Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Watching Cimarro* in Tehran

A 2003 book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, was popular in the West in large part because of its theme that Western culture was attractive and suppressed in Iran.

Thomas Erdbrink, in this article published by the Washington Post, reprises that theme while telling us about a Western-owned satellite channel broadcasting in Farsi.

In Iran, what's forbidden is in -- and on Rupert Murdoch's Farsi1 TV channel
A satellite TV station co-owned by Rupert Murdoch is pulling in Iranian viewers with sizzling soaps and sitcoms but has incensed the Islamic republic's clerics and state television executives.

Unlike dozens of other foreign-based satellite channels here, Farsi1 broadcasts popular Korean, Colombian and U.S. shows and also dubs them in Iran's national language, Farsi, rather than using subtitles, making them more broadly accessible. Its popularity has soared since its launch in August…

Satellite receivers are illegal in Iran but widely available. Officials acknowledge that they jam many foreign channels using radio waves, but Farsi1, which operates out of the Hong Kong-based headquarters of Star TV, a subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corp., is still on the air in Tehran.

Viewers are increasingly deserting the six channels operated by Iranian state television, with its political, ideological and religious constraints, for Farsi1's more daring fare, including the U.S. series "Prison Break," "24" and "Dharma and Greg."…

Some critics here hold Murdoch responsible for what they see as this new infestation of corrupt Western culture. The prominent hard-line magazine Panjereh, or Window, devoted its most recent issue to Farsi1, featuring on the cover a digitally altered version of an evil-looking Murdoch sporting a button in the channel's signature pink and white colors. "Murdoch is a secret Jew trying to control the world's media, and [he] promotes Farsi1," the magazine declared…

Before the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a year ago, Iranian state television seemed to have modernized in some ways. It broadcast debates between the candidates -- a first in Iran -- but had also started showing popular homegrown comedies and soaps. After the election, which led to months of unrest and increased influence for hard-liners, the lighter material gave way to broadcasts of mass trials of dissidents and long interviews with government supporters.

Many urban Iranians… say they no longer feel the state channels speak to them…

*Mario Cimarro is a Cuban actor who stars in one of the most popular telenovelas in Farsi1.
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What if people are too scared to vote?

The drug wars in Mexico could de-legitimize government.

Mexican Candidate for Governor Is Assassinated
A popular candidate for governor who had made increased security his prime campaign pledge was killed along with at least four others Monday morning… rattling a nation already alarmed by surging drug violence…

“This was an act not only against a candidate of a political party but against democratic institutions, and it requires a united and firm response from all those who work for democracy,” a stern-faced President Felipe Calderón, who has found his presidency repeatedly bogged down by drug violence, said in a nationally televised address…

Immediate suspicion in the Torre case also fell on drug traffickers. Mr. Torre’s state, Tamaulipas, which borders Texas on the gulf coast, has been the site of fierce fighting in recent months between rival drug organizations, the Zetas and their former allies, the Gulf Cartel…

In Tamaulipas, rival candidates suspended their campaigns on Monday to honor Mr. Torre. The Associated Press reported Monday that elections in the state will proceed on July 4, as scheduled.

The state has been one of the country’s most troubled regions recently. On June 3, in Ciudad Madero, a mayoral candidate and a candidate for the local congress were pinned down during an armed battle between rival drug gangs. A month before that, a mayoral candidate in Valle Hermoso was killed.

Some areas of the state are so dangerous that the president’s party announced last month that it would not campaign in three small border towns because of the risk to its candidates. An opposition party candidate announced in April that he was pulling out of his race, one day after his house was burned down...

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Accuracy for the boss (or at least different)

Need to know is a highly developed system in China.

China's secret media
IN A country where independent information-gathering is kept in check, what China’s leaders know and how they know it matters hugely. A recently leaked speech by Xia Lin, a senior editor at Xinhua, China’s government-run news agency, suggests that even though press controls have been somewhat loosened in recent years, leaders still rely heavily on secret reports filed by Xinhua journalists…

The summary [of the speech] has not been verified. But filing secret bulletins to the leadership is one of Xinhua’s crucial roles. Many of China’s main newspapers also have classified versions covering news considered too sensitive for public consumption. They do not rely on secret intelligence, but merely report on issues that in most other countries would be the staple of journalism: public complaints; official wrongdoing; bad economic news; and foreign critics

In recent years China’s open media—which, thanks to the withdrawal of government subsidies, are now more commercially driven—have also been straying into these once-forbidden realms. But despite the growing assertiveness and reliability of at least a handful of open publications, the secret media have shown no sign of withering away…

In 2003 the number of comments written by leaders in the margins of Reference Proofs, a secret bulletin on international affairs for very senior officials rose by 88% compared with the year before. Six were by President Hu. Xinhua compiles such statistics assiduously to measure the impact of its work. An even more secret version of the bulletin, Reference Proofs (Supplementary Sheets), published more than three times as many reports as in 2002...

