Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Party at home, please

China's National Day parade: public barred from celebrations
Hundreds of thousands will take part in massive parades by civilians and the military, who have been drilled so thoroughly that soldiers are only permitted to blink once every 40 seconds. A dazzling half-hour firework display, using 300,000 shells, will surpass even the pyrotechnic splendour of last year's Olympics, organisers promise.

As tanks roll through the heart of the city, and fighter planes zoom overhead, the People's Liberation Army will reveal 52 new types of weapon, including its latest nuclear missiles – all made in China.

But while 30,000 carefully selected guests will gather in Tiananmen Square, where Chairman Mao proclaimed the creation of the new China in 1949, millions of the city's inhabitants have been advised to stay at home...

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Can NGOs succeed where government fails?

The assumption might be that NGOs can do things the Nigerian state cannot. And perhaps that NGOs can be models of good governance.

This report comes from ThisDay in Lagos., but an almost identical report appeared in Nigeria's Guardian almost two weeks ago.

Over 46,000 NGO's Registered in Nigeria
The European Union has set aside the sum of 20 million euros to provide assistance to registered Nigerian Non State Actors (NSAs), which has now blossomed to over 46,000, according to records at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

The grant is aimed at fostering pro-poor policy, enhanced service delivery and transparent governance; with the project undertaken in particular at state and local government level, to increase NSAs' effectiveness and impact.

[EU representative] Mr. Walter Bresseleers, said the EU "will, over a period of 3 years, provide assistance to Nigerian Non State Actors. The implementation of this programme gives the opportunity to strengthen the dialogue between the state institutions and the NSAs in Nigeria."

"This dialogue will concern national policies but it will also represent an opportunity to promote a balanced and sustainable local development. In this context, NSAs can play an important role through the promotion of a particular culture among all actors involved in the development process, both at national and local level."

Other components of the programme, he added, include the promotion of political and social dialogue at all levels of public life; the promotion of shared values among all actors involved in local development; transparency, accountability, participation, effectiveness, equity; the management of national and local antagonism through conflict prevention and resolution; and the promotion of a participatory and representative democracy...

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mexican public opinion

When three-fourths of the pubic thinks the country is going in the wrong direction, what does that mean for political leaders? Does it make sense that 68% have a favorable opinion of the president? Does this poll tell us anything?

Survey: 75 pct of Mexicans unhappy with country
Mexicans are overwhelmingly unhappy with the direction of their country, and one in three would immigrate to the United States if they could, a Pew Research Center survey said Wednesday.

Of those in the poll who said they would like to migrate, more than half said they would be willing to do so illegally.

The poll of 1,000 people in Mexico found crime, government corruption and illegal drugs are major problems.

Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed said they are unhappy about Mexico's direction. Nearly all of those polled – 94 percent – said corrupt political leaders are a big problem.
Still, 68 percent held favorable opinions of President Felipe Calderon, 83 percent said they supported using the Mexican army to fight drug traffickers and 76 percent approved of the government's handling of the spring swine flu outbreak...

Forty percent of those interviewed said they know someone who had returned to Mexico because they could not find work in the U.S. Almost 50 percent said they know someone who came back after being detained by immigration officers at the border.
The survey, part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, was based on face-to-face interviews in Mexico from May 26 to June 2. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

China trivia

Confucius's 2,560th anniversary held at his birthplace
A grand ceremony was held in Qufu, east China's Shandong Province, on Monday to commemorate the 2,560th birthday of Confucius, the great ancient Chinese thinker and philosopher revered around the world...

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Nigeria rebel leader

Jeremy Weate, who blogs at naijablog, pointed out this article in the Wall Street Journal. It offers some good details about what's going on in the Niger Delta.

Delta Farce: Nigeria's Oil Mess
Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua unveiled an offer in June for rebels to turn in their weapons in exchange for amnesty. Militant leader Ateke Tom watched the news conference on a flat-panel TV at his remote camp deep in this oil-rich expanse of wetlands...
Mr. Tom [left] and other militant leaders have wreaked havoc in recent years on Nigeria's oil industry -- and consequently its economy -- from this vast network of densely forested creeks that fan out to the Gulf of Guinea. Now they must decide whether to stop their costly attacks on oil facilities and come out of the creeks once and for all...

Nigeria is the world's eighth-largest oil exporter, the fifth-biggest supplier of oil to the U.S., and long Africa's dominant oil player. Its oil is classified as "light and sweet," which makes it easy to refine into gasoline. Its government has earned hundreds of billions of dollars since oil exports began in 1958.

Nearly all of Nigeria's oil comes from the Niger Delta, one of the world's largest wetlands. Yet few of the Delta's inhabitants have benefited. Most have no running water or electricity. Roads in the region, where they exist at all, are often impassable. Schools are understaffed, underfunded and overcrowded. Good jobs are rare.

Militant leaders such as Mr. Tom have been active in the area for years. They claim to be fighting to improve living conditions, but many observers brand them as mere criminals, their allegiances less to the community than to politicians who provide them cash and arms. They have received big payoffs from politicians and oil companies alike, and reap additional windfalls by stealing oil from pipelines, according to oil company executives and human-rights groups.

Nigeria depends on oil for more than 90% of its export revenue and more than 80% of its government revenue. This year, attacks on oil installations have reduced the nation's output to about 1.7 million barrels a day, from about 2.6 million in 2005, government figures indicate. Some experts believe the actual figure is much lower. The attacks nearly halted onshore production in the western Niger Delta...

