Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, December 31, 2009

At a moment of peril

"At a moment of peril" by Imnakoya at the blog Grandiose Parlor.

"There are two options for Nigeria at this time – succumb to the national malady; implode and disintegrate, or recover. But the recovery comes at a price, and given the extent of grime and rust that have penetrated the national anatomy, recovery can not but be painful, and disruptive..."

Imnakoya is a Nigerian man from the southwestern corner of the country who now belongs to the massive pool of Nigerians in the Diaspora. He lives in Minnesota, U.S.A.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mexican politics and organized crime

Is there a correlation between politics and crime? Want to give students a little project of researching correlations and speculating about causations? Here are some places to begin.

The LA Times has an interactive map illustrating the "number of people who have died in drug-related violence since the start of 2007." It's pretty dramatic.

Al Jazeera has an interactive map illustrating which cartels "control" which areas in Mexico.

National Public Radio, the New York Times, and the BBC have similar maps on their web sites.

Then there's the Electoral Geography site showing the legislative election results from 2009.

This site offers a map of the presidential election results from 2006.

Mexico Insider offers a profile of major parties and a map of which parties control which states' governments.

Are there any correlations between the areas controlled by the cartels and the areas won by candidates in the last presidential election? Do the winners of state or legislative elections show similar patterns?

For background, there's a Congressional Research Service report on Mexican Drug Cartels written in 2007.

As of 29 December, the Wikipedia entry about the Tijuana Cartel included an informative chart about the main cartels in Mexico.

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Civil violence in Nigeria

Another case of civil unrest in Bauchi [see map at left] that is not political suggests that stability is not firmly established in that northern Nigerian state.

At Least 35 Dead in Islamic Sect Violence
Fighting between Islamic militants and security forces in northern Nigeria left at least 35 people dead as sect members armed with spears and arrows ransacked a neighborhood and set homes ablaze, a police official said Tuesday.

Mohammed Barau, a police spokesman for Bauchi state, said members of the Kata Kalo sect began fighting among themselves and accusing each other of causing their leader to fall seriously ill.

The militants' fierce attack sent the military unit into a retreat, Barau said. At least one soldier died in the initial clash early Monday morning, he said, as well as two bystanders.

Barau said military and police units returned to the area in force later, but ''before police got there, they had already killed themselves.'' However, extrajudicial killings are common in Nigeria...

In July, fighting in Bauchi sparked by another Islamic sect's attack on a police station began a wave of violence across northern Nigeria that left more than 700 dead.

From The Daily Trust (Abuja)

38 Killed in Bauchi Skirmishes
Thirty eight people died at Zango village on the outskirts of Bauchi yesterday in what the police said was a clash between members of a fringe Muslim sect described as the Kala Kato. The sect members had earlier in the day killed a soldier and a policeman...

Narrating the cause of the incident, Commissioner of Police Atiku Kafur said... even though the sect members were well armed and they were using their arms against the police, but police used over 100 smoke canisters to force them out of their enclave "and we successfully moved them in where we traced that they killed themselves. We evacuated 37 dead bodies inside the enclave even though some of them were alive but they passed away in the hospital."...

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Iranian protest

At the end of 2009 (beginning of 1431 AH), there were still signs of serious dissent in Iran, nearly 6-months after a presidential election widely regarded as illegitimate.

Aides to Iran’s Opposition Leaders Said to Be Arrested
The Iranian authorities arrested a number of opposition figures on Monday in the wake of violent protests a day earlier, Web sites reported, including three top aides to the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi and Ibrahim Yazdi, leader of the banned Iran Freedom Movement.

The opposition cleric and reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi also lashed out at the authorities for using deadly force during Sunday’s nationwide protests, in which 10 people were reported to have been killed...

On Sunday, thick crowds marched down a central avenue in Tehran, defying official warnings of a harsh crackdown on protests as they chanted “death to Khamenei,” referring to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed growing intolerance for political dissent in the country.

They refused to retreat even as the police fired tear gas, charged them with batons and fired warning shots. The police then opened fire directly into the crowd, opposition Web sites said, citing witnesses. At least five people were killed in Tehran, four in the northwestern city of Tabriz, and one in Shiraz in the south, the Web sites reported. Photographs of several victims were circulated widely...

The turmoil revealed an opposition movement that is becoming bolder and more direct in its challenge to Iran’s governing authorities. Protesters deliberately blended their political message with the day’s religious one on Sunday, alternating antigovernment slogans with ancient cries of mourning for Imam Hussein.

“This is the month of blood, Yazid will fall,” the protesters shouted, equating Ayatollah Khamenei with Yazid, the ruler who ordered Imam Hussein’s killing...

In another sign of the breadth of the crackdown, security forces on Sunday raided the offices of a clerical association in the holy city of Qum that has supported the opposition since the June election, the Jaras Web site reported. Guards surrounded the house, and members of the association and their families — who had gathered inside the association’s headquarters for an Ashura mourning ceremony — were not allowed to leave, the site reported...

'Mousavi nephew' among Iran dead
The nephew of Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is reportedly among  eight people killed in continuing clashes between police and protesters.

An aide to the leader said on Sunday that Seyyed Ali Mousavi died after being shot by the police, but the claim could not be independently verified as foreign news organisations are barred by the authorities from covering street unrest.

Iranian state television, however, confirmed  that several people were killed in clashes...

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Corruption fighter

Over a year ago, Medvedev promised to do something about corruption. Police corruption made the news earlier this month.

Well, the topic is back in the news. It's hard not to see this as part of a political competition.

