Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, May 30, 2009

In case you aren't confused yet

It's easy to get confused about the details of the religious/ethnic cleavages in Iran. When it's necessary to include groups outside the country, things get more complex. And then, when an ayatollah has the same last name as a former president...

In Iran, Ahmadinejad campaign office attacked
Preelection tensions rose Friday in Iran's religiously and ethnically mixed southeast after gunmen opened fire on the president's campaign office and a radical group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a mosque the day before that killed up to 23 people and injured scores.

"The hands of America and Israel were undoubtedly involved in this incident," prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told supporters in Tehran, referring to Thursday's bombing of a Shiite mosque. "Although Wahhabis and the infidel and evil Salafis were an accomplice to the crime, they were being led from somewhere else."

Wahhabi and Salafi are puritanical schools of Sunni Islam rooted in Saudi Arabia. They have inspired Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network, as well as the Taliban and other groups that denounce Shiite Islam, the majority sect in Iran.

Khatami is a staunch hard-liner unrelated to former President Mohammad Khatami, who is a moderate...

[T]he Sunni militant group Jundallah, which is linked to Al Qaeda and draws support from Iran's ethnic Baluch minority, claimed responsibility for the mosque bombing on a Shiite holiday...

Authorities announced the arrest of three suspects, who allegedly crossed into Iran over the barren desert border from Afghanistan or Pakistan with the aim of sowing political and sectarian discord before the vote. The border area has long been the scene of drug trafficking and tribal banditry...

Members of Iran's Baluch minority, an ethnic group that straddles southeastern Iran, southern Pakistan and Afghanistan, have for years waged an insurgency against the government, striking targets in and around Zahedan. The Taliban has also infiltrated Baluch regions of Pakistan, especially the main city of Quetta...

Iran Said to Execute Three Over Mosque Bombing
Iran executed in public on Saturday three men convicted of involvement in a bomb attack on a mosque that killed 25 people, the official IRNA news agency reported...

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Lib Dems gain in UK

Liberal Democrats Gain Amidst British Scandal
Britain’s two main political parties are losing supporters to the Liberal Democrats and other groups, according to a poll by Populus published in The Times. 39 per cent of respondents would vote for the opposition Conservative party in the next general election, down four points since early April.

The governing Labour party is second with 26 per cent, down four points. The Liberal Democrats are third with 22 per cent, up four points. 13 per cent of respondents would vote for another party, also up four points in a month...

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MNCs and economic development in Nigeria

Many multi-national corporations (MNCs), often headquartered in South Asia and the Middle East are active in Nigeria. Some have reputations of being part of the great corruption problem. Another one of them is in trouble, again. The Vaswani brothers were deported in 2008 and are under investigation again.

N3billion Rice Scam - Prosecute, Not Persecute
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has accused the Vaswani brothers - Sunil, Haresh and Maresh - of defrauding the federal government of the sum of N3billion in unpaid custom duties on rice imports.

The eight companies in the Stallion Group owned and managed by the brothers were similarly accused of underpaying company taxes and the axe of forceful business closure was left to dangle above them. As if these were not enough, the EFCC chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, accused them of engaging in expatriate quota racketing.

The Vaswani brothers have been demonized as corrupters of the business environment in Nigeria and are alleged to have strong connection to people at the top echelons of power in the land. The fact that they have been deported twice before lends credence to the old adage that there is no smoke without fire. People are wont to ask: Why the Vaswani brothers at any given moment? But whatever anyone or organization may think or infer, our laws expressly state that a suspect is considered innocent until proven guilty..."

See also: Rice Milling in Nigeria for details about one of the suspect Vaswani brothers' projects.

Stallion Group web site

Google searches for Vaswani Stallion Group and Vaswani brothers Nigeria, will display many links to further information about the scandal, the prosecutions, and the Vaswani brothers' businesses in Nigeria.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Liberal democracy and gender equity

How about a complex argument about culture, liberal democracy, sexism, and politics as usual?

Can your students outline this argument and logically and carefully critique it? Is the example of Indira Gandhi and martial law relevant to Clive James' thesis? How about examples from Pakistan, Germany, Burma, Israel, and Iceland?

Still looking for the western feminists
In a week when the troubled parliament of Britain continued to swamp the front pages with tales of fiddle, fraud and the incredible disappearing Speaker, there wasn't much room for news about the parliaments of other countries, but there was one story in the middle pages that might have been calculated to remind us of why democracy really matters. The parliament in Kuwait has just acquired its first four women MPs.

Kuwait is by no means, a perfectly constituted democracy... But women have now been elected to the parliament, by popular vote...

Democracy is the best chance for women. Or if that sounds too naive, too pro-western perhaps, then let's put it this way. The absence of democracy is seldom good news for women. Or, to get down to bedrock, if women can't vote for women, then they haven't got many weapons to fight with when they seek justice...

It's just too clear a proof that men have a natural advantage when it comes to the application of violence. When you say that women have little chance against men if it comes to a physical battle, you are conceding that there really might be an intractable difference between the genders after all.

Ideological feminists in the West were for a long time reluctant to concede this, because they preferred to believe that there was no real difference, and that all female handicaps were imposed by social stereotyping that could be reversed by argument. But this belief was really possible only in a society where the powers of argument had a preponderance over the powers of violence...

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Facebook in Iran

Iran restores Facebook amid claims of election blackout

"Iran restored access to Facebook yesterday after a block on the social networking website last week generated accusations that the government was trying to muzzle one of the main presidential campaign tools of the reformist opposition.

