Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 30, 2009

The underside of political culture

The British National Party and its leader, Nick Griffin, have been in the news recently. Is this another result of economic recession? Does the "threat" of the EU explain the changes? Is British politics changing?

On the edge: Why some communities feel frozen out and powerless
Though open racism has been dwindling in Britain, competition for jobs and state resources makes some whites grumble that they are taking second place. This is nothing new, but a recent rise in support for the British National Party (BNP), a far-right group whose policies include paying non-whites to go “home” to Africa or Asia, has rung alarm bells...

White discontent is a puzzle, because white Britons are much better off than others. About a fifth of white children are classified as poor; the figure runs from a quarter among Caribbeans and Indians to more than half among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Whites earn more than others and employment rates are higher. And they still benefit from discrimination...

Some white successes look less certain on closer scrutiny. Though white children in general do better than most minorities at school, poor ones come bottom of the league...

But the biggest white grievance is housing. The government’s annual Citizenship Survey asks people if they think their ethnicity counts against them in getting access to public services...

The government has traditionally focused on inner cities, where ethnic tensions are worst. It may be time to look more carefully at the edges... Alex Fenton, a Cambridge academic working for the Barrow Cadbury Trust, thinks policymakers have focused too exclusively on the centre. “Most battle-hardened urban economists know the names of inner-city areas, but a lot of these peripheral estates are not so well known and not so well researched,” he says. Time to get studying.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Brother really is watching

George Orwell might be surprised at the level of watching that "big brother" in the UK is doing. Then again, maybe he wouldn't be surprised.

Is the rule of law suffering in the UK? Will the public continue to accept the expansion of surveillance? Should courts be more involved in supervising that surveillance? In 2002, the BBC reported that "The average citizen in the UK is caught on CCTV cameras 300 times a day."

CNET news reported that "The United Kingdom has the most surveillance cameras per capita in the world." Follow that with the report that "UK CCTVs don't cut crime rates," and the seeds of a controversy are sown.

Ever-Present Surveillance Rankles the British Public
It has become commonplace to call Britain a “surveillance society,” a place where security cameras lurk at every corner, giant databases keep track of intimate personal details and the government has extraordinary powers to intrude into citizens’ lives.

A report in 2007 by the lobbying group Privacy International placed Britain in the bottom five countries for its record on privacy and surveillance, on a par with Singapore.

But the intrusions visited on Jenny Paton, a 40-year-old mother of three, were startling just the same. Suspecting Ms. Paton of falsifying her address to get her daughter into the neighborhood school, local officials here began a covert surveillance operation. They obtained her telephone billing records. And for more than three weeks in 2008, an officer from the Poole education department secretly followed her...

It turned out that Ms. Paton had broken no rules... Her case, now scheduled to be heard by a regulatory tribunal, has become emblematic of the struggle between personal privacy and the ever more powerful state here...

"Under the law, the localities and agencies can film people with hidden cameras, trawl through communication traffic data like phone calls and Web site visits...

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Big consequences

There are times when big consequences are unexpected to a man like me. The situation described here is about Uganda, but as blogger Jeremy Weate asks, is the same situation true in Nigeria?

How widespread is this explanation for the relative absence of women in politics, business, civil society?

Menstruation and school attendance in Uganda...
More than half of Ugandan girls who enrol in grade one drop out before sitting for their primary school-leaving examinations. The fact that girls are dropping out between age 11 and 13 is being linked to the beginning of the menstruation cycle and its associated challenges.

Research conducted by a non-government organisation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE), reveals that the lack of sanitary pads, coupled with other factors like the absence of water or separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools, is responsible for the drop-out rate...

A packet of sanitary pads costs the equivalent of $1.50 in Uganda - for the same amount you could get a kilo of sugar for the whole household...

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Talk about a generation gap

Forty years ago in the USA, there was a lot of talk about a "generation gap" as a social and political cleavage. Maybe there's one in Iran now. Is this a political cleavage we should pay attention to? Or is it just a few cases of youthful rebellion by prominent people?

Iran’s Politics Open a Generational Chasm
It had been years since Narges Kalhor could talk about politics with her father, Mehdi, a senior adviser and spokesman for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. He advocated greater restraints on social and political expression, while she favored more freedom. Still, they had always managed to get along.

But after Iran’s disputed presidential election in June and the protests that followed, the disagreement exploded into a breach. Last week — as her father accused her of being manipulated by the opponents of the government — Ms. Kalhor, now 25, applied for refugee status in Germany...

While Ms. Kalhor’s case has been widely publicized, she is hardly alone. Numerous children of prominent Iranians have become estranged from their powerful parents since the election, which the opposition says was rigged. Thousands more middle-class families have been divided by the generational chasm that opened over the summer...

Ms. Kalhor said... “My generation wants its most basic needs such as freedom of expression and personal freedoms,” she said. “We want to live, we do not want to face persecution for expressing our political opinion; as women, we don’t want to walk on the street with the constant horror that we could be intimidated for showing an inch of hair."

See also (for a different generation gap in Iran): Persepolis (the book) and Persepolis (the animated film).

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Looking for role models

If Russia is looking for a role model, Americans will probably ask why is it looking at China and not at the USA? I'm sure some Russians are asking why they need to look beyond their own history.

Russia’s Leaders See China as Template for Ruling
Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Communist Party, Russia’s rulers have hit upon a model for future success: the Communist Party.

Or at least, the one that reigns next door.

Like an envious underachiever, Vladimir V. Putin’s party, United Russia, is increasingly examining how it can emulate the Chinese Communist Party, especially its skill in shepherding China through the financial crisis relatively unbowed.

United Russia’s leaders even convened a special meeting this month with senior Chinese Communist Party officials to hear firsthand how they wield power.