Russia to Crack Down on Police Corruption
President Dmitri A. Medvedev, confronting a series of scandals that have diminished the public’s already low confidence in the police, ordered a major overhaul of the force on Thursday that is to include a 20 percent reduction in its size.

Mr. Medvedev said the federal government should take more control over police departments across Russia in an effort to tamp down corruption. At the heart of his proposal is a reduction in the number of officers and an unspecified increase in pay for those who remain, so they would be less susceptible to bribes.

Mr. Medvedev also called for scaling back the Interior Ministry, reducing the number of senior police officials in the provinces and adding incentives to lure higher-quality recruits.
“People want members of the police who are morally impeccable to defend them, even more so in a legal sense,” Mr. Medvedev said on Thursday in an interview with the chief executives of the three state-run television networks. “They want to trust them. I am confident that we can create such a structure.”...

Mr. Medvedev, a former law professor, has portrayed himself as a modernizer who will tackle what he has termed Russia’s “legal nihilism.” Since taking office in May 2008, he has proposed many anti-corruption measures, though analysts say little has changed...

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Nigeria as Surrealistan

From the blog, "Naijablog," an essay by award-winning Nigerian-American author, Teju Cole. It includes many details about presidential politics for students to consider as they think about what's going on in Nigeria today.

Crises... happen in Nigeria anyway. But the current crises happen all the more effectively now because the country is literally headless. Aso Rock, the residence of the president of the Federal Republic, lies vacant, with President Yar'Adua incapacitated in a Saudi Hospital...

Yar'Adua has been seriously ill since before his election in 2007, though he only formally admitted it a month ago. Since then, there hasn’t been a word from him, there have been no pictures, no medical updates, and no prognosis. There's a general sense that he is in the office because it is the turn of the north to rule, the previous president, Obasanjo, having been a southerner...

Why, any one partial to democratic constitutions might ask, doesn't the vice-president simply take over? Goodluck Jonathan, a Southerner, matches his boss for lack of charisma. His situation is worsened by the fact that, as a member of a minority ethnic group, he has no political base. He's a figurehead diversity pick...

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Small change

When there are many decision makers, small and peculiar needs get met by policy decisions.

Iran bans banknotes that have been scribbled on
Iran will from next month ban banknotes which have been scribbled upon, Iranian media reported on Thursday, a move one conservative website said was in response to the appearance of political slogans on some of them.

Expressions in support of moderate opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, such as "Oh Hossein, Mir Hossein", have occasionally been cropping up on the Islamic Republic's banknotes since its disputed election in June...

"Banknotes on which there are writings or are stamped or have any additional signs will be invalid," the Jam-e Jam daily quoted central bank official Ebrahim Darvishi as saying...

The Ayande website, seen as close to conservative politician Mohsen Rezaie, said in a headline about the move: "The central bank's reaction to the writing of slogans on banknotes."...

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peer review for regimes and politics?

The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is a mutually agreed instrument voluntarily acceded to by the Member States of the African Union (AU). One of the movers was former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo (who was also one of the founders of Transparency International).

The APRM report on Nigeria has been released a year after the scheduled release. Will anyone listen? Will anyone act?

How would your students evaluate the contentions of the report?

Abuja, Executive Branch Have Too Much Power, Says Peer Review
A major review of Nigeria compiled by its African peers says too much power is concentrated in the central government, inhibiting "true federalism," and that the executive branch of government has excessive power compared to the legislature and the judiciary.

The report also says that "corruption remains the greatest and most troubling challenge to realising Nigeria's huge developmental potential," making it unlikely that the government will achieve its objective of becoming one of the world's 20 largest economies by the year 2020.

These are among a host of findings published this week in the African Peer Review Mechanism's Country Report No. 8 – Federal Republic of Nigeria – a 514-page study compiled on the basis of a joint effort by Nigerians and a "country review mission" comprising experts from around the continent appointed by the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)...

Sketching the background to its review, the APRM report on Nigeria says the country's main challenge is "the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty." It asks: "Why does the biggest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa [at the time the report was drawn up] have the world's third-largest concentration of poor people?"
Dealing with the issue of democracy and good governance, it says the country has "excelled" in promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes in West Africa. But internally, it has been "embroiled in military and intrastate conflicts."

Despite the return to civilian rule in 1999, "an over-concentration of power in the central government inhibits true federalism. The excessive powers of the executive vis-à-vis the legislature and judiciary – a legacy of the long period of military rule – curtail the realisation in practice of the principle of separation of powers with its inherent checks and balances."...

It calls corruption "endemic at all levels of society" and says bodies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are under-resourced and "sometimes seen to be influenced by the executive."

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Political Values in Mexico

In the blog, Under the Volcano, I learned that the 2009 Latinbarómetro poll suggests that democracy is not as high a value in Mexico as other things.

Poll: Weak support for democracy in Mexico
The annual Latinbarómetro survey of attitudes toward democracy in 18 Latin American countries showed that Mexico had the lowest level of support for democracy of any of the countries surveyed...

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Monday, December 21, 2009


Pronunciation: [in-ter-mit-nt]
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin intermittent-, intermittens, present participle of intermittere
Date: 1601: coming and going at intervals : not continuous ; also : occasional
— in·ter·mit·tent·ly adverb
Source: Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Retrieved 21 December 2009

Most schools in the USA are on break this week and next. I'll be taking an intermittent break too. I'll only post timely and really significant entries (like today's report of protests at Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri's funeral).

Here on the 45th parallel, we'll enjoy a snowy and cold fortnight with family and friends. Wherever you are, enjoy the days and people around you.

