Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, April 30, 2012

More on the normality of corruption

Economists, psychologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and even historians offer explanations for pervasive corruption in Mexico and elsewhere. Here are some of them.  

Even as It Hurts Mexican Economy, Bribery Is Taken in Stride
Every now and then, the health department shows up at José Luis García’s food store in an affluent neighborhood here. Mr. García immediately reaches for his wallet.
“They first say there is some fine and then they say, ‘We can fix this another way,’ ” said Mr. García, who typically pays $50 to $100 to make the inspectors go away.
It is an article of faith here that the fastest way to resolve difficulties with a health inspector, traffic police officer or nettlesome ministry functionary is to pay a sum under the table.
A baroque bureaucracy, something economists have long warned slows the potential for growth here, and low pay for public servants leads to peso-greased shortcuts for the simplest transactions…
Fiscal watchdogs chafe at the way bribery and other forms of corruption are taken in stride here. Studies have found it costs the economy upward of $114 billion — 10 percent of its gross domestic product — and dampens potential investment.
The Mexican chapter of Transparency International said corruption over all was on the rise in Mexico and last year ranked it 100 out of 183 countries in its perception of corruption index
[P]romised reforms in Mexico never seem to take root, with a justice system rife with impunity and botched and delayed investigations. On top of the business-related bribes are the drug-related ones, in which members of organized crime groups buy off police officers or politicians to look the other way.
“We have good laws,” Luis Carlos Ugalde, a Mexican political scientist, wrote in Nexos magazine last year, in a lengthy dissection of corruption in Mexico and impediments to cleaning it up. “But they do not have an effect on the real world of corruption.”…

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Corruption and competition

Awhile back, I posted a link to an article that raised the question of how pervasive corruption was in Mexico. (Is extortion part of civil society?)

Now, a long and complex investigative report by David Barstow and his colleagues at The New York Times appears to confirm that even Mexico's largest employer spent millions, illicitly, to facilitate rapid growth in Mexico.

The NYT report is an investigation of Wal-Mart, but the question is implicitly asked, "Does either the Mexican or US government have the capacity and ability to stop or limit this kind of corruption?"

Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle
In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

The former executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Wal-Mart de Mexico…

Neither American nor Mexican law enforcement officials were notified. None of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s leaders were disciplined. Indeed, its chief executive… identified by the former executive as the driving force behind years of bribery, was promoted to vice chairman of Wal-Mart in 2008…

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Policy implications of factional fighting in China

While most journalistic reports on the factional politics of China's leadership have focused on identifying the people in the various factions and looking for evidence of who is in and who is out, Mark Mackinnon's report in the Toronto Globe and Mail examines possible policy implications in the fall of Bo Xilai and his allies.

Bo Xilai’s fall signals victory for China’s reformers
The very public humiliation of Mr. Bo… has brought to the surface the decades-old split that pits a group of liberal-minded reformers like Premier Wen Jiabao against a hard-line wing of the party that believes it is time for China, after 20 years of unprecedented economic growth accompanied by widening inequality, to increase state control and turn back toward its socialist roots.

It’s the biggest rupture inside China’s ruling elite since 1989, when Zhao Ziyang was ousted as Communist Party chairman… The shift comes at a critical juncture, just months before the Communist Party will unveil its new leadership lineup…

After years of being the lone voice at the top advocating greater economic and political openness within China’s one-party system, the scandal in Chongqing has, at last, given Premier Wen the upper hand…

With Mr. Bo out of the picture, the liberal wing of the party is advancing proposals to privatize state-owned assets and open China’s financial sector to foreign competition. Meanwhile, Mr. Bo’s statist ideas are being sidelined…

Some worry that useful ideas are being purged along with the man. While Mr. Bo gained fame for his use of Maoist propaganda in Chongqing – as well as a no-holds-barred campaign against the city’s crime syndicates – the “Chongqing Model,” as the experiment came to be known, also included efforts to address China’s yawning urban-rural income gap through a trial reform of the country’s hated household registration system, one that finally allowed rural-born residents to claim the same rights as those born in the city…

The contrasting approach – the “Guangdong Model” – was on display in coastal Guangdong province, where local Communist Party boss Wang Yang focused his efforts on opening the economy and even allowing some non-government organizations to take root. Now, many expect the Guangdong Model will prevail simply because no one will dare express support for the Chongqing Model, lest it be interpreted as support for Mr. Bo…

Leftists and liberals alike find common ground on one point: that Mr. Bo’s case needs to be heard in public so that China can finally break the cycle of justice carried out behind the curtain. “This country has no rule of law because the leaders don’t follow the law,” said Tie Liu, a veteran Communist Party journalist who has backed Mr. Wen in his reform push. “This is why history keeps repeating itself in China.”