In truth, the Russians express no desire to return to Communism as a far-reaching Marxist-Leninist ideology, whether the Soviet version or the much attenuated one in Beijing. What they admire, it seems, is the Chinese ability to use a one-party system to keep tight control over the country while still driving significant economic growth...

“The accomplishments of China’s Communist Party in developing its government deserve the highest marks,” Aleksandr D. Zhukov, a deputy prime minister and senior Putin aide, declared at the meeting with Chinese officials on Oct. 9 in the border city of Suifenhe, China, northwest of Vladivostok. “The practical experience they have should be intensely studied.”...

The fascination with the Chinese Communist Party underscores United Russia’s lack of a core philosophy. The party has functioned largely as an arm of Mr. Putin’s authority, even campaigning on the slogan “Putin’s Plan.” Lately, it has championed “Russian Conservatism,” without detailing what exactly that is...

Today, both countries govern with a potent centralized authority, overseeing economies with a mix of private and state industries, although the Russians have long seemed less disciplined in doing so.

Corruption is worse in Russia than China, according to global indexes, and foreign companies generally consider Russia’s investment climate less hospitable as well, in part because of less respect for property rights.

Russia has also been unable to match China in modernizing roads, airports, power plants and other infrastructure. And Russia is grappling with myriad health and social problems that have reduced the average life expectancy for men to 60...

Politically, Russia remains more open than China, with independent (though often co-opted) opposition parties and more freedom of speech. The most obvious contrast involves the Internet, which is censored in China but not in Russia.

Even so, Mr. Putin’s political aides have long studied how to move the political system to the kind that took root for many decades in countries like Japan and Mexico, with a de facto one-party government under a democratic guise, political analysts said. The Russians tend to gloss over the fact that in many of those countries, long-serving ruling parties have fallen...

Throughout recent centuries, Russia has flirted with both the West and East, its identity never quite settled, and analysts said that under Mr. Putin, the political leadership had grown scornful of the idea that the country had to embrace Western notions of democracy or governing.

That in part stems from the backlash stirred in the 1990s, after the Soviet fall, when Russia faced economic hardship and political chaos, which many Putin supporters say the West helped to cause.

Dmitri Kosyrev, a political commentator for Russia’s state news agency and author of detective novels set in Asia, said it was only natural that the Kremlin would cast its gaze to the East.

“When they discovered that there was a way to reform a formally socialist nation into something much better and more efficient, of course they would take note,” Mr. Kosyrev said. “Everyone here sees China as the model, because Russia is not the model.”

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The new EU

Why is it so difficult for European citizens to understand the EU? Is it any more difficult for our students to understand?

The future's Lisbon
The workings of the EU remain mysterious... The European Commission, a souped-up civil service, has the sole right to propose legislation. Laws are then adopted by the Council of Ministers, representing national governments. In most cases they also need to be approved by the European Parliament—hence the Brussels jargon of “co-decision”. Legal disputes are settled by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

A central justification for the Lisbon treaty is that Europe has been all but paralysed by enlargement to 27 countries, because unanimity too often remains the rule in the council...

Yet the Euro-establishment’s delight in lots more majority voting is just as nonsensical and self-serving as most of the Yes and No arguments. If enlargement had really gummed up the works of the EU, you would expect to see a large number of vital dossiers blocked by unanimity. Such a logjam does not exist...

Supporters of deeper political and economic integration like majority voting because it makes it harder for less enthusiastic countries to dissent, or to slow legislation down...

This is linked to the second big thing that supporters praise about Lisbon: a substantial increase in the number of policy areas where the European Parliament has an equal (or nearly equal) say to the council through co-decision...

In the short run, Lisbon will throw up almost as many problems as it is supposed to solve. It may take 20 years to digest the changes it brings to EU foreign policy, says one senior official. Even then, it is likely to help most in places where Europe already has clout, either because it is a big donor (as in Africa), or because the countries in question, such as the Balkans, long to join the EU. The big EU states will go on running their own foreign policies...

Extra power for the European Parliament will combine with majority voting to make it harder for dissenting countries to restrain others. Federalists are convinced this will speed up European integration. Sceptics look at today’s Europe, and the growing trends towards national selfishness even in once-model pupils like Germany, and wonder whether Lisbon is out of step with today’s political realities before it is even enacted...

Europe is an experiment, and frequently frustrating, says one senior official. In its defence it is, he argues, “the best functioning organisation in the world that attempts to deal with the fact that politics is local, and economics global.” Lisbon is a highly flawed attempt to help Europe bridge that gap. It had better work, because there is no appetite for a new treaty, nor will there be for many years to come.

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Wednesday, October 21, 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. any gap or opening.

  3. the next several days of inactivity on this blog as I hit the road to present a workshop in far off Illinois.

[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

Seeds of a party system?

Iran opposition: Use of force won't halt demands
Iran's embattled opposition leaders promised to press on with their campaign against the country's rulers, saying the use of force to crush the post-election protests will not silence their demands for democratic change.

The powerful statement of defiance... from opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and former President Mohammad Khatami also sent a message to their supporters that the protest campaign triggered by the disputed June 12 presidential election still had energy and leadership though street demonstrations fizzled out months ago...

Thousands of people were arrested in the heavy crackdown that crushed the mass protests in support of Mousavi. It was the country's worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The opposition says at least 72 protesters were killed, while the government puts the number of confirmed dead at 30...

The two leaders said curbing liberties, suppressing reformist media, imprisoning activists and leveling charges against reformist politicians without giving them the right to respond in state media were contrary to Iran's constitution and Islamic Sharia law.

A political movement created by Mousavi called the Green Path of Hope has sought to provide the opposition to Ahmadinejad's government with a rallying point even as the street protests have fizzled...