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Honoring a patriot; making a point

How can the government in Iran complain when huge crowds gather for the funeral of a founding father? We'll see.

Iran braces for protests as 'up to 1m' attend funeral of reformist cleric
Hundreds of thousand of mourners, many chanting anti-government slogans, reportedly gathered in the Iranian city of Qom for the funeral today of leading reformist cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

Defying a heavy presence of security forces the funeral became a rallying point for further protests against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad...

There were reports of clashes after mourners chanted slogans against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. YouTube footage showed large crowds gathering and chants of pro-opposition slogans...

State-controlled Press TV carried only a brief report on Montazeri's funeral without mentioning the protest...

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Death of a patriot

Another of the founders of the Islamic Republic of Iran has died.

Ayatollah Montazeri, Iranian Cleric, Dies at 87
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the plain-spoken senior Shiite cleric who helped forge Iran’s system of religious government and went on to become a fierce critic of its hard-line rulers, died Sunday morning at the age of 87. He died of heart failure in his sleep, his son Ahmad told Iran’s official IRNA news agency...

Ayatollah Montazeri was born in 1922 in the city of Najafabad, in Isfahan province, to a peasant family. He studied under Ayatollah Khomeini in Qom, and became involved in networks opposed to the Shah, earning a four-year prison sentence in 1974. After the revolution in 1979, he played a central role in creating Iran’s new constitution, in part because of his authorship on the doctrine of velayat-e-faqih, or rule by clerics. But he argued that the clerics should play an advisory role in a democratic system, and should not rule directly...

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy New Year

The Islamic New Year is a cultural event which Muslims observe on the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. Many Muslims use the day to remember the significance of this month, and the Hijra, or migration, Islamic prophet Muhammad made to the city now known as Medina.

The Islamic calendar or Muslim calendar or Hijri calendar (Arabic: التقويم الهجري‎; at-taqwīm al-hijrī; Persian: تقویم هجری قمری ‎ taqwīm-e hejri-ye qamari; Turkish: Hicri Takvim) is a lunar calendar used to date events in many predominantly Muslim countries, and used by Muslims everywhere to determine the proper day on which to celebrate Islamic holy days and festivals. It is a lunar calendar having 12 lunar months in a year of about 354 days. Because this lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year, Islamic holy days, although celebrated on fixed dates in their own calendar, usually shift 11 days earlier each successive solar year, such as a year of the Gregorian calendar. Islamic years are also called Hijra years because the first year was the year during which the Hijra occurred—Islamic prophet Muhammad's emigration from Mecca to Medina. Thus each numbered year is designated either H or AH, the latter being the initials of the Latin anno Hegirae (in the year of the Hijra).

The current Islamic Year is 1431 AH.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unconventional history

The New York Times "Week in Review" section contained this excerpt from Abbas Milani's article in The New Republic.

Perhaps it ought to be a footnote or more to our textbook's chapters on Iranian political history. It would help to know more about the ideological preferences of the author Milani and the publication.

The ‘Great Satan’ Myth
In The New Republic, Abbas Milani, an expert on Iran at Stanford, challenges the enduring “Great Satan” myth — that the C.I.A. “deposed a democratically elected Iranian leader back in 1953, and then spent 26 years propping up a despotic Shah while he mercilessly abused his people.”

In fact, Milani writes, Iran’s clerics played a much bigger role than the C.I.A. in the 1953 ouster of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh — so it’s ironic that the mullahs today draw heavily on the “Satan” myth to maintain their grip on power. He says the myth has also “seduced” the “very meddlers themselves in Washington” — meaning the Obama administration — and that’s clouding thinking about civil unrest in Iran now...

The New Republic article:
The Great Satan Myth

It was the clerical establishment’s animosity towards Mossadegh that laid the groundwork for his ouster. A broad swath of clerics--Islamists like Ayatollah Abolgasem Kashani, a mentor of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini--had initially supported Mossadegh. But, by late 1952, the clerics turned against him after he bucked their demands. The Ayatollah Kashani unsuccessfully pressed Mossadegh for the right to appoint key ministers. Another top cleric called on the prime minister to purge the civil service of Baha’is--a bane of Shia clergy. The clergy’s allegiance to Mossadegh weakened further as he allowed the communist Tudeh Party to gain ever more power, despite his own personal abhorrence of communism. Once Mossadegh squandered the allegiance of the clergy, the inevitability of his fate became increasingly clear. (He had also alienated the middle class, increasingly weary of ideological warfare; and the army had pleaded for his ouster.)

None of this is to defend America’s role in the coup. But it was hardly the only or even the decisive factor in his fall. Indeed, in the most obvious instance of its meddling in Iranian history, the United States actually meddled on the side of the very religious establishment that now complains so bitterly about the Great Satan...

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Generations of protest

Many young Iranians are not convinced that the 1979 revolution was more than an exchange of authoritarians. But for others, preserving the current orthodoxy is a holy struggle.

Resilient Iranians still dream of a new revolution
Six months on from what the defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi calls a "coup d'etat" in which Khamenei reinstalled the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this marathon confrontation is far from over. "Iran has totally changed since June," said Poorya Farmarzi, a student. "Now you can smell blood when you go out, you can smell teargas, you can smell injustice. This won't end soon."...

Taboos that held sway for three decades have been smashed: public attacks on Khamenei – the Vali al-Faqih, or supreme jurist, at the apex of Iran's theocratic system – have become normal...

