Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, November 30, 2007

PRI resurgence

Carlos Luken, a Mexico-based businessman and consultant, is a columnist for MexiData.info. His recent column is a great summary of the downfall of the PRI and Luken's prediction of a resurgence of the party.

This op-ed piece might supplement your textbook and offer an opportunity for students to seek evidence that supports or contradicts Luken's thesis.

Mexico’s PRI Maneuvers for Major Midterm Victory in 2009

"PRI dominance and its consequent Imperial Presidency was tacitly supported by the population. Either by not voting, not protesting widespread electoral fraud or by being part of the corrupt political machinery, many Mexicans chose to discard their citizen rights in favor of a more contented lifestyle...

"It is a curious fact that, with everything in their favor, the PRI’s well functioning organization self-destructed...

"By not considering public discontent and the opposition’s ability to advantageously channel it to their cause, the PRI soon found itself confronted by two formidable forces – its own splinter groups rallied around popular leftist causes and finally merged into the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Its traditional opposition National Action Party (PAN) was reinvigorated by the alignment of large middle class and private sector organizations...

"Political analysts believe that the 2009 federal midterm elections will be among Mexico’s most important ever, with the PRD losing its grip on the southern militant street organizations because of internal feuds, and with the PAN regrouping under future party president German Martinez.

"Thus the PRI is in a prime position to take advantage of its recent state victories, along with the changes in reformed electoral legislation, to gain congressional majorities in both houses of Congress."

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Institutionalized, not personalized government in Nigeria

Alex Last, writing for the BBC, assesses President Yar'Adua's first 6 months in office.

Nigeria leader ends honeymoon period

"Six months ago, on a sweltering parade ground in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, Umaru Yar'Adua was sworn in as the president of Africa's most populous nation - the first time one civilian leader had taken over from another.

"A quiet Muslim governor from a wealthy northern Nigerian political dynasty, Mr Yar'Adua was a relative unknown until he was picked by boisterous, autocratic President Olusegun Obasanjo to be his chosen successor.

"But as he was being unveiled to the public in the run-up to the election, he clearly wanted to be seen as a different kind of Nigerian leader.

"'For the ruling elite in Nigeria, I am sorry to say, the conception seems to be that those in positions of authority and leadership tend to be privileged and even consider themselves above the law,' he told me on the election campaign trail...

"[T]he public mantra of this presidency has been the rule of law, the constitutional separation of powers, and non-interference.

"Nigeria is a country used to interfering leaders.

"Yet Mr Yar'Adua has let the election tribunal overturn other key results and has rescinded controversial privatisations made in the dying days of Mr Obasanjo's administration...

"Critics say the problem with this policy of non-interference - this hands-off approach to government and ultimate faith in the rule of law - is that it only works if institutions are capable of running affairs for themselves.

"The concern is that in Nigeria, after decades of autocratic leaders, abuse and corruption, the institutions are just too weak...

"Despite the good image, many of Nigeria's huge basic problems are still unresolved.

"For much of the time, the commercial capital, Lagos, resonates to the hum of generators because there is an acute shortage of electricity...

"'I believe if you give him time, he will do well,' one businessman said.

"'And if he can improve on our light, he will become the people's president.'..."

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nigerian book publishing, part 2

Elizabeth Dickinson wrote on allAfrica.com from Abuja about a new publishing venture in Nigeria. This may be the flip side to the entry here yesterday about the dismal state of fiction in Nigeria.

(This is the kind of topic that will never appear on an exam for comparative government or politics. But, it's a bit of cultural milieu that can give us some context when considering political communication, feedback to the political system, and grassroots participation, at least among the educated elite.)

Nigeria: A New Publisher, Creating a New Industry

"Cassava Republic, Nigeria’s newest literary publishing company, prints in India. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, its founder, says she wants its books to rival those published in London and the United States—not just in literary quality, but in appearance as well.

"Cassava Republic is unique in Nigeria, not only for its quality printing but because it exists at all. When Bakare-Yusuf returned to Nigeria after a period of living in the United Kingdom, she was astonished. Literature and its publishers had all but disappeared, leaving religious works, self-help books, and textbooks to fill the shelves...

"Nigeria was once home to a flourishing market, but years of military rule pushed international publishers out; not a single one remains in the country today. Economic decline hit the pockets of average Nigerians hard and their budget for luxuries such as books even harder. Thousands from the chattering middle class left the country, including the intellectuals and consumers of Nigerian literature...

"With no retail market and no capital, most publishers now survive by printing textbooks or religious publications, which have guaranteed sales to schools and churches. The market for literature is tougher, and most works that do appear are self-published. Distribution is limited and costly. Most publishers focus on urban centers because the cost of transport and the small market make sales elsewhere unprofitable...

"'I’m interested in authors who engage with the African experience—it’s not enough just to have an African author,' [Bakare-Yusuf] explains. 'They must be able to speak to the complexities of African realities.'..."

New Russian history

Last July, The Washington Post reported on the revisions of Russian history presented to teachers in Moscow. I cited that article as evidence of the revival of ideology in Russia.

Recently, The Economist reported on the same topic with some new insights. Either or both articles would be good discussion starters or beginnings of case studies.

The rewriting of history

The Kremlin uses its version of the past to forge a new ideology for the present

"The decade after the collapse of communism was notable for the absence of any official ideology. Weary of grand designs, the Russian elite preferred pragmatism and enrichment. Asked about his national dream in 2004, President Vladimir Putin said that it was to make Russia competitive. But Russia's new oil-driven strength and its aspirations to be a world player have once more created a demand for something more victorious and uplifting. And as Mr Putin looks for ways to stay in power after his second presidential term expires next March, his ideological comrades are placing him in a gallery of Russia's great leaders, a quasi-tsar.

"'The attitude towards the past is the central element of any ideology,' Yury Afanasyev, a Russian liberal historian, has written in Novaya Gazeta. Indeed, in Russia arguments about history often stir greater passions than do debates about the present or future. What kind of country Russia becomes will depend in large part on what kind of history it chooses. And that is why the Kremlin has decided that it cannot afford to leave history teaching to the historians.

"Earlier this year it organised a conference for history teachers at which Mr Putin plugged a new history manual... entitled A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers. Were it not for the Kremlin's backing, it would probably be gathering dust on bookshelves... New textbooks based on it will come into circulation next year. Russian schools are still free to choose which textbook to teach. But the version of history now proposed by the Kremlin suggests that freedom may not last.

"The manual... celebrates all contributors to Russia's greatness, and denounces those responsible for the loss of empire, regardless of their politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is not seen as a watershed from which a new history begins, but as an unfortunate and tragic mistake that hindered Russia's progress...

"Rabid anti-Westernism is the leitmotiv of the new ideology. In return for Russia ending the cold war ('we did not lose it', the manual insists), America ... fomented colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, turning them into springboards for possible future attacks. 'We are talking about the failure of the course started by Peter the Great and pathetically continued by pro-Western democrats after 1988. We are talking about a new isolation of Russia.'

"How should Russia respond? The manual's answer is a new mobilisation of resources and a consolidation of power in the hands of a strong leader (no prizes for guessing who)...

"The manual's final chapter, on 'Sovereign Democracy', reflects the views of one of the Kremlin's chief ideologues, Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, who invented the phrase. Mr Surkov argues that Russia needs a political system to suit its national character and that it should disregard international norms of behaviour as 'foreign pressure'..."

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Promoting civil society in Nigeria

It seems that today's theme on this blog is Nigeria. And here's another reason for optimism.

Here's an article from This Day (Lagos) about a legislator who seems to have been reviewing his political science textbooks.

House Engages Civil Society On Legislative Agenda

"In a move aimed at repositioning and fostering cordial relationship with the civil society , the leadership of the House of Representatives has begun deliberate efforts at engaging the groups and other organisations...