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Upcoming elections

Election Reports and Political Science: Update
Thanks to Joshua Tucker, writing at The Monkey Cage blog, I just looked at the schedule of upcoming elections for the rest of '09. None of them appear to be in countries that are likely to be central to comparative courses, but the list is a reminder that there are a lot of countries outside of the usual curriculum.

Remaining elections in 2009:

* 20 October: Niger, Parliament
* 25 October: Tunisia, President and Parliament
* 25 October: Uruguay, President and Parliament
* 28 October: Mozambique, President and Parliament
* October: Moldova, President (indirect)
* 7 November: Northern Mariana Islands, Governor and Legislative
* 22 November: Romania, President (1st Round)
* 27–28 November: Namibia, President and Parliament
* 29 November: Comoros, Parliament
* 29 November: Côte d’Ivoire, President
* 29 November: Equatorial Guinea, President
* 29 November: Honduras, President and Parliament
* 29 November: Switzerland, Referendum
* 6 December: Bolivia, President and Parliament
* 6 December: Romania, President (2st Round, if necessary)
* 13 December: Chile, President and Parliament
* 12 December: Abkhazia, President (1st Round)
* 27 December: Uzbekistan, Parliament

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More Russian public opinion

Kathryn Green who teaches at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School in St. Louis Park, Minnnesota, pointed out this article as an illustration of the complexity of Russian political culture.

I looked for reports of the original survey, but the Levada Centre's English web site is "Under development."

Democracy 'not needed' in Russia
A growing number of Russians believe their country does not need democracy, a nationwide survey by one of Russia's leading polling agencies suggests.

The poll by the Levada-Centre showed that 57% of those questioned considered that Russia needed democracy - the lowest number since 2006...

Nearly 95% of respondents said they had little or no influence on what was happening in the country...

The majority (60%) also said it would be better for Russia if the president controlled both the courts and the parliament, which can hardly be described as a democratic aspiration...

The poll also suggested that 43% agreed with the question that the country sometimes needed an "iron fist" leader.

And nearly 25% said the Soviet Union had a better political system that the current Russian model (36%) or that in Western countries (15%)...

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Competing legitimacies

God furious if women governors: Iran cleric
A top hardline Iranian cleric said... that "God's fury" would be unleashed" if Iran appoints women as governors of some provinces, as was raised as a possibility by a minister last week.

"If some people want to change the principles and values of the revolution without considering the views of clerics, they will face the fury of God and of the people," Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayghani said on his website...

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also faced stiff resistance from hardline clerics, including Golpayghani, in appointing women as cabinet ministers.

Lawmakers, however, did approve one woman cabinet minister - the first female minister of the Islamic republic -- during a vote of confidence in September...

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Ending the revolution?

Seizure of Mexican Utility Spurs Protests: Calderón Denies Move Is First Salvo in Campaign to Dismantle Trade Unions
Union members and their political allies filled the streets of the Mexican capital Thursday night to condemn President Felipe Calderón's recent liquidation of a state-run power utility, a surprise move seen by many as an assault on organized labor.

Declaring the state-owned company so poorly managed as to be "unsustainable," Calderón on Saturday night authorized the seizure of Central Light and Power. He also deployed about 1,000 federal police officers in riot gear to enforce his decree; workers from another state-run power company swept in to take over the electric grid and keep the lights on...

The government has long allowed state enterprises and their powerful unions to operate at a loss, in order to boost employment and keep the peace between haves and have-nots. But, at Central Light and Power, Calderón said the government could not continue to support staffing levels and salaries demanded by the powerful Mexican Electricians Union in the midst of a deep economic crisis. It did not help that the company has lost a third of its electricity to waste and theft...

On Wednesday, Calderón, a member of the conservative, pro-business National Action Party, denied charges by the electricians and their political supporters that the liquidation of Light and Power was the first step in a coming campaign to dismantle other trade unions, such as guilds for teachers and oil workers, which play an outsize role in the economic and political life of Mexico...

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rumors, rumors

This reminds me of the day I ripped a UPI headline from the teletype machine (I'm obviously talking about ancient times) and read on air a bulletin that said Nikita Khrushchev had died. He hadn't, but the rumor died quickly. This comes from al Arabiya.

Iran's supreme leader rumored to be dead
The closure of the official website of Iran's supreme leader fueled rumors that have been circulating for the past few days that Ali Khamenei has died after he collapsed last week.

Further fueling the rumors were the closure of the official websites of Iran’s radio and television all of which were not said to have been closed due to technical problems...

The 70-year-old supreme leader reportedly collapsed last Monday and drifted into a coma...

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reported to have met with Mojtaba Khamenei, a hard-line cleric and son of Khamenei, to discuss potential successors and speculate on who the Assembly of Experts, the body in charge of electing the Supreme Leader, would choose.

Khamenei photo disproves death rumors
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office released a picture of the leader from an official meeting he held Saturday with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

The picture is the first to be published since rumors about the Ayatollah sinking into a coma surfaced. Earlier this week, a website with close ties to the Iranian government claimed the rumors stemmed from western propaganda aimed at confusing the Iranian public and destabilizing the country...

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Big news in Abuja

The news didn't make the headline in the New York Times, but as we should expect, it was a big deal in Nigeria.

Country Wins UN Security Council Seat
Nigeria has won election for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations (UN) Security Council alongside Gabon and Brazil.

Bosnia and Lebanon won but will be in the rare position of being subject to scrutiny by the UN's most powerful body while serving their two-year terms because the former has never served on the council and the latter has not been a member since 1953-54...

From the New York Times:
Lebanon, Bosnia Among Five New U.N. Council Members

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Russian protest

Is it more than symbolic?