For one middle-class Tehrani who grew up during the revolution, much of this is about young Iranians asserting themselves, as they did in extraordinary scenes of exuberance and hope before the "stolen" election. "What a lot of people are asking for is what their parents asked for 30 years ago. The difference is that their parents trusted their elders and the keepers of the revolutionary faith to do the right thing. Young people don't have that trust any more."...

Karim Sadjapour, [an] Iran expert, calls it "a fool's errand" to try to predict how this will all play out...

In Iran, Protests Gaining a Radical Tinge
[The] creeping radicalization has underscored the rift within Iran’s opposition movement, analysts say, and poses a problem for its leaders, including Mr. Moussavi and the reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi.

“The longer this goes on, the more difficult will it be for the likes of Moussavi and Karroubi to sustain their current position,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who has worked for the State Department. “They have to at some point opt for regime survival or become the leaders of an opposition movement calling for more than reform.”...

On the other hand...

Revolution halted in Iran
It has been a hell of a year for Iran. Just last winter the nation's elites were basking in 30 years of revolutionary triumph, launching satellites, enriching uranium, and holding neocon hawks at bay. Then, weeks of fervent presidential campaigning drew out the best and worst of Iranian society's antagonisms, culminating in a poll exactly six months ago. Overnight the revolution's orphans and cosmopolitan have-nots demanded their say...

First, the narrative of a regime death match between President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei on one side versus Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and the entire Iranian nation on the other doesn't help at all. Instead, one should read the political fallout over the last six months in the terms set by Khamenei and Rafsanjani's two major Friday sermons that took place within a month after the elections. Between the speeches, the extremes of both ends of political spectrum were curbed and governing elites began to circle their wagons to preserve the system...

The losers in the trade were the northern Tehranis who supplied the bulk of the street presence after the election. But this wasn't the first time in Iranian history that group of clerics extended a hand to populist causes, reneged, and pursued their own political ambitions. There was no reason to expect otherwise this time around...

The political capital released in the past six months is now being captured by mainstream conservative elites such as the Larijani brothers and Ghalibaf as well as symbolic figures such as MP Ali Motahhari and Ayatollah Shirazi who aim to minimise the damage done to the system by the current president. Parliament and the mosque then, not the presidential palace or Tehran University, are the places to read Iran's affairs and the supreme leader's political pulse.

What is being fought for today in Iran is the preservation a small space for political dissent and the prevention of the emergence of a militarised one-party system. This is a far cry from the "regime in its last throes" image we get in the mainstream press...

Iranian hard-liners rally for government
Thousands of Iranian government supporters staged rallies yesterday to denounce opposition students who burned photos of the country’s supreme leader in protests this week...

The demonstrations marked the first response by Iran’s clerical leadership and its supporters to the taboo-shattering actions of their opponents on Monday, when tens of thousands of students protested at universities around Iran...

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Calderón's proposals for change

Daniel Wilson notes in the blog, "Under the Volcano," that Mexico's president has proposed some big changes for Mexico's regime.

How well could your students predict the likely consequences of each proposal?

The proposal is on the President Calderón's web site, but only in Spanish.

Calderón proposes 10-point political reform

President Felipe Calderón today proposed a set of sweeping political reforms. The 10 point program includes:
  1. Consecutive re-election of mayors and Mexico City borough presidents for up to 12 years.

  2. Consecutive re-election of federal deputies and senators for up to 12 years.

  3. Reduce the size of the Senate to 96, from the current 128; reduce the Chamber of Deputies to 400 from the current 500.

  4. Add citizen initiatives as part of the legislative process.

  5. Allow for independent candidates for all elected positions.

  6. Have a second round in presidential elections, if no candidate reaches an absolute majority.

  7. Increase the minimum voting share from 2% to 4%, for parties to keep their registration and access to public financing.

  8. Empower the Supreme Court to present legislative initiatives in the area of the Judiciary.

  9. Empower the Executive to present at the beginning of each legislative session up to two law initiatives that Congress must vote on before the end of the session. In the event that Congress does not vote, the initiative will be considered passed. (For constitutional changes, they would be submitted to a citizen referendum.)

  10. Empower the Executive to make observations (partial or total) on the Income Law and Expenditure Law passed by the Congress.

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Wealth through legislative service (for some)

Erik Voeten, writing at The Monkey Cage blog points out an article in The American Political Science Review titled "MPs for Sale?" (it's a download).

According to Voeten, the article contends that, "Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) almost doubled their wealth as a result of being elected to office but office had no discernable financial benefits for Labour MPs."

"Conservative MPs acquired their wealth largely through lucrative outside employment they acquired after their retirement... In the UK, gaining a seat in parliament more than tripled the probability that a Tory politician would later serve as a director of a publicly traded company. The authors speculate that Labour MPs were less successful in selling their services due to the control exercised by trade unions."

Excerpts from the paper might be appropriate to discuss recruitment of political leaders in the UK.

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MPs' expenses

Because MPs in the UK work in London and have homes in their constituencies, they granted themselves allowances to help with the costs of maintaining two residences. Last summer, some of the claims for reimbursement made news and caused problems for MPs who wanted money for things like a moat, HD TVs (and brackets), and exterminating garden snails.

Tory chief David Cameron, from a wealthy family, was revealed to have claimed over £1,000 a month for a mortgage as well as over £1,200 for fuel oil and a web site.

Labor MPs also had submitted some dodgy expenses.

All parties were quick to publicize opponents' questionable claims. Now, the government's defense minister is in the dock.

Did anyone mention that there's an election coming up before next summer?

Labour minister Quentin Davies submitted £20,700 bill for repairs to bell tower
Labour minister Quentin Davies submitted a £20,700 bill for repairs to the roof and bell tower on his constituency home last year – then rushed to clarify that he was not seeking the full amount when the expenses row broke in the summer.

