Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ah, the confusion of change

The "inside baseball" of Chinese politics seems to be getting more and more complex. And, given the lack of transparency, things are even more mysterious to outsiders than ever.

Dispute with Japan highlights China's foreign-policy power struggle
A new generation of officials in the military, key government ministries and state-owned companies has begun to define how China deals with the rest of the world. Emboldened by China's economic expansion, these officials are taking advantage of a weakened leadership at the top of the Communist Party to assert their interests in ways that would have been impossible even a decade ago...

In Iran, China's state-owned oil companies are pushing to do more business, even though Beijing backed enhanced U.N. sanctions against Tehran because of its alleged nuclear weapons program. The China National Offshore Oil Co. is in talks to ramp up its investment in the massive Azadegan oil field just as Japanese companies are backing out, senior diplomatic sources said. The move by CNOOC would have the effect of "gutting" the new sanctions…

China's main nuclear power corporation wants to build a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant in Pakistan even though it appears to be a violation of international guidelines forbidding nuclear exports to countries that have not signed onto the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or do not have international safeguards on reactors…

Several factors account for the rise of competing interests. President Hu Jintao has led the Communist Party for eight years, but it is not clear that he has ever been fully in control. After Hu took power in 2002, his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, stayed on as chief of China's military for two years. And Hu was the top man in a nine-member Politburo standing committee, but at least five of the seats were occupied by Jiang's allies.

"This is a time when the Chinese government is weak," said Shen Dingli, the executive dean of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. "As a result, different interest groups have been unleashed in a less coordinated and less centralized way."

Simultaneously, the influence of China's Foreign Ministry is waning. Dai Bingguo, the current foreign policy supremo has no seat on the powerful 25-member Politburo; the military has two, and the state-owned sector has at least one.

While there is competition across ministries in China, U.S. officials have focused on the gap between the civilian side of the government and the People's Liberation Army.

In recent months, military officers have begun to air their views on foreign policy matters, seeking to define China's interests in the seas around the country...

"For me, it is surprising that I'm seeing a general from the People's Liberation Army making a public statement regarding foreign policy, but this is China today," said Wu Jianmin, a former ambassador who helps run a think tank and advises China's leadership on foreign policy…

China's media is another factor in the fracturing of China's foreign policy. Another foreign policy player, the Ministry of Propaganda, has allowed the state-run press to criticize foreign governments as a way to bolster the Communist Party's position at home. As a result, China's newer publications, such as the mass-circulation Global Times, cover international affairs - in particular relations with the United States and Japan - with all the verve that People magazine pours into the adventures of Paris Hilton...

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Whither quangos?

Quangos (Quasi-non-governmental organizations), a star feature of Margaret Thatcher's efforts to dilute the political and regulatory power of Labour politicians and bureaucrats are no longer Tory pets. They've grown and multiplied, but the new government promised to cut quangos as well as the budget. However, the PM was not happy that someone leaked the list of organizations to be eliminated.

Ministers plan to axe 177 quangos, according to leaked list
Government ministers have drawn up a list of 177 quangos to be abolished, it was reported today.

A further 94 of the tax-funded bodies are also under threat of being scrapped…

Four quangos will be privatised, 129 will be merged, and 350 have won a reprieve. The scale of the cuts, if confirmed, is likely to prove controversial…

According to the list, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will take the biggest hit – losing more than 50 quangos, followed by the Department of Health, which will see about 30 bodies abolished or their functions transferred to the department…

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said… "The government has made it clear that it is committed to radically increasing accountability and improving efficiency. As part of this, work is already under way to make substantial reforms to its public bodies. We deeply regret any extra uncertainty for employees that this irresponsible leak has caused."

The number of quangos under Labour was estimated to have reached more than 1,000, employing more than 700,000 people and costing almost £65bn.

Cabinet Office orders investigation into leaked quangos document
The government today ordered an investigation into the leaking of documents suggesting that as many as 180 taxpayer-funded quangos are to be abolished.

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office described the leak as "irresponsible" and said the government regretted any extra uncertainty it had caused to employees of the public bodies named…

Minsters have previously declared they want a "bonfire of the quangos" to save billions of pounds. But such a cull would also cost thousands of jobs and provoke controversy from those that accuse the government of removing vital protection for the public…

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Firing a mayor

Joshua Tucker of New York University tries to explain what's going on in Russia.

The Firing of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov: A Reader's Guide
Earlier today Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev fired Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov (see here and here for good news reports). For those of you who don’t closely follow the soap opera that is “As the Kremlin Turns”, here is a quick guide to bring you up to speed:

Q) He fired him? I didn’t know mayors could get fired?

A) Yes, actually in Russia the president is allowed to fire and appoint the governors of the regions, and Moscow and St. Petersburg count as regions, so the President can fire the mayor of these cities.

Q) So why did Medvedev fire him?

A) In Medvedev’s own words:

“The reason is, that I, as the president of the Russian Federation, have lost my trust in Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov as the mayor of Moscow”...

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Jonathan's campaign videos

Solomonsedelle points us to wonderful teaching material in his Nigerian Curiousity blog. He offers some commentary on the upcoming elections and he gives us links to some of Goodluck Jonathan's campaign videos. For most Americans, the video in English will be most useful. There are links to others in Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw, and Igbo. The English video gives us a great opportunity to ask our students to identify what values and policies Jonathan wants to represent his campaign.

