Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 27, 2009

Political events

It's often difficult to know what events are political. If Putin's alleged enjoyment of a private ABBA-like concert can threaten the political reputation of a super-powerful guy, or if trying to bash a swimming rabbit with a boat oar can make a weakened president appear less powerful, who can tell?

The event described here is decidedly tragic, but the political ramifications are large.

Son’s Death Recasts Image of a British Leader

"Ivan Cameron was just 6, a boy with a lovely smile who was born with cerebral palsy and a severe form of epilepsy that deprived him of the ability to walk, talk or feed himself...

"Early Wednesday, when Ivan died... the news resonated deeply in Britain... For the first time in 15 years, the House of Commons canceled prime minister’s questions... and devoted the time instead to tributes to Ivan by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other party leaders.

"What made Ivan headline news at his death, and a topic of widespread public sympathy while he was alive, was that he was the oldest child of David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party and the man heavily favored by opinion polls to be Britain’s prime minister after an election that must be held by June 2010.

"But there was something more, and that was what the British public learned about Mr. Cameron and his wife, Samantha, through the prism of Ivan’s life.

"Many in Britain said those insights lent a powerful humanity to Mr. Cameron, who is Eton and Oxford educated, and his wife, the step-daughter of a viscount. This helped them shake the 'toff' image — the term is British slang for an upper-class person, often with sniffy views about the 'lower' classes — that might otherwise be fatal to Mr. Cameron’s chances of winning the keys to 10 Downing Street...

"On Wednesday, his death halted, for at least a day, the often acrimonious relationship between Mr. Cameron and Prime Minister Brown, who have made little secret of their antipathy for each other. Mr. Brown, too, lost a child — Jennifer, his first — in 2002 when she was only 10 days old.

"Mr. Brown, like Mr. Cameron, has two other small children, including a boy, Fraser, who has cystic fibrosis.

"Mr. Brown appeared deeply moved when he spoke in the House of Commons on Ivan’s death after personally intervening to have the scheduled round of prime minister’s questions called off..."

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cultural and economic change leading to political change?

It wouldn't be the first time that the Disney characters have been harbingers of change. There's a famous cartoon from the early '80s that shows Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Pluto labeled as the "new gang of four."

A Big Wall Falls in China to Make Room for Mickey

"HARBIN, China — For decades, locals in this frigid outpost south of Siberia shaved and chipped and hacked away at big blocks of ice to create China’s most popular wintertime tourist attraction.

"Rising among the barren trees, the sculptures of the Harbin Ice Lantern Festival took the shapes of iconic Chinese monuments: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, sacred Buddhist mountains.

"They took those shapes, that is, until this winter, when in sauntered Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Winnie the Pooh.

"What is perhaps the world’s most famous ice festival has become another of the world’s Disney theme parks, with a Disney licensing company taking over operations from the local Communist government. It is the first time a private company has run the ice festival...

"Local officials gave permission for the licensing company... to take over the festival for a fee...

"People coming to see more Chinese-themed sculptures now have to go to one of the two festivals north of the city, both run by the government or a state-owned enterprise..."

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An argument for transparency

The blogger "CareTaker" posted this on AfricaLoft.

Would your students agree with the thesis? How about Imnakoya's argument Nigeria: can we Wiki our elected officials? referred to at the end of CareTaker's post?

On Legislators’ Pay and Performance

"Daily Trust, Nigeria, takes a look at Nigerian legislators wondering if they are worthy of their pay: 'The two chambers of the National Assembly have little to show as achievements in the over two years since they were sworn-in. Presently, several bills, including the 2009 budget, still await endorsement by the legislators.'...

"And to expect the electoral reform committee to solve 'the performance issue' — as the newspaper has suggested — is to be in denial or just naive...

"Rather than looking at some VIP to proffer solutions that won’t work, why not empower those that have the answers and matter most — the people, the electorate — make the call? Are we not in a democracy?

"What I’m saying is give the people the means to assess — systematically and with little bias — the performance of their legislators. This is how to be empowered. This is how to nurture the electorate to face its responsibilities in a democratic setting...

"The more I look at this, the more it looks like the scorecard proposal that’s being discussing here."

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If economic policies don't make things better

Governments are preparing for civil unrest if economies don't recover soon. How would your students compare these cases? Could they find similar preparations in other countries they are studying?

Britain faces summer of rage - police: Middle-class anger at economic crisis could erupt into violence on streets

"Police are preparing for a "summer of rage" as victims of the economic downturn take to the streets to demonstrate against financial institutions, the Guardian has learned.

"Britain's most senior police officer with responsibility for public order raised the spectre of a return of the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming "footsoldiers" in a wave of potentially violent mass protests...