"Facebook was cut off on Saturday, depriving challengers to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of a critical means of reaching out for the youth vote in the 12 June election...

"Authorities have not directly commented on the Facebook outage and the reason for its return was not immediately clear. It is not known whether the renewed access is permanent. In the past, Iranian authorities have restored then reimposed blocks on websites..."

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Social security in China

Thirty years ago, social security was the defining characteristic of the PRC. Do your students know what's behind Hu's recent statement?

Chinese president urges to promote social security system

Chinese President Hu Jintao has called for acceleration of the coverage of a social security system in both urban and rural areas.

The social security system should be built under the principle of wide coverage, multi-layers, sustainable growth and meeting people's basic needs, He said Friday at a group study of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau.

Hu, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said the social security system should focus on improving citizen's basic old-age pension and basic medical insurance service, with charity and commercial insurance as supplements...

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Contest or no contest?

Reporters write as if this is really a campaign. Is it? How can we tell?

Iran's Election Turns on President's 'Truths'

The "truths" that have made Ahmadinejad a populist success-- including his strongly worded defense of Iran's nuclear program, his declared ambition to make Iran one of the world's most powerful nations, his repeated denials of the Holocaust and his threats against Israel -- have also become major issues in his campaign for reelection to a second four-year term...

Ahmadinejad's main challengers advocate better relations with the United States. They promise to ensure that Iran's nuclear program will have strictly peaceful purposes, and they say the Holocaust should not be an issue in Iranian politics...

All the candidates, including Ahmadinejad, have pledged to continue Iran's efforts to enrich uranium, despite U.N. sanctions. All of them share hostility toward Israel. But the challengers say Iran should reach out to other nations and soften the tone of its foreign policy, which is largely set by the country's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei...

For all their differences over foreign policy, however, Iran's incumbent president and his challengers are even more sharply at odds over domestic priorities. Ahmadinejad has appealed to the country's downtrodden, particularly the rural poor, promising to raise their salaries and pensions. He has even handed out potatoes...

Ahmadinejad's opponents contend that his populist efforts to redistribute wealth among Iran's 67 million people have caused high inflation, slower economic growth and a steep rise in unemployment...

If no candidate captures a majority of the votes June 12, the two top vote-getters will compete in a runoff a week later. The challengers have warned of possible election fraud and have called for thousands of independent monitors to observe the balloting...

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Facebook? Not in Iran

Tehran blocks access to Facebook
Iran has blocked access to social networking site Facebook ahead of June's presidential elections, Iran's Ilna news agency and web users say.

Ilna says the move is aimed at stopping supporters of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi from using the site for his campaign...

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Support payments

Do your students have their critical thinking skills working? Try them out on this one. Do subsidy checks to citizens have nothing to do with the Iranian election?

Iranian accused of trying to buy votes

Opponents have accused Iran's hard-line president of trying to buy votes before the June 12 presidential election by handing out checks.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government defends the payments, saying the checks for $50 and $100 have nothing to do with the election...

The government has been distributing the money to poor families since last year, and in recent weeks it broadened the distribution to include students and teachers. It also announced that on May 10 it began making $80 payments to 5.5 million people in rural areas...

Politicians on both sides of the country's reformist-conservative political divide have said the payments promote a "begging culture." The one conservative candidate challenging Ahmadinejad, Mohsen Rezaei, said the president should create jobs rather than dole out money...

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A source of info about Iran

Okay, I'm not completely on vacation -- yet.

Philip Kantaros, who teaches at Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, wrote a note about a new web site, the AEI's Critical Threats Project.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research has created a Critical Threats Project. It's first topic is Iran Tracker.

According to AEI, "The website examines Iran in many dimensions, including Iranian soft power, hard power, support for terrorism, the nuclear program, trade, [and] domestic politics... [It] will help assess how specific threats and actions affect American interests and policies..."

While this site will offer possibly valuable information, keep in mind that it's purpose is "to assess how specific... actions affect American interests..." That's a bit off target for comparative politics and more in the realm of international relations. (Which our colleague Dr. Charles Hauss would argue ought not to be so distinct from one another.)

Another thing to keep in mind is that this site is not an academic one. AEI is an ideologically-driven organization. It's the think tank that helped produce the neoconservative Bush Doctrines of the last presidency. Among the active participants in the second Bush administration's foreign policy and AEI are Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, and John Yoo (the author of controversial legal opinions about the Geneva Conventions and the treatment of "detainees"). It's time to keep your critical thinking cap firmly in place.

Those of you who teach about US government and politics might note that James Q. Wilson has been the chairman of the Council of Academic Advisors to the AEI since 1991. And if you teach economics, you might recognize name of visiting AEI scholar (2005-present), N. Gregory Mankiw.


Monday, May 18, 2009


hi·a·tus /haɪˈeɪtəs/ Pronunciation[hahy-ey-tuhs]
–noun, plural -tus·es, -tus.

  1. a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

  2. a missing part; gap or lacuna: Scholars attempted to account for the hiatus in the medieval manuscript.

  3. any gap or opening.

  4. Grammar, Prosody. the coming together, with or without break or slight pause, and without contraction, of two vowels in successive words or syllables, as in see easily.

  5. Anatomy. a natural fissure, cleft, or foramen in a bone or other structure.

  6. a period of a week or so during which the primary contributor to this blog takes a break from posting any but the most essential things. (See you after the holiday.)