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Loyalists, clients, henchmen, guanxi

I point to Edward Wong's report in The New York Times not because it offers some details about the current instability, but because it provides a good illustration of guanxi.

Americans doing business in China are often briefed on guanxi, but it plays an important role in governance and politics as well.

Guanxi, An Important Chinese Business Element
“Guanxi” literally means "relationships", stands for any type of relationship. In the Chinese business world, however, it is also understood as the network of relationships among various parties that cooperate together and support one another. The Chinese businessmen mentality is very much one of "You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours." In essence, this boils down to exchanging favors, which are expected to be done regularly and voluntarily. Therefore, it is an important concept to understand if one is to function effectively in Chinese society.

Disgraced Chinese Official’s Loyalists Are Rounded Up for Questioning
Officials in critical Communist Party and government posts in Chongqing who are considered loyalists of Bo Xilai, the city’s deposed party chief, are being detained as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Mr. Bo and his family, according to a Chongqing official and other people with knowledge of political appointments in the city.

The detentions are part of an attempt by the central Communist Party to dismantle Mr. Bo’s support network and build a case against him and his wife…

The detentions and, in some cases, replacements of Mr. Bo’s allies began soon after party leaders ousted him on March 15 as the Chongqing party chief, said people in Chongqing and Beijing, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation…

The detention and replacement of officials in Chongqing have taken place under the watch of Zhang Dejiang, a vice prime minister who was sent from Beijing to serve as party chief in Chongqing after Mr. Bo’s ouster. Cheng Li, an expert in Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution, said in an interview with the National Bureau of Asian Research on Wednesday that it was important to note that Mr. Zhang is an ally of Jiang Zemin, the former top leader of China.

Mr. Bo was also considered, in a broad sense, to be an ally of Mr. Jiang’s. Mr. Li said the fact that party leaders agreed that one of Mr. Jiang’s men should replace Mr. Bo showed that there was no significant split on the issue between the Jiang faction and the faction led by Hu Jintao, the current Chinese president and party chief…

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Factional struggle in China's leadership

The leadership transition in China is looking less and less orderly.

Probe of security boss could widen China scandal
China's leaders want Bo Xilai's downfall seen as a blow against corruption -- not as part of a power struggle. But with a second, even higher-ranking Politburo member now suspected to be under pressure, it will become difficult to avoid the perception of all-out infighting.

Moves against Zhou Yongkang, China's security chief, could undermine attempts to portray the Bo scandal as a fight to uphold the rule of law and would reinforce a skeptical public's view that the Communist Party is in disarray months before a once-a-decade transfer of power to new leaders.

In keeping with China's closed political system, the information released publicly about Bo's case has been little, the rumors many and almost no one is willing to speak on the record…

Zhou, 72, is widely reported to have been the only leading official to have argued against last week's striking decision to suspend Bo's membership in the 25-seat Politburo -- a step that effectively ended the political career of one of China's most ambitious and high-profile politicians…

Since then, Zhou has made tearful self-criticisms to President Hu Jintao and former leader Jiang Zemin, his political mentor, according to the U.S.-based Chinese-language dissident news site Boxun.com, which has been reporting accurately on the Bo scandal. Despite that, Zhou is now under some form of secretive investigation by the party's disciplinary body, it said…

Zhou's alleged crimes aren't known, although speculation ranges from massive corruption to secretly conspiring with Bo to boost him into the top leadership rungs…

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Domestic challenges for Nigeria

In a country where the government seems on the verge of being unable to deal with things as they are, changes will bring major new challenges.