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Monday, June 28, 2010

UK budget proposal

A great graphic to illustrate how the proposed budget will affect the deficit.

Credits: A Where Does My Money Go? visualization by David McCandless / InformationIsBeautiful, research by Lisa Evans and Tim Hubbard using on information from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and HM Treasury.

CLICK on the image for one that's more readable.

budget cuts

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有鸡还是先有蛋?(The chicken or the egg?)

These two news stories from Xinhua seem to echo one another. Which came first?

(Credit for the translation above goes to Google Translate.)

CPC Political Bureau approves education reform plan
The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee... approved an education reform plan for the next decade, which aims for greater education investment and fairer distribution of resources.

Presided over by the CPC Central Committee General Secretary Hu Jintao,a meeting of the Politburo approved the final version of the Medium- and Long-term National Educational Reform and Development Plan (2010-2020).

The Politburo, the CPC's top decision-making body, said in a statement that education was the fundamental cause for the revitalization of China and social progress in the future…

According to the plan, government investment will increase steadily to support the education sector, with the ratio of education expenditure in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) to be 4 percent by 2012.

In 2008, the ratio stood at 3.48 percent, compared with the average international level of 4.5 percent...

The plan said giving students fairer access to quality education would be a "fundamental policy," with more public education resources for rural, impoverished and ethnic areas.

The reforms would also encourage private organizations and individuals to play a greater role in the education system, said the statement…

China's Cabinet approves education reform plan
The Chinese government has approved an education reform plan for next decade which promises to prioritize the development of education while ensuring fairness in the system.

A meeting of the State Council, or China's Cabinet, approved the final version of the Medium and Long-term National Educational Reform and Development Plan (2010-2020)...

Government investment will increase steadily to support the education sector, with the ratio of government's education expenditure in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) to be 4 percent by 2012, according to the meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao.

In 2008 the ratio stood at 3.48 percent, compared with the world's average level of 4.5 percent…

The plan said giving students fairer access to quality education would be a "fundamental policy," with more public education resources to be arranged for rural, impoverished and ethnic areas.

The statement said the plan would bring "innovation" to the way universities enrolled students, without giving details.

The reforms would also encourage private organizations and individuals to play a greater role in the education system, according to the statement...

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The idolatry spreads

American Idol will soon morph into Nigerian Idol.

Nigerian Idol is the Real Deal
For entertainment enthusiasts, and millions of talented but opportunity-challenged acts spread across the country, the next few weeks promises to be interesting, as the world's biggest music talent show Idols comes to Nigeria. Optima Media Group (OMG), one of Africa's biggest production companies, announced this week it has secured the right to produce Idol in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa…

Nigerian Idol, Nwoko says, is 'a dream come true because finally we get to give millions of youths an opportunity to be heard - a genuine opportunity. Nigeria is blessed with such amazing talent!

'Unfortunately, most of these people don't have a structured platform to make their voices heard. We want to say to them - accept no Limitations. You can make your dream come true!'…

Nigerian Idol will be aired both on cable and terrestrial television across Nigeria between September and December 2010.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No more sacks of money

Will the economic analysts please step forward and tell us how significant this is? It's an obvious sign of political trouble for the Iranian government.

Iran doubles highest banknote amid inflation fears
Iran has doubled the denomination of its highest banknote to 100,000 rials ($10, £6.50), its Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani has announced…

The move has been prompted by high inflation, although official figures say the rate has fallen to 10% from a peak of 29% in 2008…

Kamran Dadkhah, an associate economics professor at Boston's Northeastern University, said "astronomical" inflation in Iran in recent years had necessitated the new notes.

"They have to print notes in larger denominations, otherwise people will have to take a sack of them to buy a sandwich," he told Bloomberg Businessweek magazine…

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Political effects of violence

Daniel Wilson, writing in the Under the Volcano blog points out one of the ways that violence can reduce the capacity, and probably legitimacy, of government.

800 teachers ask to leave Juárez
The Chihuahua Secretary of Education Guadalupe Chacón said that 800 public school teachers in Ciudad Juárez and towns in the sierra have put in transfer requests to be reassigned to areas with less violence.

Original aricle: Huyen maestros de Juárez por inseguridad

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Monday, June 21, 2010


Pronunciation: \-ˈmi-tənt\
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

It's the first day of summer and postings here will be irregular for awhile. Not because of summer, but because I'll be teaching this week. The workshop and the participants will take top priority outside of family concerns, so this little project might be neglected a bit.

Then I'll be taking a road trip across the great plains to the mountain west. Who knows what links to the Internet I'll find on that frontier?

Stay tuned. I'll probably get back to a more normal schedule by the time most of you go back to school. In the meantime, enjoy the days and people around you.

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Dangers of relying on journalism

There is a healthy and informative debate going on in the pages of Foreign Policy about how and why Western journalists misinterpreted the 2009 election in Iran and the subsequent political events.

It's good background if you're teaching about Iran, but there's probably not much useful teaching material for comparative politics, unless you choose some excerpts to illustrate how journalism differs from scholarly study and analysis.

