Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, January 31, 2011

The man who will be president

Chinese politicians, wary of open competition and conflict, have carefully built up a system for political succession. It's still early, but Edward Wong, Jonathan Ansfield, Li Bibo, and Benjamin Haas at The New York Times have profiled the career of China's next president, Xi Jinping [below]. The questions for students are about political recruitment and the qualities that are considered necessary for leadership.

China Grooming Deft Politician as Next Leader
Following a secretive succession plan sketched out years ago, Mr. Hu has already begun preparing… [to hand] the baton to his presumed successor, a former provincial leader named Xi Jinping, now China’s vice president. While Mr. Xi is expected to formally take the reins next year in China, the world’s second-largest economy and fastest-modernizing military power, he remains a cipher to most people, even in China…

[H]is rise has been built on a combination of political acumen, family connections [His father, Xi Zhongxun, was one of the more liberal party leaders and was purged several times under Mao. He was a mastermind in the early 1980s of China’s first special economic zone in Shenzhen. Behind closed party doors, he supported the liberal-leaning leader Hu Yaobang, who was dismissed in 1987, and condemned the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.] and ideological dexterity…

There is little in his record to suggest that he intends to steer China in a sharply different direction. But… he may have broader support within the party than Mr. Hu, which could give him more leeway to experiment with new ideas… Mr. Xi also has deeper military ties than his two predecessors…

For much of his career, Mr. Xi, 57, presided over booming areas on the east coast that have been at the forefront of China’s experimentation with market authoritarianism, which has included attracting foreign investment, putting party cells in private companies and expanding government support for model entrepreneurs…

Mr. Xi’s political skills paid their greatest dividend last October, when he was appointed vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, a move that means he will almost certainly succeed Mr. Hu as party secretary in late 2012 and as president in 2013…

The younger Mr. Xi… had to fend for himself during the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution. At age 15, he was sent to labor among peasants in the yellow hills of Shaanxi Province…

Since joining the inner sanctum in Beijing, Mr. Xi has reinforced his longstanding posture as a team player. As president of the Central Party School, Mr. Xi recently made a priority of teaching political morality based on Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideals, a resurgent trend in the bureaucracy…

See also: Articles about Xi Jinping
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

More on the upcoming Mexican election

The Economist offers more information on the political cycle in Mexico

Saddling up for the trail to Los Pinos
THE election is not until July of next year, but… [c]andidates are jostling for party nominations, and lieutenants are preparing for the election of six governors this year, the first of them in Guerrero state on January 30th. Already the main question is whether anyone can prevent the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico as a one-party state for seven decades until 2000, from returning to Los Pinos, the presidential residence.

Opinion polls vary widely, but all show the PRI with a lead (of up to 20 points) over the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which has held power for the past decade…

PAN’s contenders are a lacklustre bunch…

The PRD has the opposite problem: two powerful contenders who threaten to cancel each other out. Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, is a capable technocrat. But he lacks charisma. And he might have to share the left-wing vote with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, his predecessor as mayor who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election…

The PRI’s biggest weakness is the perception that it has failed to renew itself in opposition, and retains the authoritarian and corrupt characteristics of its past…

For the moment, though, the race seems increasingly Mr Peña Nieto’s to lose.

See also: Prep for nationwide elections in Mexico

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Prep for nationwide elections in Mexico

The voting for some governors in Mexico is seen (at least by reporter Ken Ellingwood writing in the Los Angeles Times) as a prelude to presidential elections next year.

Guerrero election kicks off weighty Mexico political year
The balloting in Guerrero, which except for the Acapulco resort is an impoverished rural state, kicks off elections in six states across Mexico this year that will set the tone for the 2012 presidential campaign.

The once-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, hopes to recapture Guerrero as part of a comeback bid that has built momentum with a number of electoral successes in the last three years.

The PRI aims to retake the presidency 12 years after the historic election that ended its seven-decade reign. This year's votes in Guerrero and elsewhere will serve as a gauge of whether the PRI can be defeated…

In Guerrero, polls show a competitive race between PRI candidate Manuel Anorve… and... Sen. Angel Aguirre, a longtime PRI stalwart who scrambled party lines when he bolted to lead the PRD coalition. In its zeal to defeat the PRI, the National Action Party, or PAN, of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, which has trailed badly, opted this week to throw its support to Aguirre…

Adding to the volatile mix, turf fights among drug traffickers in Guerrero have left a trail of bodies in recent months and more than 2,000 people dead during the last two years…

Five other states elect governors this year, an election season that will segue into the 2012 presidential campaign. All eyes will be on the state of Mexico, which votes in July. PAN and PRD officials had talked of forming an anti-PRI alliance there in an attempt to crimp Pena Nieto's presidential hopes, but recent statements by likely candidates have dimmed prospects of a possible partnership…

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If you'd like some photographs to illustrate the textbook description of Lagos, Jeremy Weate points out the photographs of Julian Röder, who was a runner-up in Aperture's 2010 Portfolio Prize contest.

Lagos Transformation
Lagos Transformation, is “… centered around a simple concept—the interchange of chaos and order. Röder’s cityscapes depict the complicated expansion of Nigeria’s largest and fastest-growing city.”

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Judicial reform in Mexico stumbles

The change to an adversarial judicial system in Mexico is not easy or easily accepted. Here's an illustration.

Mexico shock verdict puts legal reform on trial
The trial in the murder of a 16-year-old girl... was supposed to showcase U.S.-backed reforms to Mexico's secretive justice system: Three judges, in the presence of the victim's family, the defendant and their lawyers would announce their verdict in open court.

Instead, it became a rallying cry against impunity in a country where the vast majority of crimes still are not prosecuted. The victim's mother wailed "No!" as the panel absolved defendant Sergio Barraza of murdering his live-in girlfriend, even though he had told at least half a dozen people that he killed her and described where he dumped her body…

Now, what has become known as the Rubi case has put Mexico's judicial reform on trial and has the entire country talking…

The judges, who were suspended and face impeachment, said they followed the law, which has strict standards for evidence. Mexico's old system, still in place in many parts of the country, fostered corruption and confessions extracted by torture. The now widely condemned judges say the new system failed only because underfunded and ill-trained investigators and police failed to build a case. They had to throw out what they called large amounts of circumstantial or illegally obtained evidence…

Anti-crime activists say the judges were inept and hamstrung by the reform… because it overly favors the rights of suspects…

Ironically, the openness that was meant to bury forever Mexico's dark judicial past is helping fuel the criticism. Under the old system, court records were secret and proceedings conducted on paper. Judges rarely saw defendants, accepted confessions and ordered convictions.