Parties at Odds With Kremlin Stage Walkout
Opposition parties in Russia’s Parliament, which have long been relatively docile allies of the Kremlin, staged an unusual walkout on Wednesday to protest what they contended was pervasive fraud in local elections...

“This last election was the dirtiest that there has ever been,” said Gennadi A. Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party...

A nonpartisan monitoring organization said the local elections on Sunday, which occurred in Moscow and many other regions, were far from fair, with numerous reports of vote-rigging and other violations. United Russia swept most of the contests — for example, taking 32 of 35 seats in the Moscow city legislature.

Such malfeasance has marred many other recent elections in Russia, but opposition parties have typically done little more than file legal protests. It remains unclear whether they will try to press their case beyond the walkout...

Russia's Medvedev snubs opposition in election row
The Kremlin on Thursday said President Dmitry Medvedev backed the ruling party's landslide victory in disputed regional elections, snubbing opposition parties who walked out of parliament alleging vote-rigging...

When asked about the row, Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters that Medvedev's views had not changed from Monday when he hailed United Russia's victory as showing the party had a "legal and moral right" to run the regions...

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's not just Americans

Russians Say Medvedev Acts on Putin’s Orders
A large majority of people in Russia think president Dmitry Medvedev governs under the influence of former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin, according to a poll by the Yury Levada Analytical Center. 67 per cent of respondents say Medvedev conducts policy guided by Putin...

Polling Data

Do you think Dmitry Medvedev conducts policy in an independent fashion, or does he act under the influence of Vladimir Putin and his inner circle?

In an independent fashion 20%
Under the influence of Putin 67%
Hard to answer 13%

Source: Yury Levada Analytical Center 
Methodology: Interviews with 1,600 Russian adults, conducted from Sept. 18 to Sept. 21, 2009. No margin of error was provided.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not blame, but responsibility

A good friend of mine once said he always understood "responsibility" to mean the ability to respond. The choice of how to respond, of course, is often a moral one.

Aaron Akinyemi, a Nigerian journalist working primarily in the UK, thinks it's time for Africans to stop blaming others and respond to the disasters of African governance.

What would your students say? Would a non-African journalist been able to deliver this message with much impact?

No more excuses for Africa
A despicable cycle of corruption continually repeats itself across Africa and is becoming tiresome – as are some of the usual explanations for underdevelopment in Africa: colonialism, neo-colonialism and the inability to fully recover from its lingering after effects. These old excuses are little more than convenient spiels designed to divert attention away from the most immediate root of underdevelopment in much of Africa today – greed and corruption... It is high time for Africa to stop passing the buck and acknowledge the role its leaders, whose mental faculties are held to ransom by their own avarice, are having on the continent's inadequate rate of development.

Europe too certainly has plenty to answer for vis-a-vis underdevelopment in Africa. A legacy of slavery and colonialism left the continent's human and natural resources exploited and spent. Sophisticated indigenous socio-political systems were dismantled, arbitrary geographical boundaries drawn up and scores of different ethnic groups lumped together with little regard for their different languages and customs.When Europe finally exited, it left behind governmental systems largely based on patronage and thus prone to graft...

But where does victimhood end and personal responsibility begin?...

Political and moral corruption now seems an unspoken prerequisite to attain office in Africa, insidiously weaving its way into Africa's cultural fabric...

Nuhu Ribadu, the former chairman of Nigeria's economic and financial crimes commission, was feted internationally as a beacon of hope in Africa's fight against corruption when he recovered billions of dollars in stolen public funds and successfully prosecuted scores of international advance fee fraudsters and top government officials. When his investigations began to get too close for comfort and he refused to be bought, the government essentially sacked him and forced him into exile in the UK...

Africa must own up to and challenge the role its morally bankrupt elite are playing in the continent's underdevelopment and in the suffering of its disadvantaged citizens. But developed nations must also consider the impact of their own complicity in corruption on the continent. It's a myth that fraud is the sole preserve of the developing world, and sanctimonious calls for political transparency ring very hollow when the likes of Britain and China send subliminal messages that bribery is acceptable.

Pointing fingers at the west won't build good roads or feed the poor. Modern-day external exploitation can only be adequately challenged once Africa gets its own house in order...

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News about Russia

Joshua Tucker, of NYU, posted the following on The Monkey Cage blog:

Russia Roundup
As a brief reminder that there is more going on in the world than debates over healthcare, Nobel prizes and SNL skits, here’s a quick summary of recent news from Russia:

Regional elections were held in 75 of Russia’s 83 regions on Sunday, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party was the big winner amid allegations of electoral fraud...

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Moscow now for talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, apparently not asking Russia to take specific steps in regard to Iran’s nuclear program...

Both Russia and Georgia continue to react to last month’s release of the report of the EU’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia...

Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin... is in China signing trade deals but apparently has not reached agreement on a gas deal...

Finally, Mikhail Kasyanov, a prime minister during Putin’s first term as Russian president, has published a new book entitled Without Putin that “offers a scathing critique of the current prime minister and former president..."

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Reform the reformers?

For years, the countries that fund and run the IMF (the group of 8?) have been pushing for change and reform in the economies and politics of nations in crisis (the old Third World?). Now, the IMF is being reformed. Or is it?

Nations Cast Plan for Expanded IMF
The push to reinvent the International Monetary Fund took a significant step forward... with nations agreeing to a rough timetable to come up with plans to reform its governance and expand its role in the global economy.

The agreements... come as the mission of the 65-year-old Washington-based institution is re-examined in the wake of the global financial crisis. The fund's 186 member nations agreed to draft a new and broader mandate for the fund... The nations also preliminarily agreed to reshape the fund's voting structure, promising a blueprint for giving more clout to emerging giants like Brazil and China by January 2011...