Goodluck Jonathan, has released a series of music videos as part of his campaign strategy. The videos, available on YouTube, feature different musical genres. This approach is in keeping with Jonathan's attempt to distinguish himself from other politicians by appealing to the youth vote. In that vein, he opened a Facebook page, announced his campaign to his Facebook fans and now has issued videos on youth-geared YouTube. Furthermore, Jonathan's main video, which is in English, is reminiscent of youth-oriented music and political videos being created by Nigerian musicians and youth groups, such as Light Up Nigeria…

The overwhelming majority of Nigeria's 150 million citizens are under the age of 35 and… 83% of young adults polled plan to not only register but vote in the upcoming elections…

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Interpreting in the dark

When a political system is closed and important events take place behind the scenes, observers have to guess at the implications of actions taken in public as results of those events. In the old days, Kremlinologists tried to discern what was going on in the Politburo by noticing who stood where on the Kremlin wall for the May Day Parade in Moscow. They're doing more of that again these days. We do things like that with China and Iran all the time. Here's another example.

Then there are the public actions described in the report from The Washington Post below.

What the Hiker Release Says About Iran's Internal Power Struggle
Nothing is ever simple when it comes to the Islamic Republic, and the tug-of-war between different arms of the Iranian government that preceded Sarah Shourd's release… reveals a level of chaos and political infighting inside the regime that could complicate future diplomatic efforts…

[W]hat was most notable about Shourd's release was the rebuke it involved for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the hands of his own judiciary…

Ahmadinejad had originally planned to schedule the captive's release for Saturday, in a ceremony at the presidential palace, as part of an effort to showcase his magnanimity ahead of his visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York City later this month. But when that news spread, a halt was called by Iran's judiciary — controlled by rival conservatives who are loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei but antagonistic to Ahmadinejad, not least for usurping the powers of other arms of government…

"The judiciary, one of the many institutions Ahmadinejad has offended, was prepared to release Ms. Shourd, but not to let him get the credit for it," says Gary Sick, a Columbia University Iran expert and former National Security Council official. "They made clear that the release was their game, not his. The infighting in Tehran is really vicious right now, and more publicly visible than it's ever been. Ahmadinejad was really embarrassed by this."…

Ahmadinejad and the forces behind him are, in fact, in a state of open conflict not only with the judiciary but also with Iran's elected parliament, the Foreign Ministry (which reports to the Supreme Leader) and the Guardian Council, the appointed clerical body created precisely for the purpose of resolving disputes between different parts of Iran's complex theocratic quasi democracy. Those bodies are all controlled by rival conservatives, some of them loyal to the Supreme Leader. The President, who relies heavily on backing from the Revolutionary Guard Corps, is also increasingly at odds with much of the conservative clergy. There have even been signs of open conflict between the President and the Supreme Leader, who threw his weight behind Ahmadinejad during the chaotic aftermath of last year's contested election when the legitimacy of the incumbent's re-election was challenged by reformists and rival conservatives.

Despite the intensity of the feuding, the factional battles aren't reducible to any neat hawk-vs.-dove characterizations; they're all about power and its prerogatives in a system that puts final executive authority in the hands of an unelected clergy, but creates some measure of separation of powers with elected institutions…
See also: Top 10 Players in Iran's Power Struggle

Cleric calls on Iran to take U.S.-led sanctions seriously
An influential former Iranian president... criticized the government in unusually blunt terms, saying that it is not taking U.S.-led sanctions seriously enough and that Iran could become a "dictatorship."

The remarks by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani represent a rebuke of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad…

Ahmadinejad and his supporters have been under increasing pressure from multiple power centers in Iran.

A series of public disagreements between Ahmadinejad's government and the parliament, influential clerics and even some of the president's own ministers have led to a crisis atmosphere, which has heightened political tensions in the country…

Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad have long been rivals, and Rafsanjani was considered a behind-the-scenes force in the Green Movement that challenged the government after last year's disputed elections. His words could be an opening shot that allows lower-level politicians to increase pressure on the president. Already, members of parliament are hinting at a possible impeachment motion against Ahmadinejad. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for a special mediation council to solve rising problems between the government and the parliament…

Speaking out during a meeting of the 86-member Assembly of Experts, a clerical council, Rafsanjani also deplored violent groups that in recent months have besieged houses of prominent clerics, the parliament and shops in the Tehran bazaar...

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Quiet bragging

I've been blogging here since May 2006.

This is post number 1,901.

There have been over 71,000 page views in four years and five months. Eighty-seven so far today. One hundred-five yesterday. (Not bad for a weekend.)

Yesterday, people from 10 countries read the blog (or accidentally stumbled upon it).

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New Labour leader

The results are in.

Brother Beats Brother in Labour Vote
In a battle of brothers for the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party, the younger of the two, Ed Miliband, 40, was elected on Saturday, beating his brother David, the 45-year-old former foreign minister, by a margin of a little more than 1 percent of the votes in a runoff…

Ultimately, the leadership battle demonstrated the uneasy alliance Labour has become over the last 15 years, between the New Labour reformists, with their centrist emphasis on policies appealing to business and the middle class, and the left-wing loyalists, traditionalists who had sublimated their ideological differences with the Blairites to the common urge to return to power in 1997 after 18 years of Conservative rule…

In the end, union power decided the contest. The outcome was on a knife’s edge until the final moments because of the complexity of the party’s electoral college, which divides the leadership vote into three equal blocs — members of the British and European parliaments, Labour Party members, and members of affiliated unions…

Labour’s history has been one of long periods of opposition after losing power — 13 years after its defeat by Winston Churchill’s Conservatives in 1951, 18 years after losing to Margaret Thatcher in 1979. And Mr. Miliband faces the challenge of doing something Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown never achieved,uniting the party’s contending wings and ending what David Miliband’s campaign manager, Douglas Alexander, described as the party’s habit of forming “a circular firing squad” after losing elections...

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Are the details meaningful?

When Putin moved from the presidency to the premiership and the constitution was changed, most commentators thought that Putin would be heading back to the presidency at the next election. Nothing seems to have changed.