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Friday, September 25, 2009

What's required for democracy?

Dominique Moisi, Visiting Professor of Government at Harvard and author, most recently, of The Geopolitics of Emotion, asks, "Do elections make democracy?"

What issues would your students identify in this essay? And what position would they take on those issues?

The Democracy Paradox
Elections stolen in Iran, disputed in Afghanistan, and caricatured in Gabon: recent ballots in these and many other countries do not so much mark the global advance of democracy as demonstrate the absence of the rule of law...

In a noted essay in 2004, for example, the Indian-born author Fareed Zakaria described the danger of what he called “illiberal democracy.” For Zakaria, America had to support a moderate leader like General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, despite the fact that he had not come to power through an election. By contrast, Zakaria argued, Venezuela’s populist president, Hugo Chávez, who was legitimately elected, should be opposed...

So what lessons should we draw from the inevitably messy nature of electoral processes in countries where there is either no middle class or only a rudimentary one, and where a democratic culture is at best in its infancy?

The time has come for the West to reassess its policies in a fundamental way...

[T]he West must get both its ambitions and its methods right. Democracy is a legitimate objective, but it is a long-term one. In the medium term, the absence of the rule of law constitutes the most serious problem for the countries in question...

It is the West’s acceptance of corruption – either open or tacit – that makes it an accomplice to too many nefarious regimes, and makes its espousal of democratic principles appear either hypocritical or contradictory...

The distance that separates the West from countries that rely on sham elections is not only geographic, religious, or cultural; it is chronological. Their “time” is not, has never been, or is no longer the same as that of the West. How can they be understood without being judged, or helped without humiliating paternalism or, still worse, without an unacceptable “collateral damage,” as in Afghanistan?
The West’s status in tomorrow’s world will largely depend upon how it answers this question. It cannot afford to ignore the issue any longer.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chinese trivia

Mao Xinyu, second from right, leaving after attending the annual National People's Congress in Beijing.

Grandson Mao follows in chairman's footsteps
Mao Xinyu, the Great Helmsman's only grandson, is making waves himself following an apparent promotion to major-general, at 39, the youngest in the People's Liberation Army...

Mao Xinyu appears to be the very model of a modern major-general, with his own blog. In addition to his official duties he works to uphold the family name, having written a biography, Grandfather Mao Zedong, and sung songs in his honour...

Mao's granddaughter, Kong Dongmei, has also written about her forebear in books including Open My Family's Old Photo Album: Grandfather Mao Zedong in My Heart, although she never met him...

Her mother, Li Min, and aunt, Li Na, are members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference... Li Na has said that Mao was very strict with his children, telling a Chinese newspaper: "He didn't wish for us to become famous. He only wanted us to work with our own hands. He said he would be satisfied if we could become common labourers."

None of them followed quite that path, but unlike the offspring of other top party leaders, they did not end up as business tycoons...

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Wishful thinking?

Ignoring YouTube, Ayatollah Sees No Evil
Two days after Iran’s opposition returned to the streets of Tehran and other major cities, using a day designated for demonstrations against Israel to protest their own government instead, the country’s ruling cleric sought to counter the mass movement by completely ignoring it...

Since it is unlikely that Ayatollah Khamenei is actually unaware of the protests, or of what seems to be clear video evidence of them online, his remarks on Sunday may be a sign that the men who control Iran are struggling to adapt to a new media environment in which the state has lost its near-monopoly on information about events inside the country.

[Anti-government protesters, basiji on motorbikes and brandishing chains attack the protesters and are attacked by the crowds. At least one of the motorbikes is set on fire. Anyone have a translation of the comments recorded on the video?]

Indeed, in his speech on Sunday, Ayatollah Khamenei tried to blame “foreign media” for “poisoning Iran’s atmosphere” in recent months, in what may have been an oblique reference to the social networking services that have allowed Iranian citizen journalism to flourish...

Reporters Without Borders noted that in a court session last Monday, a member of Iran’s judiciary claimed:
"The United States supported Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube with the aim of influencing the rioters and undermining the government’s position both nationally and internationally. Sites such as Facebook and YouTube were devised by the United States in order to wage a psychological war against Iran."...

Despite... restrictions, supporters of Iran’s opposition continued to post reports of Friday’s protests on the Web, which appeared to clearly contradict the official line that Iranians turned out solely to protest Israel. The remarkable video embedded at the top of this post, showing crowds of opposition supporters flooding Karim Khan Boulevard in Tehran — and defying a government cheerleader’s repeated urgings to chant slogans against Israel or the United States — was published on the Web site of Human Rights Activists in Iran on Saturday. The site also published this photograph [above], which shows how Iranians threw the government’s slogans back at it, in this case by appropriating signs denouncing Israel and using them instead to denounce the governments of Russia and Venezuela, which have supported Mr. Ahmadinejad:

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don't look in the windows

Iran bans "curvy" mannequins in shop windows
Iranian police warned shopkeepers on Tuesday not to use mannequins without headscarves or which exposed body curves, official news agency IRNA reported.

"Using unusual mannequins exposing the body curves and with the heads without Hijab (Muslim veil) are prohibited to be used in the shops," Iran's moral security police in charge of Islamic dress codes said in a statement carried by IRNA...

"Both showing necktie and bowtie behind the windows ... and (the) selling (of) women's underwear by men are prohibited," said the police statement.