[Origin: 1555–65; < L hiātus opening, gap, equiv. to hiā(re) to gape, open + -tus suffix of v. action]

Source: hiatus. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved July 15, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hiatus

Truth is truth, after all

There are things you just don't debate in some countries. What's out of bounds (and maybe illegal) in political debates in the countries your students are studying?

Outlawed Disagreement
Governments and ideologies change, but the battles and victories of the Great Patriotic War remain dear to the Russian heart—so dear that debating the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Adolf Hitler or condemning the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe may soon be considered a crime. A new law proposed by Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu will equate such statements to rehabilitating Nazism, which will in turn further complicate Russia’s relations with its pro-Western neighbors and interfere with the work of World War II researchers in Russia...

Three days before Victory Day, United Russia deputies proposed anti-denial legislation, with Shoigu acting as the lead architect. This time, the crime was defined as rehabilitating Nazism. Those found guilty would face heavy fines and up to three years in jail (up to five years should they employ media outlets to spread their soon-to-be-illegal ideas). The bill could be adopted as a new article in the Penal Code as soon as late June.

But one doesn’t have to literally try to rehabilitate Nazism to be punished. Should the proposed bill be passed into law, punishable offenses will include approving Nazi Germany's actions during the Second World War, labeling the actions of the allies against the Nazi aggressors as “criminal,” and “belittling the role of the Soviet Union in the anti-Hitler coalition.” “Those trying to turn everything upside down and portray the Nazi liberator states as invaders have to suffer punishment,” RIA Novosti quoted Valery Ryazansky, a United Russia deputy and one of the law’s sponsors, as saying, "This law will not only apply to Russian citizens on Russian territory, but to foreign citizens as well, who will be declared personae non grata if found in violation of the law. Even former Soviet republics could suffer the consequences if they challenge Russia's interpretation of Second World War history—their ambassadors will be banished and all diplomatic relations will be severed."

The well-publicized bill enjoys widespread support among Russians. The Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) reported that 60 percent of those polled were in favor of outlawing the denial of Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War...

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Iranian campaign theme

Here's an example of an innovative campaign theme from a candidate in Iran.

Iran presidential runner vows to help minorities
A prominent Iranian presidential candidate, known as Sheikh of the reformists, vowed Sunday to improve the situation of non-Persian ethnic minorities that make up the bulk of Iran’s population, promising to stack them in his administration if elected.

Sheikh Mehdi Karroubi [right], the secretary of “etimad meli” (National Confidence) vowed to bring justice to Iran’s minority communities of include Arabs, Kurds, Azurbajis, Baluchi, Turks and Sunni Muslims in what observers saw as the rise of minorities in Iran since the election of Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

“Iran is a country of multiple ethnic minorities and religious sects who actually make up the majority of its population,” Karroubi stated his election manifesto adding that prejudice and injustice against such groups shake the unity and solidarity of the nation.

Karroubi, who also promised to eradicate poverty and deprivation in the areas minorities inhabit, went further and called for the revision of the Iranian Constitution to institutionalize local parliaments for each minority and to grant it power to directly elect state governors who are currently elected by state authorities...

Non-Persian ethnic groups make up 58 percent of the population and have faced many challenges since the coming to power of Ahmadinejad, whom the opposition accused of shutting down many civil society institutions and minority newspapers and media that were founded during the rule of Khatami...

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Electoral corruption in Nigeria

The story of the Ekiti elections continues.

200 Staff Involved In Electoral Bribery Scandal, Not 31, Say Suspects
A new twist was at the weekend introduced into the N250 million bribery scandal rocking rank of staff of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who participated in the re-run governorship election in Ekiti State.

The 31 officials of the commission who are currently facing police interrogation over the scandal, have protested that 200 officials and not 31, were actually involved in the scandal...

Reports on the re-run election in Ido-Osi local government of Ekiti State indicated that bribes were offered to presiding and polling officers who served in the area by one of the political parties that contested the Saturday April 25 re-run governorship election...

In one of the confession statements by Onaji, he alleged that the Head of Operations in INEC, Okey Ndeche, collected some money on behalf of his colleagues and refused to share it...

Yar'Adua Wants Police to Arrest Poll Riggers
The police are to play greater security roles in future elections in the country if a proposal to that effect is approved by the National Assembly...

This is opposed to what obtains at the moment where police act more or less like "peacekeepers," watching without lifting a finger when electoral manipulation is being perpetrated...

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

June 4 is coming

China Jails a Former Leader of Tiananmen Square Movement

A former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, who was seized and secretly imprisoned by Chinese authorities as he sought to re-enter China last October, has been charged with fraud, his family said on Wednesday.

News of the charge against Zhou Yongjun, who headed the Beijing Students’ Autonomous Union early in the movement, surfaced only weeks before the June 4 anniversary of the bloody crackdown that killed hundreds of demonstrators .

China’s government has gone to unusual lengths this year to ensure that the twentieth anniversary of the crackdown, a momentous date for many human-rights advocates, passes unnoticed here...

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Gordon Brown's troubles

Gordon Brown does not have the luck/fate/skill/charm of Tony Blair. It's hard to see signs of hope for Labour. As if the "expenses" problem were not enough, at least that one is shared with other party leaders.

UK's income gap widest since 60s
Britain under Gordon Brown is a more unequal country than at any time since modern records began in the early 1960s, after the incomes of the poor fell and those of the rich rose in the three years after the 2005 general election.

Deprivation and inequality in the UK rose for a third successive year in 2007-08, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions that prompted strong criticism from campaign groups for the government's backsliding on its anti-poverty goals...