Why Russia needs me
VLADIMIR PUTIN… had a fun summer… He took a spin on a Harley… had a go at flying a firefighting jet… fired darts at a grey whale, and most recently drove thousands of miles across Russia’s tundra in a canary-yellow Lada accompanied by dozens of foreign-made security cars and two spare Ladas—just in case…

In any democratic country such public-relations stunts could have been mistaken for part of an election campaign. In Russia, where political competition is long gone, they are part of Mr Putin’s political housekeeping, helping to keep up his image as a good tsar who is the flesh and blood of his people…

More than two years into his presidency, Dmitry Medvedev seems no more powerful than when he was, in effect, appointed to the job by Mr Putin…

Only the state and its guardians are capable of taking a country of Russia’s size and history forward, the argument goes. As Vladimir Yakunin, the head of Russia’s railways and a former KGB officer who is close to Mr Putin, argued in a letter to The Economist last week, state capitalism of the Chinese kind “simply works better”. Russia’s past attempts to “reject all history and tradition, combined with the blind imitation of foreign experience, impeded the country’s political and economic development for 20 years.”

Yet the real problem is not that the state in Russia is too powerful or ambitious, but that it fails in its basic functions of providing adequate health care, security, justice and infrastructure. At the same time, corruption has become institutionalized…

The main role of the state, to Mr Putin and his entourage, is to keep political order; or, to put it differently, to protect the state and the vested interests of its bureaucracy…

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Man behind the "throne"

One of my earliest political memories is about a controversy involving U.S. President Eisenhower's closest advisor, Sherman Adams. (I'm not only an old geezer, I was abnormally interested in politics at an early age.) Hints of scandal and intrigue surrounding a chief executive's inner circle are nothing new and keep popping up. Now there's one involving Ahmadinejad's closest advisor.

The president's awkward friend
IN THE summer of 2009 Iran’s divided conservatives came together to save the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after his disputed re-election provoked huge street protests by the reformist Green Movement. To have lost Mr Ahmadinejad to a liberal “plot” would, they judged, have imperilled the Islamic Republic which succours them all.

All the same, many conservatives are far from enamoured of Iran’s president. Challenging him, however, is turning out to be a different matter. Barely a year into his second and constitutionally final term, his future is again the object of dark speculation, only this time by people who once professed to be his friends. His immediate entourage, in particular, is being castigated and none more so than the man whom, it is thought, Mr Ahmadinejad would like to succeed him: his old friend and relation by marriage, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai.

As the president’s closest adviser, the slim, handsome, self-confident Mr Mashai has come to represent all that traditionalists in Shia Iran find odious about Mr Ahmadinejad’s presidency…

In August Mr Mashai caused perhaps his biggest rumpus to date, when he urged hundreds of expatriate Iranians, who had been invited to Tehran at government expense, to act as propagandists for a national ideology, as opposed to an Islamic one…

Mr Mashai is a member of a new diplomatic team that Mr Ahmadinejad has set up independently of the foreign ministry, which is controlled by the supreme leader…

In Mr Ahmadinejad’s view, Iran’s refusal to buckle under increasing international sanctions aimed at halting its progress towards becoming a nuclear power qualifies it as a world player on a level with the old enemy, the United States…

Whatever his ambitions abroad, Mr Ahmadinejad is playing a high-risk game at home. He has offended conservatives by appearing to condone less-than-Islamic dress for women, and has presided over a breakdown in co-operation between the government and parliament. Sanctions are starting to hurt, with investment dropping in key sectors, including oil and gas. The most painful of the president’s cuts in subsidies has yet to come into effect.

This dispute at the heart of Iran’s ruling establishment may seem arcane. After all, both Mr Ahmadinejad and his traditionalist opponents agree on the need to repress the Green Movement and to press on towards nuclear self-sufficiency. But the president fits uncomfortably into the country’s power structure, which rewards collegiate effort under the supreme leader’s benevolent tutelage. Although the president professes his undying loyalty to Mr Khamenei, his own patent ambition and his friend’s theology have led him perilously close to open defiance.

From the American and Western point of view, the very opacity of Iran’s leadership structure—and the continuing feuds within it—have made diplomacy harder. Indeed, it is unclear who indisputably runs the show, though the supreme leader still has the final say. It is plainly more complex than a struggle between conservatives and reformers.

Ayatollah Khamenei has tried his best to end the infighting, but his authority is limited by his record of support for Mr Ahmadinejad, which may be all that stops parliament from impeaching him...

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Election delays

The ambitious schedule announced for elections in Nigeria is recognized as impossible. This article is from The Daily Trust.

Parties Agree to Shift Polls - Want All Elections Same Day
Majority  of this country's  63 registered political parties agreed with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday that the 2011 general elections now scheduled to hold in January should instead hold in April next year…

The political parties also kicked against plans to conduct staggered elections beginning with the National Assembly polls, saying it will have an undesirable bandwagon effect on the electorate and will distort the true wishes of the people in subsequent elections...

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And the next British PM will be...

The contest for leadership in the Labour Party might well choose the next prime minister.

And the winner is…
FOR the first time in thirty years, the Labour Party is electing a new leader without knowing in advance who it is likely to be…

David Miliband, [at left in the photograph] the former foreign secretary… is still the narrow favourite. But his younger brother, Ed [at right], has a broad popularity in the party that may yet bring him victory…

The mechanics of the contest make polling and prediction difficult: the tripartite electoral college comprises party members; MPs and MEPs; and the members of affiliated trades unions, who vote individually rather than as a bloc. Voters can rank candidates, so second-preferences count if nobody wins a majority of first choices. Ballots were sent out earlier this month. The result is due on September 25th…

David Miliband is the closest thing the contest has to a New Labour candidate…

But the elder Miliband makes plenty of nods to the left, too…

There are great opportunities for whoever takes the crown. The party does not need a huge leap in parliamentary seats to win the next election. Polls already put it close to the Tories—before its new leader is unveiled and the coalition’s austerity drive bites. Even if no candidate matches David Cameron, the prime minister, as a political performer, Labour could have a stronger front-bench team than the coalition. They have many politicians with the profile cabinet experience bestows, but who are still young enough to represent the future...