In the past, crackdowns tended to be launched at the start of Iran's hot summers and petered out soon after. But last year they extended into winter and included a drive against tight women's trousers and even men with spiky "Western" hairstyles...

Dress codes are most often flouted in wealthier, urban areas. Conservative dress is the norm in poorer, rural areas.

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Putin and Medvedev

Chris Kuberski in Chicago pointed out that Foreign Policy magazine has published a gallery of 9 photographs of Putin and Medvedev with informative captions.  The pictures were taken over the past couple years, and the captions describe the relationship between the two. The captions also raise questions about the future of the relationship.

He asked his students to decide whether the descriptions mentioned in the captions were normative or empirical. I suggested that he could ask his students to create a timeline of the Medvedev-Putin relationship and identify the issues that might arise between them (both of which would require a bit more research).

Check it out, and if you're not going to be teaching about Russia for awhile, bookmark the site.

And to follow up on all the photographs, The Economist offers more analysis.

Behind the golden doors
SOMETIMES you have to admire the candour of Russian leaders. Whereas Kremlinologists love conspiracy theories, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, and Vladimir Putin, its prime minister, tell things how they are.

On September 10th Mr Medvedev published a manifesto on gazeta.ru, a Russian website, highlighting Russia’s failings. He wrote of a primitive, oil-dependent economy, weak democracy, a shrinking population, an explosive north Caucasus and all-pervasive corruption. His critics would not disagree with this stark diagnosis, even if he offered few answers. A day later Mr Putin told the visiting Valdai club of foreign journalists and academics that he and Mr Medvedev would decide between themselves who is going to be president when Mr Medvedev’s first term expires in 2012 (see article). Most Russians already assumed as much...

Mr Medvedev’s article evoked memories of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika speeches in the 1980s; he said this week that what went wrong with Mr Gorbachev was that he began but failed to complete his reforms. Mr Medvedev, however, has not ever started...

Mr Medvedev’s article and Mr Putin’s comments on 2012 may reflect a tension between the two men and their teams that has brought Russia into a state of inactivity caused by competing forces...

In the past few months some of Mr Medvedev’s supporters have defected to Mr Putin’s camp, arguing that modernisation is possible under the prime minister’s leadership. Others, such as Gleb Pavlovsky, a weathered Kremlin spin-doctor, have been trumpeting Mr Medvedev’s emergence as an independent and powerful leader...

Mr Putin’s words about 2012 undermine Mr Medvedev, making him a lame duck 30 months before his term runs out. Mr Medvedev has spent most of his career as Mr Putin’s subordinate. It was his loyalty, not his independence, that qualified him for the top job. As president he has largely followed Mr Putin’s policies, including in last year’s war with Georgia...

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's probably easier in Chinese

Quick: Say it three times, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference

Here's a chance to experience the wonderful world of official jargon as translated by the people at Xinhua.

Hu Jintao urges CPPCC to further play its political advisory role
Chinese President Hu Jintao has urged the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) to "continue carrying out its functions of political consultation, democratic supervision, and participation and raising proposals in governance, in a practical and effective way."

The CPPCC should make new contribution to boosting the Reform, Opening-up and Socialist Modernization Drive and the great cause of a peaceful reunification of the Nation, and safeguarding world peace and promoting a common development, said Hu, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, at Sunday's gathering here to mark the 60th founding anniversary of the country's political advisory body...

In September 1949, the first plenary conference of the CPPCC was held in Beijing, and it adopted the Common Guidelines of the CPPCC, which served as a temporary Constitution for the People's Republic, elected the CPPCC National Committee and the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Hu emphasized that over the past 60 years, the three-generation CPC leaderships, with Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin as the core, respectively, have always given top priority and active support to the work of the CPPCC...

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Central Committee meeting

CPC Central Committee closes plenum, vows to enhance democracy, fight corruption

The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee vowed Friday to "expand intra-Party democracy to develop people's democracy" and resolutely fight corruption.

The Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee endorsed the decision of the CPC Central Committee on major issues on strengthening and improving Party building under the new circumstances...

The communique said with deep changes in the world, the country and the Party had raised new requirements for Party building and all Party members should be aware of and vigilant about the problems and solve them as quickly as possible...

The communique said the Party's internal democracy was "the lifeblood of the Party."

It said the CPC would firmly push forward the intra-Party democracy by sticking to "democratic centralism," with democracy as a base and centralism as a guide...

The communique said the Party would uphold and improve its leadership system.
It would also improve the systems of Party congress, Party officials' elections and democratic decision-making mechanism within the CPC.
It said the Party must stick to a democratic, open, competitive, credible, merit-based and vigorous mechanism of selecting Party officials in order to foster more excellent cadres...

The CPC central committee also vowed to resolutely fight corruption and "fully explore the arduous and complicated nature of the combat against corruption."...

The leadership said maintaining sound and fast economic growth was still its primary task in economic work...

In the communique, the Party pledged to "effectively prevent and resolutely crack down on ethnicity-related separatist activities."...

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Continuing divisions in Iran

Despite Warning, Thousands Rally in Iran
Tens of thousands of protesters chanted and carried banners through the heart of Tehran and other Iranian cities on Friday, hijacking a government-organized anti-Israel march and injecting new life into the country’s opposition movement...

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's... efforts to recapture the stage were largely drowned out by a tumultuous day of street rallies, in which the three main opposition leaders marched with their followers for the first time in months...

[T]he rallies underscored the continuing vitality of the domestic opposition movement, which has rejected the election as fraudulent and fiercely criticized the violence that followed it...