Founded in the wake of World War II, the IMF has served as a lender of last resort to countries in financial crisis -- most often developing nations -- through rescue packages that often came with strict demands for fiscal restraint and free-market reforms. The United States, Europe and Japan -- the major contributors to the IMF -- have held the most sway over those decisions, including which countries received money, how much and with what kind of strings attached...

Yet many nations, including the United States, remain cautious of vesting too much power with the fund, and few in Istanbul this week were talking about granting it any powers to enforce its decisions...

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Monday, October 12, 2009

The secret of success, part 2

Not flexibility, but totalitarian power

A member of the sharing comparative group, posted this article to the group's web site. The author offers a very different explanation for the Communist Party's success in China.

If you pair this article with the one preceding it, you can ask your students to discuss (or write) about which one seems most convincing (and why, of course).

China's Political Feet of Clay
Somebody has rained on the Chinese Communist Party’s parade. In the runup to Oct. 1, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, China’s netizens were enthralled by a 10,000-character essay calling for political reform. As propagandists saturated the media with paeans to the country’s economic and technological achievements, this Internet manifesto lamented that “Stalinism is wreaking havoc on [China’s] political, ideological and cultural construction.”

When China’s development seems to be progressing smoothly, why should such an attack on government policy gain so many supporters? The piece has struck a chord because its critique goes to the heart of China’s political stagnation. Basic constitutional issues such as the delineation of the functions and jurisdiction of the Party, government, the legislature, the judiciary and the army remain murky, even as the economy develops at break-neck speed...

Despite all its manifold achievements, the CCP’s celebrations are overshadowed by its monumental failure to create modern institutions and political systems. Even as the leadership boasts about the “China model” or the “Beijing consensus,” the country’s fundamental political institutions are in disarray...

Given Beijing’s failure to grapple with the population’s dissatisfaction, the CCP has to rely on brute force to keep so-called “destabilizing forces” at bay. The Tiananmen Square massacre set the precedent for the CCP calling on the PLA... to defend itself against the people’s wrath. And the unprecedentedly large-scale military parade on Oct. 1 was a show of force aimed as much at the Party’s myriad domestic enemies—dissidents as well as Tibetan and Uighur “splittists”—as at China’s foreign foes...

These antediluvian systems of governance have remained frozen because the slightest change is seen as potentially subversive...

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The secret of success

Ideological flexibility

Justin Vela is a freelance journalist from Finland. He wrote this report for Asia Times Onlne. What would your students say about how his description matches the one in your textbook?

The secret of the CCP's success
The "secret" of CCP's success perhaps lies in its ability to adapt itself to changes of politico-social environment. Indeed, 60 years of rule has also transformed the CCP itself. It is no longer a revolutionary party but tries to attract elites from all social sectors to be its members. Today, the CCP boasts 75 million members out of the country's 1.3 billion population...

Under the CCP, China has become the world's third-largest economy. Thanks to a $586 billion stimulus package, the country is weathering the economic crisis better than most countries. Many analysts believe that the country will reach its goal of 8% growth by the end of the year.

The CCP has gone from being an underground organization founded in Shanghai in 1921 to being the largest political party in the world today. It has emerged from the Long March and chaos of the Cultural Revolution stronger than ever.

Critics might say that this is due to repression the CCP has foisted upon the Chinese people, but Chinese history is full of uprisings against unjust rulers. Repression alone cannot explain how the CCP has held onto power for so long. Adapting to change, rather than repression, is the CCP's greatest strength.

The CCP has made a great effort to learn from the successes and failures of many political parties throughout history. The theory of "adapt or die" has proven itself. Successive political leaders... have shaped the party to mirror the Chinese people while at the same time maintaining an iron grasp over the country. Once it was the impoverished peasantry who were the core of the CCP. Brutally, they massed to give the party total power. The core of the CCP is now China's rising middle class. The people who work in businesses and industries, like exporters and entrepreneurs - the people who are largely responsible for making China what it is today...

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Video on UK Supreme Court

Tucker Barton pointed out that the judicial changes in Britain began last summer. Karmin Tomlinson pointed out this bit of video at YouTube that helps explain the changes, and might help students understand the constitutional changes.

The Law Lords of the House of Lords did indeed stop hearing appeals last July 30, as the new UK Supreme Court prepared to assume the role of highest appellate court. This video is an interview with one of the Law Lords, Lord Vance, about his and the Law Lords' role in government. BTW, Alan Carter confirmed that all but one of the new Supreme Court justices are former Law Lords.

In the process of looking at this video, I also found some others, produced by Parliament that might be helpful.

A 2-minute video titled The Role of an MP.

A 4-minute video titled, The House of Lords: What's it all about?

Another titled, Making Laws: How a law is made.

And for comparative purposes, the Schoolhouse Rocks classic, How a bill becomes a law.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Taking care of (other) business

This message is peripheral to this blog, but I suspect the blog is a way to reach people.

I was tending to the membership list of "Sharing Comparative," a group for teachers of AP Comparative Government and Politics (see link at the right if you want to join) and discovered that several people haven't been receiving messages from the group.

This may be a relief to some people, although there are only a few messages a month from the group, and I hope most of them offer good teaching ideas.

Some of the non-delivery happens because people have changed e-mail addresses and have joined with new ones. Sometimes mailboxes get full and won't accept any more mail.

What ever the reason, I have no way of contacting most of these people because they joined with User Names (not given names) and the e-mail address isn't accepting mail. Even though I recognize some of the names, this posting still seems the best way to try to get in touch.

If you recognize your name on the list below and want to stay in touch with the "Sharing Comparative" group, send me a note at

Sidetrackken AT yahoo DOT com

and I'll see what I can do. Messages to you have been bouncing back to the group since the date following your address.

(If you recognize someone else's name, let her or him know about this.)