Meanwhile, the winner will need to hurry. George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, delivers his spending review on October 20th. Labour’s new leader will have less than a month to formulate his response, which could bind and define his leadership for over four years.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Microsoft and the Russian establishment

Does this make Microsoft a political force in Russia? Even if the company grants licenses to NGOs, it's still a player in political contests.

Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent
Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of… raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.

As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.

Interviews and a review of law enforcement documents show that in recent cases, Microsoft lawyers made statements describing the company as a victim and arguing that criminal charges should be pursued…

Microsoft Changes Policy Over Russian Crackdown
Microsoft announced sweeping changes on Monday to ensure that the authorities in Russia and elsewhere do not use crackdowns on software piracy as an excuse to suppress advocacy or opposition groups, effectively prohibiting its lawyers from taking part in such cases.

The company was responding to criticism that it had supported tactics to clamp down on dissent…

The new Microsoft policy was announced in an apologetic statement by the company’s senior vice president and general counsel, Brad Smith, issued from its headquarters in Redmond, Wash…

Mr. Smith said that Microsoft would make sure that it was no longer offering legal support to politically motivated piracy inquiries by providing a blanket software license to advocacy groups and media outlets. They would be automatically covered by it, without having to apply…

He said the company would set up a program to offer legal aid to nonprofit groups and media outlets in Russia that are caught up in software inquiries. He also said the company had retained an international law firm to investigate its operations in the country…

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Monday, September 20, 2010

What's going on behind the headlines?

Another attempt to discern the politics behind the public actions.

New Questions About Nigerian’s Grip on Power
President Goodluck Jonathan abruptly canceled a trip to attend the U.N. General Assembly without explanation, raising new questions about his hold on power as the electoral commission on Sunday asked for a delay in the planned presidential vote.

Less than two weeks ago, the commission announced a timetable for the presidential contest, sandwiched on consecutive weekends between elections for the National Assembly on Jan. 15, 2011 and subsequent elections for state offices on Jan. 29. It said in asking for the delay that a Jan. 22 poll date would not give workers enough time to register voters.

Mr. Jonathan had been expected to travel to New York after formally opening his presidential bid on Saturday.

He had received a new challenge Friday when his national security adviser, Aliyu Gusau, announced his own candidacy. Mr. Gusau is among three Muslims from the north who are joining Mr. Jonathan in seeking the presidential nomination of the governing party in primaries in October. The others are a former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, and a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar...

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Nigerian Diversity

When teaching about Nigeria, I remember holding up a print out of The Languages of Nigeria from Ethnologue. It pointed out that there were 10 official languages and a total of 527 languages used in the country. The list is huge and students were appropriately impressed. They were also stumped by my question about whether democratic government was possible in a country with such diversity.

In his Naijablog, Jeremy Weate interviewed linguist Uwe Seibert about the languages of Nigeria. It's another illustration of the cultural diversity that is Nigeria and a reminder of how oversimplified basic political analysis can be. And you don't have to print out a 50-page list of languages.

On Nigerian Languages
Nigeria is not only rich in languages, there are also many different language groups. First of all, three of the four language macro-families of Africa are represented in Nigeria: Afro-Asiatic, Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan. Within the macro-families, there are subgroups, e.g. Atlantic, Benue-Congo, Chadic, Mande, and Saharan. These language groups are quite different in terms of their vocabulary and grammatical structures…

Many of the more than 500 languages of Nigeria are quite small and often only elderly people speak them really well. If their children - who still understand and speak a reduced form of these languages - fail to teach them to their children, these languages are definitely in danger of extinction. This could happen to a large percentage of Nigerian languages within the next 20 years…

I don't think that larger population languages like Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Kanuri, Fulfulde or Tiv will die out so easily...

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Debating voting schemes

Professor John Sides of the George Washington University points us to links relevant to the debate in the UK over how voting should take place. First there are links to arguments for and against "proportional" voting and then links to articles about whether proportional voting reduces ethnic cleavages.

Debating the Alternative Vote in the UK
Here is an argument in favor, and an argument against.

And while we’re arguing about the AV, here is a debate about whether it makes elections less divided along ethnic lines: Donald Horowitz vs. Fraenkel & Grofman.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Russian political music

Ever since he stepped down as president, the rumors have been floating around that Putin would return to that office. Medvedev stepped in to hold the position. The constitution was changed. Now, Russian Premier Putin has registered web site names for a presidential campaign.

What better time could there be for reviewing some political music surrounding Putin?

Music Without Borders reporter Alexis Bloom visited Moscow to learn more about the most famous Putin music, A Man Like Putin. It's an 18-minute video about that pop and political hit and a bit about music in Russia.

But, before that you and your students ought to review the 3-minute music video of A Man Like Putin. (It's not a high-def version.)

And now, a link to Alexis Bloom's video report:

A Man Like Putin
The techno-pop tune by the duo Singing Together first appeared mysteriously in 2002 and quickly topped the charts in Russia. It went on to become a Putin theme song, still played at his rallies. Catchy and ironic, this was a new kind of propaganda song. Reporter Alexis Bloom arrives in Moscow to investigate the making of the song, and how it was used in Putin's rise to power…

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Politics of technology

Mining the sea floor might be as much a political statement as a technological achievement.

China Explores a Frontier 2 Miles Deep
When three Chinese scientists plunged to the bottom of the South China Sea in a tiny submarine early this summer, they did more than simply plant their nation’s flag on the dark seabed.

The men, who descended more than two miles in a craft the size of a small truck, also signaled Beijing’s intention to take the lead in exploring remote and inaccessible parts of the ocean floor, which are rich in oil, minerals and other resources that the Chinese would like to mine. And many of those resources happen to lie in areas where China has clashed repeatedly with its neighbors over territorial claims.