In a striking contrast with earlier rallies, the police often stood on the sidelines as protesters faced off against huge crowds of government supporters — many of them bused in from outside the cities — and chain-wielding Basij militia members...

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Reminder: Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

We often use GDP and GDP per capita as measures of economic status, often within comparative studies. This is good reminder that GDP measures only the market value of what is produced. There are many things it does not measure.

You might ask your students to look through existing measurements of economic and social health and discuss which ones should be included in a standard, comparative measure? Human rights? Health and welfare? Peace and stability? Democracy and rule of law?

G.D.P. Seen as Inadequate Measure of Economic Health
President Nicolas Sarkozy told the French national statistics agency Monday to take greater account of factors like quality of life and the environment when measuring the country’s economic health.

Mr. Sarkozy made the request after accepting a report from a panel of top economists he had charged with reviewing the adequacy of the current standard of fiscal well-being: gross domestic product.

The panel, chaired by two Nobel economists, Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University and Amartya Sen of Harvard University, concluded that G.D.P. was insufficient and that measures of sustainability and human well-being should be included...

G.D.P. is the measure of the market value of all the goods and services produced in the economy. Its development in the 1930s, when the U.S. government was looking for new tools to measure national income and output more accurately, has been described as one of the most important advances in macroeconomics.

However, there has long been criticism that, while it accurately captures the growth or contraction of the overall economy, it is a crude tool for describing social health...

The United Nations Development Program’s human development index... incorporates G.D.P. as only one of a number of criteria... The human development indexes also seek to incorporate the value of a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.

As an alternative to the developed world’s pursuit of G.D.P., the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has chosen to focus on “gross national happiness,” complete with the 4 pillars, the 9 domains and the 72 indicators of happiness...

Yet for all the enthusiasm... at the conference, Mr. Stiglitz, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said “putting together the new indicators is not going to happen overnight,” because of the need to gather and test the data.

The Stiglitz commission report, known formally as “The Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress Revisited,” said that one of the most glaring problems with using economic growth as a proxy for well-being was the fact that it excluded the damage to society and ultimately to the economy of environmentally non-sustainable activities...

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Politics of power

An editorial from the Daily Independent in Lagos, spells out the long-standing problem of electricity in Nigeria. Is this another case of demanding too much from the government? Would private investment or co-ops do a better job of providing power? What are the costs of the failure to develop generating capacity?

Provide Electricity or Quit
Nigerians are weary and worn out over the incessant power outage in the nation. Rarely have this country's citizens ever enjoyed 24-hour uninterrupted power supply nationwide since its entire post-independence history about 50 years ago. Today, Nigeria's socio-economic development has been grounded, as a consequence.

There is hardly any facet of national life that has not been blighted by the Federal Government's abysmal failure to generate, transmit and distribute sufficient electric power to meet the industrial, educational, technological and domestic needs of the people.

Repeatedly, Nigerians have been promised by successive governments over the last five decades that the embarrassing power outage crisis would soon be a thing of the past. Countless targets have been set, but have all remained unrealized...

Nigeria must be about the only country in the world, especially given its immense resources, afflicted with acute power outage all-year-round. It is unthinkable that any serious-minded sovereign state in the 21st century - the Information and Knowledge Age - will allow such a situation to linger. But the Nigerian government - judging from its actions and attitude - does not care...

No modern nation should accept such incompetence, lethargy and irresponsibility...

The effects of environmental pollution arising from Nigeria's unusual per capita consumption of private generators - it must be the highest in the world - are alarming...

If this government does not give Nigerians 6,000mw of public power supply by the deadline it has given itself - i.e. December 31 - it would have lost its moral right to remain in office. It should have the decency to quit.

See also:

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Think about it

Dan Harris offered this thought on China Law Blog. And I suggest we add to his question about the growth of the middle class a question that asks about the political ramifications of such growth.

China Has 703 Million Cell Phone Users. The Middle Class Is Rising

"703 million... Think about that for just a minute. That's about 2.5 times the population of the United States.

"More than three years ago... I did a post on how China had hit 410 million cell phone users...

"[I]f there is a correlation, then the numbers of China' middle class have risen considerably since 2006..."

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Celebrations and fear in Mexico

Mexican city warily awaits Independence Day celebrations
Mexicans... celebrating their most cherished national holiday today, Independence Day, [with] indelible memories of unprecedented violence a year ago will make for a somber affair in some parts of the country...

Nowhere is the mood more subdued than in Morelia, capital of the western state of Michoacan and hometown of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. A year ago, it was the site of the first deliberate attack on civilians in an ever-escalating anti-drug war...

It was just minutes before the traditional grito, a late-night cry for independence that re-creates the 1810 gesture by Mexican hero Miguel Hidalgo, which launched Mexico's rebellion against Spanish rule... as bells tolled and Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy began to emulate the cry, assailants tossed grenades into the crowded Colonial-era plaza. Eight people were killed and more than 100 wounded...

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Reduce the size of Parliament

Do your students understand why the proposal to reduce the number of seats in the House of Commons is a reasonable and realistic campaign promise when it comes from a candidate for PM of the UK?

Cameron vows to cut ministers' pay and end subsidised food and drink
David Cameron [right] today vowed to cut ministerial pay and stop MPs enjoying subsidised food and drink at Westminster in a drive to cut the cost of politics by as much as £120m a year.

In a speech in London, the Conservative leader also said he would cut the number of MPs from 650 to 585...