"Chairman House Committee on Media and Publicity Honourable Eziuche Ubani confirmed yesterday that the meeting which holds today will indeed promote citizen participation in the governance and development of the House activities...

"The lawmaker... explained that since the return to civilian rule over eight years ago, there has not been a consistent and systematic process to promote interaction between the legislature and civil society organisations , hence the need to convene the forum and address the issue.

"He also said that though democracy is the best form of government , democratic culture requires dialogue, citizen participation and representation.

"The legislature, according to Ubani represents the people and can serve as a veritable medium for promoting dialogue and citizen participation. It is important to point out that military rule eroded democratic culture of dialogue and consensus building. It is clear that the prolonged nature of military rule constricted democratic space, entrenched authoritarianism, and nurtured militarism in Nigeria..."

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A balancing bit of optimism

In a country as big and diverse as Nigeria, we should expect to find things to cheer about. Here's a fourth bit of news to complete a balance for entries here today.

This comes from the BBC.

Audio slideshow: Laptops for Africa

"The so-called $100 laptop project is working to boost education for children in the developing world.

"The rugged, energy efficient laptops have been designed to be used in remote and environmentally challenging areas.

"They are currently being tested around the world, including at the LEA primary school, Galadima, on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria."

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Nigerian book publishing

The paradox of Nigeria's award-winning novelists is that they have more readers abroad than at home.

Bleak publishing houses

"Chimamanda Adichie's novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, winner of this year's Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, may have sold over 240,000 copies in Britain, in Nigeria it has shifted barely 5,000...

"Nigeria was once the centre of literary publishing in west Africa—not just for local companies but international houses as well. But when military rule and economic decline saw much of the middle class flee in the 1980s, the publishers left too. Today, there is no distribution network and scant demand for fiction...

"Ms Adichie's novel costs N850 ($7.30) from Kachifo [a Lagos publisher] and goes up to N1,500 in bookshops in Abuja, the capital. Far more readers choose self-help and religious books that are supposed to have a more immediate pay-off..."

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Nigerian poverty and progress

The Economist published a graph comparing poverty in Africa during the 1990s with poverty there in the first five years of the 21st century.

Part of commentary on the graph was, "The proportion of very poor Africans fell from 47% in 1990 to 41% in 2004. On present trends, it is set to fall to 37% by 2015. Nigeria's poverty rate of 70.8% is the highest among the countries covered by the report."

The graph gives more power to the statistics about Nigerian poverty because it offers the numbers in an African context.

Nigeria has made progress in reducing poverty, but for a country as rich in oil and gas as Nigeria is, the progress is not a lot to cheer about.

Is this a demonstration of the failure of the Nigerian state?

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All the right words

As a student of Nigerian government and politics for 40 years, I often feel that people take as many steps forward as they take back. Events I can be optimistic about are often balanced by things that cause me to despair.

Today, I offer three examples. This one offers hope. The others are discouraging.

Nigerian President Yar'Adua said all the right things the other day if he wanted to sound like a model supporter of the rule of law.

The president's statement was quoted in Leadership (Abjua).

I'll Abide By Tribunal's Ruling - Yar'Adua

"President Umaru Yar'Adua has expressed his readiness to abide by the tribunal ruling on the petitions over the April presidential elections results which declared him winner...

"[The statement concluded,] 'As an administration with a healthy record of respect for the rule of law, government would abide with the decision, as individuals, we do not always agree with the judgment of the courts, but we have to abide by it.'"

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The PLA shrinks and veterans cause problems

Another aspect of the tension between the national government and local governments in China is illustrated by this article from the 10 November issue of The Economist.

What's a local official to do when the national government makes promises and orders him to fulfill them?

This also illustrates another potential source of unrest in the Chinese countryside.

Beware of demob

"IT IS the army's recruitment season in Yantai, a port in Shandong province in northern China. A poster in one fishing village calls on citizens to report any attempt to secure one of the coveted vacancies by paying bribes or forging papers. But the Yantai authorities are far more worried about what happens when servicemen are discharged...

"Over the past couple of years protests by demobilised soldiers have become a potent challenge to local governments trying to keep the lid on unrest during a period of wrenching social and economic change...

"The ex-servicemen's main grievance is the difficulty of settling back into civilian life. Most soldiers from towns are assigned jobs in the civilian sector when they leave the army. But this has become increasingly difficult because of the dismantling of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in recent years and the resentment of surviving SOEs at having ex-soldiers foisted on them. Rural soldiers—the bulk of the non-officer ranks—are being sent back to villages where there is next to nothing to do...

"China is no stranger to protests. Thousands occur every year involving disparate groups of people: peasants enraged at being turfed off their land by local governments; city-dwellers whose houses are being bulldozed to make way for development; migrant workers complaining about not being paid; and workers laid off from SOEs. But these demonstrations are usually poorly organised, ill co-ordinated and easily contained by local governments...

"Party leaders have called on local governments to give priority to keeping veterans happy. But this is not easy. In addition to the regular turnover, hundreds of thousands have been demobilised in recent years as a result of efforts to trim the military's enormous size...

"Hu Xingdou, of the Beijing Institute of Technology, says peasant-soldiers are the government's biggest headache. Taught idealism in the army, he says, they go back to no work and a countryside rife with corruption. Former soldiers, he says, are often at the forefront of peasant unrest. Let the party beware."

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Local government power in a unitary system

One of the ambiguities we often have to help our students understand is the fact that China's unitary system doesn't often seem to function like a unitary system. Historically, that's the pattern in China. A centralized government within which local authorities undermine national policies to benefit regional interests.

Test questions about the regime in China? The multiple-choice answer is that China's is a unitary system. The answer in a student essay has to be something more complex and nuanced. Here's another example that might help teach about this complexity.

Howard French wrote for the New York Times from Qingtongxia, China.

Far From Beijing’s Reach, Officials Bend Energy Rules

"When the central government in Beijing announced an ambitious nationwide campaign to reduce energy consumption two years ago, officials in this western regional capital got right to work: not to comply, but to engineer creative schemes to evade the requirements.

Hydroelectric dam in Qingtongxia

"The energy campaign required local officials to raise electricity prices as a way of discouraging the growth of large energy-consuming industries and forcing the least efficient of these users out of business. Instead, fearing the impact on the local economy, the regional government brokered a special deal for the Qingtongxia Aluminum Group, which accounts for 20 percent of this region’s industrial consumption and roughly 10 percent of its gross domestic product.

"Local officials arranged for the company to be removed from the national electrical grid and supplied directly by the local company, exempting it from expensive fees, according to an electricity company official who asked not to be named, an official of the aluminum company and the official Web site of the nearby city of Shizuishan. As a result, Qingtongxia continued to get its power at the lowest price available.

"It was a cat-and-mouse game grimly familiar to Chinese officials, who have a long tradition of spearheading ambitious nationwide campaigns that are all too often thwarted at the local level, partly because local priorities clash with national ones...

"The tug of war between localities and the central government also shows the limits of China’s ability to impose change on a vast, unruly country by edict, while exposing the weaknesses of a one-size-fits-all approach to reform in a country where regional economic disparities are rapidly growing..."

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Seeing statistics

Last week in Denver, I was reminded of the remarkable Gapminder.

I mentioned it here in June 2006 when Patrick O'Neil pointed it out. It was the first I'd heard of it.

The Gapminder World is an extensive collection of animated graphs illustrating how two sets of statistics interact and change over time. You can choose from 16 categories and see the relationships between 1976 and 2002. You can also choose what regions or countries you want to highlight and label.

There are ten presentations, called GapCasts, available on the Gapminder web site.

If you want a presentation on Human Rights Trends, there's one of those available too.

You can also find a video of an amazing presentation using Gapminder that is a superb demonstration of what's possible. The presentation by Hans Rosling at the 2006 TED conference, has been a hit on YouTube. Show it to your students before you send them to Gapminder to create their own presentations.

