” was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, and goes into effect May 1. It threatens unspecified “administrative penalties” or even “criminal sanctions” against those who damage memorials or “insult or slander heroes and martyrs.”…

Historian and critic Zhang Lifan, for his part, maintained that the law was largely meant to emphasize and protect the legitimacy of the Communist Party and to tie up the idea of “loving the country” with “loving the party.”

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


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Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Degree for nothing?

What political consequences can you predict from this report?

Dire figure shows 42 percent of Iran’s unemployed are university graduates
Iran is facing a crisis represented in the high percentage of the unemployment among the universities and institutes graduates at 42 percent of the total unemployment.

Dr. Saeed Nemki, Assistant in the Development of Social and Public Affairs [said]… “We are facing this situation, while educating these people had cost a lot. Thus we should think about a basic solution for this dilemma and eliminate the elite from immigrating (abroad),”…

[T]he 42 percent of the unemployed, either have bachelor’s degree or even higher, despite allocating major financial resources for their graduation. This is a very important issue in the society. Actually, the society’s expected something different than those graduates. Thus brain drain is one of the worries facing the labor market in the future…

Iranian news agencies published reports that mentioned the details of the report of the interior minister of Khamenei, indicating that there are about 11 million Iranians are marginalized, 1.5 million are drug addicts, and 600,000 are imprisoned, these are catastrophic numbers for a country that exports more than 4 million and 500 thousand barrels of oil daily.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Big government buildings undergo constant repairs and renovations, but sometimes real rebuilding needs doing. (See a report on the $310 million renovation of Minnesota's state capitol.)

Westminster is rotting from within
The Palace of Westminster, with its cinematic Big Ben clock, set beside the River Thames, is a survivor — of epic fire, German bombs, sulfuric smog and bad plumbing.

An eccentric masterwork of Victorian genius, its dual chambers for lords and commoners are the living, breathing heart of constitutional monarchy, the home of Parliament, and one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

But Westminster is a wreck, its caretakers say.

The palace is not falling down. Not at all. Its bones, the superstructure, are solid enough, and carrying on…

Rather, Westminster is rotting from the inside, its water and waste pipes sclerotic, its ventilation shafts congested, its neural networks — the communication, electric, fire systems — nearly shot…

Westminster service tunnel
British lawmakers approved one of the most ambitious restoration projects of the modern age, a $5 billion scheme that would see the entire Parliament — the lawmakers, clerks, staff, guards, journalists, bartenders, everybody — decamp to nearby buildings for six years while a massive refurbishment is undertaken…

The work is scheduled to begin in 2025, with the hope that, sometime in the early 2030s, Parliament will return to its home. Exact dates are fuzzy, because the restorers say they won’t really know what they’re dealing with until they start ripping things apart…

The roofs leak, badly — sometimes there are buckets to catch the weepy drip in the Lords chamber. Moths are nibbling at Augustus Pugin’s wallpaper, mice scurrying across the encaustic tiles, and bad humors rising from the bowels below, where an 1880s sewage ejector plays the role of Sisyphus, condemned to spend its eternity trying to keep up with the flushing loos above.

Which are failing, by the way, occasionally catastrophically…

The Westminster complex covers eight acres, 17 football fields, and has more than 125 staircases and 1,100 rooms, probably more, and almost three miles of passageways.

The palace sees thousands of staff and lawmakers a day pass through and a million visitors a year. The kitchens serve up to 3,000 meals a day in the old-school dining rooms, another 2,500 in the modern cafeteria, and untold cups of tea.

There are eight bars.

The palace is alive…

The engineers confessed that there had been so many ad hoc repairs and workarounds over the past half-century that no one was sure what went where.

“We can have an educated guess,” said Stewart, pointing at a mass of water, electric, Internet and phone lines.

“But a phone line to where?” He arched an eyebrow…

Repairs have been delayed for years — because the Parliament did not want to pay for them, and also because of the potential disruption…

Today, fire crews wander the premises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There were a half-dozen minor but worrying blazes last year, and hundreds of toilet failures, and a crack in a main sewage pipe…

Westminster junction box
The engineers point out postwar sewage and water pipes running above 1960s electric lines above 1970s phone lines above more modern Internet cables.

“We can’t fix it as fast as it falls apart,” Healey said. “The Palace of Westminster is 150 years old, and every building has a kind of life cycle.”

“It’s time,” he said.

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