Now, if you're teaching journalism…

Misreading Tehran — Leading Iranian-American writers revisit a year of dreams and discouragement.
When Iranians took to the streets the day after they cast their ballots for president, the Western media was presented with a sweeping, dramatic story…

It was a story that seemed to write itself. But it was also a story that the West -- and the American media in particular -- was destined to get wrong in ways both large and small…

FP asked seven prominent Iranian-Americans, deeply immersed in both the English- and Persian-language media, to look through the fog of journalism at what actually happened in Tehran -- and why so many of us got it so wrong...

Who's Really Misreading Tehran? — Wishful thinking and bad analysis has inflated Iran's Green Movement into something it certainly is not: a viable alternative to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Foreign Policy's seven-part series, "Misreading Tehran," is, for the most part, a disappointing example of the phenomenon it purports to explain -- inaccurate interpretations of Iranian politics surrounding the Islamic Republic's June 12, 2009, presidential election…

From literally the morning after the election, the vast majority of Western journalists and U.S.-based Iran "experts" rushed to judgment that the outcome had to have been the result of fraud. These journalists and commentators largely succeeded in turning the notion of a fraudulent election in Iran into a "social fact" in the United States...

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Friday, June 18, 2010

World's third largest movie industry

After Hollywood and Bollywood comes Nollywood. Thanks to Jeremy Weate, blogging at Naijablog for pointing out this article.

Imperfect Cinemas
The speed with which Nollywood has grown since 1992 has bewildered many outside observers. So has its spread beyond Nigeria's borders into the continent at large and its success at challenging the Latin American telenovela as the dominant form of popular entertainment in Africa. Exact figures are impossible to compile, but Nollywood's audience is presumed to be in the millions. Crammed seven or eight to a video CD, sold in markets alongside bootlegs of the worst that Hollywood, Bollywood and Hong Kong can churn out, the 1,500-plus movies birthed by Nigeria's video movie industry in a typical year dominate the television screens of sub-Saharan Africa… An estimated 600,000 video CDs are printed each day in Lagos alone…

As Kenneth Harrow explains in Postcolonial African Cinema, first-wave African cinema had an agenda, which he identifies as the following:
1. African film is important in the communication of history, in the correction of past misrepresentation of history.
2. African film is important in writing back to Hollywood and back to misrepresentations of Africa in the mainstream media.
3. African film represents African society, African people, African culture.
4. African film should be the site for truth.
5. African film is African…

Academics and critics have scrambled to explain how a profitable indigenous movie industry mushroomed organically in Nigeria, just like that, and became wildly popular despite a cable-access aesthetic and interminably repetitious plots… The movies are produced on a small scale and often shot in houses and on side streets. They can cost as little as $10,000 to make. Shooting is completed in as few as five days, and footage is typically edited on home computers with Adobe Premier or other amateur editing programs. The channels of distribution are those of piracy: video CDs and VHS tapes are copied and distributed through kiosks, booths and sellers on motorbike or foot. Speed in distribution is imperative; plagiarism is so commonplace, and the pace of production and distribution so fast, that a popular movie will face competition from knockoffs, frequently starring the same actors, within weeks of its release…

Their home-video aesthetic isn't just tolerated but relished by viewers, and there is evidently some consternation in certain circles that the postcolonial African tradition of lush, 35-millimeter, French Embassy–funded allegorical films and centralized-government-sponsored Marxist epics has been eclipsed by films like Baby Police, a popular franchise starring a dwarf who harasses unsuspecting citizens at roadblocks…

Fifty years after the first wave of independence, Nollywood might end up killing off a lingering overestimation of independence's potential to effect lasting social change. Without being nihilistic, Nollywood videos address the experience of globalized, urbanized Africa as it actually exists… Nollywood conveys the quotidian texture of Nigerian urban life, and it does not exclude as inauthentic the realities of consumerism, the multinational corporation or multiculturalism, which is why it might hold so much more appeal to Nigerians and people across the continent than auteurist Francophone African cinema. Nollywood's movies are grounded in the present and are popular because they meld timeless themes with contemporary desires.

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Reuters report on Nollywood:

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil spills in Nigeria

While the Gulf of Mexico disaster has the attention of most Americans, The New York Times has published a photo essay on the oil-related disaster in the Niger Delta.

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Mexican election polls

From the blog, Under the Volcano.

Polls: PRI looks solid in gubernatorial races
With three weeks to go before the July 4 elections, the PRI has solid leads in most of the 12 gubernatorial races, based on GCE and Mitofsky polls from late May and early June.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Things may not be as they seem

Or there may be a lot of wishful thinking going on among the opposition to Iran's power elite. The writer of the first piece is Ali Ansari, the author of A Crisis of Authority: Iran's Presidential Election of 2009.