Cameron acknowledged that the savings he was talking about were a "pinprick" in relation to the overall amount of money that he wanted to save... But he said that politicians had to set an example...

Cameron spoke following the demotion yesterday of Alan Duncan. Duncan lost his job as shadow leader of the Commons because he was filmed complaining about MPs having to "live on rations".

It would have been highly embarrassing for Cameron to have delivered today's speech with Duncan still in post.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good news for Mexican president

Mexicans Say Calderón Doing Better in Drug War
More people in Mexico are expressing confidence in the federal government’s capacity to fight a drug war, according to a poll by Reforma... However, 41 per cent of respondents say that organized criminals are winning the war...

Polling Data

Who do you think is winning the war against drug trafficking?

Answers in August 2008
Organized crime 61%
The government 22%
Neither / Not sure 17%

Answers in August 2009
Organized crime 41%
The government 37%
Neither / Not sure 22%

Source: Reforma

Methodology: Face-to-face interviews with 1,515 Mexican registered voters, conducted from Aug. 14 to Aug. 16, 2009. Margin of error is 2.8 per cent.

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Who's next on first?

China Watched for Sign of New Leader
China’s governing Communist Party will convene its annual policy meeting... with a sober, if not soporific, mandate to root out government corruption and make the party adapt to changing times.

But lurking in the background is a more compelling topic: Who will become China’s next ruler in 2012?...

Since the founding of the People’s Republic 60 years ago, the Communist Party has governed both the Chinese people and itself strictly from the top down, with all important actions approved by a handful of party leaders united by power and personal relationships...

“A new crop of leaders who grew up after the reform and opening up started are going to step into new leadership roles” in 2012, Zhen Xiaoying, a professor at the Communist Party’s central party school, stated in a recent article in the state-run newspaper People’s Daily. He was referring to the period of economic reform that began in 1978.

“The era of relying on authority and personal charm to run the party is over,” he said...

The process of political succession in China’s one-party system is always shrouded in intrigue...

Whatever changes the plenum orders are unlikely to resemble democracy as Westerners know it. China has long shunned Western democracy, branding it anarchy, and embraced what it calls “democratic centralism” — essentially, passing carefully reviewed suggestions from lower-level party organs to leaders at the top...

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Ethnic-Geographic politics in Nigeria

Almost everything in Nigeria can be seen through the lens of geo-ethnic-politics if you look hard enough. Here's an example of the pervasiveness of cleavages and high stakes politics.

The Alleged Northern Agenda in the Five Banks
Disturbing political insinuations and misgivings have so far trailed the on-going drastic reform in the banking sector. Following the summary dismissal, arrest and detention, and subsequent prosecution of the former bank chiefs and their directors, many critics, particularly from the Southern parts of the country have voiced their suspicions that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, may be playing out a Northern script.

The plot, as some of the critics have articulated it, is for the Federal Government to ultimately acquire some or all the distressed blue-chip banks and plant in Northerners or their fronts... The suspicions spring from persistent reports... of alleged grumblings in the North about "Southern domination" of the financial sector... Available facts in the public domain, so far, hardly substantiate the regional agenda claim, although certain grey areas in the current banking reform programme need to be addressed...

Our view is that an explicit exit blueprint, with a transparent timeframe and modality, should be urgently articulated by Sanusi to the public. Such a measure will adequately address the persisting fears of a geopolitical agenda in the CBN's present dramatic reforms in the sector...

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Election Reports and Political Science

Election Reports and Political Science
Joshua Tucker, writing on The Monkey Cage ( a political science blog), announces that, "One of the goals of the Monkey Cage is to inject the opinions of political scientists into popular discourse about contemporary political events (see our mission statement). With this in mind, we are going to try to add a new element to The Monkey Cage starting this fall: quick reports on global elections from the perspective of political scientists...

"However, for most elections out there, there is some political scientist paying close attention to what is going on and/or some graduate student out in the field doing research. Our thought is to use the Monkey Cage to give this person a chance to share their thoughts more widely in the immediate aftermath of a given election..."

You can subscribe to The Monkey Cage, and get the posts directly or you can rely on my pretty consistent reading of the blog. When I see a relevant post, I'll pass it on here.

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Soft Power

Blog entries about soft power
Two years ago in September, I posted a series of entries about soft power, an idea that was much in the news. I thought it would be a good conceptual way to begin the school year.

I just reviewed those entries and I still think it was a good conceptual way to begin a school year. I've added a couple entries to the topic since then.

Recently, the Iranian hardliners have warned of how the "reformists" are trying to use soft power to overthrow the righteous regime established by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Check these entries out.

And remember, if there is another topic you want to investigate, blog entries since the spring of 2006 are indexed using over 70 topics at the Delicious site.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Comparative public opinion

In the US, a public option for health insurance is so controversial that it's unlikely to become law. The BBC reports on new poll results from the UK.

70% 'back rail renationalisation'
Most people are in favour of returning the railways to public ownership, with just 23% supporting privatisation, according to a poll.
But note who sponsored the poll
A survey of more than 1,000 people for the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), found seven out of 10 of those questioned backed renationalisation...

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Friday, September 11, 2009

New on Gapminder

Gapminder Videos
There are two new videos on the Gapminder website: an interview with Hans Rosling and Rosling's talk at the U.S. State Department this past summer.

There are nearly three dozen videos on the site. Many of them would be great to use if you want to introduce your students to what's possible with Gapminder.