This presentation is described as "Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called "developing world" using extraordinary animation software developed by his Gapminder Foundation. The Trendalyzer software (recently acquired by Google) turns complex global trends into lively animations, making decades of data pop.

"Asian countries, as colorful bubbles, float across the grid, toward better national health and wealth. Animated bell curves representing national income distribution squish and flatten.

"In this video, a gifted speaker and fascinating animated data provide an inspiring view on common misconceptions about global trends (life expectancy, child mortality, poverty rates). In Rosling's hands, they become clear, intuitive and even playful."

While I'm on the topic of presenting statistics, I want to mention WorldMapper

Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest.

There are 366 maps, which are also available as PDF posters.

It's another way of presenting data that helps us all comprehend what the numbers mean.

And one more. Visualizing Economics.

Visualizing Economics is a web site/blog by Catherine Mulbrandon and displays data about the US economy using easy-to-understand graphics. (Her interpretation of the statistics is fully informed by her undergraduate studies of economics at the University of Chicago.)

Okay, it is US economic statistics, but there are two reasons for comparativists to look at it.
  • First, there are bits of the US economy that are relevant to the study of other countries.
  • Second, the design of the presentation might give you or your students ideas about how to present other statistics.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

The protest goes on

Political rallies that regularly attract 100,000 people would seem newsworthy. But I haven't seen anything about them since the months immediately after the last Mexican election. But this article from the San Diego Union Tribune indicates that the latest rally was the first to draw under 100,000.

Catholic Church closes cathedral indefinitely after protesters storm building during Mass

"Mexico City's famous cathedral was closed Monday after protesters raided the building, and church officials said they wouldn't reopen it until city authorities guarantee its security.

"Dozens of supporters of former leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador stormed the church bordering the capital's central square on Sunday...

"The protesters shouted slogans against Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who they claim has become involved in politics, something clerics are forbidden to do by Mexican law...

"López Obrador has declared a government-in-resistance and encouraged followers not to recognize President Felipe Calderón...

"At the Sunday rally of under 100,000 – the smallest crowd López Obrador has drawn in a series of mass meetings in the Zocalo since 2006 – he called on Mexico's government to invest $36 billion to combat oil declining reserves."

Latin American bishops ask cardinal to reopen Mexico City cathedral

"Latin American bishops are urging church officials to reopen Mexico City's famous cathedral, which was closed five days ago after more than 100 protesters barged into the cavernous building and interrupted Sunday Mass..."

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Simon Tisdall's op-ed piece at The Guardian (UK), A singular vision, identifies the developing political system in Russia as Putinism.

It's a good, if pessimistic, description of changes in Russia since '04. It might be a good update to the textbook your students read.

A singular vision

"Vladimir Putin's version of democracy is so much less trouble than the real thing. No wonder it's fast becoming Russia's biggest political export.

"So well managed is Putin's "managed democracy" (aka 'sovereign democracy') that political opponents wonder aloud whether there is any point in having elections at all.

"That may be the next step. But for now, the Duma polls are a test bed, of sorts, for March's presidential elections...

"Putinism, as the managed democracy phenomenon is coming to be known, depends on firm central control of all the main levers of power and influence - and is thus not dissimilar to some Soviet era 'isms' of varying respectability. According to Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister, the system has been gradually refined since 2004, when Putin won re-election.

"'Increased regulation of political parties, civil society and NGOs, the cancellation of elections for regional governors, changes to the Duma election procedures, and raising the threshold for parties to win parliamentary seats are all measures that have advanced this cynical approach,' Kasyanov said...

"Just as Russia once exported Marxist revolution, it may now be creating an international market for Putinism. While the western democracies have grown vociferous in their criticism of Russia's subversive state, 'managed democracy' is gaining a growing number of fans elsewhere...

"More often than not, instinctively undemocratic, oligarchic and corrupt national elites find that an appearance of democracy, with parliamentary trappings and a pretence of pluralism and transparency, is much more attractive, and manageable, than the real thing.

"Putinism, as it is now evolving, fundamentally challenges American assumptions that the 21st century will see the inevitable triumph of 'western values'. In Putin's controlled, shuttered world, liberal democracy is a plot, not an opportunity. He will certainly 'win' next month's election battle. And his brainchild could yet win the wider war."

See also:

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Ahmadinejad in hot water

This is a bit more than wishful thinking by the last shah's son.

Tehran paper attacks Ahmadinejad

"In a rare attack on Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardline newspaper has accused him of behaving immorally towards his political rivals.

"The Islamic Republic daily, close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has said Mr Ahmadinejad's behaviour is dangerous for Iran...

"The attack would be difficult to imagine without at least tacit support from Ayatollah Khamenei.

"In a hard-hitting editorial on Wednesday, the Tehran paper said the president's treatment of his critics was immoral, illogical and illegal.

"It was referring to a recent speech by Mr Ahmadinejad when he described people opposed to his nuclear programme as traitors and accused some senior former nuclear negotiators of spying for foreigners.

"The paper said Mr Ahmadinejad was using this tactic to discredit his political rivals prior to the parliamentary elections due early next year...

"Such a direct personal attack against President Ahmadinejad is indeed rare in official media in Iran.

"It shows that the Iranian president is not only losing support among ordinary people because of economic hardship, he is also angering part of the establishment for using the nuclear issue to bolster his personal power."

See the last dozen entries here about Iran. They are all about the politics going on among the top leaders in Tehran. I don't know yet whether that tells us more about what's going on or more about the narrative that journalists have pursued. We'll see.

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An Asian EU, perhaps

The Xinhua article says that Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) is to become "a rules-based legal entity like the European Union." If you offered the published description to your students, how long would it take them to notice what's missing from the ASEAN charter that would make it really resemble the EU?

Charter transforms ASEAN into legal entity like EU

Map from www.33ff.com

"In order to be more ready to face challenges, the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) signed a Charter on Tuesday, which transforms the ASEAN into a rules-based legal entity like the European Union...

"ASEAN leaders promised in the Charter to create a single market and production base with effective facilitation for trade and investment in which there is free flow of goods, services and investment...

"The Charter says peoples of the ASEAN member states are committed to intensifying community building through enhanced regional cooperation and integration...

"Appropriate dispute settlement mechanisms, the Charter says, including arbitration, will be established for disputes which concern the interpretation or application of the Charter and other ASEAN instruments...

"'In conformity with the purpose and principles of the ASEAN Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN human rights body,' the Charter says..."

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cross cultural celebrations

One of my students heard an old joke and was so enamored with it he asked me, "Do they have a 4th of July in England?"

There was nothing I could do but spoil his fun by answering, "Yes."

Then I asked him if they had Thanksgiving in England.

He didn't know. Neither did I.

That exchange went no further until today.

  • From the New York Times

    British Thanksgiving, February 27, 1872
    "The Day of Thanksgiving for the recovery of the Prince of WALES opened with salutes and the ringing of bells at sunrise. From an early hour the streets through which the procession was to pass were cleared of vehicles and pedestrians. The line of march to and from the Cathedral is seven miles."

  • From Yahoo! Canada
    "Do the British celebrate Thanksgiving?

    "The British do not have a one day holiday. They have a Church Festival where people bring food to celebrate and thank God for the harvest."

  • Harvest Festival In Russian Village

    "Real footage from the village on the bank of Volga river!!! How peasants selebrates the harvest. That was really nice experience for me!!!"

  • Chinese "Thanksgiving Day" proposed to boost interpersonal harmony

    "2005-03-10 A member of China's top advisory body has proposed a Chinese Thanksgiving Day, a public day to boost harmony among the people."

  • Harvest Moon Festival in China

    "The Chinese Harvest Moon Festival is celebrated on the15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar in honor of the harvesting of the rice and wheat crops. At this time the moon is at its brightest. This is thought to be the birthday of the moon and Chang-O, a woman who flew to the moon and can be seen when the moon is full, is honored."