The defence minister and MP for Grantham and Stamford asked for reimbursement for a bill covering repairs to the "bell tower and lead gutter" for the work to the roof of his stately home in Lincolnshire in December 2008. It included restoration work using handmade York bricks and lead guttering...

He estimated that half of the cost was for the roof, of which half of that amount could be met by the taxpayer. Because that amount would have taken his total annual claim to the limit he submitted the entire amount and asked fees officials to pay the £24,006 limit...

Davies is a parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence. He has been MP for Grantham and Stamford since 1987. He defected from the Conservatives to Labour in 2007.

See also The Guardian's (UK) summary of the issue.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Taxes unpopular? Nah...

Daniel Wilson, the blogger for Zemi Communications, who edits their blog Under the Volcano, recently wrote about a poll of presidential popularity in Mexico. It makes Mexican public opinion look like public opinion in most of North America.

Reforma poll shows sharp drop in presidential approval; taxes blamed
A Reforma poll published 12/1 showed a sharp quarterly drop in the presidential approval rating. Those approving fell to 52% (down from 68% in the previous quarter), while those disapproving rose to 39% (from 24%). The principal reason given by those disapproving was the imposition of new taxes, followed by producing poor results.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Joking may not be intentional

Promises, promises. For years, the government in Nigeria has been promising adequate and reliable electricity while people spend billions on generators and fuel. Here's the latest promise with a footnote in the budget proposed for next year.

Nigeria's vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, recently promised that Nigerians will not need generators in 2010. According to the Vice President, the federal government has taken the necessary steps to improve electricity supply in 2010 and thus limit the necessity for generators. However, it seems that while ordinary Nigerians might not need generators, Aso Rock, the residence of Nigeria's President Yar'Adua is scheduled to use generators... it was revealed that N542.4 million is budgeted to buy generator fuel to power the President's residence and another N100 million for generator equipment at the Vice President's mansion...

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Analysis of Nigeria

Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer, offered an analysis of Nigeria for The Huffington Post yesterday. Like most of the opinion from Nigeria, he assumes that the country needs a powerful president who is healthy and not out of the country.

Nigeria's Crisis of Leadership
Nigeria is currently without a leader, as President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua flew to Saudi Arabia in late November for treatment of his kidney ailments and a serious heart condition, and hasn't been heard from since...

When a leader is ill and absent, a country cannot function, and for Nigeria, the costs have been very high... His approval of the state budget has been repeatedly delayed... infighting and disobedience within state ministries has proliferated. Worst of all, the president's low profile has allowed for widespread abuses of power for personal enrichment and settling of scores...

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Putin back in the spotlight

Melody Dickison, who teaches at Wayne HS in Ohio, pointed me to an article in the St. Petersburg Times about Putin's call-in show. I found a bit more analysis in an account at Foreign Policy's web site.

Putin's popularity, while higher than President Medvedev's, has been slipping. That cannot be allowed to happen if Putin is to be elected president again. This appears to be part of the early campaign.

Putin May Consider 2012 Presidential Run
In an electric four-hour solo performance on live television, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he will think about whether to reclaim the presidency — one of the strongest signals yet that he may run again for Russia’s top office in 2012.
Putin, who also vowed that Russia would step up its efforts against terrorism, spoke during a question-and-answer show on television and radio that highlighted his dominance of Russia’s political scene...

Putin had to shift into the premier’s seat in 2008 following two consecutive terms in office, but since then the presidential term has been extended to six years and Putin is eligible to run again in 2012.

Some 2 million questions were submitted by telephone or on the Internet to Putin’s marathon television show, which was similar to previous call-ins he did when he was president. It clearly demonstrated that he continued to call the shots, overshadowing his designated successor, President Dmitry Medvedev...

Putin used the show to further burnish his common-man appeal, chastising the Russian rich for arrogantly showing off their wealth, saying their fancy imported cars looked as grotesque as golden teeth...

In a careful balancing act in response to a question about Josef Stalin, Putin credited the Soviet dictator for his industrialization drive and World War II victory but denounced the massive repressions under Stalin’s regime...

Mr. Fix-It
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeared in his eighth annual televised séance with the Russian public. More than 2 million questions poured in by phone, e-mail, or text message, and, for a record four hours, Putin fielded some 80 of them from Russians across the country...

Even for what was obviously a scripted event, the range of questions was stunning... Putin covered everything from industrial accidents to Russia's lack of aeronautical engineers, the World Cup, legless veterans, pensions, birthday greetings, Stalin's legacy, the gaudy nouveaux riches, and Russian rap...

The vast majority of questions, however, were highly specific and highly personal. My great aunt is a veteran of World War II; how come she can't get an apartment? I lost my husband in an industrial accident and was hired as a replacement; what if they fire me? My niece works at a day-care center and gets paid too little for the number of kids she supervises; how can she live on such a small salary? My pension finally went up; thank you very much, Vladimir Vladimirovich...

But there were more than 2 million requests, and about two-thirds were highly specific -- a daunting workload for even the most powerful of genies. More than that, though, the piling on of personal, domestic troubles underscored one of the fundamental things holding Russia back and one of the things Medvedev addressed in his state of the nation address: a lack of working institutions that address citizens' basic needs...

Whenever possible, he blamed the regional governors...

What it indicates, though, is not Putin's authoritarian aggression, but the fact that Russians no longer have any means of directly addressing their own officials. After Putin abolished the direct election of regional governors in 2004 in favor of their appointment by the Kremlin, it undid any sense of accountability to the electorate...