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrats' work and pensions spokesman, said: "Labour is losing the fight against poverty. What chance has it got of abolishing child poverty if it can't even get halfway?

"This government's promise to make Britain a fairer place, where income does not affect a child's life chances, rings hollow. Gordon Brown's means-tested benefits have failed to lift children and pensioners out of poverty."

2,000 jobs at risk as Corus mothballs largest UK steel plant
Corus, the steel group owned by Indian firm Tata, warned today it will halt work at one of its largest steel plants in the UK, putting 2,000 jobs at risk.

The company said this morning that it had begun a 90-day consultation with employees about mothballing the Teesside Cast Products plant in Redcar. It admitted that the move would lead to a "very significant number of redundancies".

The losses are thought to be in addition to the 2,500 cuts Tata was already planning across its UK operations...

Britain’s Unpopular Leader Is Ripe Target in Parliament
Prime Minister Gordon Brown is spectacularly unpopular these days. He is presiding over one of the weakest economies in Western Europe. His government is widely seen as weary, porous and flailing. His own party members spend their time plotting, spreading nasty gossip and openly defying his policies.

But it was still shocking to see the mauling Mr. Brown suffered in the House of Commons on Wednesday, when he had to appear during this week’s installment of the half-hour grilling called Prime Minister’s Questions. So mercilessly and brazenly did his Conservative opponents mock, taunt and ridicule Mr. Brown that at times he seemed more piñata than politician...

Depending on which paper you read the next day, Mr. Brown was being bullied as badly as if he were a substitute teacher in a class of juvenile delinquents, the Elephant Man or a bear on a chain...

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Politicians spending on themselves

Alan Carter wrote from Oxford about this mess. He reminds us that MPs, unlike US members of Congress, do not have large budgets for offices, staff, and expenses. Does that mean they make up for it in other ways?

Britons Outraged at Lawmakers’ Liberty With Spending Accounts
The disclosures have been outrageous and ridiculous, sometimes both at once.

Oliver Letwin, the head of policy for the Conservative Party, claimed $3,000 to replace a leaky pipe under his tennis court in Somerset. Barbara Follett, a Labor member of Parliament and the wife of the author Ken Follett, charged $38,000 for security patrols at her house in London after she was mugged. David Willetts, a Conservative education spokesman, charged $120 to have an electrician come to his house and change the light bulbs in the bathroom.

The public airing of these and hundreds of other questionable claims from the expense accounts of Britain’s most powerful members of Parliament has disgusted the electorate and thrown the House of Commons into a major public relations crisis. On Monday, politicians from all parties tried to salvage some of their dignity by groveling, denouncing their own weak ways and promising to reform the system, starting now...

But nothing anyone has said has helped quell a mounting public fury over the disclosures...

While many of the practices appear to have been perfectly acceptable under the rules and the amounts relatively small, especially by Washington standards, the details have raised questions of propriety and make up “a catalog of behavior that is a matter of national shame,” a Liberal Democratic member of Parliament, Norman Baker, wrote in The Telegraph...

In the United States, members of the House of Representatives make $174,000 a year. They also receive, on average, between $1.4 million and $1.9 million a year to run their offices and pay for travel to and from Washington, depending on how far away their districts are.

The Daily Telegraph report about the claims MPs made for allowable expenses.

Paying bills for Tory grandees
The Daily Telegraph discloses how Tory grandees have received tens of thousands of pounds to maintain manor houses and stately homes. One claimed successfully towards the cost of a full-time housekeeper with a salary package of £14,000 a year, along with a claim including £2,000 for clearing the moat surrounding his manor house. Another was allowed to claim for a “helipad” to be maintained.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, was understood to be “appalled” by the latest allegations and vowed to take action against Conservatives MPs who "abused" their expenses. Tories who have broken the rules on expenses could be sacked, Mr Cameron has suggested...

The latest embarrassing revelations about MPs' allowances - which also include an expenses claim for horse manure - come amid evidence that the controversy has hit confidence in both main parties.

A Populus opinion poll for The Times found that both the main political parties have suffered a fall in their popularity in the wake of the expenses scandal. Labour is down four percentage points at 26 per cent, the Conservatives are down by the same amount to 39 per cent. However, the Liberal Democrats, whose expense claims have yet to be disclosed, are up slightly...

Today’s Telegraph Expenses Files disclose that the taxpayer has subsidised lifestyles far beyond those experienced by most Britons. It can be disclosed that:

* Douglas Hogg, the former agriculture secretary, submitted a claim form including more than £2,000 for the moat around his country estate to be cleared.

* David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, spent more than £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on home renovations and furnishings, including a new £5,700 portico at his home in Yorkshire.

* David Heathcoat-Amory claimed for more than £380 of horse manure for his garden...

MPs' expenses system has got to be changed, says Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown today blamed "the system" after new revelations about cabinet-level expense claims inflicted a fresh blow on the government's authority.

The prime minister, who was forced to defend his own expenses claims, said that the new information justified his decision to press for wholesale reform of the system of parliamentary expenses and allowances...

Among the ministers identified by the Telegraph are:

• The prime minister, who paid his brother Andrew for cleaning costs at their London flats... £6,577...

• Jack Straw, the justice secretary, who reclaimed the full cost of council tax, even though he received a 50% discount from his local authority...

• Lord Mandelson, who claimed thousands of pounds to repair his constituency home in Hartlepool after announcing his resignation as an MP in 2004...