But in 2008, Chihuahua became the first state to implement the judicial reform, imbedded in Mexico's constitution, that more closely resembles the U.S. court system, though there are no juries. Lawyers question and cross-examine witnesses in open court, and defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

Trials are now videotaped. Judges are now subject to public scrutiny…

Judges can no longer consider confessions made without a judge, detective and the suspect's defense lawyer present. In the Rubi case, though Barraza bragged to acquaintances and police that he killed the girl, he talked without a lawyer…

The U.S., which has helped pay to train judges, prosecutors and police under the new system, plans to devote more of its $1.4 billion Merida Initiative intended to fight Mexico's drug war to legal reform…

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

China: Competing power centers

Another dimension to the distribution of power in China is the competition between various parts of the regime and sections of the country. Here's an analysis from David E. Sanger and Michael Wines in The New York Times. I'd argue that the competition is not new. Some years ago, the PLA was manufacturing and selling satellite TV dishes while the civilian government was outlawing them. Nonetheless, along with the government-party dimensions, these ideas are important.

China Leader’s Limits Come Into Focus as U.S. Visit Nears
China is far wealthier and more influential, but Mr. Hu also may be the weakest leader of the Communist era. He is less able to project authority than his predecessors were — and perhaps less able to keep relations between the world’s two largest economies from becoming more adversarial…

President Obama’s top advisers have concluded that Mr. Hu is often at the mercy of a diffuse ruling party in which generals, ministers and big corporate interests have more clout, and less deference, than they did in the days of Mao or Deng Xiaoping, who commanded basically unquestioned authority…

Divided leadership has made it harder to resolve disputes with China, much less strike grand bargains like the reopening of relations between the two countries under Mao…

Mr. Hu, of course, has the power, at least on paper, to reach across differing bureaucracies. Often, though, he cannot or will not. The debate over revaluing [Chinese currency] a constant thorn in the relationship with the United States, has not advanced much partly because of a fight between central bankers who want the currency to rise and ministers and party bosses who want to protect the vast industrial machine that depends on cheap exports for survival.

So far, the battle has made it impossible for China to act decisively — and it is struggling with inflation as a result…

The rise of state-owned corporate behemoths, independent power centers in their own right, has also changed the politics in China and made it harder to address disputes with the United States and other big trading partners...

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Parallel Chinas

I've long tried to understand China by envisioning two Chinas. No, not the PRC and Taiwan, but the PRC government and PRC party. They are nearly parallel institutions and at the grassroots and at the highest levels, equivalent government and party positions are held by the same people. Consider Chinese President Hu Jintao and Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao.

In China, a sometimes opaque divide between power of party and state
When Hu Jintao visits the United States… he'll have a regal entourage of aides, bodyguards and limousines. But the Chinese leader will leave behind in Beijing the most potent totem of his power: the title of general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.

He's not giving up his day job as head of the world's largest political organization, but during his four-day U.S. trip, he'll assume an alternative identity. He'll be greeted at the White House and a Chicago auto-parts factory as Mr. President, a made-for-export alias used mostly for encounters with foreigners…

Hu travels to the United States to represent China as a nation, not just its ruling party. But the shift obscures the true nature, and also curious limitations, of Hu's authority - his stewardship of a sprawling party apparatus that stands above all formal institutions of government but is no longer a rigid monolith obedient to a single leader…

As China has grown stronger and wealthier, however, its leadership has grown more diffuse and harder to locate, and in some ways even weaker…

The diffusion of authority… reflects both the growing complexity of society and governance and the personalities of senior leaders forged not by revolutionary struggle, but by the give-and-take of bureaucratic consensus.

The party… is itself a collection of different and often competing interests. It is not held together by ideology but by the glue of nationalism, a force that ranges from low-key pride in China's past and current achievements to strident jingoism.

"The U.S. always hoped that China would become more diversified," said Jin Canrong, vice dean of the School of International Studies at People's University in Beijing… Competing voices mean that Chinese decision-making on foreign policy "will be more and more like that in the U.S. in the future."

A big difference, however, is that some of China's most powerful voices are heard only in secret. "This is one of the great frustrations and paradoxes about China," Susan Shirk, a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, said. "It has a vibrant market economy that is open to the world, but a decision-making process that is very, very opaque."

America's confusion extends to Hu himself, who stands at the apex of a highly centralized party structure but is sometimes kept in the dark and even defied by those he nominally controls, particularly the People's Liberation Army…

The party and state often overlap, as in the case of Hu, who, like his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, is both general secretary and "state chairman," a title that China renders into English as "president." He's also head of the Central Military Affairs Commission, a party body that is far more important than the largely powerless Defense Ministry, which hosted Gates's trip to China.

The mixing of functions makes it difficult for outsiders to locate where exactly policy is set, particularly as the party, while far removed from its Marxist roots, retains many of the secretive habits of its origins as an underground organization…

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Political benefits of economic problems

The latest poll in the UK indicates that those in power during economic downturns get blamed.

Labour Still Leads in Britain, Even if Coalition Partners Run Together
The opposition Labour Party remains ahead of the Conservatives in Britain, while the Liberal Democrats have recovered from their poor showing in December, a new Vision Critical / Angus Reid poll has found…

Labour is practically tied with the Tories in London (38% to 36%) and holds a 20-point lead in the North (46% to 32%) and a four-point edge in Midlands and Wales (41% to 37%). The Tories are ahead in the South of England (43% to 34%). In Scotland, Labour maintains its eight-point advantage on the SNP (42% to 34%)…

Support for the Conservatives has remained stagnant, while the Liberal Democrats managed to get back to double digits after a severe drop in December. Labour has solidified its position as the most popular party at the moment…

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More economics and politics

The coalition government in the UK is intent on solving Britain's economic problems, but the economy seems to have its sites set on the coalition government. Will Labour be able to benefit from the disaster?

UK economy suffers 0.5% contraction
The UK's economy suffered a shock contraction of 0.5% in the last three months of 2010, figures have shown…

The Chancellor, George Osborne, said the numbers were disappointing.

But he added the government would not be "blown off course" from its austerity programme.

The figures are set to raise concerns over prospects for the economy, with large public spending cuts expected to come in this year…

"This is a horrendous figure. An absolute disaster for the economy. We knew that retail sales were heavily affected and that services output would be weak, but the collapse in construction was a major contributor to the downside surprise," said Hetal Mehta from Daiwa Capital.

"While today's GDP figures are backward looking, they are nevertheless crucial to understanding the resilience of the economy to shocks. It seems that the economy is incredibly vulnerable. And with the fiscal tightening yet to fully bite, we will have to brace ourselves for a bumpy ride."…

"These are obviously disappointing numbers, but the ONS has made it very clear that the fall in GDP was driven by the terrible weather in December," Mr Osborne said.

"There is no question of changing a fiscal plan that has established international credibility on the back of one very cold month. That would plunge Britain back into a financial crisis. We will not be blown off course by bad weather."

But shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the figures were a matter of "great concern" and due largely to the speed and scope of the coaltion government's deficit reduction programme.

"The fact is the recovery has completely stalled in the last three months of last year. This is an economy which was growing in the middle of the year, which has now ground to a halt," he said.