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Often events make the headlines, while the significance in the context of political science will only be determined somewhere down the road. For instance,

Violent Protests in Iran Carry Into Second Day
Iran’s broadest and most violent protest in months spilled over into a second day on Tuesday, as bloody clashes broke out on university campuses between students chanting antigovernment slogans and the police and Basij militia members...

Report: Nigerian Police Killing Civilians
Beware of police roadblocks in Nigeria: If you cannot pay a bribe, you can end up dead, according to an Amnesty International report published Wednesday...

Rights group faults Mexico over alleged army abuse
The Mexican army, deployed across the nation as part of the government's campaign against drug cartels, has killed prisoners, tortured civilians and captured suspects illegally, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Russia in no hurry to transform VEB - Kremlin aide
Russia's VEB bank will not be among the first wave of state corporations to be transformed into joint-stock companies and its partners have nothing to worry about, the Kremlin's top economic aide said on Tuesday...

China's most prominent dissident charged after a year in custody
It has taken a year, but the Chinese police have at last brought charges against the country’s most prominent dissident.

Police have today recommended prosecutors put Liu Xiaobo on trial for inciting subversion, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison...

Britain fares badly in international health leagues
According to new OECD figures, Britain fares badly in international health comparitors among developed nations. We may not be at the bottom of the league, but we are pretty far down. British victims of cancer and heart disease, in particular, have a lower survival rate than almost anywhere else in the industrialised world. And, contrary to widespread belief, per capita spending on healthcare in the UK is above the OECD average...

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One country, two systems

Marx thought that contradictions in society propelled changes. So, what if the Communist Party in China promotes contradictions? Can they control the changes?

The Chinese people aren't the only ones who should better understand "one country, two systems." Students of comparative politics should also understand the basic idea.

Top legislator calls for better understanding of "one country, two systems" policy, Basic Law

China's top legislator Wu Bangguo [left] Friday called for more efforts to improve public understanding of the "one country, two systems" policy and the Basic Law of the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) to ensure Macao's long-term prosperity and stability...

The great practice of "one country, two systems" should be greatly advanced, he said.

He also called for more efforts to strengthen institution building to guarantee the implementation of "one country, two systems" policy and the Basic Law in Macao...

Wu also called for more efforts to seriously study and resolve the deep-seated contradictions and problems that might block Macao's economic and social development, properly handle appeals of the people, balance the interests of different groups, and continuously enhance the level of scientific and democratic decision-making to promote Macao's sustainable economic development and comprehensive social progress...

Experts agreed that the law has been successfully implemented in Macao and the law should be better publicized, understood, implemented and respected if Macao wants to maintain its stability and the development in economy, livelihood and democracy...

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Pitfalls of economic reform

Economic reform in Iran can appear to be a logical response to a number of national problems. But, what if the reform is politically incompatible with maintaining other priorities? What if you can blame the negative effects of reform on Iran's enemies? This could be a case study to illuminate many facets of Iranian government and politics.

Iran’s Plan to Phase Out Subsidies Brings Frenzied Debate
The outside world may be focused on Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the West over its nuclear program. But at home, Iranians are more concerned with an ambitious and risky new effort to overhaul the country’s troubled economy.

If it goes awry, the plan to phase out Iran’s system of state subsidies, which has existed for decades, could profoundly destabilize the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has aggressively championed change. But it could also help wean Iran from its dependence on foreign gasoline and insulate the economy from new sanctions — which are a strong possibility if Iran continues to defy Western pressure over its nuclear program...

Lawmakers across the political spectrum have warned of catastrophic price shocks once subsidies are lifted. Conservatives seem deeply worried about the repercussions, with some saying the plan could lead to a crime wave, or worse. Opposition leaders like Mir Hussein Moussavi have begun hinting that the government’s failure to stem economic pain could become their new rallying cry.

There is widespread agreement that selling everyday goods at far below market prices, which costs the Iranian government an estimated $100 billion a year, makes little economic sense. It encourages overconsumption of gasoline and other products, discourages domestic production and makes Iran more dependent on imports... The subsidies are also regressive, because the rich pay the same artificially low prices as the poor...

Mr. Ahmadinejad, not known in the past for favoring strong pro-market medicine for Iran’s ailing economy, has presented the measure as a matter of economic justice. He says half of the money the government saves by eliminating subsidies will go to helping poorer Iranians adjust to higher prices.

But the measure also has clear political motives. The changes would hit hardest at the urban middle class, which has tended to favor Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents...

Oddly, one thing that might make subsidies reform easier is more sanctions, the tool most widely discussed by Western leaders as a final option to put pressure on Iran if current nuclear negotiations fail. Economic sanctions... would force down consumption and help the Iranian government’s finances, because there would be no more need to pay for [imports]... That could disguise the pain of subsidies reform, allowing the government to blame the West for any ensuing inflation...

Discord returns over Iran subsidy reform plan
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reissued a threat to withdraw plans to reform Iran's costly subsidy system, after parliament passed it to the Guardian Council for final approval, Iranian media reported...

"If the bill does not provide the necessary capacities for government to implement it, then we would withdraw it from the parliament," state news agency IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying on Wednesday. "If necessary, we will propose another bill."...

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said... "From parliament's point of view, work on the bill is over and it has been sent to the Guardian Council," the students news agency ISNA quoted him as saying...

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Police and power ministries

Dr. Joshua Tucker of New York University, in the blog The Monkey Cage, pointed out this article from The Washington Post and then pointed to some interpretation from the Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty blog, The Power Vertical.