"The warning comes in the wake of often violent protests against the handling of the economy across Europe. In recent weeks Greek farmers have blocked roads over falling agricultural prices, a million workers in France joined demonstrations to demand greater protection for jobs and wages and Icelandic demonstrators have clashed with police in Reykjavik..."

China Fears Tremors as Jobs Vanish From Coast

"As the global economic crisis deepens and the demand for Chinese exports slackens, manufacturing jobs in the Pearl River Delta and all along the once-booming coast are disappearing at a stunning pace. Over the last few months, more than 20 million migrant workers have been cast into the ranks of the unemployed, depriving impoverished towns like Tanjia of the much-needed income the workers sent home...

"In a nation obsessed with social harmony, the well-being of China’s mobile work force has become the top priority for a government that has long seen its fortunes tied to those of the country’s 800 million rural dwellers. Mao’s revolution, after all, was fueled by embittered peasants, and it has not gone unnoticed in Beijing that decades of heady growth has fed a widening gap between urban residents and those who live in the rural interior.

"Although the government has not released updated information about rural unrest, officials have been strategizing about how best to keep large protests and riots from spreading, should the dispossessed grow unruly...

"To ameliorate the hardship of idled migrants, the central government has announced a series of initiatives that include vocational training, an expansion of rural health care and crop subsidies to ensure that those who return to the land can make a living despite a slump in agricultural prices. A $585 billion stimulus package introduced in November, much of it weighted toward labor-intensive construction projects, is also expected to absorb some of the newly unemployed..."

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Party disaffiliation

Senator Joe Lieberman's transition from Democratic Vice Presidential candidate to campaigner for Republican John McCain was a political embarrassment for Democrats in the US (and for Sen. Lieberman after McCain's loss).

Here's an embarrassment (and more) for Labour and PM Brown.

How would your students compare the Lieberman and Freud cases? How do the processes and results of the defections compare? What political and constitutional differences do the comparisons illustrate?

Labour's welfare reform chief defects to the Conservatives

"The architect of the government's controversial welfare reforms, David Freud, has defected to the Tories in an embarrassing blow for Gordon Brown.

"Conservative sources said David Cameron intended to put Freud forward for a peerage, then give him a frontbench post as a shadow welfare minister. The move is a coup for the Tories, harnessing not only Freud's expertise on the welfare system, but also his knowledge of the City - as a former investment banker - to beef up policy-making on the recession...

"First hired by Tony Blair, he is known to have fallen out with Gordon Brown and may provide the Tories with embarrassing ammunition against the prime minister..."

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reading for detail

I read many headlines and only a few articles. The problem with that practice is the potential for misunderstanding.

Here's my latest example. The excerpts here are not adequate to explain all the important details. If you ask your students to read the articles (maybe ask 4 groups of students to read one article each) and then compare the information they understood, I think they'll see the importance of reading details. They can also compare the sources of the information.

Iran has enough fuel for a nuclear bomb, report says

"Iran has enough nuclear fuel to build a bomb if it decides to take the drastic steps of violating its international treaty obligations, kicking out inspectors and further refining its supply, U.N. officials and arms control experts said Thursday.

"Iran has made no such gestures and has slowed its expansion of machinery producing nuclear fuel... according to a report issued Thursday by the International Atomic Energy Agency...

"The reports, the latest updates from the arms control watchdog for the United Nations, show that Iran had amassed about 2,227 pounds of low-enriched, or reactor-grade, nuclear fuel by late January. Physicists estimate that producing the 55 pounds or so of highly enriched, or weapons-grade, uranium needed for an atomic warhead requires 2,205 to 3,748 pounds of low-enriched uranium...

"By crossing the 2,205-pound threshold, experts say, Iran has improved its 'breakout' capacity, the ability to renege on treaty obligations, kick out inspectors and quickly build a bomb..."

IAEA finds no weapons-grade enriched uranium in Iran

"VIENNA, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its inspectors have not found that Iran is attempting to process low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade uranium, the Austrian Press Agency (APA) reported on Friday...

"The report quoted an anonymous IAEA expert as saying, 'If the Iranians intend to transport these uranium substances to a secret location for further processing, agency's inspectors will find out.'

"In a report submitted on Thursday to the United Nations Security Council, Mohamed El Baradei, director general of the IAEA, said Iran was still refusing to fulfill the UN's requirement of stopping its uranium enrichment activity.

"The report said Iran had so far produced around 1,000 kg of low-enriched uranium, an amount according to experts, was sufficient to produce weapons-degree enriched uranium with 95 percent purity required for one nuclear bomb..."

Iran Understates Uranium Stocks to IAEA: Diplomats

"Iran recently understated by a third how much uranium it had enriched and U.N. nuclear inspectors are working with Tehran to ensure such a significant gap does not recur, diplomats said Friday...