“It is a great achievement,” Liu Feng, director of the dives, was quoted as saying by China Daily, an English-language newspaper, which telegraphs government positions to the outside world.

The global seabed is littered with what experts say is trillions of dollars’ worth of mineral nodules as well as many objects of intelligence value: undersea cables carrying diplomatic communications, lost nuclear arms, sunken submarines and hundreds of warheads left over from missile tests.

While a single small craft cannot reel in all these treasures, it does put China in an excellent position to go after them…

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

What if they held an election and...

To simple minded observers like me, it seems pretty early to start worrying about what happens if Nigeria's elections next January "fail." But, on second thought, I certainly understand why the questions are legitimate and the worries realistic.

Imnakoya, writing in the blog Grandiose Parlor reacts to a Foreign Affairs article by a former US ambassador to Nigeria. The conclusions they share sound like what I'd probably come to if I gave this much thought right now. In fact, the identification of the military as the "ultimate guarantor of the state’s security," parallels what I wrote in my book.

The Nigeria of 2011 and beyond
In the event of a failed elections in 2011, would Nigeria capitulate? This is the question analyzed on Foreign Affairs Magazine by John Campbell, the former U.S Ambassador to Nigeria…

There are some troubling indicators about the conduct and outcome of the 2011 elections…

While a part of me wants to down-play the possibility of a post-election crisis in 2011, historical and recent precedents suggest it is not off-limit. One of the greatest challenges facing Nigeria is in the area of security… These are maladies of a weakened nation, and an indication that Nigeria may not be well equipped and ready to manage a major political crisis…

My hope is that Nigeria finds his magic once again, as it has been able to do in recent times by pulling back from the brink of widespread crisis, often at the very last minute.

Nigeria on the Brink
The 2011 elections in Nigeria, scheduled for January 22, pose a threat to the stability of the United States’ most important partner in West Africa. The end of a power-sharing arrangement between the Muslim North and the Christian South, as now seems likely, could lead to postelection sectarian violence, paralysis of the executive branch, and even a coup…

Unlike in every previous election since 1999, no elite consensus exists for the 2011 poll, nor is there an Obasanjo-like figure strong enough to impose one. Although it is still dominated by elites and their patronage networks, the Nigerian political sphere is wide open.
Many in the North believe it is still their turn for the presidency, but the northern power brokers do not agree on who should be their presidential candidate. Several northern politicians, including Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, both former military dictators, are running for the presidency…

Jonathan, with the advantages of presidential incumbency, has also announced that he will run. This could mean the presidential contest will feature one or more northern Muslim candidates opposing Jonathan against the backdrop of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle Belt, Muslim extremism in the North, and an ongoing insurrection in the oil-rich Niger Delta. In such a fraught environment, supporters of candidates might exploit religious and ethnic identities, a dangerous and potentially explosive dynamic that until now has largely been avoided.

Logistical preparations for the 2011 elections have not started. There is no voters roll, and despite the president’s signing of an electoral reform bill, some of these reforms remain unimplemented four months before the election. The election therefore will almost certainly lack legitimacy, especially in the eyes of the losers. This will further drive the country to the brink, especially if winners and losers are defined by their religious and ethnic backgrounds… the danger of Nigeria plunging into postelection violence is a real possibility.

The Nigerian military still regards itself as the ultimate guarantor of the state’s security, and most political elites agree. In the event of postelection sectarian violence and a political breakdown, it could intervene if the civilian government loses control… Yet the return to power of the so-called men on horseback in Nigeria would pose special challenges for Washington, considering congressional requirements that Washington scale back contact with military governments that overthrow civilian governments. It would also be anathema to the African Union’s principled stand against military coups…

Nigerians have long danced on the edge of the cliff without falling off. Yet at this juncture, the odds are not good for a positive outcome, and it is difficult to see how Nigeria can move back from the brink.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

200 years on, a time for reflection

According to some, Mexico's bicentennial is a time for reflection.

On 200th birthday, Mexico battered but not broken
As Mexico limps into the bicentennial of its 1810 independence uprising, it is battered and full of self-questioning, but with more openness and debate than perhaps at any other time in its history.

The bicentennial marks the 1810 uprising led by Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo, who gathered a band of Indians and farmers under the banner of the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe. He was caught and executed soon afterward, but by 1821 the movement he started ousted the Spanish, a feat Mexicans celebrate Sept. 15-16.

"A bicentennial should inspire and generate hope, and this one hasn't," notes longtime environmental and consumer activist Alejandro Calvillo. "It comes at a time of deep crisis."…

A Pew Research Center poll released in August shows 79 percent of Mexicans are dissatisfied with the country's direction…

For most of its 200 years, Mexico was dominated by three institutions, whose buildings loomed over hundreds of town squares: the church, the city hall and the house of the most prominent family.

The church - whose falling number of priests can hardly serve their flocks anymore - now strives to be relevant in a country where most still list themselves as nominally Catholic, but hardly ever attend mass anymore…

Other aspects of life are changing; today, a Mexican town square is likely to hold an Internet cafe, a money exchange for migrant remittances, and a store selling plastic Chinese sandals instead of leather huaraches.

The family remains a bulwark, albeit one that is often split by mass migration. But the enormous, close-knit Mexican family may be a thing of the past; Mexico's birth rate has fallen from about 7 children per woman in the late 1960s to 2.1 today.

Upper-middle class Mexicans today are firmly implanted in the developed world, with iPhones, modern apartments, high education levels and small families…

Today, Mexico has strong civic movements on issues like crime, human rights and environmental protection that didn't exist 25 years ago. And despite suffering the most severe recession since the 1930s in 2009, the country has sound government finances and growing accountability. There is also now a truly independent Supreme Court.