 Nigeria Tested by Rapid Rise in Population
In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people — a population about as big as that of the present-day United States — will live in a country the size of Arizona and New Mexico…
As graduates pour out of high schools and universities, Nigeria’s unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent for people in urban areas ages 15 to 24 — driving crime and discontent.
The growing upper-middle class also feels the squeeze, as commutes from even nearby suburbs can run two to three hours…
Across sub-Saharan Africa, alarmed governments have begun to act, often reversing longstanding policies that encouraged or accepted large families. Nigeria made contraceptives free last year, and officials are promoting smaller families as a key to economic salvation, holding up the financial gains in nations like Thailand as inspiration…
“Population is key,” said Peter Ogunjuyigbe, a demographer at Obafemi Awolowo University in the small central city of Ile-Ife. “If you don’t take care of population, schools can’t cope, hospitals can’t cope, there’s not enough housing — there’s nothing you can do to have economic development.”
The Nigerian government is rapidly building infrastructure but cannot keep up, and some experts worry that it, and other African nations, will not act forcefully enough to rein in population growth. For two decades, the Nigerian government has recommended that families limit themselves to four children, with little effect…
In the ramshackle towns of the Oriade area near Ile-Ife, where streets are lined with stalls selling prepaid cellphone cards and food like pounded yam, Dr. Ogunjuyigbe’s team goes door to door studying attitudes toward family size and how it affects health and wealth. Many young adults, particularly educated women, now want two to four children. But the preferences of men, particularly older men, have been slower to change — crucial in a patriarchal culture where polygamy is widespread...

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Another view of the Mexican election

This analysis comes from a different source, but the message seems the same as the earlier ones.

Mexico presidential race leaves voters dismayed

Elections can be times of great promise and hope for the future. But as Mexican voters prepare to choose a new president in July, those sentiments are hard to come by.

In a country struggling with a vicious drug war and attempts to solidify democracy, many Mexicans are utterly disillusioned with the candidates and dismayed at the choices before them.

At the heart of the matter is a sense that the three main candidates offer no solutions, no real hope for change…

Leading the race by seemingly insurmountable margins is Enrique Peña Nieto, the long-groomed candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI governed Mexico for most of the 20th century, dominating Mexican political life through a wily combination of co-option, corruption and intimidation until losing the presidency in 2000. It is now determined to make an emphatic comeback.

Peña Nieto and the PRI are capitalizing on Mexican fears and appealing to nostalgia for a past that these days seems simpler and safer. PRI officials deny critics' charges that this would be a return to negotiating with drug cartels rather than confronting them…

Peña Nieto's closest opponent is Josefina Vazquez Mota of the PAN. As the first female candidate for a major political party, she generated initial buzz and came within striking distance of Peña Nieto in some polls…

Her… difficulty, however, is attempting to distance herself from Calderon's administration, one in which she held several Cabinet posts. "Josefina: Different" is her campaign slogan, but few voters see a real difference between her proposals and the policies enacted by Calderon.

The left, divided and poorly organized, put forward Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the veteran politician who nearly won the 2006 contest. This time around, he has recast himself as a more conservative contender in a bid for broader appeal. He has toned down his once-confrontational rhetoric, made nice with the gigantic television network that once campaigned against him and attended Mass with the pope.

Lopez Obrador has been rallying a bit from his last-place position in the polls but appears unlikely to expand his support beyond a core following. Many Mexicans frown on his refusal to accept defeat in 2006, which led to disruptive demonstrations that closed Mexico City's principal Paseo de la Reforma and spawned havoc…

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Apathy and democracy

Apathy is not a value that is conducive to representative government. However, apathy might well be one of the learned values in Russia.

Opposition Finds Apathy Over Election in Russia City
[I]f residents have little faith in the election system, they also seem to have little interest in Mr. Shein’s [mayoral election loser] plight. Their indifference poses a major challenge for antigovernment activists from Moscow who have flocked south in recent days to lend him support, and are hoping to use his case to build wider momentum for political reform…

The source of voters’ apathy seems to be a combination of the mayor’s relative lack of power compared with regional and federal officials and a jaded expectation that elections in Russia are always rigged, one way or another. On Tuesday, regional prosecutors said they had fully investigated Mr. Shein’s complaints and found them insignificant…

“We don’t see any great resonance here,” said the well-known anticorruption blogger, Aleksei Navalny, who has been in Astrakhan since Monday…

“Southern cities like Rostov, Astrakhan, Volgograd — they have always been less lively because everybody here got used to the situation that the mafia rules everything,” Mr. Navalny said. “Everybody thinks that it’s impossible to change anything…”

Sergei M. Mironov, the Just Russia leader, criticized the hostile attitude toward political opposition by the governing authorities.

“There will never be civil society without opposition, and we should learn to listen to and hear each other, not see an enemy in those who think differently, who have other thoughts and probably even ideals but work for a common cause,” Mr. Mironov said. “Unfortunately, today we see that we are very far from such an ideal.”…

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Corruption in the Party in China

A while back, I raised the question of whether corruption should be considered part of civil society in Mexico. Now, examine the topic in China.