"An IAEA report Thursday showed a significant increase in Iran's reported stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) since November to 1,010 kg, which U.S. analysts said could be converted into enough high-enriched uranium for one bomb.

"Even then, the technical steps needed to 'weaponize' enrichment would probably take two to five years..."

Iran Easing Aspects Of Nuclear Program

"Iran appears to be putting the brakes on key aspects of its controversial nuclear program, U.N. officials said yesterday in a report that nonetheless showed Tehran edging closer to nuclear-weapons capability...

"'The pace of installing and bringing centrifuges into operation has slowed quite considerably since August,' a senior U.N. official said in briefing journalists on the new IAEA inspection report. The official, speaking on the condition that he remain anonymous, said the agency 'has no information' to explain the slowdown.

"Yet, the official said, while curtailing growth in some areas, Iran continues to amass enriched uranium and, in theory, may have already acquired enough to make a nuclear bomb. Such a move would require months or years of additional work, after Iran first expelled U.N. inspectors from the country, he said..."


Friday, February 20, 2009

Civil involvement of uncivil organizations

Mexico governor: Cartels behind northern protests

"Street protests against the army's presence in the northern city of Monterrey were organized by drug cartels in an apparent bid to disrupt the government's anti-drug crackdown, Mexican officials alleged Friday.

"Gov. Jose Natividad Gonzalez of Nuevo Leon state said this week's protests have snarled traffic in Mexico's third largest city, home to 3.7 million, and 'severely disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.'...

"The army said in a statement that it had detained the alleged protest organizer, Juan Antonio Beltran, and that he had acknowledged paying people 200 to 500 pesos ($14-$35) to participate.

"Beltran purportedly also handed out backpacks stuffed with school supplies – 71 of which were found in his truck – to entice youths..."

Drug Tie Seen to Protests in Mexico

"They kill. They bribe. They launder money. And now Mexico’s drug cartels may have their hands in a new activity: street protests.

"A wave of demonstrations protesting the presence of army troops has swept through towns and cities across northern Mexico in recent days. The protesters have temporarily blocked border crossings in Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and Ciudad Juárez and shut down parts of Monterrey, a major industrial hub in the northeast.

"Without providing evidence, the Mexican authorities say they see the hidden hand of traffickers in the splashy events...

"Mexican political parties have a long history of paying people to protest. The compensation can come in the form of a free lunch, cash or gifts. Those who turn out provide the outrage...

"Some Mexican newspapers have labeled the demonstrations 'narco-protests.' 'It’s a hypothesis you have to consider,' said Jorge Chabat, a security expert at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City. 'Someone is organizing these protests. They don’t seem spontaneous. Whoever the organizer happens to be is not showing their face.' A trafficker in Monterrey who was arrested last week initially acknowledged that he had helped organize the protests, the army said.

"Whoever is behind the demonstrations is tapping into widespread public discontent with the way Mr. Calderón’s government is waging its antidrug war..."

Marchers block US border to protest army presence

"Hundreds of people blocked bridges to the United States in three border cities Tuesday, demanding the army leave in another challenge for the Mexican government as it struggles to quell escalating drug violence...

"It was the largest display of discontent against the army's role in an anti-drug crackdown since President Felipe Calderon began deploying soldiers across the country two years ago to fight cartels. About 45,000 soldiers are now spread out across Mexico.

"Government and army officials claimed that drug cartels organized similar protests in Monterrey earlier this month to undermine the crackdown..."

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

European (dis)Union

This article could be the basis for an exercise asking students to identify impediments to making the EU work as envisioned by its founders.

Impairing the European Union, Gibe by Gibe

"The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, jokes about Nicolas Sarkozy’s desire to be Europe’s 'permanent chairperson.' Mr. Sarkozy, the president of France, says rather patronizingly of the Czechs, 'They’re doing what they can.'

"It may seem like a round of adolescent insults more suited to high school, but the bitterness between the last holder of the European Union presidency, France, and the current one, the Czech Republic, is damaging the alliance’s ability to cope with the severe economic crisis.

"The spat, which is both personal and political, highlights the divisions in the 27-nation group between larger countries and smaller ones, between more liberal-minded economies and more statist ones, between nations that use the euro and those that do not, and between Western Europe and Central Europe — so-called old Europe and new.

"The divisions are worsened by the global economic meltdown..."

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Comparative legal system

You could begin by polling students about the value of juries or asking them to make a list of pros and cons of juries. Then assign this Economist article and discuss any changes in their attitudes.