Moral crisis threatens Iran's Revolutionary Guards
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was founded with the principal aim of protecting the achievements of the Islamic revolution in a military and ideological sense. Forged in the heat of revolution and defined by the Iran-Iraq war, the elite corps was intended to be a breeding ground for the new Islamic man who would take the revolution forward and maintain its purity.

Originally it eschewed the standard hierarchical ranks of the traditional military, instead promoting an austere, egalitarian ethos. But the IRGC soon fell short of the lofty ideals it had set for itself as it grew to become one of Iran's most powerful – and wealthy – institutions…

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made great play of the fact that he has come to sweep away the corruption and rampant materialism of the recent past, restoring the original revolutionary austerity of Iran – and also of the guards. Yet in practice he has only increased the corruption while removing any semblance of accountability. The guards have long been involved in business, but under Ahmadinejad they have moved from being beneficiaries to taking a controlling share. This has made many of the more senior officers rich. Not so much those lower down the ranks, however, who see the moral basis of the guards being eroded by material greed. In sum, for many guardsmen, they have become the establishment they grew up to despise. They pride themselves on being the guardians of the Islamic revolution. But the question that many are asking today is: whose revolution and which Islam?…

Ahmadinejad has moved to retire guardsmen, many with years of experience, and replace them with cadres of young, ideologically committed and loyal recruits. Empowered and imbued with an almost immature enthusiasm for confrontation, these new recruits are simply accentuating the existing tensions, as the old guard, bloodied by war and professionalised by experience, look on with disdain at the naivety of their successors.

Former elite officers reveal tensions in Iran regime
A remarkable series of interviews with former members of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard today offer a rare insight into one of the world's most oppressive regimes.

The four men, who have fled Iran and are in hiding in Turkey and Thailand, speak out in a documentary produced by Guardian Films and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In testimony provided by the men... the film reveals:

• Deep divisions within the Revolutionary Guard, the powerful military organisation at the heart of the Iranian state, which have widened since last year's repression of the so-called green opposition…

• A ruling elite so unsettled by the uprising that it had a plane on standby ready to fly the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to Syria at a moment's notice…

Another former guard accuses the government of filling the ranks of the guards with young men from the countryside willing to carry out brutal assaults which more senior officers would not countenance. "The majority of these recruits ... have no idea of right or wrong," he says. The regime "hands them weapons and these young people come into the streets and commit acts of murder"...

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

At least make things look better

Russian leaders are intent on overcoming Russia's bad reputation in the West. Whether they can do that without actually making things better is the question.

Russia's drive to improve its image
Russia, unhappy with its image abroad, has taken a fresh public relations approach to present a better view of itself and attract foreign investment.

One example is the Russian National Exhibition in Paris…

It's another attempt by Moscow to tell what it sees as the real story, different from what some Russian commentators call an excessively negative coverage of Russia in Western media…

Large international PR agency Ketchum was hired to help Russia "shift global views" of the country prior to and during the 2006 G8 summit.

It said afterwards that the main aim had been "to ensure that Russia's openness, accessibility and transparency were widely communicated to participants and observers of the summit and to the media"…

But experts agree that it will require much more to change Russia's image than a number of PR moves, no matter how good and expensive…

Bureaucracy, corruption, the huge gap in earnings between wealthy and poor Russians, the low prestige of state institutions, relations between the police and the people - all these factors create a negative image of the country, even among many Russians…

Experts agree that only big changes in Russian policy and in its dealings with the rest of the world could gradually improve the country's image.

The question is, though, whether Moscow is ready to implement these long-term changes and will not abandon them if the internal situation changes…

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Didn't Marx start this line of thinking?

Karl Marx thought that resolving the contradictions in socio-economic systems brought about change. At least one Chinese official thinks that the police ought to work on resolving those contradictions and prevent change. More Chinese characteristics for Marxism?

Senior official calls on law enforcement agencies to resolve social contradictions, maintain stability
A senior Chinese official has called on law enforcement agencies to resolve social contradictions and maintain harmony and stability.

Wang Lequan, deputy secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, made the remark during his recent visits to the offices of the country's prosecution, judicial and public security authorities in Beijing…

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Simmering discontent in Iran?

On this anniversary of last year's election, one thing to remember about analysis like this one in The New York Times is that foreign reporters are most likely to talk to educated, English-speaking Iranians. And who is most likely to be alienated from the regime and the government? The educated, English-speaking Iranians. That doesn't mean that Will Yong and Michael Slackman are wrong.

Jon Leyne's analysis for the BBC is based more on empirical evidence, but his assumptions about politics in Iran show through his recitation of facts. (He was expelled from Iran after the demonstrations last year.)

These articles all repeat the journalists' preferred narrative about events in Iran a year after a flawed election. At times like this it's good to remember that journalists' narrative for recent primary elections in the USA was about opposition to incumbents. But last Tuesday 82 of 84 incumbents won elections.