Gapminder is a great teaching tool. And students can learn to create their own presentations.

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Celebrate but don't watch

Here is some narrative to accompany Wen Li's photos of the middle of the night rehearsal for October First.

China's crackdown for patriotism
It is meant to be a celebration to outdo even last year's Summer Olympics opening gala, marking 60 years since Mao Zedong founded the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949.

University students and schoolchildren have been rehearsing for weeks to join about 200,000 parade participants, 12,000 performers and 60 floats, accompanying a massive military parade showing off China's state-of-the-art weaponry – much of it now designed domestically.

President Hu Jintao is expected to give an address extolling China's progress. And a who's-who of Chinese film stars, including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi and film director John Woo, have been brought in for a $10-million propaganda film entitled Jian Guo Da Ye , or The Founding of a Republic , recreating the Communists' victory in a format designed to appeal to the country's younger generation.

The fact that massive security precautions will prevent even Beijingers from watching the celebrations in person has done little to dampen the excitement...

Nothing is being left to chance. The authorities are particularly concerned with the risk of protests linked to the country's political challenges... and ethnic tensions...

City streets were shut down for kilometres around the parade route down Chang'an Avenue to Tiananmen Square last night as tanks, armoured personnel carriers and rocket launchers rumbled through a dress rehearsal, snarling traffic...

The country's paramilitary forces have also been given new powers ahead of the anniversary, allowing them greater ability to crack down on demonstrations that might harm the country's image...

An estimated 1.4 million people have also volunteered for a kind of civilian Neighbourhood Watch, to report any suspicious activity...

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Federalism in Nigeria

When the national government collects all the oil revenues and hands them out to state governors for disbursement to state and local governments, guess who gets the least. Ah, the problems of a rentier state that imposes practically no taxes.

Rural Dwellers Will Continue to Suffer Lack Unless ...
Rural dwellers in Nigeria would continue to be down-trodden, suffer lack and deprivation if the Federal Government failed to increase the allocation to the third tier of government, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, has said.

"The major problem the country is facing is the top-to-bottom approach of disbursing funds instead of from bottom-to-top. The local governments are financially handicapped yet we say the people are the most important, there is the need to reverse the system," he said.

Amaechi, who met with members of the Committee on States and Local Government Affairs of the House of Representatives, in Port Harcourt, was of the view that "until we accept that the local governments are the foundation of this country and admit that they are financially handicapped to execute development projects for the people, the country will continue to decay."...

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blair's hopes?

Tony Blair would like to be "president of Europe." But his chances are slim if Ireland rejects the newest version of the latest EU treaty.

President Blair? Former PM in frame to become first head of EU
Tony Blair is a contender to become the first president of the EU with the full backing of the British government, the new Europe minister said today.

Glenys Kinnock, in Strasbourg for the opening session of the new European parliament, said that although the former prime minister had not formally declared his candidacy, it was "certainly" the government position to support him.

"I am sure they would not do it without asking him," Lady Kinnock said. "The UK government is supporting Tony Blair's candidature for president of the council."

The new post is to be created under the Lisbon treaty, which will streamline the way the EU is run if it is endorsed in an Irish referendum in early October...

Blair's EU hopes under threat as Irish backing for treaty slumps
The Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty is going to be more interesting than many people predicted, it seems.

A poll in today's Irish Times reveals that there has been an 8% drop in support for the legislation since June, with 46% of people now in favour – down from 54%...

Irish poll shows slump in support for Lisbon treaty
Support in Ireland for a yes vote in the forthcoming Lisbon treaty referendum has fallen over the summer, with a large proportion of the electorate still undecided.

The first major opinion poll of the referendum campaign shows that 46% would vote yes, a decline of 8 percentage points in support of the EU reform programme.

The Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll today finds that 25% of Irish voters still do not know whether they will support or reject the treaty...

All four major parties in the Irish parliament, including the ruling Fianna Fáil-Green party coalition, back a yes vote on 2 October...

Only one party represented in the Dáil, Sinn Féin, is urging a no vote. The opposition to the Lisbon treaty ranges from the hard left to the Catholic right and includes a number of major trade unions such as the Irish wing of Unite...

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Will talk lead to action?

State capacity is a measure of what a state is capable of doing. In Nigeria, talking has long been far ahead of doing. The report is from ThisDay.

Nation's Quest For Good Infrastructure
The deplorable situation of roads, housing and urban development was brought to the fore recently at a gathering of major stakeholders in the sector during the meeting of the National Council on Works, Housing and Urban Development in Lafia. The meeting brought to the front burner the challenges faced in the development of the country...

[T]he Nasarawa State Governor, Aliyu Akwe Doma, called on stakeholders to ensure that infrastructural development is pursued with vigor. He challenged the conference to make contribution that will lead to the discovery of effective strategies for infrastructural development in the country...

According to the minister, infrastructural development has become a recurring challenge to successive administration in the country. "The administration of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has identified infrastrural development as the basic foundation and prime driver of all socio-economic plan activities this is because of the pervasive impact of infrastructure in all human endeavours...

The minister further said that the sector is the cornerstone and pivot for the achievement and realization of government's vision and blueprint for the nation's emergence in year 2020 as one of the world's largest economies...

He said to address these issues, a number of measures were initiated to tackle them. These include the reorganization of ministerial parastatal such as the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA).To the minister, these measures were taken to strengthen and reposition the agency for delivering their mandate to the people...