The politics of corruption: Dirty tricks
A FAVOURITE instrument in Beijing’s ruthless court politics is a visit by the feared Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a subsequent allegation of corruption…

The dirty tricks of palace intrigues are not exclusive to the palace, especially at a time when the hierarchy of the 80m-strong Communist Party is being shaken up from top to bottom…

Lower down the hierarchy, the corruption allegation, whether true or false, can be brutally effective in sweeping aside a rival. Honesty Outlook, an anti-corruption monthly publication in Sichuan province, claims false reports tend to rise sharply during transition periods…

While some cadres sling false allegations of corruption, others are buying new party titles from enterprising superiors. At promotion time supporters urge cadres to paoguan, or “run around for titles”—ie, make tribute-paying visits to higher-level officials. At the lowest level of power, in villages where party-rigged elections are held, some candidates buy their votes from the public to launch their careers. For the ambitious cadre, being promoted early and often is the only way of one day running a province. The more powerful the job, the greater the monetary value of your decisions, from selling land and licensing businesses to letting a family have more than one child…

These days the corruption allegation is a choicer method to destroy an enemy than the ideological attacks of old. “The excuse of fighting corruption helps legitimise purges,” says Jiangnan Zhu at the University of Nevada, Reno. It is handy too, she says, that corruption charges can be brought against nearly any official. Grey areas exist in every cadre’s daily work.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Middle class angst; political weakness

Jeff Silva-Brown, who teaches at Ukiah High School in California, pointed this article out to me. It's a good lesson about Iran's political culture. Thank you, Jeff.

Iran’s Middle Class on Edge as World Presses In
One measure of the profound anxiety now coursing through Iranian society can be seen on Manouchehri Street, a winding lane at the heart of this city where furtive crowds of men gather every day like drug dealers to buy and sell American dollars.

The government has raised the official exchange rate and sent police into the streets to stop the black marketeers, but with confidence in Iran’s own currency, the rial, collapsing by the day, the trade goes on.

“Am I afraid of the police? Sure, but I need the money,” said Hamid, a heavyset construction engineer who was standing by a muddy patch of greenery amid a crowd of other illicit currency traders here. “Food prices are going up, and my salary is not enough.” Glancing nervously around him, he added that he had converted almost all of his assets into dollars. Like many Iranians, he had also stockpiled months’ worth of rice and other staples…

Already, the last round of sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank has begun inflicting unprecedented damage on Iran’s private sector…

The rising economic panic has illustrated — and possibly intensified — the bitter divisions within Iran’s political elite. A number of insiders, including members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have begun openly criticizing Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent weeks…

Ordinary Iranians complain that the sanctions are hurting them, while those at the top are unscathed, or even benefit. Many wealthy Iranians made huge profits in recent weeks by buying dollars at the government rate (available to insiders) and then selling them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market. Some analysts and opposition political figures contend that Mr. Ahmadinejad deliberately worsened the currency crisis so that his cronies could generate profits this way…

Even Iranians who oppose their government tend to see the growing economic pressure as an unfair gesture unlikely to yield any positive results.

“We know they want to pressure us so we rise against our government, but we are not in a position to do that,” said Murad, a haggard 41-year-old waiter at a Tehran tea shop. Like many middle- and lower-class Iranians, Murad seemed to blame both his own government and the West for his plight…

The crisis has taken a toll on medical care, affecting the middle class as well as the poor. Because of the ever-tighter pressure on any kind of trade with Iran, the black market price of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, has nearly doubled in the past year…

Many Iranians are also skeptical about the Western preoccupation with Iran’s nuclear program. “The economic pressure will not push Iran to a nuclear settlement,” said Kayhan Barzegar, the director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, who has taught in the United States. “The nuclear file is a nationalistic issue; it’s too late for Iran to backtrack. Domestic politics will react negatively to any negotiation…

Some Iranian businessmen make similar comments, noting that there are always ingenious new ways to sell oil and to transfer money, and that the people who will suffer most from sanctions are not the ones who can pressure the government for change. “So you kill the pistachio trade in Iran,” one businessman said. “How does that stop nuclear enrichment?”…

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Monday, April 16, 2012

A valedictory speech that was also an introduction

As Vladimir Putin gave his last speech to the Duma as premier, he was giving his first speech as the next president.

Russia President-elect Putin calls for political unity
Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin has urged the country to put political battles behind it and focus on delivering prosperity.

In his last speech to parliament as prime minister Mr Putin also said Russia's population growth was a positive sign…

"We have one Russia, and its modern, advanced development must be the goal that unites all the country's political forces that want to work to build it," Mr Putin said in his televised speech on Wednesday.