Yet a few rich still hold the reigns of the country's highly-concentrated economy, where one or two firms dominate key sectors like television, telephones, cement, and food distribution. Half of the country's 107 million people live in poverty…

In the meantime, social activists are trying change Mexico in various ways. Mothers whose children disappeared in counterinsurgency or police campaigns have taken to washing the Mexican flag in a tub of water outside the steps of the country's Supreme Court in the weeks leading up to the bicentennial. They say the flag has been stained with blood and needs to be cleaned.

A quasi-military group, the Pentatlon Deportivo, believes military-style discipline, personal development and an ardent, nationalist love of Mexico are the cures for the country's ills. In Mexico City, teenage Pentatlon recruits jog down the tree-lined main boulevard…

Others… are trying to organize consumers to pressure the country's powerful, highly-monopolized business sector, with campaigns to stop big corporations from selling junk food in schools in Mexico, where children simultaneously suffer from malnutrition and one of the world's highest obesity rates.

And some are trying to use the courts to introduce class-action lawsuits taking on big business. But activism can only do so much; for example, antiquated labor laws make union organizing nearly impossible, and wealth and power often prevail in Mexico's bureaucratic, opaque court system…

Today, Mexicans are looking less to the government than ever before; they have largely tired of the official version of what it means to be Mexican.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rentier state held hostage

In Nigeria, rebel gangs in the Niger Delta are powerful because of their ability to disrupt the oil production that generates more than 80% of the nation's public revenue.

In Mexico, drug cartels are finding that they can exercise the same kind of power.

What does that mean for the legitimate authority of the government? Will there be political ramifications? Are these signs that violence is becoming political?

Mexican drug cartels cripple Pemex operations in basin
The meandering network of pipes, wells and tankers belonging to the gigantic state oil company Pemex have long been an easy target of crooks and drug traffickers who siphon off natural gas, gasoline and even crude, robbing the Mexican treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Now the cartels have taken sabotage to a new level: They've hobbled key operations in parts of the Burgos Basin, home to Mexico's biggest natural gas fields.

Forced to defer production and curtail drilling and maintenance in a region that spreads through some of Mexico's most dangerous badlands, the world's seventh-largest oil producer has become another casualty of the drug war…

The capacity of the traffickers to exert influence over a company as mighty as Pemex only solidifies the widely held perception that the cartels are growing in size and strength despite the government's crackdown…

Pemex, which is Mexico's largest income earner, pulling in nearly a third of the national budget, once staked great hopes on the area and its prospects for yielding gas, abundant thanks to the sandy soil and porous rock that make for ideal production and exploration conditions.

After dedicating nearly half a century to testing and exploration in the basin, Pemex in 2002 took the unusual step of opening it up to foreign investment…

Then convoys of mysterious gunmen started plying the roadways, followed by shows of force, intimidation, beatings and, finally, the abductions. Pleas for help and better protection, union leaders and workers say, went unheeded…

"These are territories where the organized crime infrastructure, inside and outside of the police forces, has established power — a parallel power, a parallel government," Alejandro Gertz, now a congressman and rector of the University of the Americas, said. "That territory is in the hands of a parallel power that has penetrated the government at all levels."

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Old party, new role

This analysis from The Economist suggests that the transition from opposition to ruling party, even over a dozen years, is not always successful.

The new old guard
After 61 years in opposition, [the PAN] wrested the presidency from the hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 and held it in 2006. Its strengths reflect its legacy as the protagonist of Mexico’s transition to multi-party democracy. Unlike the big-tent PRI, the conservative PAN knows what it stands for. “Whereas the PRI is driven by power, the PAN tends to be driven by ideology,” says Luis Rubio, the head of CIDAC, a think-tank. And unlike the fractious Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), its leftist counterpart, the PAN runs a slick operation. It even boasts an international reach, winning 57% of the expatriate vote in 200

Yet its two presidents, Vicente Fox and then Felipe Calderón, are often seen as disappointments. Much of the fault for their failure to pass big reforms lies with Mexico’s gridlocked political system: with three big parties in Congress, forming majorities is hard, and the super-majorities needed to amend the constitution even harder. Moreover, the PRI has always retained the majority of state governorships…

The biggest difficulty has been managing relations between party and government, which, Mr Nava says, each have “their own temperament and their own ends”. Mr Calderón has often been criticised for appointing mere PAN loyalists to his cabinet. His inability to find experts within the party’s ranks shows that it has not developed a governing class to match the old regime…

The party’s ideological consistency also risks calcifying. Mr Rubio speculates that the PAN’s abundance of true believers may be hindering its intellectual development. Its social conservatism has limited its appeal in cosmopolitan Mexico City… Thanks in part to the influence of a secretive Catholic society called ElYunque (The Anvil), the party has taken a hard line on abortion…

The party leadership is becoming more flexible. In July’s elections for state governors, it formed an alliance with the PRD…

The real test for the PAN will come in 2012. In the most recent presidential election, the PRI’s entrant was crippled by a bitter nomination fight. The party is bent on uniting around a candidate this time...

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Friday, September 10, 2010

What is politics in China?

If there was ever any doubt about the extensive reach of politics into life in China, here's another reminder. What follows are one day's headlines of news stories from Xinhua, the Chinese official news service, that were in the "Politics" section.

China's cabinet urges more efforts to stabilize vegetable supply

Chinese VP asks officials to use their power for the good of the people

Senior official urges more supervision of local gov'ts, state-run enterprises

Top Chinese political advisor stresses training of non-communist personnel

Chinese president appoints new ambassadors

Senior Chinese official urges state-run publishers to resist vulgarity

Chinese courts crack down on human traffickers with severe sentences

Chinese premier reiterates necessity for improving education

Top political advisor praises private business people for anti-poverty aid

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Nigerian president appoints his own

President Jonathan appointed "his own" people to head the military and police in Nigeria. Is this part of his election campaign?

