Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, October 31, 2011

OWS in a comparative context

Peter Whitehouse, who teaches at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, FL, suggests this blog post by Kusha Sefat, a Doctoral Student in Sociology at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, as a discussion starter for considering the Occupy Wall Street protests in a comparative context. Sefat has suggestions for the OWS protestors based on his observations about the green protests in Iran. Your students can evaluate them and see if they can come up with suggestions based on other countries' experiences with protests. Get them to pay attention to the context within which the protests occur.

Top 10 ways OWS can Excel: Counsel from Iran’s Green Movement
Following the disputed Presidential election in Iran, our Western compatriots gave many suggestions on combating state oppression. Various tactics and strategies were devised for Iranian protesters… It seems that most of those recommendations were ineffective within Iran’s particular social and political context. It may be worth outlining some of the tactics that were in fact useful to Iranian protesters…
  1. Pick a color to represent your movement
  2. Have an all-inclusive strategy
  3. Demonstrate peacefully
  4. Be rigorous
  5. Be creative
  6. Record protests with your mobile phones and send to television stations
  7. Send your footage of acts of violence committed by the police to foreign television broadcasters
  8. Write, “I am 99%” or “OWS” on all dollar bills that you circulate
  9. Do not let politicians co-opt your movement
  10. Write arguments and op-eds that aim at the logic of the system

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Sub-royal consent?

Keep your eyes and ears open for this issue. There are more details and revelations to come.

Prince Charles has been offered a veto over 12 government bills since 2005
Ministers have been forced to seek permission from Prince Charles to pass at least a dozen government bills, according to a Guardian investigation into a secretive constitutional loophole that gives him the right to veto legislation that might impact his private interests…

Unlike royal assent to bills, which is exercised by the Queen as a matter of constitutional law, the prince's power applies when a new bill might affect his own interests, in particular the Duchy of Cornwall, a private £700m property empire that last year provided him with an £18m income…

MPs and peers called for the immediate publication of details about the application of the prince's powers which have fuelled concern over his alleged meddling in British politics. "If princes and paupers are to live as equals in a modern Britain, anyone who enjoys exceptional influence or veto should exercise it with complete transparency," said Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives in Cornwall…

Revelations about Charles' power of consent come amid continued concern that the heir to the throne may be overstepping his constitutional role by lobbying ministers directly and through his charities on pet concerns such as traditional architecture and the environment.

A spokesman for the Prince of Wales would not comment on whether the prince has ever withheld consent or demanded changes to legislation under the consent system…

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Bureaucrats running the army?

These articles from The Economist are about a lot of things. They're about the recently resigned Minister of Defence, Liam Fox. He resigned because of a questionable relationship with a friend who "wasn't" a lobbyist. The articles are also about military planning and organization. But the topic that is probably most important to students of comparative government and politics is that of the role of senior civil servants and their relationships to the government.

On the defensive
THE resignation on October 14th of the defence secretary, Liam Fox, almost a year after the publication of the landmark Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), was the last thing either Britain’s beleaguered Ministry of Defence (MoD) or its armed forces needed. Dr Fox leaves behind much unfinished business for his successor…

Dr Fox’s departure followed a torrent of embarrassing newspaper revelations about his working relationship with Adam Werritty, a close friend and self-styled “adviser”. But despite Dr Fox’s poor personal judgment and disregard for the rules (see article), he will be missed…

A year on, the SDSR is still controversial. Its critics say it was a rushed job that neither cut deeply enough to put the defence budget on a sustainable footing nor made the right choices about which capabilities to reduce…

It looks as if one of the ideas in the SDSR—that there should be five essentially identical multi-role brigades—will be quietly junked in favour of “tailoring the force for the challenge” around two light and two heavy brigades which will draw on other resources as needed…

Ministers v mandarins
AS HE settles into life on the back benches, Liam Fox has the consolation of a partly, though not wholly, salvaged reputation…

Sir Gus O’Donnell, Britain’s top civil servant, looked into the matter and reported back on October 18th. He found no evidence that Dr Fox had profited from the access he gave Mr Werritty, or that any public money was misused. Mr Werritty received no classified information and did not influence British foreign policy…

The real implications of the Fox affair are not for David Cameron, the prime minister, but for the way politics is done—perhaps tilting the balance of power in favour of the civil service. This could happen in two ways. First, Sir Gus’s report makes recommendations that would tighten a department’s grip on its minister…

The second way in which the permanent bureaucracy could be emboldened is by a mooted clampdown on lobbyists… If the result of this and other new rules is that ministers see less of outsiders, the influence of their mandarins is likely to grow.

There is a tension in the government between reforming ministers, keen to push power away from central government in areas such as education, welfare and policing, and their more cautious civil servants…

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Approved, not elected

Here's the Chinese report on a by-election. Who voted? And what were the campaigns like?

Four approved as lawmakers by China's national legislature
China's top legislature on Saturday approved the membership of four new national lawmakers.

Zhang Qingwei, Xia Baolong, Lu Xinshe and Jiang Dingzhi, who are respectively the acting provincial governors of Hebei, Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Hainan, were approved as deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC).

The four were elected into NPC deputies through by-elections organized by the standing committees of local provincial people's congresses in September…

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Another Potemkin village

Even New York Times reporter Ellen Barry includes a reference to Potemkin Villages in her report about a "rally" for Putin that really wasn't. It all makes me wonder if Grigory Potemkin could have gotten away with building facades for Catherine the Great if the peasants had had Twitter.

I'd extend the Potemkin Village metaphor from the "rally," described below, to the whole campaign by Putin for the presidency.

Social Media Raise Curtain on Staged Event in Moscow
Dmitri A. Medvedev, stepped into a packed lecture hall at Moscow State University’s venerable journalism department. Applause washed over him, proof that progressive, social media-savvy young people still look to him as a standard-bearer.

Except — it wasn’t.

Starting that morning, journalism students had been complaining over Twitter that the 300 people in the audience were outsiders, chosen by Kremlin-connected organizers and brought to the university. They included contingents from pro-Kremlin youth movements [Nashi], while only a tiny number of students from the department were allowed in…

Stage-managed events are a mainstay of politics here, but this year they are being greeted with sourness, especially among people who get their news from the Internet…

Mr. Medvedev himself has expressed disdain for the political showcases known as Potemkin villages, after the fake settlements erected by the minister Grigory Potemkin to ingratiate himself with Catherine the Great…

It is difficult to imagine this playing out so publicly in years past, before the center of political discussion swung to the Internet. Social networks have forced the authorities to respond to unorthodox critiques: two weeks ago, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s press secretary explained on a Web-based news channel that some of Mr. Putin’s televised exploits had been staged…

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Time to update some numbers

According to Nigerian authorities, it's time to update population numbers for their country. And time to update the high priority political issues. The report comes from This Day.