  • a DOT olson73 AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 7/15/2009

  • akbar DOT keshodkar AT pinec... Soft Bouncing since 9/22/2009

  • bethafry AT aol DOT com Soft Bouncing since 7/6/2009

  • dciamacca AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 7/27/2009

  • ericahuntingdale AT yaho... Soft Bouncing since 7/27/2009

  • glbopp AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 5/2/2009

  • glennmollyfla AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 7/10/2009

  • gwgottschalk AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 10/8/2009

  • rmskassel AT online DOT de Soft Bouncing since 8/3/2009

  • kielmeyer44 AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 6/17/2009

  • lsmoot88 AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 2/20/2009

  • nsudborough AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 4/22/2009

  • susan DOT shivers AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 3/27/2009

  • susan DOT shue AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 8/14/2009

  • tbarton1714 AT yahoo DOT com Soft Bouncing since 7/27/2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

Toward military rule?

Politically, the Iran's Revolutionary Guard has become more powerful since the recent disputed elections. Now, it seems to be taking a bigger position in the economy. That makes it another force (along with the bazaar merchants and the black marketeers) favoring continued political and economic isolation.

Elite Guard in Iran Tightens Its Grip With Telecom Move
[T]he Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has moved aggressively to tighten its grip on society, most recently with its takeover of a majority share in the nation’s telecommunications monopoly.

The nearly $8 billion acquisition by a company affiliated with the elite force has amplified concerns in Iran over what some call the rise of a pseudogovernment...

“It’s not just a matter of the Guards dominating the economy, but of controlling the state,” said Alireza Nader, an expert on Iran and co-author of a comprehensive RAND Corporation report on the Revolutionary Guards...

Increasingly, it is the interests of the Guards and its allies that are driving the nation’s policies, and those interests have often been defined by isolation from the West...

Since the [post-election] protests, senior Guards officials and former officials have been moved into many important government positions. There is now talk that the Guards’ leadership is considering transforming the Basij militia, a volunteer force under its command, into a professional, full-time force...

Until this case, the most striking instance of the Guards’ muscling into a business involved management of the Imam Khomeini Airport. In May 2004 the Guards shut down the airport and evicted the Turkish company that had the contract to run it. The Guards then put its own firm in place. The Guards also appears to have defied an edict by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to privatize its many holdings, which run from laser eye clinics and car dealerships to control of oil and gas fields, according to the RAND report...

Some analysts argue that the Guards, with a firm control of major sectors of the economy, has little interest in opening relations with the West, because integration with the global economy could bring in competition and require a degree of transparency the force is not comfortable with...

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mexico's economic politics

This bit of complex revolutionary, industrial, economic policies might well help make some sense of Mexico's politics.

How many Mexicans does it take to drill an oil well?
IT IS bad enough that Mexico’s economy is in deep recession, triggered by its close links to the ailing United States. To make matters worse, the country’s oil industry, its fiscal cash-cow for the past three decades, is declining swiftly... Barring big new finds, the world’s seventh-largest oil producer is forecast to become a net importer by 2017.

The Mexican treasury is ill-prepared for this. Taxes and royalties from Pemex, the state-owned oil monopoly, have accounted for almost two-fifths of federal revenues in recent years, compensating for one of Latin America’s weakest tax regimes... If oil output drops below 2m b/d, as many industry-watchers fear, the government would be forced to cut spending by more than 10%—or jack up taxes correspondingly, to avoid an unsustainable budget deficit. This might threaten economic recovery...

Ever since Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated foreign oil companies in 1938, the state oil monopoly has been seen by many politicians, especially from the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its offshoots, as the untouchable bone marrow of Mexican sovereignty...

All this has curbed the country’s ability to capitalise on its geological wealth. Since many oil-exploration projects take longer than the six-year presidential term to bear fruit, the politicians have a powerful incentive to spend oil revenues rather than reinvest them...

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

One indicator of effective government

There's a great interactive map at the Ibrahim Index site.

The Mo Ibrahim Index on African governance

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State corruption and capacity in Nigeria

Imnakoya, a Nigerian-American who lives in Minnesota and blogs at Grandiose Parlor pointed out a video on a light rail project in Lagos.

This is a case study in state capacity and corruption.

While looking at that video, I found another about the Obasanjo administration's Nigerian Railway Modernization Project.

It turns out that the Obasanjo-era project was one of a long line of railroad development projects, none of which have amounted to much in spite of spending millions of naria. Now, the Yar'Adua administration is proposing a new rail project.

One summary of the history of rail development projects appeared on the Nigerians in America web site, History of Nigeria's railroad development.

More recently, the Daily Trust reported last April on the sorry history of railroad development schemes in Nigeria.

Railway Going Nowhere Fast
Everything about the scenery tells you this is a railway station. There is a rail track snaking into the distance towards the ever-busy roads of the bustling commercial city of Kano where it cuts on its journey to surrounding cities and towns where once it facilitated the movements of bales of cotton and bags of groundnuts from the great pyramids during the period of the agricultural boom. There is a control tower and scattered carcasses of what is left of former trains and coaches.

But there are no passengers or goods waiting to make the journey through the valleys and slopes that trail several hundred kilometers to the sea port in Lagos with stoppages at Kaduna, Port Harcourt and several towns and cities on the way...

The railway sector has paid dearly for this recklessness. The rail that used to carry three million tonnes of freight in 1964 now carries less than 10,000 tonnes per annum. Not only that, passengers have declined from 11 million as obtained in 1964 to about one million in 2003 at a period where the national population has almost doubled...

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Driving in Lagos

Sometimes very mundane things are illustrative of life, and even political culture. Here's a dashcam video of seven minutes of driving in Lagos. There are interesting subtitles, but they're hard to read. Some of the video is speeded up and looks like a video game. Nonetheless, I found it interesting.