At the end of six days of deliberation and brainstorming in Lafia, the conference came out with a communiqué... [calling on government at all tiers to take action on] the acute shortage of housing in the country, the establishment and resuscitation of trade schools and skill acquisition centers... need for the inclusion of local content policy to be evolved in the construction industry for human capacity building and technological enhancement...

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Security in China

The government in Beijing had lots of practice with security for the Olympics. They have more work to do for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the PRC.

Here are a couple of pictures of security and the curious crowds at a middle of the night practice run for the October first military parade.

The police kept people away from Tiananmen Square as military vehicles practiced on the parade route for the national day celebration.

Even though it was the middle of the night, crowds gathered in an attempt to see what was going on.

Wen Ling, the photographer, maintains ZiBoy, a photo blog where you can often find interesting and informative photographs of people and events in Beijing.

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Roles of the IMF

Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley speculates about the role of the IMF. This is a good summary to help clarify the role of the IMF in the pantheon of international organizations.

What is the IMF’s Mission?
The International Monetary Fund has been one of the few beneficiaries of the global economic crisis. Just two years ago, it was being downsized, and serious people were asking whether it should be closed down. Since then, there has been a renewed demand for IMF lending...

The IMF’s first role is to assist countries that, as a result of domestic policies, experience balance-of-payments crises...

A second role for the IMF is to act as a global reserve pool...

A third role for the IMF is macro-prudential supervisor. Recent events have made clear that someone needs to anticipate and warn of risks to global financial stability...

[T]he IMF’s fourth role, namely using its bully pulpit to warn of risks created by large-country policies. Small countries are subject to market discipline, as any Latvian will tell you. But when large economies whose currencies are used internationally need more resources, they can just print more money. Not only do they feel less market discipline, but they are subject to less IMF discipline, since they are not compelled to borrow from the Fund...

Finally, the IMF needs to coordinate reform of the international system...

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sort out these informal power relationships

In a political system like Iran's, the relationships among the elite are often more important in understanding politics than reading the constitution or looking at an organization chart. Here's one place to start with Iran.

Panel in Iran Will Oversee Investigations Into Unrest
Conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran have continued to challenge his drive to consolidate power, appointing a committee to supervise investigations into the unrest that swept the nation after he claimed a landslide victory in the disputed presidential election in June, political analysts said.

On Saturday... the chief of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani [right], announced the appointment of a panel to oversee investigations by allies of the president into the postelection unrest.

Mr. Larijani, a rival of the president, said the committee was told “to ensure that the defendants’ rights are reserved and that they are treated properly,” according to the semi-official Fars news service, offering a not-too-subtle vote of no confidence in the president’s handling of events.

The announcement... seemed to be part of a strategy by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to repair his own tarnished credibility with the clerical elite and the loss of his standing as a fair arbiter with the population, political analysts said...

“I believe we are witnessing a move for reconciliation,” said Mustafa Alani, director of Security and Defense Studies at the Gulf Research Center in the United Arab Emirates. “I don’t think the reconciliation will include a review of the election or delegitimize Ahmadinejad. It will look at the torture accusation and it will basically smooth out the court procedure to remove all the hard-line accusations.”
As Mr. Larijani announced the formation of the new committee, leaders of the Revolutionary Guards and the Tehran Police, perhaps pre-emptively, denied that their personnel had committed abuses during the unrest...

“One can think of what is happening as a major move by Khamenei to contain Ahmadinejad, but only because the reformists have been completely crushed and there are signs that Ahmadinejad wants to keep up his power grab at the cost of pragmatic conservatives,” the political analyst said. “The clerical establishment favors pragmatic conservatives.”

The political analyst, who is based in the United States, said that Ayatollah Khamenei, who was a mid-level cleric before he was named supreme leader, had turned to the Larijani family to help restore “support for himself in the clerical establishment.”

The Larijanis are not only critics of Mr. Ahmadinejad, but are from “clerical aristocracy,” he said. Mr. Larijani’s brother, Ali, is the speaker of Parliament and is the representative for Qum, the center of religious learning in Iran. Their uncle, Mohaqqeq Damad, is a cleric and a former chief of the judiciary. The family is also related by blood to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Mehdi Haeri-Yazdi, an eminent 20th-century Shiite cleric...

Hard-line Iranian prosecutor fired
Iran's new judiciary chief ousted the hard-line prosecutor behind the ongoing trials against opposition figures in Tehran, replacing him with a relatively moderate newcomer from the provinces, an Iranian news agency reported Saturday...

His removal suggests an attempt by the new judiciary chief, Sadegh Larijani, the scion of a powerful conservative family, to curtail the influence of hard-liners and clean up the image of the country's legal system...

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Internal struggle continues

Ex-President Denounces Iran’s Government
Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president, made a fiery speech Sunday against the government, accusing its leaders of trying to smear their enemies and purge them from public life with “fascist and totalitarian methods.”

The speech by Mr. Khatami, a leading reformist, came a day after his ally, the losing presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, called on supporters to deepen their protest movement, in his first major statement in weeks.

Together, the two statements, posted on the Internet by opposition Web sites, made clear that opposition leaders — much like their hard-line foes — are girding supporters for a long-term battle to be waged as much through ideas and quiet social organizing as through the public protests...

The conservatives appear to be planning a broader campaign... On Saturday night, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a group of artists and cultural professionals that Iran was embroiled in a “soft war” against internal enemies. Anyone in the field of culture must now recognize important distinctions between “friends and enemies,” “attack and defense” and “explanation and propaganda,” the ayatollah said.