"We have inflation going up, unemployment rising, now the economy not growing. And all those boasts from George Osborne and David Cameron that they'd secured the recovery - it seems as though the opposite has happened."…

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The economics of politics and vice versa

Paul Krugman's analysis in The New York Times considers the economic aspects of politics more deeply than most comparativists. The thoughts are worth keeping in mind as you teach about the UK and Russia (and China, Mexico, Nigeria, and maybe Iran).

Can Europe Be Saved?
There’s something peculiarly apt about the fact that the current European crisis began in Greece. For Europe’s woes have all the aspects of a classical Greek tragedy, in which a man of noble character is undone by the fatal flaw of hubris.

Not long ago Europeans could, with considerable justification, say that the current economic crisis was actually demonstrating the advantages of their economic and social model… In much of Europe, rules governing worker firing helped limit job loss, while strong social-welfare programs ensured that even the jobless retained their health care and received a basic income. Europe’s gross domestic product might have fallen as much as ours, but the Europeans weren’t suffering anything like the same amount of misery. And the truth is that they still aren’t.

Yet Europe is in deep crisis — because its proudest achievement, the single currency adopted by most European nations, is now in danger. More than that, it’s looking increasingly like a trap…

The result is a tragedy not only for Europe but also for the world, for which Europe is a crucial role model. The Europeans have shown us that peace and unity can be brought to a region with a history of violence, and in the process they have created perhaps the most decent societies in human history, combining democracy and human rights with a level of individual economic security that America comes nowhere close to matching. These achievements are now in the process of being tarnished, as the European dream turns into a nightmare for all too many people…

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Fixing Nigeria

It's another prescription for reform in Africa — this time from writer Chinua Achebe. This op-ed is probably not good for a student reading, but offers background for teachers.

Nigeria’s Promise, Africa’s Hope
AFRICA has endured a tortured history of political instability and religious, racial and ethnic strife. In order to understand this bewildering, beautiful continent — and to grasp the complexity that is my home country, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation — I think it is absolutely important that we examine the story of African people.

In my mind, there are two parts to the story of the African peoples ... the rain beating us obviously goes back at least half a millennium. And what is happening in Africa today is a result of what has been going on for 400 or 500 years, from the “discovery” of Africa by Europe…

During the colonial period, struggles were fought… At the end of the day, when the liberty was won, we found that we had not sufficiently reckoned with one incredibly important fact: If you take someone who has not really been in charge of himself for 300 years and tell him, “O.K., you are now free,” he will not know where to begin.

We were plagued by a home-grown enemy: the political ineptitude, mediocrity, indiscipline, ethnic bigotry and corruption of the ruling class. Compounding the situation was the fact that Nigeria was now awash in oil boom petrodollars…

What can Nigeria do to live up the promise of its postcolonial dream? First, we will have to find a way to do away with the present system of political godfatherism. This archaic practice allows a relative handful of wealthy men — many of them half-baked, poorly educated thugs — to sponsor their chosen candidates and push them right through to the desired political position, bribing, threatening and, on occasion, murdering any opposition in the process…

And we have to find a way to open up the political process to every Nigerian…

This is not a time to bemoan all the challenges ahead. It is a time to work at developing, nurturing and sustaining democracy. But we also must realize that we need patience and cannot expect instant miracles. Building a nation is not something a people do in one regime, in a few years, even. The Chinese had their chance to emerge as the leading nation in the world in the Middle Ages, but were consumed by interethnic political posturing and wars, and had to wait another 500 years for another chance…

Sustaining democracy in Nigeria will require more than just free elections. It will also mean ending a system in which corruption is not just tolerated, but widely encouraged and hugely profitable…

In the end, I foresee that the Nigerian solution will come in stages. First we have to nurture and strengthen our democratic institutions…

And there has to be the development of a new patriotic consciousness, not one simply based on the well-worn notions of the “Unity of Nigeria” or “Faith in Nigeria” often touted by our corrupt leaders; but one based on an awareness of the responsibility of leaders to the led and disseminated by civil society, schools and intellectuals…

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where to register to vote in Nigeria

Jeremy Weate points to a web site to help people find out where to register for the Nigerian presidential election.

Where to Register & Vote

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Voter registration in Nigeria

Registering people at nearly 120,000 polling places in two weeks is a pretty tall order. The electoral commission is likely to extend the registration period, especially since suppliers have not delivered all the computers necessary to record the fingerprints and photographs required by the process.

INEC to Extend Registration Deadline
Following the challenges that have dogged the ongoing registration of voters, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is set to extend the time for the exercise if registrable Nigerians are not captured before the end of the month.

This is even as 2, 273 polling units across the country are yet to commence registration of voters due to the inability of the commission to distribute Direct Data Capture (DDC) Machines…

Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega… confirmed that… at the beginning of the exercise on January 15, only 110,000 DDC machines were deployed because out of the 132,000 ordered by the commission only 110,000 had been supplied.

He said there have been significant improvement in the speed of per capita registration in the last few days, as according to him, adjustments had been made to the fingerprint scanners, which he said were initially set at a high sensitive aperture, specifically meant for forensic analysis in criminal investigation, and was slowing the process down due to multiple rejections, but that such was not necessary for voter registration…

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Time and sub-nationalism

The reporter might have been having some fun with this one, but there's a germ of truth to the nationalistic sentiments. Scotland still issues its own currency. (And you wondered why the UK hadn't joined the Euro yet.)

Scots Tell London, Hands Off Our Clocks
The question was time, and whether to support legislative efforts in London to move it around in order to bring more light to the afternoons. The answer was no, said Jean Kaka, 67, a resident of this city far to the north.

Scots may suffer from afternoon gloom, but at least it’s Scottish gloom, Mrs. Kaka said recently, her words seeming to fade as the feeble midafternoon light (it was not yet 3 p.m.) receded around her, like color being leeched from a painting.

“They’re trying to tamper with our time,” she said. “England is a different country than we are, and they’re imposing this on us.”…

For more than a century, non-Scottish politicians have been campaigning to put Britain’s clocks forward an hour all year round — essentially, taking an hour of light from the morning and adding it to the afternoon. Proponents say the measure would save energy and reduce traffic accidents, while making afternoons less oppressive for commuters, schoolchildren and people in whom early darkness provokes anomie and existential listlessness…

The problem is that while a clock change might bring afternoon joy to London, it would condemn Inverness in the far reaches of Scotland — in relative terms, about 700 miles north of Montreal — to long, dark winter mornings with sunrises as late as 10 a.m.

Even worse, many Scots feel, it would mean giving in to English politicians. Though the devolution of British politics has given Scotland its own legislature and responsibility for many of its own affairs, the clock is still controlled by Parliament in London…

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Clegg's comeuppance

Last year's star of British politics was the Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg. He was outstanding in the first televised debates among party leaders.

Now, not so much. His popularity and power have fallen to the point that the coalition government is threatened. The game of politics has different rules for people who hold power and for people who are out of power.