  • Iranian Grape Festival

    "Celebrating the festivals at harvest is prominent all over the world. Thus Iranians, besides the national and calendar celebrations have held many joyful festivals at the time of taking crops. One of these popular festivals is the harvest festival of grape which has been held from a long time ago in Qazvin."

  • Mexican Harvest Festival

    "A tradition held in Mexico is The Tree of Life which features in the folk art of Mexico. The story behind this belief was that the spirit of the trees could be captured by making use of bark and branches. Bark paper was made and turned into magic dolls. Harvest scenes painted on the bark paper were a must. Today, colorful models of the Tree of Life are displayed. The displays tell the story of Adam and Eve. The trees decorate churches in Mexico. A ceremony is held when a new tree is placed in a church."

  • The Benin Festival

    "This ceremony takes place at the end of the rainy season, after the harvest has been gathered. It is partly a kind of harvest festival but also serves another purpose - eligible young men and women of the village are displayed before each other to be ritually acquainted..."

  • Nigerian Harvest Festival

    "In Nigeria one festival that is held is the Argungu fishing festival, held for several days during the months of February and March near Sokoto.

    "The festival marks the end of the growing season and the time for harvest. A one mile stretch of the Argungu River is protected throughout the year, so that the fish will be plentiful for this 45-minute fishing frenzy that is done to mark this festival and men fight each other for the fish once the allotted time is over the fish that is biggest is offered to the organizers. Also there are canoe races and diving competitions that go on as well."


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

External influences on policy making and institutions

Can Mexican politicians afford to accept help from the U.S.?

U.S. Anti-Drug Plan Would Recast Legal System in Mexico

"The Bush administration's proposed counternarcotics aid package for Mexico would set in motion a vast reengineering of the country's justice system, revamping the legal education process, creating a network of court clerks and helping to write new laws, according to two summaries obtained by The Washington Post.

"The $500 million plan would also fund anti-drug and human rights campaigns and new citizen complaint centers. It would provide money for efforts to develop 'centers of moral authority" and for media campaigns to create "a culture of lawfulness.' ...

"Nearly every sector of Mexico's federal justice system would receive a slice of the proposed aid, with millions being doled out for equipment and training for prosecutors, federal police, prison managers and customs inspectors...

"About 40 percent of the aid package would go to the Mexican military...

"The plan proposes helping to 'develop appropriate legislation,' which some analysts believe could be perceived as an attempt by the United States to dictate Mexican laws. It also calls for U.S. officials to help develop 'substantive legislation on forfeiting assets that have been used to commit crimes or which are the proceeds of crime.'...

"The documents include unusually blunt criticisms of Mexico, with one declaring that 'there is widespread popular distrust within Mexico for its law enforcement institutions.'

"In justifying $15 million for training prosecutors and developing a system of court clerks, the document states that 'the current court management system is inefficient and ripe for corruption.'

"Corruption is a theme that runs throughout the plan..."

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Through the looking glass

Into the wonderland of Chinese politics. Here's an opportunity to give your students access to a primary source and to ask them to explain the discrepancies between official policy and political reality.

All these links are to Xinhua sites.

China issues first ever white paper on political party system

"The Information Office of the State Council of China on Thursday issued the country's first ever white paper on its political party system, systematically summarizing the political party system with Chinese characteristics...

"Zhuang Congsheng, director of the Research Office under the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said... 'the fact that not too many people know well China's political party system has caused some misunderstanding. The white paper will help the international community learn the historical background, features, advantages, values and functions of China's multi-party cooperation system.'...

"The white paper would also help Chinese, especially young Chinese understand the political party system, so as to better adhere to the system, said Professor Zhen Xiaoying, of the Central Institute of Socialism..."

See also

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Time to teach reading

Miguel Centellas teaches political science (including comparative politics) at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

He recently wrote in his blog, Pronto, "I’ve had trouble getting some of my students (in a 200-level political science course on 'Democracy & Democratization') to engage in the semester readings. So finally I decided put together a handout to walk them through a single article."

HIs well-done worksheet is available for downloading at the blog site.

Okay, maybe you don't want your students to read Wendy Hunter's "Brazil's New Direction" from the Journal of Democracy. But this worksheet is eminently adaptable to your purposes.

It reminds me of the 35 questions I once wrote to help my students recognize and understand the important ideas and implications in a two-page excerpt from Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

Students really do need this kind of instruction, and the sooner they begin learning and practicing intelligent reading, the better.

Centellas' worksheet is based on an excellent bit of instruction by Timothy Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore, How to Read in College

"The first thing you should know about reading in college is that it bears little or no resemblance to the sort of reading you do for pleasure, or for your own edification..."

Great ideas to help your students and to help you.


Campaign reform in Mexico

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Mexico's campaign reform legislation. There's no question it's change, but are these reforms progress?

Mexican electoral reform becomes law, bans paid TV and radio advertisements

"A broad electoral reform that bars political parties from paying for radio and television advertisements became law Tuesday after it received Mexican President Felipe Calderón's approval.

"The law was published in the government's official registry. Congress has 30 days to approve companion legislation and to replace all board members of the semiautonomous Federal Electoral Institute that oversees Mexico's elections.

"Approved by Congress in September and later by a majority of Mexico's 31 states, the law requires television and radio stations to broadcast free political ads for up to 48 minutes a day. It also puts a six-month cap on presidential campaigning and prohibits political parties from insulting institutions and candidates.

"The political-ad provision has infuriated the powerful broadcast industry, and some intellectuals have expressed concern that the wholesale removal of the electoral institute's members will threaten its independence..."

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Change in China

One of the participants in the teachers' workshop on Saturday in Denver, recommended the video series, China in the Red.

Somehow I'd missed that one. It's from Frontline.

"Filmed over the course of three turbulent years, China in the Red is a two-hour documentary that tells the stories of 10 Chinese individuals -- factory workers, rural villagers, and a millionaire entrepreneur -- caught up in China's dramatic, ongoing effort to modernize its economy. Through their intimate personal stories, camera work capturing the unique feel of their cities and homes, and with a soundtrack that includes Chinese rock music reflecting the rawness and energy of a nation in great flux, "China in the Red" offers a view of China that is rarely seen in the West."

It's from the 2000-2003 period, so I doubt that there's much out of date in it.

You can view the whole thing online.

And there's a teacher's guide.

There's also a web page of Links and Readings.

It's available as VHS for $20 from PBS.

or as a DVD for $30.

The programs sound great and the teaching guide looks useful.

If you have experience with these videos, let us know. Use the comment link below or send me an e-mail.

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If extended investigative detentions don't rile the Tories in Britain, the Foreign Minister's speech about the future of the EU will.

EU 'should expand beyond Europe'

"[UK] Foreign Secretary David Miliband has suggested the European Union should work towards including Russia, Middle Eastern and North African countries...

"It could be a "model power of regional co-operation" dedicated to free trade, the environment and tackling extremism...

"[H]e said the EU had the chance to be a 'model power' which could develop shared values between countries.

"'As a club that countries want to join, it can persuade countries to play by the rules, and set global standards. In the way it dispenses its responsibilities around the world, it can be a role model that others follow.'...

"He outlined four principles for the 'next generation' of Europe, for it to remain open to 'trade, ideas and investment', to develop shared institutions to overcome religious and cultural divides, to prevent conflict by championing international law and human rights in and outside Europe, and to become a "low carbon power'.

He said a successful EU must be prepared to 'deploy soft and hard power to promote democracy and tackle conflict beyond its borders'..."

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The liberal Conservatives

The Tories Find Their Inner Liberal

"'NO free man shall be taken, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we pursue him or send after him, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.' That’s what the Magna Carta declared in 1215. In other words, the king couldn’t put a man in prison and throw away the key without a trial.