He said Russia's population was growing again, after years of decline, and was now above 140 million…

But he voiced concern about the income gap between rich and poor in Russia.

"The gap is not closing, and we need to pay great attention to that."…

He called the global turmoil "far more large-scale and far more dangerous than the 1998 crisis", but said Russians "showed that we are a mature, creative, confident nation with inner vital strength".

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Note for AP teachers and students: I will begin posting new hypothetical FRQs for practice on Thursday at Studying Comparative. In the meantime, you can practice with questions from previous years.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Government as responder

One popular comparative politics text is sub-titled, Domestic Responses to Global Challenges. That certainly describes part of the situation in Iran. How will the government deal with the problems? Blaming the US and Western powers won't feed anyone or buy them cooking oil or fuel.

Iran’s official inflation climbs to 21.5 percent
Iran’s official inflation rate has almost doubled over the past year as prices are driven up by budget reforms, a weak currency and international sanctions…

Inflation in urban areas was 21.5 percent for the last Iranian year which ended on March 19, the central bank said in a statement…

Many Iranians believe real inflation is much higher than the official rate, and some clerics and lawmakers have accused the government of providing incorrect figures.

Inflation has been rising relentlessly from a low of 8.8 percent in August 2010…

But prices have also been hit, indirectly, by a tightening of international sanctions…

The sanctions, led by Washington and Europe, have frozen Iran out of much of the global trading system in the last several months, forcing importers to use more expensive channels to obtain food and intermediate and consumer goods…

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Escaping rentier status

The estimates I've seen say that over 80% of government revenue in Nigeria comes from selling petroleum. The government is beginning to take steps to escape that dependence. Further developments will determine whether it actually makes government more responsive and the economy better able to participate in global markets.

Jonathan Launches New Tax Policy, Tax ID Number
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan has launched a new Tax Identification Number (TIN) and national tax policy with objective of creating a new spirit in the way Nigerians see taxation.

The new tax policy and the identification number would also ensure that all Nigerian citizens of working age pay tax, and consequently lead to increased revenue from taxation in the country.

President Jonathan would not only ensure that Nigerians see taxation as a partnership, but also create an economy that is self-sufficient that would not depend wholly on resource wealth to bring development to the people.

Launching the new TIN and tax policy shortly before the commencement of the National Economic Council (NEC), which is usually chaired by Vice President Namadi Sambo, the president said… "It is with pleasure that I welcome you to today's historic twin event, the formal launch of the nationwide tax identification number and the national tax policy. Overall, what we seek to achieve with the introduction of the national tax policy is to have a nation and a people who see taxation as a partnership with government."…

Jonathan stated that, "[W]e want to institutionalize a tax culture among Nigerians so that we see ourselves as custodians of the tax system and our commonwealth. We are definitely on the right track. Of course, it is only when you pay tax that you an talk of tax payers' money…"

The launch of the new tax policy marks the culmination of a journey of about a decade. "The idea of national tax policy first arose from the report of the presidential study and a private sector working group set up in the year 2002 which examined the Nigerian tax system and made recommendations towards entrenching a better tax policy and improved tax administration in our dear country," the president recalled.

He noted that the national tax policy which was being launched today was a product of wide spread consultations and deliberations at all tiers of government and all sectors of the economy…

"I wish to reiterate this administration's commitment to repositioning Nigeria for the challenges of today's global economy," he said…

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"These aren't the 'droids you're looking for."

When I first saw headlines in the Western media about rumors of a coup or significant political struggle in China, I thought the the seriousness of the situation was being overblown. Now, I'm not so sure.

Chinese government tells military to ignore internet in wake of coup talk
China's top military newspaper has told troops to ignore rumours on the internet and steel themselves for "ideological struggle" – an apparent reference to talk of a coup as the ruling Communist party faces a leadership transition.

The Liberation Army Daily… in a front-page commentary left no doubt the party leadership wants to inoculate People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops against rumours that could erode the authority of President Hu Jintao, who also serves as head of the party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, which commands the PLA…

The paper exhorted soldiers to "resolutely resist the incursion of all kinds of erroneous ideas, not be disturbed by noise, not be affected by rumours, and not be drawn by undercurrents, and ensure that at all times and under all circumstances the military absolutely obeys the command of the party central leadership, the central military commission and Chairman Hu"…

The Liberation Army Daily… said the military must maintain a tight grip on troops' access to the internet in the middle of what it called an "ideological struggle" before the 18th Communist party congress late this year when Hu and his cohort will retire.