Deputy Prime Minister Clegg appears to be losing Britain's love
During a riveting election campaign last year, a photogenic 43-year-old stole the hearts of the British people, cutting through their pea-soup-thick cynicism with a Barack Obama-like message of change. But eight months later, Britain has fallen out of love with its new deputy prime minister, Nicholas Clegg.

In a country long dominated by the Conservative and Labor parties, Clegg's star turn in U.S.-style television debates elevated his typically also-ran Liberal Democrats into contenders last year. Even Colin Firth, star of "The King's Speech," jumped off the movie set and onto the campaign trail for the new prince of British politics…

Clegg, however, is now discovering the high price of success. Thousands of voters are deserting the party, with support for the Liberal Democrats falling from a high of 34 percent last April to a rock-bottom 9 percent last month. Even Firth is openly disavowing the Liberal Democrats. "I am without an affiliation now," he recently told reporters at the Dubai Film Festival…

The waning of Clegg, analysts say, stems from what many of his former backers call a series of bitter betrayals. None was more stinging than Clegg's decision to back the Conservatives in dramatically scaling back subsidies for university students, forcing an increase in tuition as part of the coalition's crusade to bust the mammoth British budget deficit…

Like Obama, Clegg was an inspirational, out-of-the-box candidate who energized a generation of young voters. Although the U.S. president's ratings have also fallen sharply, Clegg appears to be facing a far stronger backlash, especially among students…

Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, who run the spectrum from left-wing liberals to fiscally conservative libertarians, have emerged as what many here are calling "human shields" for the Conservatives. They are effectively taking most of the flak for the unpopular policies the government is advancing.

It could have severe consequences for Clegg, his party and potentially the coalition. Clegg's plummeting support is jeopardizing the chances of success for a measure seen as the main reason he entered into the coalition: a referendum on election reforms that would make it far easier for the Liberal Democrats to beat the dominant Conservative and Labor parties in future votes…

"The Liberal Democrats are finding themselves held accountable in a way they were never held accountable before," said Andrew Russell, senior lecturer on politics at the University of Manchester. "The irony is that because they are being blamed for everything, they may now be set to lose the one chance in a generation to change the electoral system in Britain."...

See also: With power comes unpopularity
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ribadu campaign video

Nuhu Ribadu gained prominence as the head of Nigeria's anti-corruption agency who actually took on powerful crooks. That got him demoted and threatened with arrest so he fled to London.

He returned and has won the Action Congress of Nigeria's nomination as a presidential candidate. He's the first candidate out with a campaign video. [Thanks to SolomonSydelle for pointing this out.]

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Post-materialism in China

When I began studying China in the '60s, I didn't anticipate materialism becoming an issue. The country was desperately poor and dominated by the egalitarianism of the Cultural Revolution. A ball point pen in a shirt pocket or a watch beneath a PLA uniform sleeve was often the only way to identify someone with power.

But wealth for some and materialism for many more did come to China. Is there also a post-materialism coming?

Nationalistic and Chasing the 'Chinese Dream'
Ge Yang is an editor at Umiwi.com, a Beijing-based Web site for and about China’s “post-’80s” generation, those born in the decade after China’s economic and social liberalization began.

First of all, she says, the majority of post-’80s — especially those in big cities and with decent jobs — don’t envy the United States its material wealth.

“We have all the material things here that America has, like iPhones, which are really, really loved here,” said Ms. Ge, a petite, eager-faced 26-year-old. “We can get the best of all their goods, so that’s not an issue.

“But we can’t do what they do culturally: produce things like Tom and Jerry cartoons, ‘Transformers,’ ‘Avatar,’ ‘Inception,’ iPhones, Barbies. America has things we really, really like, on a cultural level.”

The post-’80s are China’s first only-child generation, and they happily admit they are prone to selfishness. Yet, generally, they are also searching their souls, conscious of their historical mission in pointing their country toward a better future and away from the ideology-driven violence and poverty of the past.

After the tradition-smashing Communist politics of the first three decades of the People’s Republic, and three further decades of breakneck economic growth that has destroyed some of the country’s environment and cultural heritage, China’s young adults are searching for values and moral meaning, said Ms. Ge, who studied Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University…

Ms. Ge’s work at the Web site brings her into daily contact with a broad range of opinion among the post-’80s. She predicts the next three decades will see people here pursuing the “Chinese Dream.”

“This is a big topic here right now,” she said. “It’s inspired by the American Dream, but different. Americans say you can build anything out of nothing. We believe that you can love your family and your country and return to your cultural roots, such as Confucius. So much was lost in the last 60 years.”…

Yet expectations are rising along with incomes, posing a major challenge to the government, and looking ahead, the post-’80s want more of a say in politics, she said.

“People want more competitive politics, to know something about the people who lead the country, to know that they are really excellent in quality like President Obama and not just bureaucrats whom we don’t know.

“Bad things happen in America too, but at least there is a system to supervise the people in power. Here, there is no one who can do this, and if we can’t monitor what the government is doing, there are so many challenges, like corruption, it will end badly.”

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who is in charge?

The headline suggests that there is a power struggle in Acapulco and identifies the adversaries as three drug "groups." What about the government? Is it just a "turf war" or is a struggle for political power?

At least three drug groups are fighting for control in Acapulco, Mexico
With a… death toll of more than 30 victims… the Mexican resort city of Acapulco is facing its most gruesome levels of drug-related violence since the start of the drug war in 2006…

If Sinaloa hit men are indeed active in the Acapulco area, it would suggest a likely escalation in future violence…

The violence currently gripping Acapulco is now due to a turf war among three groups, two of which have emerged only in the last year, according to the weekly news magazine Proceso

At stake is control over Acapulco's port, on Mexico's southern Pacific coast…

Residents and officials quoted in the Proceso story described terrifying tactics on the part of the organized-crime groups battling over control of Acapulco. Pedestrians and motorists have been stopped or pulled from their vehicles at gunpoint by masked men. Extortion is rampant in the tourism-dependent city…

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Encouraging voter registration

In his blog, Nigerian Curiosity, SolmonSydelle offers links to 4 You Tube videos that urge Nigerians to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election (they are between 7 and 9 minutes each). One of them is for English speakers, one for Hausa speakers, one for Igbo speakers, and one is in pidgin. This would be another chance to consider the difficulties democracy faces in a country so divided by language, ethnicity, and culture. (Links to the videos are contained in his blog posting.)

Voter registration begins on January 15th, 2011 and will end on the 29th of the month. The exercise will take place across the country with schools being used as locations for registering citizens. As such, the federal government announced that both private and public schools should remain on Christmas/New Year vacation until after the registration period…

And in anticipation of the voter registration exercise, a series of videos have hit the net. They were created to encourage citizens of voting age to register. The most entertaining is the Pidgin English version. Also called Broken English, Pidgin is a language spoken in Nigeria and it borrows from local Nigerian languages...

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Nigerian presidential candidates

This Day has published a PDF chart identifying and profiling the main presidential candidates in Nigeria.

You can download it from their web site.