Across Iran, Anger Lies Behind Face of Calm
One year after Iran’s disputed presidential election, the familiar rhythms of life have returned here…

But the veneer of calm masks what many here call the “fire under the ashes,” a low-grade burn of cynicism and distrust. The major demonstrations and protests are gone, but the hard feelings remain, coursing through the routine of daily life…

In scores of interviews conducted over the past several months with Iranians from all strata of society, inside and outside the country, a clear picture emerged of a more politically aware public, with widened divisions between the middle class and the poor and — for the first time in the Islamic republic’s three-decade history — a determined core of dissenters who were opposed to the republic itself…

Mr. Ahmadinejad and his patron, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are stronger today than they were a year ago, political experts say, although their base of support has narrowed.
They are relying heavily on force and intimidation, arrests, prison terms, censorship, even execution, to maintain authority. They have closed newspapers, banned political parties and effectively silenced all but the most like-minded people. Thousands of their opponents have fled the country, fearing imprisonment.

As a formal political organization, the reform movement is dead…

The crisis accelerated and institutionalized a transfer of power that began with the first election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005. The shift was from the old revolutionaries to a generation that came of age during the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, hard-liners who deeply resented the relatively liberal reforms promoted by former President Mohammad Khatami.

The vanguard of the new political elite is now the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which oversees Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and has extended its control over the economy and the machinery of state. It has improved its ability to control the street, to monitor electronic communications and keep tabs on university campuses, and its alumni head the government’s security organs…

“The people are more aware than before, but they stay quiet on fear of death,” said an 80-year-old woman as she sat in her kitchen frying onions for a rice dish. “They have killed so many of the young and the well intentioned. Even the shah did not kill like this. They rule the people at the tip of a spear, but the people don’t want them anymore.”...

Why time is against Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The opposition protests that brought millions out on to the streets have petered out. Opposition supporters seem disillusioned…

The government continues to insist that all the trouble was caused by a tiny handful of foreign-inspired rioters and troublemakers.

But they betray their sense of insecurity by their endless succession of warnings and triumphant declarations about how they have vanquished the enemy…

Many Iranians have fallen into a sullen acquiescence, frustrated that their hopes for change have slipped away.

But in the longer term, trends may be against President Ahmadinejad and those around him…

[M]any key establishment figures are giving only very reluctant support to President Ahmadinejad…

As a result, a weakened president has had to compromise over a key plank of his domestic policy, subsidy reform, and has lacked the authority to negotiate freely over the nuclear programme.

Even more seriously, the economic trends are not good. Through a combination of mismanagement and international pressure, oil production is going down fairly rapidly…

At the same time, vast swathes of the economy have been virtually handed over to the Revolutionary Guards, part of their hugely increased power since the election.

They are not famed for their skills at economic management…

The government seems unable to reverse the big increase in spending made by President Ahmadinejad when oil prices were at record levels. Again, it lacks the authority to make the tough decisions that might have to be made.

There is much discussion if or when an economic "crunch" could come. The main symptom could be a crisis over the exchange rate and foreign currency reserves.

The political significance could be enormous if the government begins to run out of money to pay its loyal supporters in the security forces, not to mention the many millions of Iranians now employed in state-owned enterprises…

During last summer's protests, the missing element was widespread labour unrest…

But the labour issue also illustrates a weakness of the Green movement. Despite the unpopularity of President Ahmadinejad, they have been unable to broaden their core support into the working classes…

Despite the misleading talk about Mr Ahmadinejad's rural base, the vast majority now live in the cities. And more and more Iranians would think of themselves as middle class, with aspirations to lead a freer, more secular lifestyle…

It is hard to see an Iranian government surviving indefinitely while it is so divided within, and so bitterly opposed by large numbers of ordinary Iranians.

See also:
Force, fear keep Iran together from The Globe and Mail
Iran's defiant Green movement vows to fight on from The Guardian (UK)
Iran opposition leader vows to continue struggle from The Boston Globe

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Workers strike in China

Kevin James, who teaches at Albany HS (CA) read his copy of the latest issue of The Economist before I did and alerted me to the first of these articles in his AHS Comparative Government blog. Thanks.

I knew what to look for. It relates to a recent entry here about protest in an authoritarian system. The Washington Post article was published a day later, and in the days after that NPR and the New York Times covered the story. David Barboza and Hiroko Tabuchi, in another article, imply that strikes and the publicity now surrounding them might be part of a policy by the Chinese government to pressure foreign investors to raise wages and improve working conditions.

Unions in China: Strike breakers
AS CHINESE strikes go, the one that crippled Honda’s car production in late May was relatively discreet: no picketing, no clashes with police, little sign of copycat action. But it was significant. The stoppage was one of the biggest and longest-running in an enterprise with foreign investors. And it has exposed worrying problems for the government and factory owners in China’s industrial heartland…

Workers have been emboldened by a law introduced in January 2008 aimed at strengthening their contractual rights. The global economic downturn kept wages down and increased workers’ grievances…

Several workers complained that despite paying membership dues of around 10 yuan ($1.50) a month, they had received virtually nothing from the union, least of all help negotiating with managers. But their ability to keep up their strike for nearly two weeks seems to have rattled the government. Normally worker protests dissipate rapidly, with unions usually taking the side of managers…

Wen Yunchao, a prominent blogger in Guangdong, says [that]… at most factories, managers and their government backers will retain the upper hand. The Honda workers are unusual, he says, because many of them are “interns” sent by technical colleges. Their bonding as fellow students means they can organise themselves more easily than can workers who are usually migrants from different rural areas...