"Now, however, the British are in the midst of a political scrimmage about how long suspects can be 'taken' and held without charges...

"And who is proposing the extension? The ruling Labor Party... And the opposition? The Conservative Party, which has traditionally accused Labor of being soft on crime..."

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Ironies of globalization

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to be up early preparing to lead a workshop for teachers of comparative government and politics, so I might not have a chance to offer a new entry here. So, I'm adding these gems from Denver, Colorado tonight.

What I found are two examples of globalization's influence on government and politics. The pairing seems highly ironic to me. How would your students react?

This one has to do with legal systems and libel laws. A Saudi banker, an American journalist, and an English court. It might be a good opportunity for students to discuss the links created by globalization.

From The Guardian (UK):

US author mounts 'libel tourism' challenge

"A ferocious attack on the 'chilling effect' of the English law of libel and its use by wealthy 'foreign tourists' will be mounted in a top US court today, with backing from organisations that represent a majority of the world's media.

"The case is being brought in the New York state court of appeals by an American academic, Rachel Ehrenfeld, against one of the richest men in the world, the Saudi investment banker Khalid bin Mahfouz. Her lawyers describe it as the most important first amendment - free speech - case in the past 50 years.

"A ferocious attack on the 'chilling effect' of the English law of libel and its use by wealthy 'foreign tourists' will be mounted in a top US court today, with backing from organisations that represent a majority of the world's media.

"The case is being brought in the New York state court of appeals by an American academic, Rachel Ehrenfeld, against one of the richest men in the world, the Saudi investment banker Khalid bin Mahfouz. Her lawyers describe it as the most important first amendment - free speech - case in the past 50 years.

"Ehrenfeld's 2003 book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed - and How to Stop it, alleged that Mahfouz and his two sons financed al-Qaida through the family's ownership of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia and through connections with Islamic charities. In 2004, Mahfouz won a default defamation judgment against her in the high court by the leading libel judge, Mr Justice Eady. He awarded damages and costs against her estimated at £110,000..."

Xenophobia destroys EU's ultra-rightwing MEP group

"Europe's first international grouping of neo-fascists, extreme nationalists and ultra-rightwingers collapsed in disarray yesterday, with its members incapable of overcoming the nationalist hostilities pitting them against one another.

"The Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty grouping of MEPs from Italy, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Britain in the European parliament fell apart in acrimony because of the disputes between Italy and Romania over immigration and crime.

"This week Alessandra Mussolini, the Italian neo-fascist, MEP and granddaughter of the Italian dictator, declared that all Romanians were criminals, triggering outrage among MEPs from Romania's extreme Greater Romania party. Five quit the ITS caucus in protest, meaning that the transnational club failed to muster the 20 MEPs needed to qualify as a caucus in the European parliament and to benefit from funding and perks...

"Ashley Mote, previously of the UK Independence party and currently serving a prison sentence for benefit fraud, was the sole British member of the caucus.

"The caucus linked France's National Front with Italy's neo-fascists, a former disciple of Jörg Haider, the Austrian nationalist, and xenophobes from Romania and Bulgaria. But the grouping struggled to hold together, not least because of mutually antagonistic nationalisms..."

Rule of law in China

If you need a concrete sign that the rule of law is becoming reality in China, here it is.

However, we might call it the rule of lawsuit. It's a way of making everyone able to enforce the law.

If you want legal advice, call Dan Harris at Harris & Moure. If you want good examples of how to promote the rule of law, read the blog entry. What kind of political consequences would your students predict?

Dan Harris wrote in China Law Blog, China's New Labor Law -- It's A Huge Deal. Huge I Tell You.

"Everything is going to change on January 1, 2008, for employers in China... That is the day China's new labor law goes into effect and if you have employees in China... you absolutely must take various steps to get into compliance AND to avoid being sued. And you better start taking those steps now...

"The new labor law is going to apply to all employers, no matter how few employees (even one!) they might have. It is going to require all labor contracts be in writing... Employees can claim double salary for months worked without a contract for up to 12 months’ salary... Expect a whole slew of lawsuits to be filed on January 1, 2009, by employees seeking double damages for the 12 months they just completed without a contract.

"It is also going to require all employers maintain a written employee handbook setting out the basic rules and regulations of employment. Without an employee handbook, employers will be essentially unable to fire anyone..."

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Replacing the barefoot doctors

Xinhua reports on progress in bringing medical insurance to rural China.

A Chinese government photo of a barefoot doctor, probably from the time of the Cultural Revolution. An acquaintance of ours served as a barefoot doctor in the early 1970s before coming to the U.S. to attend college.

Medical cooperatives expand to 85% of rural residents

"China's rural cooperative medical insurance system, initiated in 2003 to offer farmers basic health care, has expanded to cover more than 85 percent of rural residents, China's health ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an said on Monday...

"The four-year-old scheme, seen by many as a way to help Chinese farmers with virtually no medical insurance, requires a participant to pay 10 yuan (1.3 U.S. dollars) a year. State, provincial, municipal and county governments supply another 40 yuan (5.2 U.S. dollars) per person to the fund...

"Mao said that 35.3 billion yuan (about 4.77 billion U.S. dollars) was pooled by the fund in the first nine months of this year.

"The fund paid out about 22 billion yuan during the same period in reimbursements, Mao said. About 84.7 percent of the money went to in-patient charges and about 13.44 percent for out-patient services...

"Under a five-year (2006-2010) government health plan released on June 7, the cooperative healthcare network will cover all rural residents by the end of 2010."

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iranian politics on display (sort of), part 2

Iranian hardliners accuse former nuclear negotiator of leaking secrets to UK embassy

"Two days after the Iranian president denounced critics of his hardline nuclear policy as 'traitors', Hossein Mousavian, a moderate who favours compromise over Iran's dispute with the west, was accused by the country's intelligence chief of supplying classified information to 'foreigners'.

"In a move that raised the ante inside Iran, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the intelligence minister, said he believed Mousavian - a former ambassador to Germany and associate of the former president Hashemi Rafsanjani - had betrayed national security. Mousavian... has become a proxy struggle between radicals supporting Ahmadinejad and pragmatists favouring negotiation...

"The attacks on Mousavian appear to be part of a broader offensive against a coalition of pragmatic conservatives and reformists allied to Rafsanjani, who has emerged as a rallying figure for opponents of the hardline president. Rafsanjani, chairman of the experts' assembly, an important clerical body, has warned that Ahmadinejad's confrontational rhetoric risks pushing Iran into a military confrontation with the US...

"On Monday, Mousavian was present while Rafsanjani criticised the government's policies at a conference on national unity..."

See also: The Guardian's list of links for news about Iran

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Iranian politics on display (sort of)

In a system with little transparency, it's difficult for anyone who is not an insider to determine what's going on. Robert Tait, Guardian (UK) reporter in Tehran tries his hand at identifying the parties and the issues in Iran.

Ahmadinejad steps up rhetoric against critics at home with threat to expose 'traitors'

"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, raised domestic tensions over the country's nuclear policy to higher levels yesterday by labelling his opponents 'traitors' who are working for the west and threatened to expose them in a political witch-hunt.

"In an offensive that exposed the fissures within the Islamic republic's power structure, he accused 'domestic elements' of seeking to sabotage Iran's uranium enrichment programme and said they had inflicted more damage than its foreign enemies...

"The president did not name the alleged culprits but his comments appeared directed at a circle close to Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and powerful establishment figure, who has accused Mr Ahmadinejad of endangering the country with his confrontational rhetoric.

"Ahmadinejad's remarks coincided with a call from Rafsanjani for national unity in the face of 'very serious' external threats. In an apparent reference to his differences with the president, Rafsanjani said 'division' existed inside Iran but internal conflicts could destabilise the country..."