The Nation's Population Now 168 Million, Hits 221 Million in 2020
The National Population Commission (NPC) has said the country's population has risen from the 140,431,790 it was five years ago when the last national headcount was taken, to 167,912,561 as at yesterday. This represents an annual population growth rate of 5.6 million people.

Chairman of NPC, Samu'ila Danko Makama… said it was imperative that the necessary framework be put in place by the NPC and other stakeholders to accommodate the rate.

He particularly cautioned that the population explosion could lead to a higher rate of unemployment and poverty among Nigerians.

"It is necessary that we start to space our children. Yes, children are provided by God, but we also have to plan for them," he said….

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Food imports in Nigeria

Most of our textbooks note that Nigeria once produced all the food its people needed. That was, of course, before oil became so important, before massive urbanization, before incredible population growth, and before globalization.

Still, importing such a vital thing as "food" raises nationalistic and sovereign warning flags to politicians.

As context for the Agricultural Minister's testimony before a Senate committee, let's note that according to the CIA World Factbook, 30% of Nigeria's economy is agricultural, but it employs 70% of the labor force. (What are the political implications of those statistics?) It's also estimated that 70% of the people live below the poverty line. (Which 70%?)

That source also tells us that the top agricultural produces are cocoa, peanuts, cotton, palm oil, corn, rice, sorghum, millet, cassava (tapioca), yams, rubber; cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, timber, and fish.

Meanwhile, the top imports are machinery, chemicals, transport equipment, manufactured goods, food and live animals.

In 2010, Nigeria had a trade surplus of nearly $22 billion, the 15th largest trade balance in the world. Of course, 95% of its exports are petroleum products.

For further context, the exchange rate for the Nigerian Naira is 150 to the dollar.

Nigeria spends N2trillion annually on food importation
Akinwunmi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture, says Nigerian spends N2 trillion annually on food importation.

Adesina, who disclosed this on Thursday in Abuja at an interactive session with members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said the country had become a dumping ground for imported food.

"It is a shameful thing that Nigeria has become a net importer of food…

"N1 billion is spent every day to import rice. We also spend N240 billion to import sugar, and N1.2 trillion annually on fish…"

He said that if the agricultural sector was properly funded, it would not only reduce the country's dependence on food importation, but would also create employment for the people.

Adesina said that about 3.5 million jobs could be created and an estimated N300 billion generated from the agricultural sector in the next four years, if the right investment were made in the sector…

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another queen more likely

Well, probably not until the late 21st century, but changes in rules for royal succession are being made.

Equality and the monarchy
IT IS doubtless a coincidence, but... one month after the leak of a Downing Street memo fretting about David Cameron’s need to reach out to women voters, the prime minister unveiled proposals to change royal succession laws so that a first-born daughter to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would accede to the throne ahead of any younger brothers. The announcement capped a stream of female-friendly policy announcements, including calls for more women on company boards and new guidelines to shield children from online pornography and sexual images in outdoor advertising near schools.

The idea of tweaking centuries-old royal succession rules has been raised by previous governments, but has always been shelved on grounds of complexity. Britain cannot change the rules alone, but must seek support from the 15 other realms of which Elizabeth II is queen.

Mr Cameron has now written to heads of government across the globe from Canada to Australia, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, calling it an “anomaly” that, in an age of gender equality, the monarchy continues to enshrine male superiority…

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Don't forget the PLA

In the old days, the PLA was the center of power. It stays in the background more today, but it's still a force to be reckoned with in Chinese politics.

Chinese succession highlights military's role
Maneuvering over China's leadership succession is providing an opportunity for the powerful military to exert greater influence over decision-making, potentially dragging the government into a more confrontational stance with its neighbors and the U.S.

The military has gained prominence in public life at a time when China's economic and diplomatic entanglement with the rest of the world is growing…

Whether this higher profile translates into increased influence in policy-making is being watched as the political leadership enters a fraught succession. The Central Committee, comprised of nearly 400 Communist Party elite drawn from government and the military, [recently closed] an annual policy meeting... ostensibly focused on cultural issues. Behind the scenes powerbrokers are networking over who will replace President Hu Jintao and many top members in his leadership when they begin stepping down a year from now.

The People's Liberation Army once dominated the leadership… Ever since the leadership needed the military to crush the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989, the party rewarded it with double-digit percentage budget increases nearly every year…

As a result, the 2.3 million-member military's professionalism and capabilities have grown, giving it a larger say in foreign and defense policies…

Military commanders make up about 18 percent of the Central Committee. The PLA also enjoys disproportionately large representation in bodies such as the National People's Congress…

Mostly the PLA has seemed intent on using its political clout to secure additional resources…

While the generals and admirals who sit on the commission generally keep their views on politics private, a far more vocal class of officers, many of them with strong family connections to past and present leaders, has emerged.

They include Liu Yuan, the son of a revolutionary founding father, Liu Shaoqi, who has delivered speeches and essays pushing a form of militant Chinese nationalism that rejects Western notions of political openness and civil liberties…

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Monday, October 24, 2011

What? We have lobbyists?

I was surprised to learn that the mother of all Parliaments did not have an official registry of lobbyists. Have they been pretending that the ruling class was above all those self-serving lobbyists? Who were all those "old boys" wearing the correct "old school ties" hanging out in Westminster's pubs?

Ministers to consider plans for a register of lobbyists
Ministers are to consult on plans for a register of lobbyists according to government sources.

It comes after Liam Fox quit as defence secretary for allowing "distinctions to be blurred" between his professional role and friendship with Adam Werritty.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC "legitimate questions" had been raised about political lobbying.

Labour has urged the government to introduce a compulsory register of lobbyists "as a matter of urgency"…

The register was a policy of the coalition agreement which states: "We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency."

Labour's shadow cabinet office minister Gareth Thomas said: "David Cameron has still not introduced the compulsory register of lobbyists he promised…

Politicians from all parties have, over the years, called for action to be taken on lobbyists, according to our correspondent.

Successive inquiries into the regulating lobbyists at Westminster go back to 1983.

In 2009 the Public Administration Committee called for a statutory register, which would include a list of all lobbyists, their clients and a diary of all meetings with "decision makers."…

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Nice assertions. Any evidence?