The jury is out

"European countries are restricting jury trials; Asian ones expanding them

"MARK TWAIN regarded trial by jury as 'the most ingenious and infallible agency for defeating justice that human wisdom could contrive'. He would presumably approve of what is happening in Russia and Britain. At the end of 2008, Russia abolished jury trials for terrorism and treason. Britain, the supposed mother of trial by jury, is seeking to scrap them for serious fraud and to ban juries from some inquests. Yet China, South Korea and Japan are moving in the opposite direction, introducing or extending trial by jury in a bid to increase the impartiality and independence of their legal systems..."

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A parade can't be planned in a day

Even symbols are important. And in dire economic times, national symbols might be more important than ever.

From the Xinhua, the official Chinese news service

China mobilizes army for National Day parade

"China's top military command has sent down an instruction to troops of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) selected for an unprecedented dress parade on National Day later this year.

"The parade, to be held on Oct. 1 to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, will involve more arms and weapons than all previous parades, said the instruction issued by the Central Military Commission on Tuesday.

"The instruction said that the parade, to be the highest level of its kind, will showcase the PLA's first-class organization, weapons systems, training results and 'spiritual outlook.'

"With less than eight months left for preparation and training, which is a shorter interval than previous parades, the Central Military Commission urged the chosen troops to 'fully understand the historical and realistic significance' of the dress parade to be viewed by Hu Jintao, chairman of the Central Military Commission...

"The instruction said the parade will promote national pride and self-confidence amid economic hard times.

"'As the international financial crisis is still spreading and there are still some critical problems in the domestic economy as well as many uncertainties in international society, holding such a parade will significantly increase the people's national pride and self-confidence,' it said."

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Here's a report from the Guardian (Lagos)

Opposition won't enjoy money raised by Agagu, says commissioner

"AN insight into why the Ondo State government decided to embark on massive award of what it termed 'monumental projects' just after the verdict of the election petition tribunal voiding Olusegun Agagu's election was given yesterday as the Commissioner for Finance, Tayo Alasoadura, said: 'We cannot allow the opposition to spend our hard-earned resources'.

"The commissioner, at a press conference to present a breakdown of the 2009 budget, said the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led state government had done enough financial engineering to raise the money in the state coffers and 'we will not fold our arms and watch some people expend the money on frivolities'.

"On July 25, 2008, the five-man Garba Nabaruma-led election petition tribunal unanimously nullified the declaration of Agagu as winner of the 2007 governorship election and declared that the petitioner and Labour Party (LP) candidate, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, was duly elected while citing several irregularities that characterised the poll...

" Accusing the opposition LP of 'trying to reap where it did not sow', Alasoadura said the aim of the opposition 'if they come on board is to empty the state treasury within a very short period of time'..."

Here's my translation. PDP governor Agagu's election was nullified by a court. But before the declared winner, LP candidate Dr. Mimiko could take office, the PDP administration spent N65 billion on public projects (that's about $400 million) because the money was PDP "hard-earned resources." The PDP people couldn't let the LP politicians "empty the state treasury."

I don't think you can find a better example of prebendalism.

Thanks to Imnakoya, who blogs at Grandiose Parlor.

See also:Prebendalism: Nigeria's Unique System of Corruption!

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Another end of the elephant

One of the problems of using journalistic reports when studying a nation-state's government and politics is the limited view journalists have. Rarely do they speak the language of the country they're working in. Often they only get to talk to people who are friendly to media and the journalist's native country. One old joke about foreign correspondents was that their beat rarely extended beyond a half day's travel from a good hotel and a bar. And some correspondents have biases to promote.

So, a single new story has to be seen as one, limited point of view. It's like one of the reports from the blind men describing an elephant.

Borzou Daragahi's report from Iran, published in the Los Angeles Times, strikes me as an example of the limits on reporters. That doesn't mean the observations are inaccurate or the interpretations are wrong. Given the themes other journalists have emphasized (anti-Americanism, nationalism, personalized politics), this one is an outlier. Perhaps Daragahi is more connected or more insightful, than the other reporters. Maybe he sat down in a very atypical restaurant and talked to some iconoclasts. Perhaps he's looking a different part of "the elephant." (Daragahi is an Iranian-American who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Iraq.)

Set along side other reports from Iran 30 years after the revolution, this does pose some interesting questions.

After 30 years, talk shifts from revolution to democracy

"It is in the rural areas where the country's most dramatic changes may be occurring, propelling religiously conservative communities from a sleepy semi-feudal past into the 21st century. The rapid transformation has changed the way people think and frame debates about their communities and their relationship to authority.

"'Thirty years ago, the dominant discourse was the concept of revolution,' said Hamid-Reza Jalaipour, a Tehran social scientist. 'But now the dominant discourse is democracy.'...

"Much of the political focus in Tehran these days concerns the looming election battle between reformists like former President Mohammad Khatami and hard-line conservatives like the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And in the big city centers, the social focus is on the friction between urban youth and women and the restrictive, fundamentalist clergy.