Most people expect President Jonathan, the PDP candidate, to win the election going away, but that depends upon the PDP losers staying with the party.

Nigeria's Presidential Gladiators
The picture is getting clearer - four front runners have emerged in the race for presidency, although there are more candidates representing the smaller parties. President Goodluck Jonathan is carrying the flag of the ruling party, PDP, after defeating Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, while Mallam Nuhu Ribadu has been picked as the consensus candidate of ACN. Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC also emerged as the consensus candidate of his party ahead of the April 9 presidential election. Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of Kano State, also defeated other aspirants to the ANPP ticket.

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First democratic constitutional amendments in Nigeria

The current regime in Nigeria is its 4th republic. And military rulers have controlled political power for half of Nigeria's history as an independent country. But, the Nigerian constitution has just now been amended in a democratic regime for the first time.

President Signs New Constitution
President Goodluck Jonathan signed the first amendment to the constitution…

[He] thereby made history as the first head of state under whose tenure a constitution was democratically amended.

With the assent, the various steps taken by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with respect to the April poll have now been fully covered by the law.

There was initial apprehension as to under which constitution the arrangements for the April poll were being done since the amendments had not become law without the President's assent…

Jonathan, who signed the two amendments, the first during which some sections of the constitution were amended and the second amendment which fixed elections for April and allowed more time for INEC to update voter register, said history had been made…

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Changing the cast in Mexico

When elected presidents make personnel changes in preparation for an election campaign, observers see who is going into campaign mode and who is in policy maintenance mode.

When the Mexican president makes changes in the cabinet, what meaning do those changes have? The president can't run again. Is he promoting his chosen candidate? Is he positioning his party for the campaign? It's much more difficult to tell.

Calderón reshuffles cabinet with an eye to 2012 campaign
President Felipe Calderón announced a cabinet reshuffle, with an eye to the 2012 election. Juan Molinar Horcasitas, one of Calderón’s closest political advisers, resigned as Secretary of Communications and Transportation in order “to participate intensively in political-party work that is important for the life of the country” according to the President’s statement. He is being replaced by Dionisio Pérez-Jácome, who has been Undersecretary of Finance for Expenditures and who also briefly served as presidential chief of staff.

Molinar’s record as head of SCT was not stellar. The ministry continued to be bedeviled by technical problems in executing the government’s ambitious transportation infrastructure program. And little headway was made in the area of telecommunications policy, where the award of a large bloc of wireless spectrum to a Nextel-Televisa consortium was drowned in a sea of lawsuits and the withdrawal of Televisa.

The President also named congressman Roberto Gil Zuarth as his new private secretary, replacing Luis Felipe Bravo Mena.  Gil Zuarth had been widely seen as the President’s preferred candidate to take over the PAN in the party’s recent election of a new leader (an election won by Senator Gustavo Madero)…

As noted by El Universal’s Bajo Reserva column:  “Inside and outside his party, the PAN, the reading [of the changes] was the same: it is a signal that Calderón is not packing his bags and ready to give up power, perhaps to a political adversary. [The appointments] announced yesterday were a demonstration that he will give battle to everyone, including those within his own party.”...

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Political capitalism

The old joke was that it took Russians 75 years to prove that Communism didn't work, but it only 10 years for them to prove that capitalism didn't work. So what are they trying to prove now?

The Raw Face of Capitalism, Kremlin Style
For anyone who ever hoped Russia could become a liberal, free-market democracy, the grim trial last month of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who was once his country’s richest man, offered a slender solace: it was widely and loudly condemned…

What was notable about this chorus of foreign criticism was the implication that, even judged by the Kremlin’s own standards of realpolitik, the treatment of Mr. Khodorkovsky was a mistake. Moscow’s leaders want to restore Russia’s wealth and greatness: Western assertions that the Khodorkovsky trial had hurt Russia’s reputation and would discourage foreign investment suggested that the Kremlin was harming its own cause.

But some investors, economists and political analysts are drawing a different, and much starker, conclusion: The Khodorkovsky verdict was an inevitable and logical act of self-preservation by a regime that is fully and lucratively in control of Russia.

In this reading, there is nothing accidental about Mr. Khodorkovsky’s continued imprisonment. It is, instead, the clearest possible statement of the rules of Kremlin capitalism, and of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s confidence that, at least as long as Siberia has oil, there is plenty of private capital willing to play…

The message, according to Sergei Guriev, one of Russia’s leading economists and rector of the New Economic School, is this: “It is to show that Putin is fully in control. It is not a question of Khodorkovsky getting out of jail, it is a question of other businessmen not following in Khodorkovsky’s footsteps.”…

Critics of Putinism, especially Western ones, like to point to this lost value as proof that the treatment of Mr. Khodorkovsky and the authoritarian politics that his case represents are a mistake. But that analysis, according to Mr. Guriev, a liberal who laments the path Russia has taken, leaves out the essential political calculus of Putinism.

“Economic growth per se is not important to a ruler, if he is not there to enjoy it,” Mr. Guriev said. “Better to stay in control of a stagnant, but large and rich, country than to be kicked out of a growing one. Everyone wants a bigger cake, but better a small cake than none at all.”…

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Goodluck Jonathan is endorsed

President Goodluck Jonathan was endorsed by the Peoples Democratic Party as its candidate for president in the upcoming election.

Goodluck Jonathan wins PDP presidential nomination
Some 5000 delegates from Nigeria's 36 states voted well into the night at a convention in the capital Abuja, choosing between the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and the former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar and Sarah Jubril.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Behind the scenes in Abuja

Jeremy Weate, in his Naijablog pointed out Tom Burgis' op-ed/blog from the Financial Times. While we don't quite know the outcome yet, it's worth reading a bit more about the process of choosing a PDP candidate in Nigeria.

Nigeria: peaceful change needed
Amid cartwheeling acrobats, fraying tempers and tsunamis of hard cash, Nigeria’s ruling party is choosing its presidential candidate for April’s election – and in all likelihood the next ruler of Africa’s oil giant…

Under the sweltering sun at the Eagle Square in Abuja, the capital, thousands of delegates gathered on Thursday to perform the biggest public ritual in Nigeria’s tragicomedy of power and patronage…

At its heart, the wrangling is about securing access to the thousand capillaries of a patronage network that distributes oil revenues to ensure the hegemony of a narrow political elite…

Some in the capital even attribute the strengthening of the dollar against the naira in the parallel foreign exchange market to the sheer volume of hard currency required to secure delegates’ allegiance…

Beyond the party, there is little accountability. Most of the 150m Nigerians have next to no say in who governs their country or how, so flawed have been the previous elections.

Jonathan and Abubakar both talk about change, of making good the party slogan about bringing power to the people. But the pressures of joblessness and destitution will only mount as Nigeria’s population grows and the political arena remains the preserve of the very few…

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The revolution plods on

In this stage of the revolution, the emotional impulse is spent, but rational motivations take over. However, will the logical-sounding steps lead in the direction that the rulers wish? (Remember what happened after the White Revolution promoted by the Shah?)