Labor unrest in China reflects changing demographics, more awareness of rights
China has been hit with a recent wave of labor unrest, including strikes and partial shutdowns of factories, underscoring what experts call one of the most dramatic effects of three decades of startling growth: A seemingly endless supply of cheap labor is drying up, and workers are no longer willing to endure sweatshop-like conditions.

China's export-driven growth has long been linked to its abundance of workers -- mostly migrants from the impoverished countryside who jumped at the chance to escape a hardscrabble rural life to toil long hours in factories for meager wages.

If they were unhappy, they rarely expressed it through action, and if they did, they were quickly fired and replaced from among the hundreds of others waiting outside the factory gates.

Now all of that has started to change…

The recent cases -- particularly the Honda strike -- are also noteworthy for receiving extensive coverage in the Chinese media. While labor unrest has become increasingly common across China in the past two years, experts said, most incidents typically go unreported…

In mid-2008, China introduced a labor law that allows workers with grievances to file complaints and opens a new mechanism for mediation. Publication of the law probably made workers more aware of their rights, experts said.

Since the law went into effect, the number of known complaints has doubled to about 700,000, and they "are going up even faster now," said Mary Gallagher of the University of Michigan, an expert on Chinese labor…

The labor unrest poses an acute challenge to China's ruling Communist Party and a dilemma for the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. That group, China's only officially sanctioned union, is supposed to represent workers but in practice has worked more as a partner with the government to enforce labor discipline and keep production high.

Zhang Jianguo, a top official with the federation, said the reason for the current unrest is the huge income disparity in China. He said the portion of the country's gross domestic product that has gone to wages has declined by almost 20 percent in the past two decades.

But some say China's official union is itself part of the problem. "The labor union should promote fairness in society instead of promoting economic development," said Lin Yanling, a professor at the China Institute of Industrial Relations. "But in China, the labor union doesn't do that."

See also: Power Grows for Striking Chinese Workers
After years of focusing on luring foreign investment, Chinese government officials are now endorsing efforts to improve conditions for workers and raise salaries. The government hopes the changes will ease a widening income gap between the rich and the poor and prevent social unrest over soaring food and housing prices…

Economists say that China’s labor force is growing increasingly bold and that over the last year, periodic strikes in southern China — some supposedly involving global companies — have been resolved quietly or not reported in the media...

Workers at Chinese Honda Plant March in Protest
Striking workers at a Honda auto parts plant here are demanding the right to form their own labor union, something officially forbidden in China, and held a protest march Friday morning.

Meanwhile, other scattered strikes have begun to ripple into Chinese provinces previously untouched by the labor unrest…

The Chinese government has not allowed unions with full legal independence from the national, state-controlled union. But the government has occasionally finessed the issue by letting workers choose their factories’ representatives of the national union, or by allowing the creation of “employee welfare committees” in parallel with the official local units, said Mary E. Gallagher, a China labor specialist at the University of Michigan...

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Finding funding for campaigns

Solomonsydelle, writing in the blog Nigerian Curiosity takes a shot at explaining some of the inconsistencies of electoral politics in Nigeria. Some things sound familiar, but he might also be voicing the concerns of a generation eager to take some of the reins of power.

He also offers some good examples of how and why politics in Nigeria is such a high stakes "game." (It's good to think about that aspect when listening to arguments about "zoning" the presidency.)

He also suggests, as did Chinua Achebe in Man of the People that things will change when the people have seen enough.

No matter where in the world, being a politician is expensive business. In Nigeria, politicians are expected to not just explain their campaign pledges and commit to addressing issues, but to feed potential voters as well. For this reason, politicians spend a lot of money, some of it public funds at times, wining and dining those they hope will vote on their behalf. Some say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But, Nigerian politicians understand that the way to a voter's heart and mind is through his or her stomach.

So it was no surprise when I learned that to run for a seat in Nigeria's National Assembly, an individual would need upwards of N100 million (approximately $662,000 USD). And, that amount is actually a conservative estimate. In a country with a wide gap between the haves and have nots, the financial needs of a campaign automatically isolate many who may have good ideas but not the money or support from Godfathers that many incumbents and older Nigerians automatically have. As a consequence, the poor (not wealthy) and the young are overwhelmingly excluded by default from using politics on a national level as a platform to effect change…

In addition to the money needed to campaign, that politicians make a lot of money once they win their hard-fought seat, be it legally or illegally, adds to 'do or die' mentality…

At some point, Nigerians themselves will have to realize that the current way of doing things is advantageous to too few a number to be reasonable. If and when that happens, citizens from all socioeconomic levels will have to work together, hopefully, peacefully, to make the changes necessary for a Nigeria where many will have the opportunity to play a role in improving the nation. Until that day comes, there will continue to be impediments that prevent full participation in the Nigeria's democracy, such as the fact that many with the right intentions for a country have little chance of raising the capital needed to share their political ideas and potentially transform Nigeria.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nigerian National Council of States

Okay, I am the first to admit that I'm about as far away from Nigeria as anyone could be. I've never visited, and I've not done any original research about government, governance, or politics there.