"In Iran's rural areas, in places like Absard, there is an inchoate sense of lost simplicity and of perplexity...

"[T]he tricky questions percolate quickly, spawning charged debates: Why are there no factories here to employ the young? Why are Afghan migrants taking all the jobs? Why is the countryside flooded with hard drugs -- heroin and crystal meth? How did a few get so rich while others stayed poor? How should they respond to the semi-pornographic images from the satellite TV dishes that now rest atop every other home..."

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Images of life in Nigeria

I'd ask my students to predict how the young men profiled in this BBC report and their customers would be involved in politics and how they might react to government actions.

On a more substantive note, I'd ask them to find out more about the issue of clean water and the government role in providing it. It's an issue that all governments have to deal with, so that would be the beginning of a comparative exercise.

The water vendors of Nigeria

"Isa earns a hard living pushing a heavy water cart around the rutted streets of the suburbs of Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

"He is one of tens of thousands of water vendors who deliver jerry cans full of water to houses built without any kind of sanitation...

"Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, and according to analysts has made over $1.1 trillion in revenues from the oil industry over the last 30 years; but most Nigerians still rely on people like Isa for their water...

"Isa pays around 10 naira ($0.07, £0.05) per jerry can at the borehole and sells for double that.

"He makes around 700 naira a day ($4.70, £3.20), to cover food and living costs.

"A large Nigerian family may need around 10 of these jerry-cans every day, customers say.

"That adds up to about $486 (£339) every year, a massive pressure on a country where the average person lives on $2 a day...

"The urban poor in developing world cities including Abuja pay much more for their water than citizens of rich cities such as New York or Tokyo...

"Virtually none of the suburbs of Nigeria's capital city have what is known here as "pipe-born water" provided by the government.

"Private individuals have to drill boreholes [wells] for themselves...

"John, a 25-year-old borehole manager, says the place he looks after in Nyanya Gwandara earns his boss 7,000 naira ($47, £32) a day.

"His customers are grateful.

"'We cannot wait for the government to do anything, we are relying on other wealthy people to dig boreholes,' says Janet Daniels, who lives in the area.

"She cannot afford to buy the water from the delivery boys, so comes every morning to the borehole to save money.

"She fills two 20-litre buckets every morning and carries them on her head back to her home...

"Abuja, like other cities in Nigeria, is rapidly growing.

"The government has fallen so far behind in providing water here, it may never catch up.

"Over the last year the price of a jerry-can of water has doubled..."

See also:

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Are human rights universal or conditional?

One of the better post-AP Exam experiences I had was the year that human rights had come up several times during the semester. And we were fortunate enough to find resources to research and sort out debates about human rights. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights differs significantly from the common US conception of human rights. And neither of those identical to the generally accepted ideas about human rights in China or Iran.

Here's a place to begin.

China Tells U.N. Panel That It Respects Rights

"United Nations delegates took China to task on its human rights record Monday, pressing officials about Tibet, labor camps, the death penalty, torture in custody and the treatment of dissidents, in a U.N. rights panel's first full review of the country's progress.

"The Chinese delegation, led by Ambassador Li Baodong, defended the government's treatment of citizens, telling the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that people in China are free to voice their opinions to the media and that the government opposes torture.

"In a report submitted before the proceedings, China emphasized that it believes human rights are related to economic growth. As standards of living have improved, it argues, so have political participation and the robustness of the judicial system.

"'China respects the principle of the universality of human rights,' the document states. But it adds: 'Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights.'...

"The Chinese government dismissed 'serious issues as political rather than as human rights issue'" and admitted the existence 'of virtually no human rights problems in its submission or its comments during the interactive dialogue,' said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

"Of special concern at the meeting was China's treatment of ethnic minorities who live within its borders...

"Pu Zhiqiang, a human rights lawyer in Beijing, said China's human rights performance should be looked at in historical context.

"'China has showed relatively more tolerance on expanding civil society,' Pu said. For instance, one might criticize the fact that the house of Zhang Zuhua, one of the original signers of the Charter 08 pro-democracy petition, was searched and some of his possessions confiscated. But 'compared to 20 years ago, China wouldn't even acknowledge that human rights exist. So we can see China has moved forward.'..."

Iranian Arabs seek equal rights

"Iranians of Arab descent, known as Ahwazis, who live in the south of the country, say they are one such ethnic minority who have been persecuted and marginalised by the government in Tehran.

"Seyed Tahir al-Seyed Nima, the chairman of the Ahwaz National Liberation Movement (ANLM), said Ahwazis consider themselves to be under Iranian occupation in much the same way Palestinians suffer under Israeli occupation.

"He said: 'We were an independent state until 1925 when oil was discovered in our land and our ruler Sheikh Khazal was killed. Our land was then annexed by the Shah of Iran.'...