Russian minister says people can hit back at police
Russia's interior minister said on Thursday people should be permitted to hit back at police who attack them without cause, Russian media reported...

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, whose ministry is responsible for the police, said a Russian law that prohibits the use of violence against police in self-defense should be scrapped...

The Power Vertical blog also quoted State Duma Deputy Andrei Makarov as suggesting that the Russian police force be scraped.
You can neither modernize nor reform the Interior Ministry. You can only abolish it. The whole police force needs to be decommissioned and cleansed with help from civil society and human rights groups.

The RFE-RL blog continues, and hints at a political aspect to the situation,
But the current rumblings in high places are likely the result of something other than a sincere desire to reform the law enforcement system...

The latest wave of police scandals come at a time of intense clan warfare in the Kremlin, as security-service veterans or "siloviki" surrounding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin battle for influence with technocrats close to President Dmitry Medvedev over Russia's future political and economic direction...

Political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky told The Moscow Times that Makarov's proposal to disband the Interior Ministry could be interpreted as an attempt by people close to Medvedev to weaken the siloviki: "Makarov is an important ideologist within United Russia, and I’m sure his statement was not made by chance, but organized in circles close to Medvedev. Everybody hates the police today. If he can solve that problem, he can get 90 percent support and also reform the security services."...

An article in The Moscow Times added this bit of information, Debate Over Police Reform Heats Up
Andrei Piontkovsky, a political analyst with the Russian Academy of Sciences, said he believed the clash within United Russia reflected the widening differences between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“Makarov is an important ideologist within United Russia, and I’m sure his statement was not made by chance, but organized in circles close to Medvedev,” Piontkovsky told The Moscow Times.
Reforming the country’s police, however daunting, is a task that could raise Medvedev’s popularity, he said. “Everybody hates the police today. If he can solve that problem, he can get 90 percent support and also reform the security services.”

Medvedev’s approval rating has been stable at well above 50 percent in recent months, but he consistently trails Vladimir Putin’s popularity. The prime minister had 65 percent approval in a survey released this month by state pollster FOM.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Political cars

Most observers expected civil society in Russia to grow out of small businesses and a new class of entrepreneurs. Hardly anyone expected civil society to be based on car ownership. (And, maybe it's not.)

Road Rage at the Kremlin
Every society has a breaking point. In Boston it was the tea tax; in France it was Marie Antoinette’s wigs... Russians love their cars...

To this day... it’s a bad idea to get between them and their cars. And the Kremlin apparently knows it. On Nov. 17, after an outcry from motorists, President Dmitri A. Medvedev intervened to block a bill that would have doubled taxes on car owners — a stinging humiliation for Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, which had approved it unanimously the previous Friday. Something almost unheard of had penetrated the membrane of Russian politics: the demands of its citizens...

It may be, as one Russian commentator has suggested, that motorists are playing the role in Russia’s civic development that was expected to fall to entrepreneurs and small businessmen. Yuri Gladysh, writing for the opposition Web site kasparov.ru, said the “army of car owners” has enough muscle and organization to alarm Russian officials...

Not everyone saw the transport-tax reversal as the result of grass-roots democracy. Though motorists’ groups held protests against the proposed tax increase, including a five-minute “horn of wrath,” the actions passed virtually unnoticed in the capital.

Some Kremlin-watchers interpreted the reversal as a purely political move, signaling that Mr. Medvedev seeks to challenge the authority of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, or United Russia...

But it would certainly not be unprecedented if angry motorists rattled the Kremlin. Last December, thousands of motorists and car dealers in the Far East took to the streets to protest tariffs on imported cars...

One reason the motorists may worry Moscow is that they are, mostly, young people... The automobile lobby... defies ideological labels. It is also growing: Russians now own 34.6 million cars, three to four times more than at the end of Communism in 1991, experts estimate...

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Is any of this relevant?

Are any of the recent headlines relevant to understanding Iranian government and politics? Which ones? Why?

Iran bans makeup for women on TV
Iran’s state television will ban makeup for women, “abnormal’’ music, and unruly children, an Iranian newspaper reported yesterday...

Iran whistle-blower died from drugged salad, report says
A 26-year-old doctor who exposed the torture of jailed protesters in Iran died of poisoning from a delivery salad laced with an overdose of blood pressure medication, prosecutors say...

Tehran vows to enrich uranium on its own
Iran said yesterday that it will enrich uranium to a higher level on its own, the latest indication the country was rejecting a UN-backed proposal aimed at thwarting any effort by Tehran to make material for a nuclear weapon...

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Party competition is not the same as democracy

If it looks like progress and sounds like progress toward democracy, is it progress? Maybe.

Mexican political system assailed
Two decades after making history as the first opposition governor in modern Mexico, Ernesto Ruffo Appel [left] yesterday lambasted the country’s political parties, saying they are failing its citizens.

The parties “are defending their own positions, their own groups, but they are not defending Mexico,” said Ruffo, a member of President Felipe Calderón’s Conservative National Action Party, or PAN...

When Ruffo won the governorship, Baja California was the only state in Mexico governed by the PAN. Today, seven states are governed by PAN party members, including Baja California’s José Guadalupe Osuna Millán. Nineteen others are governed by the PRI and six by the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, the PRD.

While breaking the PRI’s grip, “political alternation has not necessarily represented a step toward democracy,” said Eliseo Mendoza Berrueto, a member of the PRI and former governor of the state of Coahuila. Many of Mexico’s issues, such as poverty and corruption, have not been resolved under the PAN, he said.