Thomas Erdbrink, writing in the Washington Post probably has some sources for his claims that there's pressure on the hard-liners in Iran, but it's really difficult for readers to see how he builds his argument.

He quotes Rafsanjani, but doesn't tell us the context of the statement. Erdbrink says others have joined Rafsanjani's criticisms, but offers no context.

Then again, an ambitious copy editor might have been working to fit the report into a defined news hole.

Watch for further developments.

In Iran, a new challenge to hard-liners
A rapid succession of challenges directed at Iran in recent days has reignited a debate in Tehran over how to deal with the rest of the world.

Iran’s rulers, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, continue to refuse any negotiations in which they would have to compromise. But an influential faction is now pushing for back-channel talks with the United States as a step toward lowering the tensions raised by U.S. allegations about an Iranian assassination plot…

Among the former politicians and activists who have spoken out on the subject in recent days is former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who called Monday for more “tact and management” in Iran’s handling of controversial international issues…

In his new effort, Rafsanjani has been joined by several other former powerful politicians and influential analysts, who in recent days have called on Khamenei to take a more hands-on role that could include secret talks with the United States or a charm offensive aimed at Saudi Arabia…

Iran’s foreign policy has always been a stage for competing leaders to fight out their domestic rivalries. While the events of 2009 left the country with fewer players, there are plenty of foreign policy disagreements within the shrinking group of leaders that remains…

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Institutionalizing policy

Not everybody agrees that the policy of using the army in Mexico to combat the drug cartels works, but the president is trying to persuade enough people that it might so they'll make the policy part of the regime.

Mexico’s President Works to Lock In Drug War Tactics
As the twilight of his presidency sets in, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico is striving to lock in the militarized approach to drug cartels that has defined his tenure, pushing aside public doubts and pressing lawmakers to adopt strategies he hopes will outlast him.

Mr. Calderón has recently stepped up calls for Mexico’s Congress to approve stalled initiatives to remake state and local police forces, codify the military’s role in fighting crime and broaden its powers, toughen the federal penal code and tighten laws to stop money laundering.

At this pivotal point, with violence swelling and presumptive candidates jockeying for position ahead of Mexico’s presidential election in July, Mr. Calderón has limited time to make the case that his strategy has worked…

[H]is party, the right-of-center National Action Party, faces the real prospect of losing the presidency, raising the question of whether Mr. Calderón’s approach will continue after his six-year term ends next year. Term limits prevent him from running again.

The killings in Mexico have reached such a point, analysts say, that no matter who wins the election, there will be intense pressure for a new course to somehow ease the violence without giving in to the cartels…

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Nigerian newspapers

The Nigerian press is open, free, and sensational. Most newspapers (like most British papers) are tabloids full of remarkable stories. Sometimes those remarkable stories are about politics. And sometimes reporters get in trouble for the stories.

4 Nigeria newspaper reporters arrested over story
Police in Nigeria raided a newspaper office Wednesday after detectives arrested four journalists over the publication of a purported letter from the nation's former president instructing its current leader to fire government officials.

Police descended on the Abuja office of The Nation newspaper… Officers apparently were searching for material to identify the source that gave the newspaper the alleged letter from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan…

The small daily newspaper, one of many publishing in Nigeria's unruly and outspoken free press, blamed the harassment on an Oct. 4 front page story about the letter. The newspaper alleged the letter outlined Obasanjo's desire for Jonathan to replace the leaders of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund and four other agencies with his own candidates.

The letter has hit a nerve in Nigerian politics, as it recommends replacing leaders from the Muslim north as opposed to the country's Christian south, where Jonathan and Obasanjo come from. Some also view Jonathan as beholden to Obasanjo's interests, so the letter raises new concerns about Jonathan's independence as a leader.

Obasanjo denied the authenticity of the letter and threatened legal action, but the newspaper said it stood by its story.

Attacks against journalists remain common in Nigeria, a country of 150 million where corruption pervades government and business…. though 12 years of democracy in the nation have enshrined a belief, if not an absolute right, to free speech.

However, many reporters accept cash payments from interview subjects or "brown envelope" bribes slipped into briefing materials at news conferences. Major politicians also finance newspapers to influence their coverage…

Nigerian Editors Arrested by Police
Coverage in the Nigerian press

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

New opportunities for electricity and corruption in Nigeria

More than 30 years ago, a friend spent a year in Nigeria as a consultant to the Education ministry. He described how his family would fill the bathtub with water and their generator with gas every morning. Why? Because it was almost guaranteed that the water would cease to flow and the power would go out sometime during the day. The outages could last for days. The din of small, private generators starting up when the power went out was very distracting.

From most accounts, things haven't changed much. More hopeful sounding programs and even some loan guarantees are announced. Can privatization overcome the corruption and xenophobia of Nigeria's political culture?

U.S. and Nigeria Sign U.S $1.5 Billion Electricity Financing Deal
The US Export-Import Bank on Wednesday signed a deal with Nigeria aimed at providing $1.5 billion in financing for investments in the country's woefully inadequate electricity sector, a statement said.

The deal comes as Nigeria seeks to solve its longstanding electricity shortages by privatising power production and distribution, with outages daily occurrences in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer.

Privatisation will open up opportunities for foreign companies, though Nigeria's deeply rooted corruption has often been a stumbling block to successful investment in the country in the past.

Fred Hochberg, the chairman of the bank… [said] "We want to deploy this financing as quickly as possible to help meet President Goodluck Jonathan's goals for growing the Nigerian economy by greatly expanding the availability of power in the country"…

Nigeria intends to boost its power output ten-fold by 2020…

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The dreaded three-line whip

Two details to note in this BBC report (besides the debate over UK membership in the EU): most government MPs have public jobs besides their Parliamentary posts and the party order on how to vote underlined three times (usually called the three-line whip).

We should note that this issue is one of the things that brought down Margaret Thatcher's government.

EU referendum: MPs told to vote against Monday's motion
The three big parties at Westminster have told their MPs to vote against a motion calling for a referendum to be held on UK membership of the EU…

The BBC's Iain Watson says the government, seeking to find a compromise, had asked MPs seen as usually loyal eurosceptics to table an amendment instead committing the government to producing a white paper on renegotiating the terms or EU membership.

But that request has been refused by the MPs who want the word "referendum" included in any amendment…

The government would not be bound by the result of the vote, based on a motion by Tory MP David Nuttall, but it could prove politically tricky for the Conservative leadership…

Conservative MPs are expected to face a three-line whip - not yet confirmed - which would require any in government jobs to follow the party line and vote against the motion or to resign their posts…

But the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for the UK to leave the EU, said the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem leaders were "out of step" with the British public.