"Ahwazi Arabs have not been included in Iran's economic development and prosperity derived from oil exports, according to a 2007 Human Rights report published by civil rights organisations in Europe in coordination with the Belgium–based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation..."

See also:

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nigera: not transparent

Another study of government transparency reaches conclusions similar to those of Transparency Intenational. Nigerian governmental processes are not very open. This report is by Constance Ikokwu and appeared in ThisDay (Lagos).

Country Ranks Low in Budget Transparency

"Nigeria is among 25 countries in the world that provide scant or no budget information to enable the public hold the government accountable for managing their money, according to a new comprehensive study conducted by the influential International Budget Partnership (IBP)...

"The survey which was launched in Washington, D.C. Monday lists Nigeria, Cambodia, Nicaragua, China, Burkina Faso, Fiji, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Yemen, Afghanistan, Chad, Bolivia, Cameroon, Angola, Senegal and Kyrgyz in the "poor performing" group...

"Top performing countries, according to the report, score above 80 out of a possible 100 points in the Open Budget Index 2008 (OBI). The average score for the OBI 2008 is 39, indicating that governments on average provide minimal information on their budge and financial activities.

"Nigeria scored 19...

"'Open budgets are empowering. They allow people to be the judge of whether or not their government officials are good stewards of public funds,' Director of the IBP, Warren Krafchik, said.

"'Our goal is to promote increased public access to government budget information. We've seen how this can lead to concrete improvements in people's lives,' he added..."

See also:

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Separation of the powerful?

If Philip Pan's analysis in The Washington Post is accurate, these developments are more than political, they are constitutional.

Stepping Out From Putin's Shadow

"With a series of careful moves and subtle statements, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has begun to shed his image as the obedient sidekick of his powerful predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, fueling speculation that their partnership could be strained by the nation's worsening economic crisis.

"Putin remains the dominant figure, and there has been no sign of serious differences between the two men. But Medvedev's efforts to establish an independent profile have injected a new element of uncertainty at the top of the authoritarian system built by Putin at a time when it is being tested for the first time by a severe recession...

"An adviser to Medvedev, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that the president is loyal to Putin and that the two leaders continue to work closely together. But he added that rival teams around them have clashed on various issues, including economic policy. Medvedev's influence remains limited, the adviser acknowledged, but it is growing as he finds ways to assert himself without offending Putin and the old guard...

"Confusion at the highest levels of the Kremlin may be a factor in the mixed signals that Moscow has been sending about its desire for improved relations with the United States. Both Putin and Medvedev have expressed optimism about the Obama administration, but Russian pressure appears to have been behind Kyrgyzstan's move last week to close a key U.S. air base..."

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reporters invited. Significance?

Reporters are again invited to witness and report on the meetings of representative bodies in China. Will there be anything important to report?

Reporters invited to cover upcoming NPC, CPPCC sessions

"Chinese and overseas reporters are invited to cover the upcoming annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

"The 2nd session of the 11th National People's Congress and the 2nd session of the 11th National Committee of the CPPCC are to be convened on March 5 and March 3 in Beijing respectively...

"Two websites were opened Wednesday to help domestic and overseas journalists report the "two sessions" as the country's top-level political events are drawing near.

"The websites [not yet active, but you might find information at the 11th NPC site]... will post information related to news reporting on the events, the 'two sessions' offices said Wednesday.

"Last year's 'two sessions' saw 2,800 reporters from home and abroad, hitting a record high."

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Iranian election campaign begins public phase

Iran's Khatami announces presidential plan

"Former President Mohammad Khatami, who pushed for detente with the West when in office from 1997 to 2005, said on Sunday he would run for the presidency again in June's election.

"The race will offer a stark choice for voters between Mr. Khatami and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [at left], whose first four years in office have witnessed a sharp deterioration in ties with the West as tensions over Iran's nuclear work mounted...

"Mr. Khatami worked for detente abroad and for political and social change at home while in office. But hardliners in charge of major levers of power in the Islamic Republic blocked many of his reforms, costing Mr. Khatami some key supporters.

"Mr. Ahmadinejad has faced mounting criticism over his economic management and surging inflation, which climbed to almost 30 per cent last year. Reformists, in particular, say his fiery foreign policy speeches have further isolated Iran..."

Former Iranian President Declares

"Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami announced Sunday that he will run as a candidate in the June 12 election, setting up a challenge to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that could alter Iran's domestic and foreign policies...

"Khatami, who served two terms as president, won with majorities made up mainly of youth and women. He promised to bring Iran out of its international isolation and pressed for more personal and legal freedoms. His proposed policies, while supported by parliament, were constantly opposed by political factions in the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and influential clerical councils..."