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reviving the classics

Tomorrow is a travel day. So, here's a bit of Chinese political culture tonight. Perhaps you could ask your students to trace the ups and downs of Confucius' popularity since the Chin dynasty until now. Or maybe just since 1949.

Harmonious Confucius to promote harmonious society.

China to make Confucius cartoon series

"Two Chinese media firms have signed an agreement with the Chinese Confucius Foundation to make a cartoon series on the ancient philosopher's life and teachings...

"'The cartoon aims to make Confucius and his philosophy well known and better understood in a form with popular appeal,' said a spokesman of the Chinese Confucius Foundation.

"Confucius, born in 551 B.C., founded Confucianism, a philosophy featuring harmony and peace..."

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Less popular president in Mexico

Calderón has approval ratings that some presidents would love to have.

Mexican president's approval rating sinks due to increase in petroleum taxes

"President Felipe Calderón's approval rating dropped modestly in the past few months, partly because of an unpopular hike in gas prices that will go into effect next year, according to a poll published Monday.

"Calderón's approval rating sank 7 percentage points, from 64 percent in August to 57 percent this month, according to the survey, conducted by the private firm Ipsos-Bimsa for the Mexican newspaper El Universal...

"Just under a thousand people were interviewed in person from Oct. 26-31 for the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points."

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Election observers and legitimacy

Would you encourage international elections observers for U.S. elections?

European election observer attacks Russian poll rules

"A senior member of Europe's main human rights body launched an outspoken attack on Russia's elections yesterday...

"'We were repeatedly informed... that the ruling party almost fully controls the airwaves...' he told a news conference in Moscow.

"[He] was perturbed that the Kremlin had changed the threshold for entering parliament from 5% to 7%... [and] criticised the 'rather complicated' registration process.

"Only 11 out of 85 parties that wanted to stand in the December 2 poll had been allowed to do so... with almost all of Russia's democratic opposition kept off the ballot paper.

"The Kremlin has already indicated that international observers are not welcome at next month's poll...

"But Russia's election chief, Vladimir Churov, shrugged off western concerns. 'Tell me where in any international or internal [Russian] document it is written that the legitimacy of the elections depends on the number of international observers,' he said on Tuesday."

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanks for a fitting reference

As you can tell from what appears here, I make a habit of scanning newspaper headlines. So, I'm grateful for this suggestion.

Sanford Silverburg sent me a reference to indekx, Newspapers and Magazines on the Internet. It's a new collection of links to newspapers and magazines from all over the world. The interface is an attractive world map. You do have to recognize the flag of the country you're interested in. Clicking on a country's flag brings up a page of publications' logos from that country, including some I hadn't seen before.

The choices are limited so far, but it seems to be a great beginning. If students react better to visuals than to lists of names, this will help.

For a long time, I've relied on the extensive lists of newspapers from the Internet Public Library. These are lists of names. No graphics here, but you don't have to know what a country's flag looks like. The lists are not updated as often as I would like, but I haven't volunteered to help.

If I can't find what I'm looking for on the IPL lists, I check out similar links listed at Online Newspapers. Once again, things on the Internet change more rapidly than list editors can modify things.

So, if you can't find valuable articles at Indekx, try the IPL or Newspapers Online. And now there are alternatives to suggest to students as they do research. Send them off to find out what the domestic press is saying about things political.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reform or someone else to pay off?

What are the most likely results of the new endeavors reported by Xinhua?

Secret inspections to benefit plight of Chinese farmers

"Six departments of China's State Council are to make "secret inspections" to ensure local authorities are implementing policies to ease the financial burden of farmers.

"According to Friday's People's Daily newspaper, the inspection groups... will mainly target the provinces of Anhui, Sichuan and Jiangsu and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region...

"If problems are spotted, inspection groups will ask the local government to rectify its wrongdoing. If cases are serious, the responsible persons will be disciplined,

"The Chinese government has vowed to build a harmonious society and is committed to reducing the economic burden of farmers and improving their lives..."

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ken Saro Wiwa

Because of the references to the politics and conflict in the Niger delta, it is particularly appropriate to mark the anniversary of the death of Ken Saro Wiwa.

This article is from The Tide, one of the Nigerian dailies published by Rivers State Newspaper Corporation. (Since it is funded by the state government, the news coverage is more inclined towards the interests of the people of Rivers State.) Interestingly, this editorial was available online, but the rest of today's newspaper was not.

Ken Saro Wiwa: Twelve years after

"Twelve years after the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni compatriots by the Abacha Military junta, for daring to raise awareness on the development neglect in the oil rich Niger Delta, there are still unsettling questions in the Niger Delta nay Nigeria.

"Contrary to the intentions of his tormentors to permanently put to rest his fiery advocacy against the forces of oppression and indigenous colonialism, Ken continue to hunt them from his grave with endless reverberations of the need for the Nigerian state to respond to the imperatives of justice...

"Perhaps most of Nigeria problems today is because it haunted and killed its most patriotic and dedicated sons and daughters whose perception of the Nigerian state was grossly misconstrued.

"Consequently, a society that kills its best brains over flimsy accusations and excuses remains bereaved and widowed till the end of the age, and for Nigeria it will take time to replace personalities like Ken Saro Wiwa...

"Today, the neglect of the plight of the Niger Delta has turned the oil rich region to a threatre of unresolved crisis. Worse still criminal elements have taken advantage of the situation to perfect acts of strategic deception.

"As we mark the 12 anniversary of the death of this great man of our times, there is need among every stakeholder to ponder over the most practical solutions to the development crisis in the embattled Niger Delta.

"This no doubt will make Nigeria breath the air of justice."

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Fragile Nigeria

After reading about the political violence in the south south, it's not surprising to see Nigeria labeled a "fragile state."

Vanguard (Lagos) noted that once again Nigeria: World Bank Lists Country As 'Fragile State'

"THREE years after the World Bank characterised and listed Nigeria as a fragile state, the country remains so listed in a 2007 study report alongside Burundi, Cambodia, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Kosovo (territory) and Lao PDR...

"In its recent report on engaging fragile states by its study group, the bank said: 'As defined by the World Bank, all fragile states are characterised by weak policies, institutions, and governance.'

Fragile states, the report said, are: 'Home to almost 500 million people, roughly half of whom earn less than a dollar a day...'

"'Poor governance and extended internal conflicts are common among these countries, which all face similar hurdles: weak security, fractured societal relations, corruption, breakdown in the rule of law, and lack of mechanisms for generating legitimate power and authority...

"'Past international engagement with these countries has failed to yield significant improvements, and donors and others continue to struggle with how best to assist fragile states... [which] are characterised by weak policies, institutions, and governance...'..."

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Grassroots lobbying in the EU

MEPs get taste of people power

"European politicians have to deal with a lot of funny questions, but here is one of the funniest: why, they were asked, are tomatoes in Greece watching television?

"It was a problem noticed by a Greek farmer, who was so concerned he decided to take it to the European Parliament Petitions Committee.

"It is an enshrined right of any European citizen to bring forward a petition to the parliament and, if judged admissible, it will be taken very seriously indeed.

"The farmer's complaint was that all Greek electricity bills contain a payment towards the television licence, regardless of what the electricity is being used for. But why, the farmer asked, should he pay this portion when he was using electricity solely to heat a shed of tomatoes?...

"The committee encourages the petitioners themselves to come to the meetings to present their cases...

"With an ever increasing flow of petitions from 27 countries, the committee has its work cut out listening to the whinges of Europeans.

"From funeral directors in Portugal complaining about unfair competition, to pensioners in Hungary who feel they are paying too much to use the public baths, it seems everyone has an axe to grind..."

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Friday, November 09, 2007

More on Niger delta "terrorism"

Lydia Polgreen, wrote in The New York Times about her latest observations from Port Harcourt, the major city in the delta. Most of the examples she cites are from August. That's not an unusual delay for reporting in the US about ongoing events in places like the Niger Delta.