"By forcing their MPs to vote against an EU referendum, they have set them on a collision course with the electorate. It has become the people versus the politicians," their leader Nigel Farage said.

A petition signed by more than 100,000 people, including Conservative and Labour MPs, calling for a referendum was handed into Downing Street last month...

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Creating a new Tory while fixing the economy

The leading partner in the British coalition has some big tasks on its to-do list.

More Mr Nice Guy
THE Conservative Party, which gathered in Manchester for its annual conference last week, is facing two struggles. The long-term one concerns its image. The immediate battle is to revive the economy.

That urgent task now looks even tougher. Just hours before David Cameron gave his big conference speech… growth in the first half of 2011 was revised down by the Office for National Statistics; responding to the gloom, the Bank of England announced a fresh round of quantitative easing…

The government was counting on a speedy recovery from recession to help it fulfil its main purpose, which is to eliminate the structural fiscal deficit by 2015. That prospect looks increasingly uncertain…

As an effort to perk up the nation, Mr Cameron’s speech went as far as bromides about British indefatigability can. Senior Tories worry that economic pessimism, of the kind that characterised the recent conference of the Liberal Democrats (their coalition partners), will sap confidence further…

[Chancellor of the exchequer George] Osborne has been in office for a year and a half. By a similar stage of Gordon Brown’s time at the Treasury, he had earned the nickname the “iron chancellor”. His fiscal discipline turned out to be flexible but, for better or worse, Mr Osborne’s seems adamantine. True, he announced some measures to boost growth: some cumbersome labour laws are to be cut away; “credit easing”, a so-far vague attempt to give business lending a nudge, is on the cards, too. But these, critics say, are piecemeal. Anything that would cost serious money, and disrupt his deficit-reduction plan, was ruled out. Tory tax-cutters left Manchester in glum mood.

By contrast, the second, long-term struggle facing the Conservatives—to improve their reputation—must be fought by them alone…

One of the forgotten victims of the financial crash was the project to “modernise” the Tory party. It lost three elections because voters saw the party as selfish and malign. In the grating argot of his public-relations past, Mr Cameron was elected to “decontaminate” the brand. Green gestures, liberal noises on race and sexuality and a focus on public services and poverty all helped him to make progress.

But the crash disrupted all this. Mr Osborne had to swap his generous spending plans for austerity. Mr Cameron had to show competence ahead of niceness. The most persuasive explanation for the party’s failure to win last year’s election outright is that it hadn’t sufficiently softened its reputation.

With their eyes fixed on the next election, Tory modernisers want to finish what they started in 2005, when Mr Cameron took over. How to convey compassion without spending cash is the conundrum for modern Conservatives…

Mr Cameron is indeed his party’s ultimate asset. But he faces a tough assignment. A recent poll by YouGov for the IPPR, a think-tank, revealed that 42% of voters say they would “never” back the Conservatives, leaving them with the smallest pool of potential supporters of any major party. It isn’t surprising that Mr Cameron is trying to expand it—nor that he is fighting the battle for the moral high-ground as assiduously as he is struggling to fix the economy.

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St. Vlad

Sue Witmer sent me another link to another intriguing article. This one, from Reuters, shows that the cult of Putin might be gathering strength to rival the cult of Mao. It might also be detrimental to the once and future president's efforts to manage his public image.

Putin is saint and saviour for Russian cult
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cultivates the image of a bare-chested macho man, but a nun-like sect in central Russia thinks actually he's the reincarnation of St. Paul, the apostle.

Or, if not that, he may in a past life have been the founder of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"I say what the Lord has revealed to me," the sect's leader, former convict Svetlana Frolova, said.

Putin's advisers disclaim any link with the sect…

Frolova and her followers are only the most extreme illustration of a personality cult building up around Putin before the 2012 presidential election…

Putin, for his part, projects a macho, "can do" image…

Part of his allure is having restored Russians' pride after the chaos of the 1990s and the embarrassment of Boris Yeltsin's sometimes drunken stunts as president…

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Back to the undemocratic future?

Sue Witmer, who teaches at Northeastern High School in Pennsylvania, sent a link to an article from the Christian Science Monitor that speculates about the anti-democratic intentions of Iran's Supreme Leader.

On the road, Iran's Khamenei sets stage for a less democratic future
It looked like business as usual when Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei began a nine-day tour of the western province of Kermanshah last week. But Ayatollah Khamenei appears to be setting the stage for political changes that will further shrivel the democratic aspect of the Islamic Republic…

Khamenei – whose title is meant to confer the authority of God's interim representative on earth – suggested that the post of Iran's directly elected president might be abolished, to be replaced by a premier chosen by parliament…

"The current political system of the country is presidential, and the president is elected directly by the people. This is a good and effective system," Khamenei reassured another large crowd on Sunday. "But if one day, possibly in the distant future, it is felt that a parliamentary system is more suited for electing those responsible for the executive branch, then there would be no problems in making changes in the system."…

[R]esurrection of the post of prime minister – which existed for the first decade of the revolution, until 1989 – would mark a further decline of democracy.

Such a decision would come in the context of the divisive six-year presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad…

It would also come as Mr. Ahmadinejad has mounted several challenges to Khamenei, and proven himself to be a gutsy street-fighter willing to damage the regime's reputation to preserve his own. His closest aides have been accused of sorcery and leading a "deviant current."

Khamenei's comments "reflect ... a nearly decade-long conservative, undemocratic trend in Iranian politics where political change has been engineered and managed," writes Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington…

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Does 1911 count as a revolution?

The PRC's revolution was successful in 1949. Was the 1911 revolution a worthy precursor?

From Sun to Mao to now
ONE hundred years ago on October 10th, a mutiny in the central Chinese city of Wuhan triggered the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty. In Taiwan, which separated from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war and still claims to be the rightful heir of the republic founded in 1911, the anniversary will be celebrated with a parade, including a display of air power. But in China there are mixed feelings….