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One interpretation

Journalist’s Release Shows Divide Among Iran’s Leaders
The release of an Iranian-American journalist imprisoned on charges of spying for the United States... illustrates the volatility of the Iranian government.

American officials said Iran’s handling of the Saberi case underlined a deepening divide within its leadership about how to respond to President Obama’s recent overtures. It also reflects domestic politics a month before Mr. Ahmadinejad faces a critical election, according to analysts.

“Those who are trying to engage the U.S. won out,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly...

[T]he political cost of keeping her in prison may have come to seem too high. The fact that the severity of the charges against her was changed, officials said, illustrated the internal tug-of-war over the case...

Some analysts warned the United States against drawing too much comfort from Iran’s decision...

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Luke Harding's op-ed in The Guardian (UK) suggests that the Russian president is little more than a place holder for Putin. It's what most Western observers thought when Medvedev was presented to the world as Putin's successor. Harding can't find any evidence to change that assessment. The question is, "Did he look for any?"

Medvedev the fake reformer

"It is one year today since Dmitry Medvedev – a 43-year-old ex-lawyer from St Petersburg and a fan of elderly rockers Deep Purple – took over as Russia's president. Over the past 12 months, Medvedev has given the impression that he is a liberal. In a series of speeches, he has talked about the need to reform Russia's legal culture and establish an independent judiciary and competitive political system...

"In the run-up to today's anniversary, Russian political scientists have been discussing several intriguing topics – the nature of the relationship between Putin and Medvedev; the possibility that Medvedev could eventually sack his old boss; and whether there is such a thing as a Medvedev "thaw". Optimists believe that the blog-friendly president – from a younger generation than Putin, and without the KGB heritage – is a genuine reformer...

"Sceptics, however, point to what Medvedev has actually done. The list is not long. The president's most significant reform is to increase the presidential term from four to six years – facilitating Putin's potential comeback in 2012...

"On the international stage, Medvedev cuts a somewhat folorn figure – largely because his western partners know that the real arbiter of Russian power politics is still Putin. On the home front, Medvedev is increasingly at risk of becoming a joke, since much of what he says bears no resemblance to reality...

"While there are stylistic differences, there is so far no real evidence that Medvedev is different from Putin... The best-informed analysts suggest Medvedev is simply an export version of Putin, designed to soothe the west and make sure that the Russian elite's assets in Europe stay safe..."

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Monday, May 11, 2009

EU elections

Simon Hix is Professor of European and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science and author of What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It. He offers some ideas about encouraging more people to vote and encouraging them to think about European issues.

A truly European vote?

At the time of the first European Parliament elections in 1979 there was widespread enthusiasm for this experiment in transnational democracy.

Sadly these contests have not lived up to their billing. Few people vote and those that do vote are mainly motivated by national rather than European politics.

If you are a UK voter, when you go to the polls on 4 June, will you be thinking about Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or Alex Salmond? Or will you be thinking about Joseph Daul, Martin Schulz, Graham Watson, or Dani Cohn-Bendit (the party leaders in the European Parliament)? Exactly!...

But treating European Parliament elections as national elections is a big problem for the European Parliament...

European Parliament elections matter. If the centre-right wins we can expect more market liberalisation, fewer environmental regulations, and more restrictive immigration policies, while if the centre-left wins, we can expect stricter environmental standards, more labour market rules and liberal immigration policies...

Most countries, like Britain, use a form of proportional representation (PR) which only allows citizens to choose between political parties.

However, some countries, such as Finland, Denmark or Ireland, use a form of PR which allows citizens to vote for different candidates from the same party. These "open" systems encourage politicians to campaign on their personal records and encourage parties to put up high-profile candidates. Not surprisingly, many more voters in Finland, Denmark and Ireland know the names of their MEPs and feel more engaged in European elections than voters in Britain...

After the elections in June, the governments and the European Parliament will elect a new EU Commission President. Why don't we see rival candidates for this position before the elections, rather than after them?...

If there were different candidates for the Commission President before the elections we could ask our party leaders who they support for the most important post in EU politics, and why. The media would also have some European personalities to write about in the build-up to the elections, and we could all watch the winner and loser on election night...

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

A healthy state

The flu hurt, but Mexico demonstrates its strength. This is a good background article for teachers and parts of it might be valuable supplements to your textbook.

The Crisis Came. Mexico Didn’t Fail. Surprised?

Just for argument’s sake, let’s compare Mexico’s management of the swine flu epidemic that broke out here last month with China’s handling of SARS in 2002. The Chinese initially tried to deny there was an outbreak, were slow to combat its spread and resisted cooperation with foreign investigators. By the time SARS was brought under control, more than 700 people had died.

Mexico’s conduct has been different. The authorities may have been slow to identify the threat, but once they did, they quickly notified international health agencies, acted efficiently to prevent the epidemic from mushrooming, and began working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. As of Friday, the death toll was 45.

That response flies in the face of recent descriptions of Mexico as a “failed state” that is “on the verge of civil war” — phrases that seem a staple on American talk radio, cable television and political blogs...

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Iranian rerun

Jo Adetunji's analysis in The Guardian (UK) assumes that open politics and an honest election will be the Iranian way in the presidential election. I have my doubts about both.

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to seek second term
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, officially declared yesterday that he would run for a second term in next month's election.

Ahmadinejad's candidacy will pit the hardline president, who has pushed anti-western rhetoric and a pro-nuclear stance, against the former prime ­minister, Mirhossein Mousavi, a more moderate candidate.Mousavi, who has said he will "save" the Iranian economy if elected, is expected to register his candidacy today. He accused Ahmadinejad of pushing Iran to "the edge of a precipice."...

Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, is also expected to stand in the election on 12 June but is not considered a leading challenger. However his election campaign, which will focus on Iran's economic problems, could draw votes away from Ahmadinejad, weakening the president...

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Flu spreads to politics

It was only a matter of time until the flu epidemic became a political issue in Mexico. Now, as the danger seems to be lessening, may be the time.

Flu Is Injecting Itself Into Mexican Politics
The slumping economy and the bloody drug war had been Mexican voters’ top worries ahead of midterm elections in July. Then the mysterious A(H1N1) virus gave Mexicans the scare of their lives...

Pollsters, who had found President Felipe Calderón’s governing National Action Party lagging before the flu bug hit, are scrambling back into the field to see how the influenza outbreak may have changed the dynamics of the election season...

Daniel Lund, a pollster and the president of the MUND Group, who is conducting focus groups on the flu’s effects [said] “In a natural disaster, the ruling party is hurt with a slow or corrupt response..."

The campaign had shown early signs of dirtiness, with rival parties accusing one another of drug cartel connections. But as far as sanitation goes, this may prove to be the cleanest campaign in history...

Large political rallies... are discouraged... Candidates are urged not to wear neckties because they are viewed as potential carriers of viruses. Baby kissing... is frowned on, as are handshakes...

At least for now, influenza has managed to overshadow the drug war, which continues to cause heavy casualties. If nothing else, though, the government’s aggressive response to the flu may dispel the notion that drug gangs have Mexico tottering on the edge of collapse...

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Unique campaigner in Iran

The fact that a woman is prominently involved in an Iranian presidential campaign is significant. Any results of her involvement could be even more important.

Iran's first first lady? -- The wife of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is taking an unprecedented role in his campaign in a bid for women's vote
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the centrist candidate in Iran's June presidential elections, may be an old hand in politics but he certainly has a modern style for campaigning, at least in one sense... Mousavi... has surprised everyone by appearing in all his campaign trips with his wife...

"No prime minister or president in the Islamic Republic has ever done that," says Shadi Sadr, a prominent lawyer and women's rights activist in Tehran. Iranian news websites and newspapers are full of photographs of Mousavi sitting next to his wife, seen in her full black Islamic chador. And she is a prominent figure in her own right... Known by her maiden name, Dr Zahra Rahnavard [right] was until recently the chancellor of Al-zahra University in Tehran and a political adviser to the former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami...

Secondly, as the wife of one the main candidates, she is not just sitting there, "but really works as a campaigner". Rahnavard, who has a PhD in political science, is credited with having turned Al-zahra University into a centre for women's scientific research...

By welcoming his wife to the campaign trail, Mousavi is hoping for two results. Firstly, he wants to attract reformist votes...

Secondly, Mousavi wants to secure women's votes. Iranian women played a huge role in bringing Khatami to power for two consecutive terms, comprising 65% of his support in the 1997 elections. They were also instrumental in the parliamentary elections in 2000, which gave the reformists a sweeping majority in parliament. Over 65% of university students are women...

More than 1,000 candidates seek Iran presidency
Iran on Tuesday opened the five-day period for hopefuls to formally register for the country's tenth presidential election, expected to be a key test for the country's dominant conservatives.

More than 1,000 candidates registered online from May 2 to run in the election, the interior ministry said according to the state-run Press TV...

At the end of May, the Guardian’s Council, in charge of inspecting the ideological qualification of the candidates, will announce the names of those selected to run in the election...

According to the Iranian constitution, candidates should have a political and religious background, hold Iranian citizenship and believe in the principles of the Islamic republic and the official religion of the country.

The candidates have to be at least 18 years old but the upper age limit has not been specified...

The presidential election will be held on June 12 where all Iranians aged 16 and above are eligible to vote.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

More democracy or more logic or more respect for tradition?

EU bureaucracy once again comes into conflict with cultural practice. Does the EU need more democracy? Do French wine makers need more logic? Do the member countries need more power? Does color alone define a rosé wine? What a tangled web international regulations weave.

French Vintners Find E.U. Concoction Unpalatable

"To the buttoned-down European Union bureaucrats in Brussels, the idea was simple: squeeze costs, conquer new markets, maximize profits. But to the vintners of Taradeau, a sun-splashed Provencal village 800 miles to the south -- and a world away, mentally -- it was an attack on their Mediterranean heritage, a crack in French civilization, a fraud against wine lovers everywhere.

"Never, they cried, can you mix a bucket of red wine into a barrel of white and call it rosé. Only the age-old process in which grape skins macerate in the juice for a finely calculated moment before fermentation, they protested, can produce the seductive color, fruity aromas and delicate structure of a true rosé. Mixing red and white, they sniffed, may make something pink to drink, but it is not rosé wine...

"Johan Reyniers, a spokesman for the commission in Brussels, said E.U. officials meant well and had their reasons: They were seeking to arm European vintners for competition in emerging markets such as China, where producers from Australia and South Africa, for example, do not hesitate to mix red wine with white and undersell European rosé by several dollars a bottle. Anyway, he added, relaxing Europe's rosé rules was only "one little thing" in a vast program to unshackle the wine industry from outdated regulations.

"The clashing perspectives -- this "one little thing" is a way of life in the hills of Provence -- have once again pitted France's tradition of good living and great gastronomy against the seemingly unstoppable march of economic imperatives. Across the country, from wine cellars to cheese vats, from sausagemakers to bakers, artisans are confronted by 21st-century demands for efficiency, cost-cutting and homogenization..."