But other participants said the past 20 years have brought important changes, both to Baja California and to Mexico. Under Ruffo, Baja California pioneered a tamper-proof voter identification card, a concept that was adopted nationally and helped minimize electoral fraud that once was prevalent in Mexico.

Yet despite electoral reforms, “there has been no reform of society, in the sense of finding ways to express citizens’ concerns and dissatisfaction,” Ruffo said.

He added that once in power, “we began winning and we began closing ourselves off, in order to control the positions that we were acquiring” — a practice that emulated the PRI...

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Wanted: a strong leader

[Left: Yar'Adua when elected; Left below: Yar'Adua recently]

The calls for the president's resignation in Nigeria demonstrate the importance of a strong leader in the regime and the political culture.

Nigeria President Umaru Yar'Adua faces calls to quit
More than 50 Nigerian public figures have called on President Umaru Yar'Adua to resign, saying ill health has impaired his judgement.

Several Nigerian newspapers carried a statement asking him to step down that was signed by senior political figures and democracy activists, among others...

BBC Africa analyst Mary Harper says the wording of the statement is blunt and to the point.
It says the president's illness "has created a dangerous situation whereby no-one is in charge of the affairs of state".
The statement talks about "a vacuum of leadership" whereby ministers are "engaged in infighting" and "routinely flout the orders of the president"...

Masari, Falae, Nnamani, 52 Others - Yar'Adua Must Resign
The political tension being generated in the country by President Umaru Musa Yar'adua's illness was exacerbated yesterday when the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari and 54 other eminent Nigerians from across the country demanded his resignation and the immediate assumption of leadership by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan...

Speaking to Daily Trust on telephone last night, human rights lawyers Femi Falana and Bamidele Aturu, who are also signatories to the statement, said the demand was made in the interest of the nation and of President Yar'adua himself. Falana said, "We believe Yar'adua is being held hostage by those who are benefitting from his illness. He should hand over to Jonathan so that he can pay adequate attention to his health and Nigeria can get adequate attention."...

President Out of Intensive Care
President Umaru Yar'adua is now out of the King Faisal Hospital's Intensive Care Unit in Jedda... Nigerian officials in Jeddah told Daily Trust yesterday. They said it was a sign that the president's health had improved considerably since he arrived at the hospital 10 days ago...

Yar'adua is at the King Faisal Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah to treat acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart...

The president's chief physician Salisu Banye also last week said Yar'adua was recovering, though he also did not give details as to when the president would return to Nigeria.

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Unity meeting displays disunity

Bad timing or naivete?

Top Leaders Fail to Attend Meeting in Iran’s Parliament
In a sign of the increasing divide among Iranian leaders, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani did not attend a meeting aimed at creating political “unity” on Tuesday, news agencies reported...

Analysts view the failed meeting as illustrating a continuing rift within the country’s ruling establishment...

In another sign of the increasing divide, a senior conservative cleric, Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli, who had served as one of the Friday Prayer leaders in the religious city of Qum, resigned last week...

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Sentiment favors ritual

Americans marvel at the rituals associated with the Queen's speech (especially, one teacher reminded us, Black Rod's pounding on the door to Commons [right]). The British appear to be enamoured with the rituals too. Ah, the persistence of tradition.

Britons Would Keep Queen’s Speech Tradition
Many adults in Britain believe the Queen’s speech should remain a part of the country’s political life, according to a poll (Online interviews with 2,004 British adults, conducted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 2009. Margin of error is 2.2 per cent.) by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 44 per cent of respondents believe the tradition should continue as it is.

Conversely, 23 per cent of respondents believe the Queen’s speech is irrelevant, 15 per cent would abandon the tradition, and eight per cent would prefer an address by the British prime minister...

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Law and order and prosperity

Can the Mexican government continue its war on drug gangs and reduce poverty? Do the president's comments represent a real change in priorities? Or is this a way of saying, "We feel your pain"? (A PAN campaign slogan?)

Mexican president: gangs were 'taking over' Mexico
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said in an interview that crime gangs and drug cartels were "taking over Mexico" before he launched his offensive against them, and said the crackdown had achieved uneven results.

Calderon's comments were taped prior to his statement... that reducing poverty is now "the first priority" for his administration. But in a previously-recorded interview with the news network Televisa, Calderon made it clear he wasn't abandoning the war on drugs...

But Calderon acknowledged uneven results...

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Public schools in a theocracy

If there's no separation of church and state in Iran, there should be no problem with prayer in schools.

The ruling elite does see a problem of un-Iranian activity in schools, though. Now, schools, like army units, are to get clerics assigned to them. It's not unlike the party cadres assigned to nearly any organized group or activity in China.

Fighting West’s sway, Iran’s clerics tighten grip on schools
Islamic religious authorities have begun tightening their grip on Iranian public schools... as hard-liners expand an ideological “soft war’’ against Western influence...

Authorities have recently emphasized the need to battle the reach of Western media, viewpoints, and culture - which resonate strongly in a country where nearly half the population was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution...

Elementary classes were believed to be the focus of the nationwide plan.

It was not clear whether older students also would fall under clerical influence.

Earlier this month, Iranian officials announced plans to appoint a cleric in every school - a move widely seen as an effort to bring stricter Islamic interpretations into the public education system and to address growing divides between clerics and many young, secular-oriented Iranians.

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Electoral maps

Sarah Fisher who teaches outside of Seattle, pointed me to the Electoral Geography site. If you put the information about election results together with other information, you and your students can do some great analysis.

Mexico. Legislative Election 2009

Iran. Presidential Election 2009

United Kingdom. European Parliament Election 2009

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