China and Taiwan have long disputed each others’ claims to be the heir of the 1911 revolution. Sun Yat-sen, regarded as the revolution’s leader, is officially revered on both sides of the Taiwan Strait…

Some Chinese scholars say the revolution did little for China except to usher in chaotic warlordism, followed by authoritarian government. Such accusations have some merit. China did indeed slide into disarray, warlordism and insurrection after 1911. Any hopes of a democratic republic were overwhelmed by efforts to bring the country under control, which the Communist Party achieved in 1949…

The Communist Party maintains that the 1911 revolution was justified, but finds itself in a quandary. Another star-studded film released earlier this year to mark its own 90th birthday stirred audiences in an unintended way. The film, covering the period from the revolution of 1911 to the Communist Party’s founding in 1921, prompted numerous comments on Chinese internet forums about the lessons it offered for rebelling against bad government. Interesting idea.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Muslim economics in a globalized world

Caroline Welch who teaches at Albany Academy, sent me a link to a Time magazine article about the possible effects of Islamic economic rules.

Is Islamic law to blame for the Middle East's economic failures?
One of the great mysteries of economic history concerns how the Islamic world lost its mojo. A thousand years ago, the Middle East was richer and more influential in the global economy than Europe. According to data compiled by the late economist and statistical wizard Angus Maddison, the Middle East accounted for about 9.5% of global GDP in the year 1000 while Western Europe's share was less than 9%. By 1700, however, the situation had totally reversed, with Western Europe commanding a hefty 22% of global GDP and the Middle East a pathetic 3%…

Economists and historians have struggled over that question for centuries. The answer is not just of academic interest. The revolutions that have swept through the Middle East, toppling dictators in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, got a good part of their momentum from the widespread public frustration over the persistent lack of economic progress and opportunity omnipresent in the Middle East…

A much more compelling argument was outlined by economist Timur Kuran in his 2010 book The Long Divergence. He makes the intriguing case that Islamic law was at the root of the problem. Its strictures, he claims inhibited the emergence of the institutions of modern capitalism as they developed in Europe. And the Middle East is suffering for that failure to this day…

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Big meeting, no public announcements

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China ended its big meeting, but didn't say much about what they accomplished.

CPC Central Committee plenum ends with cultural development guideline
The 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concluded its sixth plenary session in Beijing Tuesday, adopting a guideline to improve the nation's cultural soft power.

Hu Jintao, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, delivered an important speech at the session, which opened on Saturday.

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Federalism's experiments

Some states in Mexico have tried to eliminate corruption by removing one opportunity. The results have not been all good.

The lawless roads
SIX out of ten road deaths worldwide take place in just 12 countries, one of which is Mexico. Dented doors and battered bumpers are backed up by official figures: every year some 24,000 people lose their lives on Mexico’s potholed roads…

In Mexico’s case the main problem is the drivers. Fourteen of Mexico’s 32 states, home to just over half the population, grant licences without setting a practical driving test…

Mexico was not always so freewheeling. Until the 1990s driving tests were near-universal, but it took unusual robustness of character to pass without paying a bribe. Rather than tackle corruption, some states simply abolished the test. Others followed suit in order to attract applicants (and income) from out-of-state residents.

The disregard for road safety goes wider. The ring roads that roar around Mexico’s big cities have speed limits of up to 80kph. By contrast in Costa Rica the urban speed limit is 40kph. Drivers are slack about seat belts and child-seats are rarer still. A PAHO study in 2008 estimated that on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in Mexico City a total of 200,000 people drove while drunk…

Given the right training, Mexico’s drivers are as safe as any other country’s. An American study found that Mexican truckers had fewer accidents in the United States than their American counterparts. That might be because Mexican hauliers, along with taxi-drivers and other professionals, have to sit a driving test. Until testing becomes universal, Mexico’s roads will remain lethal.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Greening Euro Farming

As the most expensive EU program, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is regularly controversial. And this time the debate is between the Commission's experts, farmers, and environmentalists.

EU plans CAP reforms for 'greener' farm subsidies
The European Union has announced plans to reform its Common Agricultural Policy - its most expensive scheme, and one of the most controversial…

The European Commission does not want to cut the budget, but change its priorities - including linking direct payments to environmental measures.

But farming, environmental and taxpayer groups all have their own concerns about the plans…

The Commission said the aim of the reforms was to "strengthen the competitiveness, sustainability and permanence of agriculture throughout the EU in order to secure for European citizens a healthy and high-quality source of food, preserve the environment and develop rural areas".

It said the changes would gradually move rewards away from intensive farming to more sustainable practices…

The European Union has announced plans to reform its Common Agricultural Policy - its most expensive scheme, and one of the most controversial.

The CAP cost 58bn euros (£51bn; $80bn) last year - 47% of the whole EU budget.

The European Commission does not want to cut the budget, but change its priorities - including linking direct payments to environmental measures.

But farming, environmental and taxpayer groups all have their own concerns about the plans.

The proposals include:
  • keeping EU farm spending about level until 2020
  • capping the total subsidy a large farm can receive at 300,000 euros
  • levelling imbalances in payments: to subsidise acreage farmed rather than production totals; and
  • bring payments in the eastern EU up to levels in the west
  • ending sugar production quotas
  • making 30% of the "direct payment" income support payments received by farmers dependent on environmental criteria.
Those environmental criteria include:
  • arable farmers growing at least three different crops, with none exceeding 70% of the total farm area
  • farmers leaving 7% of their land fallow
  • ensuring permanent pasture is maintained
The Commission said the aim of the reforms was to "strengthen the competitiveness, sustainability and permanence of agriculture throughout the EU..."

It said the changes would gradually move rewards away from intensive farming to more sustainable practices... 

Farming unions fear farmers will face even more bureaucracy in order to qualify for the payments on which they rely to continue in business…

Lobby group Friends of the Earth said the proposals would continue subsidising factory farming, and not do enough to change farming practices…

The Commission's plans will be subject to debate and revision, before they are agreed by EU governments and the European Parliament.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Is transparency a virtue?

Transparency is usually held up as a virtue of good government. In practice, it's not so easy or so universally good for good government.

The parting of the red tape
Whether dewy-eyed or hard-edged, examples abound of the benefits of open government—the idea that citizens should be able see what the state is up to. Estonians track which bureaucrats have looked at their file. Indians scrutinise officials’ salaries painted on village walls. Russians help redraft laws. Norwegians examine how much tax the oil industry pays. Many see openness as a cure for corruption and incompetence in public administration. The problem is how to turn the fan base into an effective lobby.