The link is Driving in Lagos

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Middle class shoppers

Imnakoya, who blogs at Grandiose Parlor pointed me to a 4-minute video, "The Nigerian Middle Class Profiled." It's very good and was filmed in the largest shopping mall in Lagos.

The Nigerian Middle Class

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Rule of law in China

Corruption is a major problem in China. Guanxi sometimes make it seem that it's possible to get away with anything if you know the right people. But rule of law seems to be a reality in China, as long as the Party and the system the Party defines is not challenged.

Dan Harris, writing at the China Law Blog, and Matt Schivenza, writing in his China Journal, point out an example of the rule of law in China.

Schivenza offers this translation of a Chinese news story: "At 2pm on August 12th, a foreign woman... at the Number 1 Seaside Bathing Beach sunbathed half-nude, behavior immediately triggering a  commotion at the beach. Some residents dubbed the woman’s behavior ‘out of line’, yet many beach-goers still approached the woman for a photograph."

The reporter interviewed a man in his 70s, who was quoted as saying, "'With so many people around, this kind of behavior is quite unbecoming!', said a septuagenerian man who couldn’t help but shake his head after seeing the woman. 'This may be normal overseas, but here it’s indecent.'"

Harris quoted another part of the news report to make his point that rule of law is an accepted and operative concept in China: "Shortly thereafter, this reporter went to the beach management office, where he was told by a person responsible that although the beach had encountered topless guests in the past, they had never found one daring to go topless in front of so many people. 'There’s nothing we can do about it!'. This reporter was told that in the past several days many residents and guests alike have complained about this matter, but because no clear law exists prohibiting this sort of behavior, beach employees simply could not intervene."

Harris adds, "This does not prove there is freedom of political expression and this does not prove bureaucrats do not sometimes act thuggishly, but this does prove that China does have laws that are followed." He concludes, "[I]ndividual freedoms in China are given a fairly decent swath, so long as they do not impinge upon the government/party."

Supporting that idea, one commentator opined on Harris' blog, "Don't believe for a minute the relevant authorities would have reacted this way if some high ranking cadre would have felt [offended] by the topless woman."

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Nigeria trivia

Country As Destination for Stolen Vehicles
Nigeria has become such a notorious destination for vehicles stolen from other parts of the world, especially Europe, that it has caught the attention of the International Police Organisation (INTERPOL)...

While we welcome every initiative that would improve legitimate trading across international borders and stamp out smuggling and trafficking in stolen goods, we are however of the view that tackling the problem of stolen vehicles at destination points is a poor strategy... The INTERPOL should begin its operation, by trying to stop stolen vhicles from leaving their shores...

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

EU treaty approval

Irish approval of the EU treaty makes its adoption more likely. Tony Blair may yet get a new job.

Ireland Backs Treaty to Streamline E.U.
They rejected it only 16 months ago. But in a stunning about-face spurred by economic turmoil, Ireland’s voters have overwhelmingly approved a far-reaching treaty meant to consolidate the power of the European Union and reorganize the way it does business, the government announced Saturday.

Ireland’s approval of the pact, known as the Lisbon Treaty, removes one of the biggest stumbling blocks to its eventual enactment by Europe as a whole. The treaty would give Europe a more powerful foreign policy chief and its first full-time president, and strengthen the role of the European Parliament; it is also meant to more clearly delineate the relationship between national legislatures and Europe...

Signed by European leaders in 2007, the Lisbon Treaty is the result of years of painstaking negotiations among countries trying to retain their national identities and hang on to power while ceding some control to an ever more integrated Europe. A reflection of the European Union’s rapid expansion in the past five years, to 27 members from 15, the treaty must be adopted by all members to take force. Now only two countries are left: Poland, whose approval is all but assured, and the Czech Republic, where the situation is more uncertain...

A no vote by Ireland would have buried the Lisbon Treaty for good, creating institutional chaos in Brussels...

Ireland’s Constitution required that the treaty be put to a direct national vote; the other European countries have accepted it by votes of their legislatures and executives...

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House of Lords

House of Lords: What's it all about?

When you find one thing on YouTube, it's very easy to find other related videos. Here's one I found while looking at the interview that Karmin Tomlinson recommended. It looks good. There are a lot of assumptions that American students will challenge.

It is a 4-minute video, produced the UK Parliament; brief interviews with Lords and person-on-the-street answers to questions about Lords.

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The UK's new supreme court

As a follow-up to the earlier post about the new supreme court, Karmin Tomlinson pointed out this interveiw with Lord Vance, one of Parliament's Law Lords. It was done last July as the Law Lords were about to announce their final judgments. It might help explain the changes to your students.

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Still paying attention to Chinese history?

A British teacher in China offers Anniversaries of the Past in his Liuzhou Laowai blog. He includes videos from October 1 in 1949, 1959, 1969, and 1984.

The series makes for interesting comparisons with 2009's celebrations.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

If you're still paying attention to Chinese history, two

Andrew Jacobs, writing in the New York Times wants to balance the celebratory history of the PRC's 60th anniversary with a few of the sour notes from that history. Those of us who have studied a lot of history may take it for granted that there's unstated ugliness in anyone's past. However, our students' frames of reference might not include such breadth. Perhaps reminders like this are important for them.

China Is Wordless on Traumas of Communists’ Rise
Unlike in other cities taken by the People’s Liberation Army during China’s civil war, there were no crowds to greet the victors as they made their triumphant march through the streets of this industrial city in the heart of Manchuria.

Even if relieved to learn that hostilities with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army had come to an end, most residents — the ones who had not died during the five-month siege — were simply too weak to go outdoors...