Gangs Terrorize Nigeria’s Vital Oil Region

"The violence that has rocked the Niger Delta in recent years has been aimed largely at foreign oil companies, their expatriate workers and the police officers and soldiers whose job it is to protect them...

"But these days the guns have turned inward, and open battles have erupted with terrifying frequency on the pothole-riddled streets of this ramshackle city. The origins of the violence are as murky and convoluted as the mangrove swamps that snake across the delta, one of the poorest places on earth. But they lie principally in the rivalry among gangs, known locally as cults, that have ties to political leaders who used them as private militias during state and federal elections in April, according to human rights advocates, former gang members and aid workers in the region.

"'What is happening now cannot be separated from politics,' said Anyakwee Nsirimovu of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Port Harcourt. 'The cults are part and parcel of our politics. They have become part of the system, and we are paying in blood for it.'...

"Since democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, politicians across the country have used cults to intimidate opponents and rig votes. A Human Rights Watch report published in October concluded that the political system was so corroded by corruption and violence that, in some places, it resembled more a criminal enterprise than a system of government. The April elections were so brazenly rigged in some areas and so badly marred by violence that international observers said the results were not credible.

"Nowhere is political violence more severe than here in the Niger Delta, where control over state government means access to billions of dollars in oil revenues and control of enough patronage for an army...

"One powerful gang leader, Soboma George, was given the lion’s share of patronage... [O]ther gangs resented Mr. George’s growing influence and control over lucrative security contracts, and a war between them has turned increasingly bloody. Caught in the middle have been all kinds of civilians...

"The government says it is cracking down on gangs, and it has sent an elite army unit into Port Harcourt and the surrounding areas to impose law and halt the violence. The gunplay in the city streets has since died down, but it is a tense, uneasy calm...

"Many residents worry that rivalries may soon heat up again. On Oct. 25 a judicial panel removed the new governor of Rivers State, Celestine Omehia, ruling that he had not been an eligible candidate because he did not win his party’s primary. The winner of the primary, Rotimi Amaechi, was sworn in as governor, and many worry that violent clashes will ensue between their supporters..."

See also

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

A failure of European soft power?

A European think tank, co-chaired by Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, asserts that Russian political power has overwhelmed European influence. Could the supply of Russian oil and gas to the West and the supply of Western cash to Russia have anything to do with this?

What assets does the EU have to counter Russian policy goals? What Russian policy-making assets counter those EU advantages? Would individual countries have more ability to challenge Russian policies? And how do these "contests" affect the politics within the European countries?

Iran Traynor, Europe editor of The Guardian (UK) reports:

Putin dictating agenda to EU, thinktank report says

"Europe has lost the plot in trying to cope with a resurgent Russia under President Vladimir Putin, who is dictating the agenda in his dealings with European capitals, according to a study published yesterday.

"The west's post-cold war policy of promoting democracy and westernisation in Russia has failed. 'That strategy is now in tatters,' said the 65-page report from the European Council on Foreign Relations. 'Today it is Moscow that sets the pace for EU-Russia relations. Russia [is] more powerful, less cooperative, and more intransigent. Russia's growing confidence has transformed the EU-Russia relationship.'

"As Moscow turns its back on the west and wields its UN security council veto to stymie western policy while holding Europe as its energy hostage, Brussels is flailing incoherently, the report found...

"The EU's economy is 15 times the size of Russia's and its population three times that of its neighbour, but Brussels finds itself consistently outwitted, the report said.

"The challenge posed by Mr Putin has come into sharp focus this year...

"There is scant agreement within the EU, the report found, between those who want to 'contain' Russia, and those, like the German Social Democrats with their preference for 'Ostpolitik', who seek to change Russia by integrating it in a web of 'interdependence' with the west.

"Mr Putin has gained the upper hand by a policy of divide and rule with the Europeans, bypassing Brussels, dealing with individual countries, and exploiting rifts between EU states. This 'systematic policy of coercive bilateralism' uses 'diplomatic pressure, trade embargos, transport blockades, renegotiation of gas or oil supply contracts. Moscow's readiness to use coercion in foreign policy has shifted the terms of the debate.'"

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Blogging on the road

I'm going to be on the road to Eugene, Oregon and Denver, Colorado for the next 10 days. I might not make regular blog entries during that time.

If you are anxious without daily entries here, check out the del.icio.us index of 626 blog entries.

Choose your own topic from among the more than 60 there.

Or, you can send me your suggestions for things you'd like to share with subscribers and readers.

Politics in Nigeria

This Day (Lagos) reported that the leadership crisis in the House of Representatives is far from over after the resignation of former Speaker Etteh. There are more than enough details here to provide students with an image of the complexity of Nigerian politics.

Nigeria: Crisis Looms Over Leadership Positions

"Trouble may not be over yet in the House of Representatives even with the election of new Speaker and Deputy Speaker as many lawmakers from the six geo-political zones are now engaged in fierce battles for House leadership positions.

"Last week, the House sacked the four principal officers and asked any of them who wished to come back to obtain a fresh mandate from his or her zone.

"The womenfolk is also pushing for the nomination of a ranking female legislator to take one of the principal officer's slots apprently because the female genre lost a high profile position with the fall of the former Speaker, Hon. Patricia Etteh..."

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It's all in the name

If Bryan Caplan (see previous post) thinks we need more rational voters, The Economist editors think that maybe we need better public relations for democracy.

This opinion piece would be a good discussion starter or writing prompt. What would your students say about these ideas?


The Economist's diarist wonders if freedom needs a new name.

"AT a conference session in Tallinn, chaired by your diarist, the big donors who support good causes in eastern Europe were puzzling over the question of whether it was better to train lawyers and journalists, to hand out grants to charities and campaigns, or to promote 'democracy' explicitly.

"Given that President Vladimir Putin calls himself a pure democrat (comparing himself in all seriousness to Mahatma Gandhi), it is clear that the word risks losing its meaning. Some might think that happened some years back. The Soviet-occupied zone of eastern Germany declared itself to be the 'German Democratic Republic'. The monsters in Pyongyang call their slave-state the 'Democratic People’s Republic of Korea'.

"Democracy also has specific (and largely negative) connotations in Russia. The myth assiduously stoked by the Kremlin is that the anarchy of the Yeltsin era proved that Western-style “democracy” (meaning a multi-party parliamentary system) did not work in Russia. Indeed, Russians sometimes use the punning term 'dermokratiya' (shitocracy) to express their distaste for the looting and weakness that those years have come to epitomise. Worse, the costly failure in Iraq has discredited, in many eyes at least, the whole idea of 'democracy promotion'. Pushing that hard in Russia risks backfiring.

"So maybe it would be better to use other terms: the rule of law, political freedoms, environmental awareness, public spiritedness (or in the jargon term, “civil society”). It is, after all, not what happens at elections that counts, but what goes on in-between them. Elections can only be rigged successfully when public and private institutions are too weak to object. “Democracy” alone does not prevent mob rule, winner-takes-all sectarian rivalries, and the rewarding of campaign contributions from the political pork barrel..."


Needed: better voters

Or, we don't need philosopher kings, we need economist kings.

I finally found out why I still had a July 16 copy of The New Yorker on my pile of things to read. Louis Menand wrote a snarky review of Bryan Caplan's book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. I'll be snarky enough to note that Menand and his editors got a word in the book's title wrong in the review, even though I'm probably more sympathetic to Menand's biases than to Caplan's.

This is one of those topics that will get students talking and thinking (well, at least talking). Manand's New Yorker article would be a good beginning, but if you search for alternatives on the web, they are plentiful.

Fractured Franchise: Are the wrong people voting?