A new global club may help. The Open Government Partnership (OGP), launched last month at the UN, sets basic standards of openness, such as publishing a draft state budget. Any country that meets them can join…

Many international anti-corruption and transparency bodies are already at work. In the new outfit the main judge of performance will not be other governments (though there is some of that) but citizen groups at home…

Some have dismissed the new venture. Anti-American countries note that one of the masterminds is Samantha Power, a self-described “humanitarian hawk” who advises Barack Obama. Other doubters think it may be a handy way of diverting attention from shortfalls in the American administration’s own ambitious open-government plans…

One pitfall is that measuring the impacts of open governance as clearly as Mr Svensson believes he did in Uganda is hard. A second pitfall is that transparency doesn’t always lead to accountability. In theory, knowing the size of the road budget should make people either demand that more be spent or ask why the roads are still a mess. In practice, citizens may lack a means to turn their discontent into real political pressure. Transparency projects are the “low-hanging fruit” of open governance, and hence tempting for governments to focus on, says Tiago Peixoto, research director of the e-Democracy Centre at the University of Zurich. Giving people a real say, while harder to arrange, yields bigger benefits…

A third worry is that the OGP may shine more attention on the executive branches of national governments than on the local level, or on the judiciary or legislature. Open governance is still a newish idea even in advanced economies. Progress may be patchy, but at least the OGP’s non-governmental members will be able to make plenty of noise about it.

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Transparency would be nice

Well, transparency would be nice for those of us trying to understand what's going on in Iran. Less transparency would probably benefit all the political and economic players there. Whether they're running some kind of scam or trying to pull political strings behind the scenes, the more they can do without being seen, the better for their goals.

Iran’s biggest financial scam weakens Ahmadinejad; economic hardship may revive unrest in Iran
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose campaign pledge was to combat corruption, is facing a fresh political blow over the largest financial scandal in the country’s history.

The $2.6 billion scam has taken on political dimensions, and some politicians have linked the main suspect in the fraud to a so-called deviant current,” allegedly led by Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and closest ally.

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie is accused by many Shiite clerics and politicians of trying to undermine the central role of the clergy in politics by emphasizing the nationalist strain of Iranian history and culture…

The fraud was made public with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s approval, said some hardline politicians.

“Ahmadinejad’s allies are determined to win the next elections and Khamenei’s allies want to block their way ... That is the main reason behind the revelation of this scam,” said an economist, who identified himself as Saber Lavasani…

The fraud has become a national obsession, increasing pressure on the clerical establishment to take action at a time when Iran’s economy is badly flagging.

The scam, which involved illegal bank withdrawals, will further put economic pressure on the nation by increasing inflation. It officially hovers around 16 percent. Critics say the figure is really over 30 percent.

Iranian newspapers and websites have given wide coverage to the scandal, criticizing Ahmadinejad and his inner circle of allies…

Frustration is simmering among lower and middle-class Iranians. Prices of most consumer goods have risen and many Iranians struggle to make ends meet…

International sanctions imposed on Iran over its disputed nuclear program, coupled with high inflation have led to a general fear that life will get worse before getting any better…

Iran: 14 New Arrests in Bank Scandal
Iran’s top prosecutor reported 14 new arrests on Monday in connection with a record $2.6 billion embezzlement uncovered last month at Bank Melli, the largest commercial bank in the country, and called on its fugitive managing director to return home from Canada, where he fled as the fraud was about to become public…

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Thursday, October 13, 2011


The newish UK Supreme Court has invalidated a law passed by Parliament. This sets a precedent.

Supreme Court overturns non-EU young spouses ban
A government ban on non-EU foreign spouses under the age of 21 coming to the UK is unlawful, say top judges.

The ruling by the Supreme Court is a major blow to an immigration policy designed to stop forced marriages.

The ban, introduced by Labour in 2008, meant a foreign partner from outside the EU could not join their partner in the UK if they were under 21 years old.

The court said that the rule was unjustified because it interfered with the human rights of couples…

The court's judgement means the Home Office will need to either scrap the rule or rewrite it so that it is compatible with rights…

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Is the future to the left or the right?

Mark Mackinnon, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, offers a great analysis of one of the political arguments going on, behind the scenes, among the Chinese elite.

Political rivalry reflects a split within China's Communist Party
Bo Xalai and Wang Yang are… provincial Party bosses, [and] rivals for coveted spots on the nine-man Standing Committee of the Politburo – the top of China's power pyramid – during the once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle set to take place over the next year. And the regions they now govern offer starkly differing models for the direction China should head next.

The rivalry between the two men reflects a split within the Chinese Communist Party that, no matter how good the Party is at presenting a united front to the world, some see as a struggle for China's very soul.

On one side, there is Mr. Bo's Chongqing model, the favourite of a powerful faction of hard leftists who are prone to harkening back wistfully to the era of Chairman Mao, and want to see the country's pursuit of growth balanced with a renewed focus on social stability, including more equitable distribution of China's new-found wealth.

On the other is Mr. Wang's more open Guangdong model, the choice of a smaller clutch of free-market liberals, who argue that now is not the time to pause the country's economic and political reforms.

Since Mr. Bo took over as Party Secretary in Chongqing four years ago, he has won wide praise for smashing the region's crime syndicates. But he is even more notorious for his nostalgic embrace of “Red culture” – which includes not only revolutionary songs but bureaucrats being sent to the countryside to work alongside farmers, and Mao quotations being sent to millions of mobile phones by Mr. Bo himself.

Mr. Bo's campaigns have made him a hero of the country's “new left” but also unnerved some prominent intellectuals, who hear unsettling echoes of the Cultural Revolution, when tens of millions were violently purged in the name of ideological purity.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wang… has recently emerged as the new hope of the country's liberals.

Guangdong, particularly the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, famously gave birth to China's economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. Now the region is home to the country's freest media and has become an incubator for civil society. But a wave of strikes and protests in the province in recent years has unsettled other top party officials, who make no secret of their preference for stability over freedom…

Some Chinese see the coming battle as critical to whether their country continues its lurching reform, or takes a dangerous step backward…

The outside world may get a hint of whether one or both of Bo Xilai and Wang Yang are set to join the world's most powerful leadership group in the coming weeks as the wider Central Committee of the Communist Party gathers in Beijing.

There may well be no pronouncement on the political future of either man – there are still months left in this secretive campaign for office before the next Standing Committee of the Politburo is unveiled, and Central Committee decisions don't have to be ratified by any congress, or pass muster with any court – but their ideas will surely be debated by its 300-odd members once the doors of the Great Hall of the People are sealed to outsiders…

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Arresting ex-governors

In Nigeria, the former governors of Ogun and Oyo (states in the Yoruba west, just north of Lagos) and Nasarawa (a middle belt state south and east of Abuja) have been arrested for corruption. Arrests of former governors are not unusual. Trials and convictions are.