But I have been a casual, but serious student of Nigeria and Nigerian government and politics since 1963 when I met a college classmate, Joachim (Joe) Nwabuzor, from what was then called the Western Region of Nigeria.

Given all that, I only learned of the existence of the National Council of States yesterday when it was mentioned in news reports about the appointment of a new chairman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the awarding to President Jonathan of the title "the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic."

The National Council of States appears to be an august body populated by an impressive group of powerful people. Until these recent news stories, it obviously operated quietly behind the scenes. Perhaps now we should add it to our organization charts for Nigerian governance.

I noted that the group is an advisory group and that the electoral commission appointments have to be approved by the Senate. In spite of that, the news reports from Next and Vanguard (Lagos) seem to assume that approval of the appointments are a done deal.

Jega is electoral commission boss
The National Council of States yesterday approved the nomination of Attahiru Jega as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission by President Goodluck Jonathan.

The ratification came during the council’s first meeting under Mr Jonathan’s administration. An influential advisory body, members of the council include state governors, all former heads of state, former chief justices of the federation and the current one, the attorney-general and minister of justice, Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Yesterday’s meeting had, for the first time in a very long while, all former living Nigerian heads of state in attendance, including Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Muhammadu Buhari...

The full attendance by the former leaders signifies their confidence in the leadership of Mr. Jonathan, a presidency aide said…

Although the council is essentially an advisory body, it is usually consulted on significant national issues. Its meeting yesterday was essentially to endorse the appointment of a new chairman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Attahiru Jega is New INEC Boss
AFTER six hours of deliberations on state matters, a well attended National Council of State, NCS, which had all former Nigerian leaders in attendance, yesterday, ratified the appointment of the outgoing Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, BUK, Professor Attahiru Jega, as the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC…

The NCS meeting ended with a motion moved by General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) requesting the Council, which is the highest decision making body in Nigeria, to confer on President Jonathan the highest honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR; a motion that was adopted immediately by members…

Every new President is normally awarded with the honour by the outgoing President, especially during the handing over ceremony, as in the case of Obasanjo and Yar'Adua, but nobody handed over to Jonathan, hence he had operated without the prestigious honour which is reserved for presidents...

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Planning for post-industrial China

China is making plans for its post-industrial economy. Are things really moving that fast? Or is the ability to change much slower than anticipated?

China plans to transform from labor-rich to talent-intensive
The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council, China's Cabinet, on Sunday jointly issued the country's Medium and Long-term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020), which sets a blueprint for creating a highly skilled national work force.

The plan says as part of China's modernization process, people's education must be improved. China has to transform itself from being labor-rich to talent-intensive.

The plan aims to increase the ratio of citizens with a higher education background in the work force from 9.2 percent in 2008 to 20 percent by 2020...

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Music in Iran

Music has been a powerful force in many social movements. The Iranian opposition seems to be developing its own theme songs.

Protest Music Stirs Fires of Iranian Discontent
Since Iranian authorities have cracked down on the demonstrations that rocked the country after a disputed election a year ago this month, a flood of protest music has rushed in to comfort and inspire the opposition. If anything, as the street protests have been silenced, the music has grown louder and angrier.

The government has tried all manner of methods to mute what has become known as “resistance music.” They have blocked Web sites used to download songs and shut down social networking sites, which were also used by the opposition to organize protests and distribute videos of government and paramilitary violence…

But clamping down on music in the digital age is like squeezing a wet sponge.

Protest songs are downloaded on the Internet, sold in the black market or shared via Bluetooth, a wireless technology Iranians have adapted to share files on cellphones, bypassing the Internet altogether. Fans have also made dozens of homemade videos, setting montages of protest images to music and posting them online…

Street vendors in Tehran sell bootleg CDs and MP3s at traffic lights for $2 or $3. Protest music plays on stereos at parties and from cars on the streets, Tehran residents say. Music blasting from car speakers at a stoplight has become one of the more public ways still available to signal to others that the spirit of struggle still lives…

khas o khashak song/ iran protest PARNAZ/ASHKAN

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Keeping the Basiji employed

In the summer between the last Iranian election and the next, the social conservatives remind everyone who is in charge.

Iranian authorities step up arrests of women for 'immodest' dress
Iranian authorities have begun police patrols in the capital to arrest women wearing clothes deemed improper. The campaign against loose-fitting veils and other signs of modernism comes as government opponents are calling for rallies to mark the anniversary of the disputed presidential election, and critics of the crackdown say it is stoking feelings of discontent.