Iran overhauls education system to erase Western influences
Iran is overhauling its education system to rid it of Western influence, the latest attempt by the government to fortify Islamic values and counter the clout of the country's increasingly secularized middle class.

Starting in September, all Iranian high school students will be introduced to new courses such as "political training" and "living skills" that will warn against "perverted political movements" and encourage girls to marry at an early age, Education Ministry officials say.

In universities, the curricula of law, psychology, sociology and other studies will be drastically altered, with officials from the Science Ministry... working to strip out what they describe as Western theories and replace them with Islamic ones. Dozens of professors have already retired or been fired on the grounds that they did not sufficiently support the new policy.
The changes are aimed at offsetting the growing influence of a middle class that increasingly embraces individualism and shares modern aspirations…

Plans for an educational overhaul arose after sweeping changes in Iran's political system in recent years. Many prominent revolutionary figures have been purged, while the power wielded by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a group of key clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders has greatly expanded since Ahmadinejad arrived on the political scene in 2003 as Tehran's mayor…

The president and his supporters are undertaking a major restructuring of the economy, raising prices of fuel, energy, bread and other products to market levels while reducing state subsidies. Officials say the move will help the poor, but the lawyers, nurses, double-shift taxi drivers and others who make up the country's broad middle classes say it will break their backs.

The reshaping of the education system, from primary schools to universities, is next on the cabinet's list. The Education Ministry's plan, titled "The Program for Fundamental Evolution in Education and Training," envisages schools becoming "neighborhood cultural bases" where teachers will provide "life" guidance, assisted by selected clerics and members of the paramilitary Basij force…

The ministry will also introduce new courses designed to help students ages 12 to 17 acquire political analysis skills and prevent them from "being trapped by perverted movements and enemy plots or be imprisoned by satellite channels, the Internet and cyberspace," according to an internal ministry document that was distributed in September…

Many educators, however, say the plans are misguided. "Such cultural engineering will not work," said Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University and a critic of the government. "They think they can educate children in schools to be perfect beings but forget that dozens of other factors - parents, friends, satellite and Internet - shape their thoughts."…

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, said the revolution illustrated the difficulty of shaping people's thinking. The uprising was joined by hundreds of thousands of students who had been immersed for years in Westernized education programs during the reign of the Western-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but who ended up helping to topple him.

"It is not what we teach students which makes them support somebody or not," Zibakalam said. "How they act depends on how they are being treated by those in power."

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Setting the stage

The dominant Nigerian party, the PDP, has officially named the candidates for its primary election to choose someone to run for president under the PDP banner.

Wali Panel Clears Jonathan, Atiku
The stage was set yesterday [11 January] for a titanic battle at the Peoples Democratic Party's national convention in Abuja tomorrow when the ruling party's Presidential Screening Panel led by Ambassador Aminu Wali cleared both President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to contest for the presidential ticket.

Mrs Sarah Jibril, who appeared before the screening panel alongside the two men, was also cleared to contest.

Briefing newsmen last night, Wali said all the three aspirants that appeared before the committee were cleared having been satisfied with their performance and having met the requirements set out in the guidelines approved for the exercise by the party's National Executive Committee (NEC)...

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Resistant to change

One of the ways in which neither the revolution nor Communism has changed China is the elitist nature of society. That's not to say that the rich and powerful are the only ones who do awful things, but the awful things they do make news.

I can imagine the Maoist revolutionaries in 1936 or 1966 rousing the peasants and workers with stories of indiscretions by the rich and powerful. Might "revolutionaries" of 2011 try the same tactics?

Despite anti-corruption drive, scandals plague Communist leaders in China
If some of the headlines from the past few weeks in China were turned into a reality television show, the result might merit the title "Communist Officials and Rich Kids Behaving Badly."

Extremely badly, in some cases, and with tragic consequences…

Such incidents have deeply embarrassed China's ruling Communist Party, which promotes itself on its Web site as the "faithful representative" of the Chinese people…

"These incidents weaken the government's credibility little by little," said Li Datong, a social commentator and former editor of the China Youth Daily's weekly supplement. "It's like a fire in a wood pile: A small incident can easily trigger a big mass incident during a time of social unrest. It's a very dangerous situation, which is why the government spends heavily to maintain social stability by paying large sums of hush money to the victims' families."

[I]n an apparent bid to stay ahead of the problem of vice in its ranks, the party issued its first white paper on corruption, saying graft remains "still very serious," despite the punishment of 113,000 officials in 2010 through November. It said the party would not cede the anticorruption fight to anyone…

Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology who researches social issues, said the string of incidents has made the party a "national laughingstock" and undercut the government's ongoing efforts to curb pornography and public indecency.

"The recent cases show Chinese officials' ethics and moral principles have nearly collapsed," Hu said. "Officials embezzling and keeping mistresses are the problems that people hate most. That's why people don't support or have any interest in responding to the government's anti-pornography campaign, because the officials themselves have more serious problems."
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The military part of the state

Given experience in the USA, it's often easy to forget how big a part of the state the military is. In the US Congress, there are the yearly arguments about the huge military budget, but usually only peripheral, specific projects take the heat. In Mexico, the military has become a vital arm of the government within the country. And it's not a sparkling success. The government and the regime are threatened by the failures.

Mexico army's failures hamper drug war
Four years and 50,000 troops into President Felipe Calderon's drug war, the fighting has exposed severe limitations in the Mexican army's ability to wage unconventional warfare, tarnished its proud reputation…

The army's shortcomings have complicated the government's struggle against the narcotics cartels…

The military has delivered important victories to the government by killing or capturing several senior cartel figures and confiscating large drug shipments. And the decision to put retired and active army officers in charge of police departments around the country has helped bring relative quiet to some violence-plagued cities, such as Tijuana.

But in places such as Ciudad Juarez, where Calderon has staked his political reputation, the death toll... skyrocketed [in 2010]. Seven of every 10 stores have been forced to shut down… and nearly a quarter of a million people have fled the city in the last two years…

"Mexicans are paying a high price … for a strategy that does not seem to have much impact," said Roderic Ai Camp, an expert on the Mexican military at Claremont McKenna College. "It is not reducing drug consumption in the U.S., it is not reducing drug-related income for the trafficking organizations, nor is it reducing their influence in other activities," such as kidnapping and people-smuggling...

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Maybe Africa's borders aren't so bad

James Fearon, in a post on The Monkey Cage blog disputes the assertions that European-drawn borders in Africa cause more conflicts than the cultural/ethnic/linguistic borders in other parts of the world. How well would your students analyze the argument?

Fearon is Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University.

The Bad Borders Meme
In general I think Jeffrey Gettleman does a great job reporting on Africa for the NYT, but his piece in the Week in Review today (A Colonial Curse Comes Up for a Vote) kind of set me off.