From Next: Jonathan sacks service chiefs
In a startling move, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday sacked the top echelon of the nation’s security apparatus. Although Nigerians had expected these changes immediately after he assumed power after the death of Umar Yar’Adua, Mr. Jonathan had been reluctant to take such a step.

In one clean sweep on Wednesday, the President relieved all the service chiefs of their appointments and replaced the director general of the state security services and the inspector general of police…

There had always been speculations on when the president will relieve the security chiefs of their positions. Their loyalty had been in doubt since February when they orchestrated the return of a comatose Mr Yar’Adua from Saudi Arabia…

The move may also be a response to the recurring religious and ethnic crises in the country, and the rising crime. On Tuesday, people suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect attacked the Bauchi central prison and freed some of their members who have been jailed there. The attackers allegedly gained access into the prison and freed the prisoners before security operatives got there. All the prisoners escaped and at least five people were killed in the attack.

In particular, Mr. Onovo [the inspector-general of police] has been sharply criticised for his poor record on human rights and for being unable to reduce the spate of kidnapping in the country...

From Daily Trust: Jonathan Fires Security Chiefs - Appoints New Bosses for Military, Police, SSS
Top brass of the armed forces, the police and the State Security Services were removed and replaced yesterday by President Goodluck Jonathan, apparently to consolidate his hold on power five months before the general elections in which he said he will be contesting…

“The appointments which take immediate effect are however subject to confirmation of the National Assembly, in line with the provision of the Armed Forces Act, Section 18, Cap A20, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” presidential spokesman Ima Niboro said in a statement in Abuja yesterday…

From Leadership: Leaders, Experts React to Sack of Service Chiefs
Most Nigerians who spoke with LEADERSHIP last night expressed shock at the sudden removal of the service chiefs, the Inspector-General of Police, Ogbona Onovo as well as the director-general of the State Security Service (SSS), Alhaji Afakriya Gazama by President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday...

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Corruption before bathrooms

Dr Ogaga Ifowodo teaches poetry and literature at Texas State University-San Marcos. He tells with horror a story about corruption in his native Nigeria.

In the second half of the article, Dr. Ifowodo seeks an explanation for corruption in Nigeria in the analysis of Dr. Franz Fanon's idea that there's a mental illness (and lessons learned from the British) behind it.

They Won’t Even Build Toilets For Themselves!
How bad is corruption in Nigeria? … [L]et me tell you a story. It was told to me [by my] good friend, Emenike…

[He] had, by one of those flukes of Nigerian politics, become the acting chairman of a local government in the east… I prompted his story by asking if the tales of the orgiastic looting at local governments that I hear are true.

[H]e was scandalised to notice that the local government secretariat had no toilets, though the chairman’s office had one. The council’s employees were constrained to make a dash for the nearby bush to answer the call of nature. “Imagine that, the women having to go squat in the bush!”

Mouth agape, I managed to ask, “Are you really telling me that no one thought of including toilets in the plan when building an entire local government secretariat? So where did the honourable councillors go when pressed?”

Well, they didn’t come to work often enough, or tarry long enough when they did, to have that problem. On the rare occasion they were betrayed by biology, however, they too headed for the conveniently placed bush.

My friend named his first order of business to be the immediate construction of a toilet end to the secretariat.

No! said his councillors, who were appalled by the use to which the acting chairman wished to put the lean resources of the council. A loftier end was to share the funds set to be flushed down some toilets. That was how things were done before he came, and that was how things were going to be done under him, as they surely would be done thereafter.

Against their stiff resistance, my friend built the toilets, together with a borehole to service the water system...

“They wouldn’t even build toilets for themselves? So what on earth would move them to build a school, a library, a clinic, or a park?” I kept interjecting as he informed me of his efforts to appease the incensed councillors by letting each take a contract for grading and making motorable the road to his village. Only one councillor cared to dump four tipper-loads of sand before considering his work done...

So how bad is corruption in Nigeria? Words cannot begin to describe it, but we can agree: corruption is arguably the greatest evil confronting the nation today. Absolutely nothing of any worth can be done in the public sphere as ninety to one hundred percent of budgeted sums, already inflated beyond insanity to begin with, end up in private hands. Consequently, seeking political office, as two-time head of state General Obasanjo declared, is a “do-or-die” battle where the spoils of war are instant fortunes for the victors.

Today, a struggling man or woman barely able to make ends meet, like the great majority; tomorrow, rich beyond dreams and even flaunting the loot while still in office. Corruption has become the oxygen Nigerian public office holders and their cronies breathe. Unchecked, it seems now our “natural” way of life. We can, therefore, go about its business in the open, as the police demonstrate at numberless checkpoints across the country...

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Nigerian election dates

The Nigerian election administration has announced dates for the next elections. This report from This Day. Other reports available at allAfrica.com.

It's Official: Presidential Election to Hold Jan 22
After extensive legal and administrative brainstorming, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday released the timetable for the conduct of the 2011 general election, fixing the presidential election for January 22 next year.

The National Assembly polls will take place on January 15, while the governorship and House of Assembly elections will hold on January 29.

Any run-off for governorship and presidential election will be held seven days after the announcement of the result of the poll election…

According to the timetable released by the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information and Publicity Committee, Prince Solomon Adedeji Soyebi, all parties' primary elections would hold between September 11 and October 30 this year…

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More reform noises from Wen Jiabao

Yu Jie's book notwithstanding, Premier Wen makes more noises about reform.

Change you can believe in?
CHINA is enjoying its new status as the world’s second-largest economy, but the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, is refusing to relax. During a visit to a southern boomtown he declared that economic gains could yet be lost without reforms to the political system. One official newspaper called his speech one of “extraordinary importance”, but sceptics abound.