But hard-liners say that improper veiling is a "security issue" and that "loose morality" threatens the core of the Islamic republic.

Iran's interior minister has promised a "chastity plan" to promote the proper covering "from kindergarten to families," though the details are unclear. Tehran police have been arresting women for wearing short coats or improper veils and even for being too suntanned. Witnesses report fines up to $800 for dress considered immodest…

When seminary student Fatemeh Delvari, 24, moved to Tehran from a provincial town eight months ago, she was shocked to see how some women dressed.
"My own veil oppresses my feminine side, so I can be free and active," she said of her black chador, a garment that covers the entire body except the face and hands. "But some women seem to be only interested in looking beautiful."
"They are trampling on social boundaries," Delvari said. "Violence is not good, but they should be punished."…

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Socialization, Civics, Indoctrination

College students, presumably ideologically correct, are congratulated by Li Changchun

So how does a country create good citizens?

Ideological education stressed for Chinese college students
A senior Communist Party of China (CPC) official has urged greater effort to promote the ideological education of the nation's college students.

"Continuous efforts should be made to boost college students' ideological thought to nurture qualified successors for the construction of socialism with Chinese characteristics," said Li Changchun, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.

Li made the remarks at a two-day meeting on the ideological education of college students, held in Beijing on Saturday and Sunday…

He urged universities to create a sound environment for students' healthy growth and to keep ideological education close to reality, life and the students…

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Protest in authoritarian China?

The assertion in this New York Times article by Michael Wines and Jonathan Ansfield is that protest works when it aligns with basic "revolutionary" tenets of the PRC regime's Communist past. It might also matter that the protests are urban. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protests in the last several years by farmers have been largely invisible and ineffective.

Trampled in a Land Rush, Chinese Resist
When China’s land boom excited a frenzy of popular resistance late last year — including headline-grabbing suicides by people routed from their homes — Chinese policy makers finally proposed a solution: rules to protect citizens from unchecked development and to fairly compensate the evicted.

Today in Laogucheng, a dingy warren of apartments and shops slated for redevelopment on Beijing’s far west side, the fruits of that effort are on vivid display: a powerful developer is racing to demolish the neighborhood before the rules are passed. And about 700 gritty homeowners are adamantly refusing to move until they get the fair deal they hope the rules will provide…

[P]eople do have influence over their autocratic masters. Top officials are worried that the property rush — which has led to soaring prices for urban real estate and low prices for old homes and farmland seized for development — is enriching local governments and well-connected developers at the expense of ordinary people and social stability.

Protest[s]… have forced officials to at least consider measures to make it harder to seize property and turn it over to developers without fully compensating those who live on it or use it. Effective confiscation of land nominally owned by the state, but farmed or lived on by the poor, has been a major source of unrest for the past two decades...

Two years ago, China’s appointed legislature, the National People’s Congress, approved a law to strengthen individual property rights and ordered new rules written to regulate urban land. But that effort stagnated in the legislative affairs office of the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“They face resistance from interest groups — from people in the government and from developers,” Shen Kui, the vice dean of Peking University’s law school, said in an interview…

[After widely publicized protests last fall,] State Council bureaucrats not only resurrected the long-stalled plans to write new land rules…

The draft covers only urban property, leaving out rural city outskirts where local governments have reaped huge profits — up to 100 times the value of a home — by converting commercially zoned countryside to city land…

And as in past years, lobbying against the new measures remains intense. “The obstruction and opposition is quite formidable,” said Mr. Shen’s principal co-drafter, a Peking University law professor, Wang Xixin. “Much of it derives from the local levels.”…

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The old is new

The Party in China has been ambivalent about Confucius for a long time. It's current enthusiasm may wane if the results are unpredictable.

Ancient wisdom of Confucius reverberates in modern China
[The birthplace of Confucius is] the center of a burgeoning personality cult built around a philosopher who died in 479 B.C. It's a movement endorsed by the government but one that is also providing cover to some who question China's direction…

A revival of interest in Confucius and other aspects of what Mao Zedong vilified as China's noxious feudal past has been underway for years… The Communist Party, tapping into a deep vein of cultural nationalism, has encouraged the trend, in part as an antidote to Western ways...

But a Confucian revival sanctioned and initially steered by the party has grown into something more vibrant and also more unpredictable. It has become a quest for alternative ideas that challenge not only foreign imports such as democracy but also some of the homegrown results of China's dash to modernity.

Confucianism, an elaborate system of moral philosophy and political theory, has always been a two-edged sword, both deeply conservative and potentially subversive…

China's current government is still backing Confucius and has adopted as its own one of his favorite concepts: harmony…

"For the past 30 years, China has constantly stressed the economy, not culture, philosophy and reflection," said Michael Ning [who works] for a chemical company in Beijing.

The result, said Ning… is that people "don't have any fixed values" and often feel at sea. "But after you reach a certain economic level, you can start to think," he said.

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