It begins "More than any other continent, Africa is wracked by separatists," and then immediately suggests that the bad borders drawn by the colonial powers are "a prime reason that Africa remains, to a striking degree, a continent of failed or failing states." He then relates some different theories for why African Union members have accepted the idea of recognizing a new southern Sudanese state, despite the long wariness of the African Union (and its predecessor, the OAU) about "opening Pandora's box." He wonders if this will start a trend and suggests that might be a good thing.

Africa is not wracked by separatists more than any other continent. In fact, the interesting thing is just how rare separatist movements have been in Africa, especially given how ethnically diverse African countries are relative (on average) to the rest of the world…

Separatist conflict has evidently been less common in Africa than the rest of the world. This is still true in the last 10 years, though maybe there has been some uptick, it's hard to say. If you compare by region, separatist conflict has been much more the norm in Eastern Europe/former Soviet Union and in Asia than in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)...

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Aftereffects of imperialsim

Sunday's (9 January 2011) New York Times published an article about one of the long-term results of European imperialism in Africa. The focus of the article was on Sudan and the vote in the south of Sudan on the issue of secession.

However, the article does a good job of describing some of the results of the boundaries drawn by Europeans, especially the decisions made at the Berlin Conference in 1884. There's an accompanying map of the continent illustrating political and ethnic boundaries. Unfortunately, at least on my computer, the colors used to show ethnic boundaries are quite difficult to use. Even without details, you and your students can see the results of British-French efforts at drawing boundaries for Nigeria.

In Sudan, a Colonial Curse Comes Up for a Vote
More than any other continent, Africa is wracked by separatists. There are rebels on the Atlantic and on the Red Sea. There are clearly defined liberation movements and rudderless, murderous groups known principally for their cruelty or greed. But these rebels share at least one thing: they direct their fire against weak states struggling to hold together disparate populations within boundaries drawn by 19th-century white colonialists.

That history is a prime reason that Africa remains, to a striking degree, a continent of failed or failing states…

Even though many of those frontiers carelessly sliced through rivers, lakes, mountains and ethnic groups, few of the leaders who shepherded Africa to independence a half-century ago wanted to tinker, because redrawing the map could be endless and contested. So, on May 25, 1963, when the Organization of African Unity was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it immediately recognized the colonial-era borders…

See the map: A Continent Carved Up, Ignoring Who Lives Where
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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Nigeria's presidential primary

In many places in the USA, one party is so dominant that the winner of that party's primary election is assured of winning the general election. It appears that the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in Nigeria is that dominant.

A primary election to select the party's candidate for the upcoming presidential election will be held 13 January 2011. Here's an analysis from This Day by Nduka Nwosu and Yemi Adebowale. The article is detailed, with a lot of "inside Nigerian politics" information.

What would your students pick out as significant?

Jonathan vs Atiku - Race to the Wire
The Peoples Democratic Party will hold its historic presidential primaries next Thursday in Abuja, during which the two leading contenders for the party's ticket will engage in an unprecedented slugfest as they try to secure the votes of the delegates at the national convention…

Dr Goodluck Jonathan: He was Bayelsa State's deputy governor between 1999 and 2006. He later served as governor of the state between 2006-2007 after the impeachment of the then governor Diepreye Alameseigha. He emerged vice president in 2007 and later became president in May 2007 after the death of Umaru Yar'Adua. If elected president, Jonathan has promised to, amongst others, consolidate a proactive peace and security programme for the country, as well as a private sector-led and government-supported/regulated electric power development, deepen and coordinate an accelerated, transparent Niger Delta development programme; provide quality education and implement major reforms in agriculture through innovative financing and land ownership…

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar: He was learning the ropes which in 1998 positioned him as a leading light of the PDP… He was waiting to be sworn in as the governor of Adamawa State when President-elect Obasanjo chose him as his running mate.

He ended his tenure as vice president fighting his boss who had lost confidence in him for allegedly conspiring with the state governors to deny him his second term bid. The protracted fight saw him losing relevance as vice president, being hounded out of the PDP, and spending millions at the courts to contest the 2007 presidential election on the platform of the rival Action Congress party…

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Political headlines

The headline of this article from the official Chinese news agency caught my eye. It reinforced stereotypes in the back of my mind about China and its political leadership. The article itself is much more reasonable, but it's a reminder that the people in the propaganda ministry are still in charge of writing headlines. Those political headline writers might be stuck in a past era.

Or perhaps there's just a problem of linguistic and cultural translation.

China orders steady supply of farm produce amid icy weather
China's Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) on Sunday stressed it would assure that there is a stable supply of farm produce amid ongoing icy weather as the nation's most important traditional festival approaches.

The ministry urged local authorities… to make every effort to ensure continued agriculture production as the freezing weather threatens abundant supplies, which are critical during the Spring Festival, the annual season for family reunions…

The ministry also asked local departments to facilitate the smooth transporting to markets of fresh farm produce...

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Insurance with Chinese characteristics

Back in the old days, people's Danwei, or work groups were responsible for providing health care (and many other things). In these days of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the government is working to create a national health insurance system. This article makes it seem that the Chinese government is facing the same problems with public health care that other governments are facing: rising costs, motivation for providers to "over treat," and extending coverage to that last 10% of the population.

China invests heavily in building basic medical insurance system
China's health care reform funds - 850 billion yuan (126 billion U.S. dollars) over three years - were mainly used to build a basic medical insurance system for urban and rural residents, said Minister of Finance Xie Xuren…

Xie made the remarks at the 18th session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC)…

Xie reported that in 2009, the government spent 399.4 billion yuan on health care, with 64.5 billion yuan on the medical insurance system, 24.6 billion yuan on public health services and 21.7 billion yuan on grassroots medical institutions in rural townships and small urban communities…

Thanks to the country's financial support, some 1.26 billion Chinese are covered by the basic medical insurance system, with 424 millon of them in cities and towns and 835 million in rural areas…

According to Vice Minister of Health Zhang Mao, improving the medical insurance system and decreasing the cost of individuals' medical treatment helps ensure affordable health services for all people.

Regarding the increased cost of health care, Zhang urged state-run hospitals to seek less profit and stop over-treating...

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Comparative traffic control

The largest urban areas have traffic problems. How do governments deal with those problems? Are the methods keys to recognizing differences between political systems?

Beijing to limit number of new car license plates to ease traffic congestion
The Beijing municipal government said Thursday it will limit 2011 issuance of new car license plates to 240,000 and implement harsh traffic control measures to ease the city's traffic congestion.

… Beijing car buyers will have to draw lots before obtaining a car license plate, said Zhou Zhengyu, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing municipal government…

In 2010, more than 700,000 news cars were sold in Beijing, bringing the city's total number of automobiles to more than 4.7 million, statistics from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport (BMCT) show.

According to the city's regulation, a Beijing driver will be permitted to own only one car in his or her name…

Transport for London: Charging Zone
You have to pay an £8 daily Congestion Charge if you drive between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday in the Congestion Charge zone.

Congestion-free Moscow to rely on public transport
After more than 15,000 suggestions about improving Moscow’s traffic problems, City Hall has unveiled some of its jam-busting plans.