His speech echoed another one Friday night by the deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Muhammad Bagher-Zolghadr, who outlined the distinction between “hard war” and “soft war,” in which “the enemy is everywhere.”...

Iran’s Universities Punish Students Who Disputed Vote
Iranian universities have begun disciplining and suspending students who took part in street protests after the disputed presidential election in June, reformist Web sites reported Friday and Saturday.

The new disciplinary actions came as officials reported that a presidential panel has begun an investigation of the humanities curriculums at universities, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported. Although the panel was formed a year ago, it did not start work until after recent calls to purge universities of professors and curriculums deemed “un-Islamic,” based on the fear that the teaching of secular concepts helped fuel the political unrest following the June 12 election...

Significantly, several clerics and high-ranking officials have taken aim at Islamic Azad University, which is based in Tehran and has branches around the country. The university is largely run by the family of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful moderate and leading opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad...

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Eye on Lagos

Imnakoya, a Nigerian who now lives in Minnesota, and blogs at Grandiose Parlor, posted a 9-minute video titled, "Eye on Lagos -- Business Climate." It's a series of interviews with business people and government officials about the reasons the Lagos business climate is good and the reasons it's not so good. The video also gives those of us who have never been to Lagos some mental images to accompany our thinking about Nigeria's largest city.

I'd like to have my students watch this and keep track of the political and governmental issues that come up in the interviews. The focus of a follow-up discussion would depend on whether this was an introduction to Nigeria, a summary, or a comparative exercise.

At YouTube, you can find other videos from the "Eye on Lagos" series.

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Russian oligarchs

Most textbooks I recall, usually discuss the Russian oligarchs in a paragraph or two, citing Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky [right] as examples. But as important players in the Russian state, I've thought more attention should be paid to these "movers and shakers."

The BBC feature by James Rodgers begins (but doesn't finish) that "more attention." It might be a place for you and your students to begin. Then, I'd suggest, you look send your students out for more information.

The decline of Russia's oligarchs
If you look up the word "oligarch" in the dictionary, you will find it means a member of a small group holding power in a state.

Today, though, it usually refers to the super-rich Russians who made their fortunes in the sometimes barbaric business world of their country in the 1990s...

There is no formal oligarchs' club or association - and the way individuals have fared has varied depending on where their money was invested...

This shift in power did not just come with the economic crisis. Vladimir Putin seems to have decided, as soon as he first rose to political prominence ten years ago, to rein in the oligarchs.

"He's made it very clear that he expects the oligarchs to look after the workers, to help the government in terms of the stimulus package," says Chris Weafer. "And today I think it's very, very clear who's calling the shots, and it's not the oligarchs."...

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Struggle for top dog status

Calderon loses tangle with Congress over speech
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has lost his first scrape with the new Congress, and it hasn't even been sworn in yet.

In a sign of the altered political map, Calderon postponed his annual state of the nation speech... after lawmakers from the newly dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, objected to the timing.

Calderon, a conservative, had planned to deliver his address from the National Palace on Tuesday morning before a select audience; his office was already sending out invitations. Separately, his interior minister would go to Congress later in the day to present a written version of the report when the legislature opens.

But that plan rankled lawmakers from the PRI, who complained that Calderon had it backward. By law, they said, Congress should get the official report and then he could make a speech. The PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades until it was toppled in 2000, and a smaller party now control the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies after beating Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, in July elections. The PAN still holds the Senate.

After a flurry of haggling over the speech, the president yielded...

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Reporting on Mexico

The Washington Post has created an online special section titled Mexico at War

The section is described this way: "The Mexican government has launched a war against powerful drug traffickers who have enriched themselves with billions of dollars in profits from cocaine they smuggle in the United States. Washington Post correspondents are reporting from the frontlines on how the violent struggle is transforming Mexican society."

Right now, there is a video report titled, "Public Opinion in Mexico Turns Against Army" and an article titlted "Mayhem Crosses With Informers,".

There's a photo essay titled, "Mexico Targets Drug Trade in Michoacan."

You'll also find an interactive map showing locations of army activity, drug production, and trade.

I assume that this section of the Washington Post web site will be updated as reporters complete more articles on Mexico. It will probably be a good site to check on once in awhile to check for articles with relevance to politics and governance.

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Restore the subway and Stalin

Is it a sign of Soviet restoration?

Re-Stalinization of a Moscow Subway Station
A central Moscow subway station reopened this week after a painstaking, yearlong restoration of its initial Stalin-era luster, complete with gilt-trimmed words of praise to the Soviet dictator spelled out around the vestibule’s rotunda that add new fuel to debate about his role in Russian history.
That debate has simmered this summer, among politicians, historians, human rights activists and religious leaders, at dinner tables and in blogs, after a resolution passed in July by the parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe equated Stalin with Hitler for regimes that “brought about genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”...

In a mystical coincidence characteristic of Russia, Sergei Mikhalkov, who wrote all three versions of the anthem — the original version, the post-Stalin Soviet hymn and the post-Soviet version adopted under then-President Vladimir Putin — died in Moscow on Thursday at 96...

However, Putin Calls Nazi-Soviet Pact Immoral
Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, has published a lengthy article characterizing the Nazi-Soviet pact to divide Poland at the outset of World War II in 1939 as immoral, but he stressed that it was just one of a series of such deals that countries struck with the Nazis at that time...

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