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Comparative tax rates

Eric Black was an excellent researcher and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He now writes for the online MinnPost.

Today he wrote about tax rates.

Is America Undertaxed?

"Of the 30 nations of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), which includes most of the prosperous industrialized nations of the world, the U.S. ranks 26th for overall tax burden. That number is calculated by taking all taxes paid as a percentage of GDP...

"This general ranking is nothing new. And it is a fact, which, as Ronald Reagan liked to say, are stubborn things.

"The U.S. has long been among the lower taxers in the industrialized world. The four countries that have lower tax levels -- Japan, Korea, Turkey, and Mexico -- are hardly a good starting point for the argument that lower taxes are the key to prosperity..."

Here is the OECD data in graphic form:

[Click on the image to see it full size.]

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Nigerian election (finally)

An election, the results thrown out by a court, was re-done. But the electoral commission refused to release the results because there was so much corruption. Now, the election has been re-re-done. Controversy continues.

PDP wins Nigerian state election

"Nigeria's governing People's Democratic Party (PDP) has narrowly won a disputed re-run election for the post of governor in south-western Ekiti state.

"Turnout was said to be low, amid tight security. An earlier re-run of the vote last week crumbled amid claims of fraud, violence and intimidation.

"Furious opposition leaders cried foul and vowed to challenge the result in a state they regard as a stronghold.

"The original poll two years ago was won by the candidate of the governing PDP.

"The BBC's Caroline Duffield, in the region, says the latest outcome means he will now return to office...

"The poll was seen as strategically important for both parties.

"Our correspondent says the PDP had hoped to prevent Action Congress winning a stronghold that could unite with the east of the country to challenge the governing party.

"Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has said the situation in Ekiti underlines the need for urgent reform of Nigeria's election system, with the country's next general elections looming in 2011."

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Internet and politics

Iranians and Others Outwit Net Censors

"The Iranian government, more than almost any other, censors what citizens can read online, using elaborate technology to block millions of Web sites offering news, commentary, videos, music and, until recently, Facebook and YouTube...

"Last July, on popular sites that offer free downloads of various software, an escape hatch appeared. The computer program allowed Iranian Internet users to evade government censorship.

"College students discovered the key first, then spread it through e-mail messages and file-sharing. By late autumn more than 400,000 Iranians were surfing the uncensored Web.

"The software was created not by Iranians, but by Chinese computer experts volunteering for the Falun Gong...

"The Internet is no longer just an essential channel for commerce, entertainment and information. It has also become a stage for state control — and rebellion against it. Computers are becoming more crucial in global conflicts, not only in spying and military action, but also in determining what information reaches people around the globe.

"More than 20 countries now use increasingly sophisticated blocking and filtering systems for Internet content, according to Reporters Without Borders...

"In response, a disparate alliance of political and religious activists, civil libertarians, Internet entrepreneurs, diplomats and even military officers and intelligence agents are now challenging growing Internet censorship..."

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Politics or corruption?

Do the events reported here tell us about politics in Iran or about corruption or both? It seems to me that those interpretations are reasonable. Organizing hajj trips sounds like grand opportunities for handling lots of other people's money.

Iranian Leader Is Scolded on Removal of Official

Iran’s supreme religious leader publicly rebuked the country’s president on Monday over his removal of an official who organizes the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The rare show of discontent by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued in the Iranian news media on Monday, raised questions about whether the ayatollah was backing away from his support of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the June 12 elections...

Saeed Leilaz, an economist and political commentator in Tehran, called the rebuke “unprecedented.”

The dispute began last month when Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government put the hajj committee under Iran’s tourism authority. One of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s vice presidents then dismissed the hajj organization chief, Mostafa Khaksar Qahroudi, and installed a replacement.

That brought a protest from the supreme leader’s representative on hajj affairs, who called the government’s move illegal.

Ayatollah Khamenei issued a statement on Monday backing his representative and ordering that Mr. Qahroudi be restored. “Regarding the replacement in the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, the president was strongly notified that the annexation of this organization to the tourism committee is not appropriate,” the government daily newspaper Iran quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as saying. He ordered that the “situation remain as it was before.”

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Another ranking

We've seen rankings of countries on human development, human rights, and transparency.

The CIA World Factbook is full of demographic and economic rankings. It's sometimes enlightening to play with the numbers to see if there area any correlations between the rankings and types of regimes or political cultures.

Well, Forbes Magazine has ranked 127 countries to determine which ones are "best for business."

Best Countries for Business

And the top 10 are

  1. Denmark
  2. United States
  3. Canada
  4. Singapore
  5. New Zealand
  6. United Kingdom
  7. Sweden
  8. Australia
  9. Hong Kong
  10. Norway

Other countries of interest to Advanced Placement teachers are:

#56 Mexico
#63 China
#97 Nigeria
#103 Russia

Iran didn't make the list at all. There's hardly any private business there except for the small bazaar-type shops.

  • What criteria did Forbes use to rank the countries?
  • What are the factors underlying the criteria Forbes used? (e.g. population densities; industrial or post-industrial economies; education levels; social welfare systems, etc.)
  • How many of the highly-ranked countries are constitutional democracies? Is that a contributing factor to their high rank?
  • How do these rankings compare with the rankings found in the CIA World Factbook?
  • What policies would help a country like Mexico or China move up in the rankings?
  • Are those policies different from the policies that would help Nigeria or Russia move up in the rankings?