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

ABBA in Russian politics

In the US, banks receiving public bailout funds embarrass themselves by paying out big bonuses to executives. In Russia, the questions are: Did Putin spend a pile of rubles for a private concert by an Abba cover band? And does the macho Russian PM really like Abba's music? (President Medvedev is a Deep Purple fan.)

Putin denies dancing to Abba hits

"An Abba tribute band says it has performed a private concert for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"Bjorn Again says it was paid £20,000 to play the gig 200 miles (320km) north of Moscow on 22 January...

"The PM's spokesman denied the claim. Mr Putin - a former KGB spy who has a black belt in judo - is known in Russia and the West for his macho image...

"The four-member group says Mr Putin and about seven other guests, including a woman, were present at the concert, but they sat on a sofa veiled by a curtain...

"'He [Putin] was dancing along in his seat to Super Trouper and raised his hands in the air during Mamma Mia when we asked the audience to,' [Aileen McLaughlin, who performs as Abba's blonde Agnetha Faltskog] said..."

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Chinese unemployment

As a case study, students could compare the policy responses in the countries they are studying to unemployment like that reported in China.

China Puts Joblessness for Migrants at 20 Million

"The government offered a telling indicator... of the slowdown in China’s once-galloping economy, announcing that more than one in seven rural migrant workers had been laid off or was unable to find work, twice as many as estimated just five weeks ago.

"The new statistics followed a hint... by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao that the government might have to expand a recently announced $585 billion stimulus plan to deal “pre-emptively” with growing economic problems...

"In late December, employment officials estimated that at least 10 million migrant workers had lost their jobs in the third quarter of 2008 as waves of factories and businesses shut their doors.

"The specter of millions more unemployed clearly has the Chinese government worried. The government has not released annual figures on social unrest — what it terms 'mass incidents' — for several years, but foreign news reports suggest growing protests as unemployment spreads...

"In a joint report... the cabinet and the Communist Party’s Central Committee warned that 2009 would be “possibly the toughest year” for economic growth and rural development since the Asian economic bubble burst in the late 1990s, according to Xinhua..."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Mexican Constitution Day

It's Constitution Day in Mexico.


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These reports come from Al Jazeera and the San Diego Union Tribune.

World Social Forum had a prophetic voice

"Walden Bello has attended every World Social Forum (WSF). He is a senior analyst at Focus on Global South, president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition and a professor at the University of the Philippines.

"As the WSF was winding down in Belem in Brazil, Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo spoke with Bello about his thoughts on this year's meeting.

"Al Jazeera: How has the 2009 World Social Forum different from the past years'?

"Bello: This represents the triumph of the World Social Forum over the World Economic Forum.

"Basically I think that what the forum has been standing for is the strong critique of neo-liberalism and warning the world of the kinds of difficulties neo-liberalism was bringing to the world.

"And I think that now this economic crisis has really shown that we had a prophetic voice. A consistent voice of critique that was being put forward...

"I think that people are now looking to the World Social Forum more than ever for the kinds of alternatives that we need, to be able to restructure the world now that neo-liberalism has failed, now that capitalism is in severe crisis, now that the whole system has lost its legitimacy...

"I think there are a number of very strong themes that have emerged over the last few years.

"One is that there must be strong controls and regulations over the market...

"Two, that globalisation was creating a very fragile world and that we needed... to make internal markets the drivers of development, rather then the global market. Also that we needed controls on transnational corporations.

"We have always held that democracy was very central... [A]t the level of economic decision making, people should be able to intervene and make decision on what kind of industries should be developed...

"I think any peoples in government and other sectors are going to look at the kinds of things being discussed at the WSF, because the formulas from Davos no longer work."

Cool vibes, muddy results at social Brazil forum

"BELEM, Brazil — The world's biggest counterculture political gathering ended Sunday with a flurry of photo-snapping, tent folding and farewell embraces – as well as uncertainty about what concrete results were accomplished in the stifling heat of this jungle city...

"This year's forum has a renewed sense of purpose and importance, participants said, coming as it does amid a global financial crisis.

"'This colonial economic model – capitalism – that pits a state against its own people has to end and has clearly failed,' said Daniel Pasqual, an Indian rights leader from Guatemala.

"Five Latin American presidents joined about 100,000 activists from around the world whose discussions – in conference rooms and around beer coolers – feed the debate of the world's political left..."

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009


I've said this before and I'll say it again. Gapminder is an essential presentation tool and collection of demographic data.

I just discovered a new 10-minute talk by Hans Rosling, titled "What Stops Population Growth?

You might be familiar with Rosling if you've seen Gapminder before. His presentations in 2006 and 2007 introducing the software are now classics on YouTube.

There are 17 presentations in English available on the Gapminder web site. Topics range from Swedish history, to global poverty, to human development, to population trends, to urbanization.