In what China’s history books hail as one of the war’s decisive victories, Mao’s troops starved out the formidable Nationalist garrison that occupied Changchun with nary a shot fired. What the official story line does not reveal is that at least 160,000 civilians also died during the siege of the northeastern city, which lasted from June to October of 1948...

“Changchun was like Hiroshima,” wrote Zhang Zhenglu, a lieutenant colonel in the People’s Liberation Army who documented the siege in White Snow, Red Blood, a book that was immediately banned after publication in 1989. “The casualties were about the same. Hiroshima took nine seconds; Changchun took five months.”...

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If you're still paying attention to Chinese history

Dan Harris, who writes the China Law Blog, recommends the Financial Times online feature People's Republic of China at 60.

It's a four-part timeline that offers descriptions of "the key political and economic moments in the history of the People’s Republic since its founding on October 1, 1949."

It also includes historic photos of people and events from the last 60 years.

This could be a set of slides for a lecture on Chinese history or a welcome supplement to your textbook's section on Chinese history. If you're not teaching about China now, save this for future use.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

A UK Supreme Court from today

1 October 2009 marks a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United Kingdom: transferring judicial authority away from the House of Lords, and creating a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom.

The Supreme Court’s 12 Justices will maintain the highest standards set by the Appellate Committee, but will now be explicitly separate from both Government and Parliament.

The Court will hear appeals on arguable points of law of the greatest public importance, for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases

Occasionally, The Court will be called upon to interpret European law and the European Convention on Human Rights as they relate to our domestic laws.

If human rights principles seem to have been breached, it may be possible to appeal to the European Court after all avenues of appeal in the United Kingdom have been exhausted, or The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in this particular case.

Learn more details about the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005.

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Chinese Party's party

Is there a connection between authoritarian regimes and awesome, celebratory public displays of human behavior? (Go ahead, make your own comparisons.)

The BBC coverage, including a short video of amazing fireworks (and I'm a fan of fireworks) and great photos of the daytime parade, is quite good.

Communist China marks 60th year
China has been staging mass celebrations to mark 60 years since the Communist Party came to power.

The day started with vast lines of tanks, soldiers and missile launchers parading through the capital Beijing.

Later, in Tiananmen Square, there was a spectacular fireworks show and a concert of patriotic songs and dancing...

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Another national anniversary

China is not the only country noting a national day today. Nigeria became independent 49 years ago today. Two of the major newspapers in Lagos don't think there's a lot to celebrate. These editorials would probably be good supplements to your textbook's Nigeria chapter.

From the Daily Independent, Lagos

Still Wobbly At 49
Today, Nigeria is 49 years old as an independent country. Like most post-colonial states, the federation embraced independence with a great deal of promise, hope and expectation. Most of these positive expectations have, unfortunately, been dashed, so much so that Nigerians no longer feel any excitement about the nation's anniversary...

The country's... caught in perpetual childhood, for some mysterious reason. Rather than exude the robustness of mind and physical energy of an adult whose exuberance is beginning to be moderated by the early signs of approaching old age, Nigeria refuses to grow up. For two decades at least, its infrastructure has stagnated in decay; its vital institutions are in ruins; the once-vibrant agriculture-based economy is comatose, knocked senseless by petro-dollar intoxication. With mass poverty afflicting the people, despondency has long set in. Credible multilateral agencies all classify the country as a leading member of the league of the world's poorest nations. Transparency International, in its recent report, rated Nigeria among the five most corrupt nations on the globe. It is a dismal report card of a country after nearly five decades.

It could not have been otherwise. Here is a nation that, for many years, produced about two million barrels of crude oil a day, the sixth largest exporter of the product in the world. Yet, owing to corruption, ineptitude and villainy among the ruling elite, millions of Nigerians are out of work and without hope of finding a decent job. It has become a cliché to say the country is richly endowed with natural resources, including a huge population (about 140 million) of talented and enterprising individuals? What else does a nation need to move forward?...

The nation's bane is, to put it bluntly, a corrupt, selfish, indolent and irresponsible leadership. Trapped in the morass of a callous, self-demeaning ruling class, Nigeria has become a nightmare for its citizens, and an international embarrassment. The stage for this failure was set at about the same time that the nation took her seat in the comity of independent nations...

From Vanguard, Lagos
Niggling at 49
Nigeria has fallen from the high expectations at independence to a country that celebrates its survival of self-inflicted injuries from intrigues that pass for governance. Nigeria is so backward that our leaders denounce statistics that show our country is notches away from the worst performances in the Human Development Index.

Nigeria ranked 154 out of 177 countries, in the 2008 Human Development Index, missing the bottom by 23 places. Nigeria with its abundant human and natural resources ranks behind Libya, Gabon, Mauritius, and Equatorial Guinea. Some African countries that have been at war for decades, or face the challenges of drought and poor resources are a few notches behind Nigeria. Interestingly, they have better development plans, which if implemented, would get them ahead of our country that proudly dubs itself the giant of Africa...

Nigeria appears to be a country with its greatness in the past, a declined destination, a fractured foundation of injustice, a defying entity that thinks so much of itself that it keeps believing the world cannot move on without it...

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Democracy in Chinese Party?

Maybe a 60th anniversary is a good time to talk about democratization -- even in China.

CPC publishes plans for intra-Party democracy, fighting corruption
The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee has promised to guarantee the "democratic rights of Party members" in order to improve Party building.

The pledge was published... in a document detailing plans to fight corruption and improve democracy within the Party.

The document contained a guarantee that Party members have the right to supervise and obtain information about Party affairs and participate in Party elections.

It included a promise to allow both Party members and members of the public to nominate candidates in grassroots-level Party elections.

It also decided to promote outstanding talents and develop a team of younger and more professional leaders...

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