And it all boils down to persuading motorists to leave their cars at home and hop on to public transport – even though the city’s network already struggles to carry huge passenger numbers every day.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has found 200 billion roubles from the city’s budget which he hopes can transform the metro, bus and overland rail networks – enabling them to carry even more passengers...

An on-going effort to ease the traffic problems will see a move to create off-road car-parking, particularly around suburban metro stations and bus interchanges.

The plan is to encourage drivers from Moscow Region to stop bringing vehicles into the city centre…

Driving Restrictions in Mexico City
Monday: no driving if license plate ends with 5 or 6.
Tuesday: no driving if license plate ends with 7 or 8.
Wednesday: no driving if license plate ends with 3 or 4.
Thursday: no driving if license plate ends with 1 or 2.
Friday: no driving if license plate ends with 9, 0 or a letter.
Saturday and Sunday: All vehicles may be driven.

Unlocking the Lagos gridlock
Lagos has strict traffic regulations but the impunity with which it is flouted is legendary…

To nip the chaotic traffic situation within the metropolis in the bud, the state government established the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) in July 2000 to regulate, control, and manage traffic operations in the state.

Some city residents, however, argue that though the traffic police succeeded in instilling a level of sanity in Lagos drivers during its first decade of operation, its mode of operation leaves much to be desired…

Tehran Traffic Control Center
From here, the chaotic traffic of Tehran is monitored 24 hrs around the clock. Loudspeakers positioned at various points throughout the vast traffic network of Tehran blare out warnings and admonishments to drivers.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tweeting Russian politics and political culture

At the end of November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev started a Twitter account and began posting frequent Tweets.

Shortly after that, a satirical imitation of the presidential Tweets began showing up. It's an old tradition in Russia ("laughing through the tears") to make jokes about what seems hopeless. Unfortunately, for those of who don't read Russian, the satire is not translated. There is, however, Julia Ioffe's article in Foreign Policy, Meet the Persident: In surreal Russia, fake presidential tweets are much more relevant than the real ones.. (Thanks to Renee Montagne of National Public Radio for the tip on this one.)

Get short, timely messages from President of Russia.
Twitter is a rich source of instantly updated information. It's easy to stay updated on an incredibly wide variety of topics. Join today and follow @KremlinRussia_E.

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Divided government in Mexico

Divided government is not unique to the U.S. In the shadow of outright warfare, the Mexican legislature did not act on proposals for reform.

Mexican Leader’s Crime Effort Fails to Advance
President Felipe Calderón’s effort to reorganize local police forces and clamp down on money laundering in the fight against organized crime has suffered a setback with the failure of the Mexican Congress to move forward on the initiatives.

…Congress adjourned... without voting on any of the significant changes that Mr. Calderón had proposed…

Mr. Calderón had put much stock in his plan to clean up local police forces, which are seen as particularly close to organized crime groups, by bringing them under the control of state governors. But lawmakers, including some in Mr. Calderón’s party, have questioned whether that would give too much control to governors, some of whom have also been found to have connections with drug gangs…

The president’s right-leaning National Action Party [PAN] controls the Senate, but the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI], which had governed for decades, has a plurality in the lower chamber and is anxious to take back the presidency in 2012 elections.

“In effect, Calderón entered his lame-duck phase from July 2009 when he lost Congress,” Fernando Dworak, a political consultant here, said, referring to legislative elections that gave the Institutional Revolutionary Party its plurality in the lower chamber...

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Bollywood, Nollywood, then Hollywood

The Nigerian film industry, if that's not an exaggeration, might be a major factor in the future of Africa.

Movies are uniting a disparate continent, and dividing it too
It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa. Public buses show them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood, as the business is known, churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood…

Among Africa’s elites, hostility is almost uniform. Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, has compared Nollywood to the AIDS virus. Cultural critics complain about “macabre scenes full of sorcery” in the films. The more alarmist describe Nigerian directors and producers as voodoo priests casting malign spells over audiences in other countries. They talk of the “Nigerianisation” of Africa, worrying that the whole continent has come to “snap its fingers the Nigerian way”...

Nollywood’s moguls make no attempt to deny their influence over the continent—they just regard it as a thoroughly good thing. “We give Africa development and knowledge,” says Ernest Obi, head of the Lagos actors’ guild…

The first true Nollywood film resulted from an ill-advised business venture. In 1992 Kenneth Nnebue, a trader, ordered a large consignment of blank videotapes from Taiwan. Finding them hard to sell, he hired a theatre director to make a cheap film and copied it onto the tapes to boost their appeal. “Living in Bondage”, the story of a farmer in a big city who loses his wife and is haunted by her ghost, sold more than half a million copies.

The market traders control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption rather than for the cinema—a place few can afford, or reach easily. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars...

As soon as a film is released, copyright thieves rip it off. It takes the pirates just two weeks to copy a new film and distribute it across Africa. The merchants must take their money during that fortnight…

In Europe films intended for export are often dubbed or subtitled. In Africa the former is too expensive and the latter pointless since many viewers are illiterate. The actors in Mr Akudinobi’s films speak English, rather than one of Nigeria’s 521 native tongues. This helps their prospects abroad. Large parts of the continent are familiar with English thanks to colonialism, and Nollywood’s influence is spreading the language more widely…

The films’ plots too have strong pan-African appeal. They often revolve around the travails of new arrivals in big cities—an experience familiar across the continent. The epic film “One God One Nation” portrays a Muslim man and a Christian woman who struggle to marry. “Caught in the Act” shows a wife who is wrongly accused by her own mother-in-law of abducting a child. Nollywood films depict families whose faith has been shattered, whose certainties have been undermined. They show ordinary people struggling to make sense of a fast-changing, unkind world. Aspirations are dashed. Trust is forsaken. The overarching theme of Nollywood films is Africa’s troubled journey to modernity. Because Hollywood films tend to show people at the other end of that journey, they fail to resonate…

[T]ormented characters often find salvation by turning to Christ. A church scene is de rigueur in a Nollywood film. This is hardly surprising. Christianity is on the rise in Africa. The number of evangelicals has grown from some 17m four decades ago to more than 400m. In countries like Liberia and Zambia, Nigerian “owner-operated” churches preach the gospel. Many Nollywood stars are born-again Christians…

Film also profoundly shapes how Africans see their own continent. Few have access to news channels. They derive many of their opinions on neighbouring countries from the movies. More than once your correspondent has heard Africans say they had not been to such-and-such a place but knew it from a film. That the films they watch are made by other Africans is a source of considerable satisfaction. For decades many Africans have complained that the Western media misrepresent their continent, showing only calamities like war, disease, corruption and famine. They have come to see film as an antidote. “Nollywood is the voice of Africa, the answer to CNN,” says Lancelot Idowu, one of the best-known Nigerian directors…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.
The Fourth Edition of What You Need to Know is available at Amazon.com or from the publisher (where shipping is always free).

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