"Why should anyone bother to vote? The chance that one vote will change the outcome of an election is virtually nil, and going to the polls involves a significant cost in time and opportunity. Presidential elections, in which more than a hundred million people vote, never turn on a single ballot. The lesson of the 2000 Presidential election was not 'Your vote can make the difference'; it was more like 'If you’re taking the trouble to vote, at least fill in the ballot correctly.' Yet many people do bother to vote. We praise these people, and we encourage non-voting citizens to follow their example. We tend to feel that political participation is an unmixed good, a symptom of civic health and virtue.

"Bryan Caplan, an economist who teaches at George Mason University, thinks that increasing voter participation is a bad thing...

"[E]conomists and political scientists have misunderstood the problem. They think that most voters are ignorant about political issues; Caplan thinks that most voters are wrong about the issues... [T]he system isn’t working properly—and it isn’t working properly because voters are poorly informed, or they’re subject to demagoguery, or special interests thwart the public’s interest. Caplan thinks that these conditions are endemic to democracy. They are not distortions of the process; they are what you would expect to find in a system designed to serve the wishes of the people. 'Democracy fails,' he says, 'because it does what voters want.' It is sometimes said that the best cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy. Caplan thinks that the best cure is less democracy...

"Even apart from ignorance of the basic facts, most people simply do not think politically...

"For fifty years, it has been standard to explain voter ignorance in economic terms...

"Caplan thinks that democracy as it is now practiced cannot be salvaged, and his position is based on a simple observation: 'Democracy is a commons, not a market.'...

"Caplan insists that he is not a market fundamentalist, but he does think that most economists peg the optimal level of government involvement in the economy too high, because they overestimate the virtues of democracy. He offers some suggestions for fixing the evils of universal democratic participation (though he does not spend much time elaborating on them, for reasons that may suggest themselves to you when you read them): require voters to pass a test for economic competence; give extra votes to people with greater economic literacy; reduce or eliminate efforts to increase voter turnout; require more economics courses in school, even if this means eliminating courses in other subjects, such as classics; teach people introductory economics without making the usual qualifications about the limits of market solutions. His general feeling is that if the country were run according to the beliefs of professional economists everyone would be better off... He wants to raise the price of voting..."

See also:

Monday, November 05, 2007

Alternate realities

When I read translations of Party policy statements from China, I feel like I'm vaguely in some kind of Alice in Wonderland place where fine sounding words are put together in ways that negate their usual meanings. Consider the messages in the first paragraphs of the following excerpt with the messages in the final paragraphs.

I know it's partly my own frame of reference and biases. And maybe it's partly the stiff, official translations. Maybe it's the tortured logic of democratic centralism. But the reading is almost always a mystical experience for me.

I think it's worth students' time and effort to work their way through at least one document like this.

This one, published by Xinhua, would be a good example.

I'd ask each student to summarize 3 or 4 main ideas from this document. Then I'd ask them to compare the main ideas they'd identified with the main ideas others found.

It would be wonderful to compare what American students identified as main ideas with the main ideas identified by Chinese students. Or the main ideas found by students from any other country. Now that would be a fascinating comparative exercise of a very unusual kind.

Senior CPC official expounds intra-Party democracy

"Li Yuanchao, head of the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), released an article in Thursday's People's Daily on how to push forward intra-Party democracy and strengthen Party unity.

"The article says intra-Party democracy is the lifeblood of the CPC. The development course of the Party has repeatedly proved that only when the intra-Party practices are fully fulfilled can the Party cause be prosperous and emerging problems be corrected in time. When intra-Party practices are weakened and destroyed, the Party cause will suffer defeat.

"The article calls for expanding intra-Party democracy. In the meantime, Party member's democratic rights should be safeguarded and their principal positions should be respected...

"Important decisions on the Party or the nation's significant affairs should be made after full intra-Party discussions. The leadership body should make resolutions after fully soliciting opinions from grassroots organizations. The grassroots Party organization should make decisions after soliciting opinions from Party members. Therefore, extensive participation and effective supervision of Party members to the Party affairs could be realized, the article says...

"The article says the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee should regularly report its work to plenary sessions of the Central Committee and accept its oversight; the standing committees of local Party committees at all levels should do likewise to plenary sessions of local Party committees and accept their oversight...

"The article also says Party unity is the lifeblood of the Party. 'All Party members must firmly uphold the centralized and unified leadership of the Party, conscientiously abide by the Party's political disciplines, always be in agreement with the CPC Central Committee and resolutely safeguard its authority to ensure that its resolutions and decisions are carried out effectively.'

"The article says all Party members must always be in accordance with the CPC Central Committee in guiding principles, work objectives and work deployment. Whatever the units and departments are, whoever the Party members are and wherever they are, they must resolutely follow the unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee."

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Hukou registration reform? Never mind.

Seems that the Danwei blog posting (that I quoted) overstated the case for the reform of the Hukou System. It was based on a Go Kunming blog post.

Check the whole Chinese Law and Politics Blog entry for more complete details.

Is Yunnan "Eliminating" the Hukou System?

"Short answer – no. At least one website has reported that recent reforms undertaken by the provincial government of Yunnan will "eliminate" the household registration (hukou) system. This isn't the case.

"The announced Yunnan reforms will eliminate the distinction between "agricultural" and "non-agricultural" hukou status, according to an October 25 Xinhua article. Similar reforms have been announced by a number of other provinces and municipalities. But they do not affect the requirement that migrants obtain local hukou in urban areas to receive public services and benefits on an equal basis with other urban residents..."

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Economic freedom - political authoritarianism

To some extent, every political culture is created by the choices people make. Sometimes those choices are more visible than others.

Dan Harris, in China Law Blog, writes, "What If Beijing Is Right? What If It Is Not?"

He points out Howard French's International Herald Tribune article, "Letter from China: What if Beijing is right?"

Harris writes, "French asks whether perhaps Beijing's government dominated way of running the economy might not just be the best way of all.

"The two page article is hugely positive on China and on how Beijing has been running things, but concludes without really answering its own question."

Then Harris quotes French, "And what is the answer? In most cases, one must confine oneself to the provisional voice, yet one based on a long record of human behavior and history. Based on that knowledge, the best we can say to these 'what ifs' today is: because things have never worked out that way before."

Harris' response is, "I do not believe Beijing is right. I believe China's thriving economy is due far more to its opening up than to government steering. I cannot prove this, nor can this be disproven.

"There will also come a time when Beijing will be wrong. That time will come when its own population becomes so wealthy it will no longer view the trading of political and social goods for economic goods as a fair exchange."

French's article is good and the topic is thought provoking. The comments added to Dan Harris' China Law Blog entry are also interesting. This all leads me to think that students would respond to this issue, too. After all, it's not just China where choices like this are being made: Russia, Nigeria, Iran, etc.

Check out both articles.

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Hukou registration

Danwei blog pointed me at this article, which might be a big deal in China.

Yunnan to dismantle current hukou system

"The Yunnan government has announced that beginning on January 1 of next year, Yunnan province will eliminate the current hukou registration system that essentially binds rural Yunnanese to their officially registered place of residence - often their place of birth or where their parents are registered. This reform of the system currently in use will enable millions to legally move and integrate into cities for the first time...

"Under the current hukou regime, employers of these people must pay the local government social security taxes for benefits which cannot legally be given to people without a Kunming hukou. Furthermore, children of couples that do not hold Kunming hukou are ineligible to attend school in Kunming...

"Beginning on New Year's Day 2008, the system of 'rural' and 'non-rural' hukou classification will be abolished throughout the province. Furthermore, applicants will be granted residential permits in their city of choice if they can provide proof of legal residence (such as an apartment lease) and if they can demonstrate that they have stable income...

"The new residential registration management system will not only cause populations of cities to grow via the absorption of these shadow populations into official population statistics, it will also facilitate the migration of more of Yunnan's rural populace into existing urban centers..."

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