Nigeria's EFCC arrests ex-governors for alleged fraud
Nigeria's anti-corruption agency has arrested three former state governors for allegedly embezzling funds amounting to $615m (£400m)…

They are likely to appear in court in the next few days.

Correspondents say the EFCC has made high-profile arrests before but has found it hard to make charges stick…

Under Nigeria's federal system, state governors enjoy huge powers and control budgets bigger than those of some neighbouring African countries…

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Lagos says the EFCC has arrested high-profile figures before, but has so far been less successful in making the charges stick.

Nigeria's justice system is painfully slow and ill-equipped to deal with complex financial cases, our correspondent says.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Nigerian union acts

From the world outside of Nigeria it's often difficult to see the actions of Nigeria's unions. That's probably because their concerns are localized and don't get through journalism's filters (even in these days of reduced filtering). This story did make the news and makes Nigerian union activity look strong and aggressive.

Nigerian protesters cut off 5 mln phone lines
More than five million telephone subscribers in Nigeria were cut off when protesters attacked an exchange of India-owned Airtel, one of the west African nation's biggest telecom firms, it said Thursday.

The protesters, members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the nation's central labour movement, were protesting against the alleged casualisation of workers in Airtel and the dismissal of 3,000 employees, charges denied by the company…

NLC acting secretary general Owei Lakemfa told AFP that the unionists took the action against Airtel "after it sacked 3,000 workers at the end of September, and for refusing to pay some allowances it agreed with the workers."…

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Controlling the new media

When the Party has a big event planned, they are sure to redouble efforts to make sure that no one spoils the party.

China moves to rein in microblogs
Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to rein in the hugely popular microblogging sites that have become an alternative source of real-time news for millions while challenging the Communist Party’s traditional grip on information.

Journalists, bloggers, media analysts and others said the moves are part of an intensifying control of the media landscape ahead of next year’s crucial Communist Party Congress, which will bring the broadest leadership change in China in a decade…

The 2012 leadership change will be the first since the explosion here of Weibo, the microblogging sites that are like a Chinese version of Twitter with some of the visual elements of Facebook tossed in. Weibo has more than 200 million users, and the number is growing.

Although the traditional media here remain largely controlled by government censors, Weibo has emerged as a freewheeling forum for breaking news, exposés and edgy opinion — often to the chagrin of censors…

Also, although newspapers, television and radio are typically owned by the government or the Communist Party, the Weibo sites are run by private companies, meaning the censors’ control had to be more indirect.

But that seems to have changed…

Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Internet Office, told a conference here that social networking sites posed a problem for the government.

“Many people are considering how to prevent the abuse of these networks following violent crimes that took place in some parts of the world this year,” Wang said, referring to rioting in Britain that was fueled in part by youths using BlackBerry messaging and cellphones. “The Internet should not be used to jeopardize the national or public interest,” he said.

The companies that run the most popular microblogging sites seem to have gotten the message. Sina, whose Weibo site is the most commonly used, has stepped up efforts to remove what it calls unsubstantiated rumors from its site and to indefinitely freeze the accounts of users who spread rumors…

The efforts to control the microblogs come as authorities have made other recent moves against traditional media.

In September, two papers, the Beijing News — known for its aggressive reporting and investigations — and the Beijing Times, were placed under the control of the Beijing municipal propaganda department. Newspapers in China must have a “supervising authority,” and the two papers had been indirectly under the control of the central government.

Some journalists and media advocates said the situation was murky and unpredictable because competing power centers are vying for position before next year’s leadership changes.

“Each official is worrying that the media will be the tool of their enemies to attack them at this moment, which will be harmful to their political life,” said one Chinese investigative reporter…

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Friday, October 07, 2011

And the precedents are...

Nick Hayes is a history professor at Saint John's University in Minnesota. His expertise is in Russian history and politics. Here is his analysis of the Putin-Medvedev dance. I'd add that what Hayes describes as Russian politics is a classic example of a Potemkin Village.

Putin sends Russia's liberals a message
The last week in Russian politics brought an end to one of the more phony chapters in recent Russian history…

And so the political charade of the Medvedev presidency came to an end.

Putin's announcement did not come as a shock. There were two aspects to the story, however, that were a bit outrageous even by his standards. First of all, Putin told the party meeting that his decision to run for the presidency had been made "several years earlier" in consultation with Medvedev.

If so, what was behind the spinning of the Medvedev story in the past two to three years?…

Putin has planted both his feet firmly in the past. There was an antecedent for Putin's gesture three years ago of stepping down from the presidency after his two constitutionally allotted terms, assuming the nominally secondary position as prime minister, and deferring in public to the authority of the new president. During the 1920s, 1930s and heroic years of WWII, it was not, as we tend to remember, Joseph Stalin who was the head of the Soviet state. In actuality, from 1919 to 1946, the nominal head of the Soviet state was the forgotten Mikhail Kalinin. Stalin served as the head or general secretary of the Communist Party, which was the actual seat of power and controlled the vast apparatus of the state, just as Putin over the past three years controlled the ruling United Russia Party and the Russian state bureaucracy. Medvedev was Putin's Kalinin.

Putin has also reasserted a tradition from the tsars. The autocratic power of the tsars rested in the person of the tsar, not the institutions of the monarchy. Putin orchestrated the Medvedev story to make a mockery of the Russian constitution, its offices and its legislative assembly, or "duma," and to emphasize that his personal power trumped legal institutions.

Putin has also resurrected an ominous symbol from the tsarist past as if to send a message to Russia's liberals that things could be worse. During the past year, Putin has led a highly public campaign to honor Pyotr Stolypin, one of tsarist Russia's most ambiguous political figures who served as tsar Nicholas II's prime minister from 1906 to 1911.

Stolypin oversaw sweeping agricultural reforms that transformed rural Russia and a political crackdown on the left that expedited the prosecution of real and suspected radicals. Executions by public hanging were so commonplace during the Stolypin's regime that the noose earned the nickname of "Stolypin' s necktie." His assassination in 1911 has not deterred Putin from publically identifying with the Stolypin legacy. Putin organized a national campaign to build a monument to Stolypin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his assassination, which occurred on Sept. 18.

Russia's liberals get the message. They will have at least another 12 years of Putin. However, his regime could be worse. He could have been or could be another Stolypin…

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Is the grass greener there?

The assumption of most rural people is that opportunities and prosperity are greater in the city. The averages support the assumption. The responses of governments and politicians are unpredictable. Here's an example from China.