You can download statistics and presentations that you can use. You can upload data that you have to create presentations.

It's great.

See also:

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Iranian satellite

Iran Says It Has Launched Satellite

"Iran said Tuesday it had launched what it described as its first satellite produced domestically as part of an effort to build a space industry.

"The launch on Monday, coinciding with celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution...

"The official news agency, IRNA, said the satellite was launched using a Safir-2 rocket and was 'successfully set into orbit.'

"The satellite was named Omid, IRNA said, and was sent into space as a 'data-processing satellite project' that began in March 2005 as 'the first practical step toward acquiring national space technology.'

"'The project’s experts focused on manufacturing the equipment and helping develop the potential of domestic companies to carry out such projects,' IRNA said. Weapons experts say the same technology used to put satellites into orbit can also be used for launching weapons...

"'Dear Iranian nation, your children have placed the first indigenous satellite into orbit,' Reuters quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying in a televised message.

"'With God’s help and the desire for justice and peace, the official presence of the Islamic Republic was registered in space,' he said..."

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Russian political-economic protest

Did this protest take the government by surprise? Did the government decide to allow it for some reason? Or does this help provide an explanation for coming policy changes?

Thousands protest in Russian east

"Several thousand people have held a rally in Russia's Far East, demanding the government resign over the country's growing economic problems.

"The protesters in Vladivostok blamed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's cabinet for mismanaging the economy and suppressing political dissent.

"The rally - which passed off peacefully - was the first in a series of protests expected in Russia on Saturday...

"Such protests were unthinkable just a few months ago as the economy boomed with record high oil prices and as the Kremlin tightened its grip over almost all aspects of society, the BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says...

"The anti-government demonstration in Vladivostok was called by the Communist Party...

"In a separate demonstration in Vladivostock, thousands of supporters of the ruling United Russia held a rally in support of the government."

Russian stability threatened by anger over economy

"The financial crisis is threatening to destabilise Russia amid unprecedented calls for the resignation of Vladimir Putin and his government...

"According to opinion polls, Mr Putin remains popular, enjoying an approval rating of 83 per cent. Even now, with the economy under strain, there is no sign of a challenger, who could usurp his place in the heart of most Russians...

"Seeking to show his affection among the people remained undimmed, Mr Putin's ruling party is forcing factory workers in to holding public rallies of loyalty this week that will proclaim the prime minister's wisdom and munificence..."

Economic woes fuel Russian protests

"Thousands of protesters have rallied across Russia to criticise the government's economic policies and its response to the global financial crisis.

"Russian police forcefully broke up many of the anti-government protests on Saturday, arresting dozens of demonstrators.

"Police said 41 people had been arrested during a series of protests in Moscow, where demonstrators called for Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, to step down...

"But despite the protests, support for Putin is not substantially waning in Russia.

"A poll conducted last week by the Levada Institute of Moscow showed that 83 per cent of the public approve of Putin's work as prime minister.

"Saturday also saw pro-government demonstrations with organisers saying that at least 5,000 people had gathered outside the Kremlin, shouting slogans in favour of Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president...

"Opposition groups, which lack parliamentary representation, hope to benefit from the increasing severity of the economic crisis in Russia, which has so far cost thousands of jobs and seen delays in wage payments..."

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Grassroots politics in China

Could this turn into something like the movement begun by Andrei Sakharov in the USSR? Is there another Fang Lizhi in China? Xu Liangying won the 2008 Sakharov Prize, but he's nearly 90 years old. (What is it with physicists and politics?)

In China, a Grass-Roots Rebellion -- Rights Manifesto Slowly Gains Ground Despite Government Efforts to Quash It

"When the [Charter 08] document first appeared online in mid-December, its impact was limited. Many of the original signers were lawyers, writers and other intellectuals who had long been known for their pro-democracy stance. The Chinese government moved quickly to censor the charter -- putting those suspected of having written it under surveillance, interrogating those who had signed, and deleting any mention of it from the Internet behind its great firewall.

"Then something unusual happened. Ordinary people... with no history of challenging the government began to circulate the document and declare themselves supporters. The list now includes scholars, journalists, computer technicians, businessmen, teachers and students whose names had not been associated with such movements before, as well as some on the lower rungs of China's social hierarchy -- factory and construction workers and farmers.

"'This is the first time that anyone other than the Communist Party has put in written form in a public document a political vision for China,' said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley...

"Charter 08 lays out a comprehensive overhaul of the current political system by ending one-party rule and introducing freedom of speech, an independent court system and direct elections. It is modeled after Charter 77, which was put together by scholars and demanded rights for Czechoslovakia in 1977, preceding the collapse of communism by 12 years..."

See also:

Search for "China Charter 08" for more online references.

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