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Nigeria short of fuel

One of the world's largest producers of crude oil is suffering another fuel shortage. How do politicians explain that to people who need kerosene to cook with or gasoline to run generators and cars? This story is from The Daily Trust.

Fuel Scarcity to Persist

"Nigerians should brace up for the challenges ahead as there is no end in sight to the fuel scarcity in the country, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) declared yesterday.

"IPMAN's spokesman Malam Danladi Fasali said marketers are exhausting their reserves and have since stopped importation due to the refusal of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC) to pay N210 billion to the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) as Petroleum Price Support Fund. This is the money used to subsidise importers of refined fuel products...

"Another factor responsible for the current fuel shortage, he said, is the deregulation of the sector while the government at the same time has pegged the petrol price at N65 a litre. He said this contravenes the principle of deregulation..."

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Is there a Chinese character for irony?

China's official news agency published this story on Monday, 4 May 2009.

China urges the U.S. to stop intervening in its press freedom

China rejected the U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks in a statement marking World Press Freedom Day here on Monday, urging the U.S. to stop intervening in its press freedom.

Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that the Chinese government protected freedom of speech according to law, and had brought the public and media's supervision into full play.

"China's news cause has achieved remarkable development since its reform and opening up to the outside world 30 years ago, with the number of press staff increased and their rights and interests protected," said Ma.

"We urge the U.S to respect the facts and China's jurisdiction, view China's press freedom correctly, and stop intervening in China's press freedom," Ma stressed.

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More on Charter 08

Bao Tong is a personalized connection between events in China's Tiananmen Square twenty years ago and politics today.

The most dangerous man in China

"A visitor to Bao Tong's apartment – with armed guards in the parking lot and another checking the identifications of guests – might think they're about to meet one of China's most dangerous criminals, rather than a former top official in the Communist Party.

"But to the men who rule this country, Mr. Bao is both, which makes him a bigger threat than the sprightly 76-year-old looks like he could be. To them, Mr. Bao is the party official who, along with his boss, former Communist Party secretary Zhao Ziyang, almost brought down the whole system 20 years ago by daring to agree with the students demanding change in Tiananmen Square...

"Mr. Bao's main “crime” was a speech he wrote 20 years ago... The instructions Mr. Zhao gave him were as delicate as they were monumental: a speech making it clear there were factions in the government that sympathized with the students calling for more freedoms and an end to official corruption...

"The speech... criticized China's 'flawed legal system' and 'our lack of democratic supervision as well as our lack of openness and transparency.' These were historic words that caused an eruption of joy among the nervous and weary protesters on Tiananmen Square.

"If the reformers had won out, the May 4 speech might be celebrated today as the moment China's one-party state started to dissolve, as other such regimes fell apart in Eastern Europe that same year. Instead, it is a speech that few young Chinese have heard of and no one is allowed to publicly discuss...

"Mr. Bao believes...the students were very close [to succeeding]. 'They were just one step away...'

"Mr. Bao still manages to make waves. He was one of the key drafters of Charter 08, a manifesto released late last year that called for democracy and freedom of expression in China.

"The government's firm response – all discussion of the Charter has been banned, and Mr. Bao's close friend Liu Xiaobo was jailed for his role in writing and circulating the document...

"Mr. Bao is frustrated at how the Chinese government has managed to suppress nearly all domestic discussion of what happened here 20 years [ago]...

"'But I believe that as long as society is unfair, as long as there is inequality, people will chase freedom and democracy.'"

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Charter 08: History, politics, and one-party rule

A Manifesto on Freedom Sets China’s Persecution Machinery in Motion

"Liu Xiaobo [is] a writer, philosopher and democracy advocate. On Dec. 10, Mr. Liu and 302 others issued a manifesto, called Charter 08, that urged China’s Communist Party to abandon monopoly rule and establish a multiparty system of government.

"The police seized Mr. Liu two days before Charter 08 was released. He has been locked ever since in a windowless room about an hour’s drive north of central Beijing. He is denied access to lawyers, to pen and paper and, except for two brief visits, to his wife...

"Increasingly, Liu Xiaobo is no ordinary dissident, but an international cause. And the crackdown on him and his wife shows signs of becoming a public-relations dilemma for Chinese leaders...

"Charter 08 concerns party rulers, some contend, because it posits an alternative to their monopoly just as China is integrating with an overwhelmingly democratic world...

"'Freedom is at the core of universal human values,' the charter states. 'The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens.' And, it states, 'The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign, and the people select their government.'...

"Such manifestos are hardly new. In December 1978, the Fifth Modernization, a proposed liberalization of the political system to go with China’s other moves toward modernity, was posted on Beijing’s Democracy Wall — and its author was handed a 15-year prison sentence. Evidence of the document was wiped from Chinese history...

Yet Charter 08 continues, slowly, to gain adherents... considerably more than 8,000 Chinese citizens have joined the original 303 signers, representing a swath of society well outside the clique of political dissidents..."

See also:

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Allow me to once more repeat myself about the AP exam

Many readers here are involved in preparations for the Advanced Placement exam which students will take on Monday, May 4. Good luck.

Here is a bit of my advice from a couple years ago and a link to the complete comment.

Back in December 2006 I offered this observation,"The key to 'doing what you're asked to do' in the AP FRQs is to pay attention to the verbs. I think it's the natural tendency when we're confronted with exam questions to focus on the nouns, i.e. what the question is about. But doing what you're asked to do with those topics is vital for success."

More old advice that's still important.