Mr Wen’s remarks on political reform were striking. China, he said, had to “resolve the issue of the excessive concentration of unrestrained power” and “create conditions for the people to criticise and supervise the government”. It was necessary, he said, to build a society with “fairness and justness”. Chinese leaders have spoken before about the importance of political reform (while ushering in very little), but Mr Wen’s emphasis was unusual.

This has caused a flurry of excitement in some state-controlled newspapers...

An organiser, Cui Weiping, says participants supported Mr Wen’s views, but some doubted that much would happen. One of Beijing’s most outspoken Wen-sceptics, Yu Jie, says the leaders will try to avoid any disruptive change in the two years remaining before Mr Wen and President Hu Jintao are likely to step down from the ruling Politburo…

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

In case you didn't understand what I said

President Hu's little speech "at a high-level meeting" obviously needed wider exposure and more details. Here's the explication.

Chinese President's speech on cultural sector reform gets guide book
A guide book had been published to help Chinese officials fully grasp a speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao that lists the key tasks to reform China's cultural sector...

The book, titled "Further Push Forward the Reform of the Cultural System to Boost the Great Development and Prosperity of Socialist Culture" was recently published by the official People's Publishing House.

With a total of seven chapters, the book explains and interprets Hu's speech systematically and comprehensively in a simple and understandable way, the publisher said in a statement.

Hu made the speech at a high-level meeting last month.

In the speech, he said cultural innovation needed to be encouraged, while emphasis should also go to accelerating the building of a network providing cultural services and improving guidance for the production of culture so as to meet the public's needs, among other things.

See also Senior Chinese leader calls for further reform, innovation in cultural system
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Friday, September 03, 2010

Fire the crooks

Will firing the bad apples in Mexican police reduce corruption or offer opportunities for others? Will it improve governance? How will it affect politics?

Mexico fires 3,200 federal police officers
About 3,200 Mexican federal police officers, nearly a tenth of the force, have been fired this year under new rules designed to weed out crooked cops and modernize law enforcement...

The housecleaning is part of President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug cartels, which includes overhauling the 34,500-strong federal police force.

An additional 465 federal officers have been charged with breaking the law, and 1,020 others face disciplinary action after failing screening tests, officials said.
Facundo Rosas, a senior federal police official, said in a radio interview that the 3,200 dismissed officers were removed for substandard performance…

Eliminating police corruption is a pillar of Calderon's nearly 4-year-old war against drug cartels. Crooked officers tip off drug lords and often moonlight as hit men.

The problem is considered worst at the local level, where fear or low wages prompt many officers to help drug gangs. State and local forces account for the vast majority of Mexico's 427,000 police officers…

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Observations from an old man

Ok, I regard Chinua Achebe as a mentor when it comes to understanding things about Nigeria, even though I only met him once. So when I saw a reference in Sahara Reporters to an interview with Achebe in Newsweek from last June, I found it worth reading. Besides the headline referred to the novel I think is more important than the one for which Achebe is most famous.

A Man of the People
Although best known for his 1958 masterpiece, Things Fall Apart, about a simple yam farmer in tribal Nigeria, novelist Chinua Achebe is still writing about Africa a full half century later. The 79-year-old author and social critic spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jerry Guo about recent developments in his home country and politics on the continent...

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How do 3000 legislators get their work done?

The answer, of course, is that they choose representatives to do most of it. The headline of the Xinhua might be misleading to some of us, but a vital part of the National Peoples Congress is in session.

China's top legislature opens bimonthly session
China's top legislature Monday opened its bimonthly session with a series of draft laws and amendments, including the amendment to the Criminal Law and a draft law on intangible cultural heritage (ICH) protection.

The session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) continued to deliberate draft amendments to the Law on Officers in Reserve Forces, the draft People's Mediation Law, as well as the draft Law on the Application of Laws to Civil Relationships Involving Foreign Interests...

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Does public opinion favor the new UK government?

The public now trusts the new government, but doesn't expect much. Does that mean that politically, the coalition doesn't have to do much?

And then there's the Social Mobility Tsar. Social Mobility Tsar? The idea has majority support in a country with an aristocracy. More titles anyone?

Unemployment is Biggest Economic Concern for Britons
In the online survey of a representative sample of 2,006 British adults, 86 per cent of respondents say the economy is in poor or very poor shape. Almost two thirds of respondents (63%) feel the same way about their own financial situation…

In the next six months, only 13 per cent of Britons think the economy will see a recovery. In contrast, 32 per cent of respondents think the situation will worsen further, and half (49%) expect things to remain the same…

Unemployment remains the top concern among Britons (40% have worried about it affecting their household in the past two months)…

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, remains the most trusted leader to handle the economy (51%). Prime Minister David Cameron is trusted by 47 per cent of Britons to make the right economic decisions (43% distrust him). Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has the confidence of 41 per cent of respondents (46% distrust him).

Fewer respondents express confidence in George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer (37%), and Labour Shadow Chancellor Alistair Darling (28%).

By a wide margin, the Conservatives remain favoured over Labour to rein in the national debt (57% to 18%), end the recession (44% to 25%), and control inflation (47% to 25%). Labour (38%) is slightly on top of the Tories (33%) in the category of creating jobs.

From August 20 to August 22, 2010, Angus Reid Strategies conducted an online survey among 2,006 randomly selected British adults who are Springboard UK panelists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 2.2%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of Great Britain. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

Most Britons Endorse the Creation of Social Mobility Tsar Position
In the online survey of a representative sample of 2,001 British adults, 56 per cent of respondents support the creation of the social mobility tsar position, while 28 per cent are opposed.

The social mobility tsar will advise the Prime Minister on how to break down social barriers for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and help those who feel they cannot have access to top jobs due to race, religion, gender or disability…

From August 17 to August 19, 2010, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 2,001 randomly selected British adults who are Springboard UK panelists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 2.2%

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