China's rural poor left stranded as urbanites race ahead
Between 1990 and 2009, China slashed its numbers of rural poor from 85 million to 35.97 million, thanks in large part to the wages sent home by migrant workers...

Yet many fear that two Chinas are emerging, with the countryside falling ever further behind…

For every one yuan of a rural resident's income, a city-dweller enjoys 3.23 yuan in disposable income – and that may significantly understate the gap. Include the extra services and benefits enjoyed by urbanites, such as subsidised housing, and "many observers believe that the ratio would easily be in the range of four to five and is arguably among the highest in the world," says professor Kam Wing Chan, an expert on migrants at the University of Washington.

"China's incomes are increasingly polarised. This large income gap is definitely a contributor in the background to the more frequent and violent protests and unrest in the last few months."

Even farmers who reach the cities as migrant workers are in effect second-class citizens, because China's hukou – household registration – system classifies people as urban or rural and allocates rights to services accordingly. One Chinese academic has described the result as "counterfeit urbanisation": cities full of people who cannot enjoy much of city life…

Experts say the disparity between rural and urban educational standards is one reason why the proportion of rural students in universities – particularly the top ones – is falling rapidly. According to Chinese media, pupils from the countryside made up 62% of those sitting national college entrance exams last year, but only 17% of those entering the elite Tsinghua University…

There are promising pilot projects that attempt to tackle the urban-rural gulf: improving education for poorer children; increasing integration. Cities such as Chongqing and Guangdong have been experimenting with limited hukou reform.

But such programmes are often tightly restricted and cover workers who have moved from country to town within a province. In many cases migrants have been wary of switching registration, fearing the compensation for lost land and home is insufficient to establish them in the city…

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Not everyone loves Putin

I guess these guys didn't get invited to play NASHI's summer retreat.

Rock Stars Won’t Play for Putin
Two popular Russian rock musicians, disillusioned with the presidency of Dmitri A. Medvedev, have said they will not appear at concerts celebrating the presidential election next March, though they performed at a similar event nearly four years ago.

Andrei Makarevich, the frontman of the long-popular band Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), and Vladimir Shakhrin, of the group Chaif, told an interviewer from Radio Svoboda that they would refuse invitations if they received them.

Mr. Makarevich said he had been “incorrigibly naïve” to invest his hopes in Mr. Medvedev. Mr. Medvedev announced on Sept. 24 that he would not seek a second term, clearing the way for Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin to return for two six-year terms. The decision disappointed many liberal urbanites, who had hoped that Mr. Medvedev would remain and press for political reforms.

“We have already been told who would be our next president,” Mr. Makarevich said. “There is a feeling that we are being deprived of the remnants of our right to choose.”…

“I have an impression that the 2012 elections have already occurred,” he said.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Following an American example

How to ensure that voters are legal and that turnout is as high as possible? And what do you choose if those goals are in conflict? Are they in conflict? Lots of American politicians think so and choose to emphasize the necessity of ensuring voters are legal. Now, the coalition government in the UK has made that choice as well.

Labour conference: Harman attacks Tories over vote plan
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman will accuse the Tories of changing the way people register to vote to make it harder for her party's supporters.

Instead of the household head listing eligible voters, the plan is that everyone will register themselves…

Ms Harman will say the plans will mean millions of voters, largely poor, young or black, will "fall off" the register…

As she winds up the Labour Party conference in Liverpool later, Ms Harman will say that 10 million people - from groups more likely to vote Labour - could "fall off" the electoral register…

She will add: "The Tories are hoping if they take away the right to vote from students, young people living in rented flats in our cities, people from ethnic minority communities... if fewer of them can vote it will help the Tories win."…

Ministers say the current system is open to fraud and that, in an effort to get more people onto the electoral register, voters' details will be cross-checked with other public databases in a "data-matching" pilot scheme.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said legislation to introduce individual registration was first introduced in 2009, and the new system would "modernise the electoral registration system and help to combat fraud"…

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Back to the future

Putin's decision to return to the presidency has unleashed some notalgia. Well, not so much nostalgia as bad memories.

For Russia’s Liberals, Flickers of Hope Vanish
When Lyubov Volkova, 63, woke up on Sunday, it was a few moments before she remembered what had happened…

On Sunday she awoke to the reality that Vladimir V. Putin had, in effect, appointed himself president, and she knew that the aspirations of the Mikhail S. Gorbachev era had been snuffed out…

Russia’s liberals, a small but influential slice of the population, have faced lacerating truths this month.

Mr. Putin, who dominates politics here, is popular with members of the overall public in Russia, who have seen steady gains in their living standards over the last decade. And though he is an unapologetic advocate of centralized power, his government has offered political vehicles for the educated elites who disagree. Chief among these vehicles was Mr. Medvedev, Mr. Putin’s successor as president, who as a candidate promised to fight “legal nihilism” and “limitless corruption.” Another was Right Cause, a hastily created opposition party whose leader vowed to introduce genuine competition to Parliament…

Liberal-minded Muscovites poured out their despair on the Internet on Sunday, passing around a portrait of Mr. Putin superimposed on Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18-year rule became known as the “era of stagnation.”…

Putin 'will not end Russia impasse' - Gorbachev
Ex-USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned Russia risks wasting six years if PM Vladimir Putin returns to the presidency in March as expected.

Reacting to the news Mr Putin will run for office in 2012, Mr Gorbachev said Russia was at an "impasse" and that he doubted Mr Putin could bring change…

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Independence day in China

It's the celebration of the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China today. Here's an account of one of the typically Chinese ceremonial events accompanied by a stereotypically Chinese photograph.

Chinese leaders present flowers to heroes' monument on National Day
Top leaders laid flower baskets at the Monument to the People's Heroes in the heart of Beijing Saturday morning to mark the National Day…

The leaders then walked around the monument, viewing the relief sculptures and inscriptions that display the history of China's struggles for modernity in nearly two centuries.

They joined 3,600 representatives from all walks of life in Beijing in the ceremony to mark the 62nd anniversary of founding of the People's Republic of China.

The ceremony shows the country's respect for its past and encourages the Chinese people to make greater achievements in the future, said Yang Yu, a Beijing-based news analyst during the live broadcast of the China Central Television...

Chinese President Hu Jintao (C, front) and other members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, including Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang, stand in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tian'anmen Square of Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 1, 2011. China's top leaders laid flower baskets at the monument on Saturday morning to mark the 62nd anniversary of the country's founding.

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