"Historical experience shows that whenever the party and country faces major issues, and whenever reform and development reach a crucial juncture, struggle in the ideological arena becomes even more intense and complex," said the newspaper.

"We must pay close attention to the impact of the internet, mobile phones and other new media on the thinking of officers and troops."

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

No more Mao

If there was any need for more emphasis on how "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is different from socialism, the powers that be in Beijing have effectively said that Mao Zedong thought belongs on the trash heap of history. The dialectic marches on. (Marx may not be on the trash heap even though Mao is.)

But wait. If the dialectic is still a valid concept, Mao might yet be revived.

China shuts down Maoist website Utopia
Chinese officials have closed a leading neo-Maoist website for a month because it posted sensitive political content, according to its founders…

The move comes amid the country's most serious political crisis in two decades, after the dismissal of Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, who promoted "red culture" and was championed by the Utopia website. Debates between left and right are heating up ahead of this autumn's transition of power to a new generation of leaders…

Fan Jinggang, the general manager of Utopia, said… "I think it is because of both tighter control of the internet and also the nature of Utopia as a left[wing] platform" …

The site is staunchly opposed to the economic reforms that liberals have pressed in recent months and Fan recently told the Economist that attacks on Bo were the work of "anti-China forces".

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Reinventing the PRD

According to Mark Stevenson's reporting in the San Diego Union Tribune, Obrador and the PRD are having difficulties redefining the party and its policy positions.

Mexico's left in disarray ahead of election
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has left behind his image as an angry leftist for what he's calling his "Republic of Love" campaign in a second try for the Mexican presidency…

But while Mexicans appear ready to boot out the ruling center-right National Action Party, or PAN, it's not Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party they are turning to for change. Instead, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for 71 uninterrupted years…

But Lopez Obrador's move to a gentler center this time around may not have been enough..

Lopez Obrador now courts the middle class and independent businessmen who say Mexico needs a break from the big monopolistic corporations that came to dominate the country under the PRI and the PAN…

It's the kind of strategy that could have put Lopez Obrador over the top in 2006, but now seems tardy.

"It may be late, because if he had done it six years ago, without doubt he would have won," said Manuel Camacho Solis, a former Mexico City mayor who was among Lopez Obrador's campaign coordinators in 2006 and now leads an informal coalition of leftist parties…

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Friday, April 06, 2012

Warrantless tracking of the Internet

Without a constitution or a Bill of Rights, Brits have been subject to limitations and intrusions that would be controversial in the USA. For a second time, there's controversy in London (and beyond) about government tracking of private communications.

Britons Protest Government Eavesdropping Plans
British lawmakers and rights activists joined a chorus of protest Monday against plans by the government to give the intelligence and security services the ability to monitor the phone calls, e-mails, text messages and Internet use of every person in the country.

The Home Office said the measures were vital to provide police and security services with “communications data to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public.”

Under the proposal… a law to be introduced later this year would allow the authorities to order Internet companies to install hardware enabling the government’s monitoring agency… to examine individual communications without a warrant.

A similar effort to enhance the authorities’ powers was made by the previous Labour government in 2006, but it was abandoned after ferocious opposition from groups including the two parties — the dominant Conservatives and the smaller Liberal Democrats — which now form the coalition government…

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

The pasty tax and class warfare

If the government raises taxes on a popular inexpensive take away food and lowers taxes on the richest Britons, is that class warfare or just bad politics (in the public relations sense)?

A Tax on Snacks Aggravates Austerity Tensions in Britain
George Osborne, the posh chancellor of the Exchequer, confesses he cannot recall the last time he partook of a pasty, the calorie-busting savory pastry, served hot, that is beloved by millions of average Britons.

That may well explain why Mr. Osborne’s recent decision to impose a sales tax of 20 percent on pasties and other takeout snacks — while cutting the top income tax rate on financiers and other highly paid Britons — has created such a furor here.

The tax controversy, which the British press has called, inevitably, “Pasty-gate,” has come to symbolize the increasingly vitriolic debate in Britain over who should shoulder the burden of the government’s drive to cut debt and spending…

The new tax, announced last week as part of the government’s austerity budget, was aimed at closing a loophole that exempted hot, freshly baked takeout foods, like pasties, pies, toasted sandwiches and rotisserie chickens, from the point-of-sale tax known in Britain as the value-added tax. Under the new budget, which effectively becomes law immediately, the price of such items will henceforth include a value-added tax of 20 percent…

As the economy continues to sag, Mr. Osborne’s clarion call that “we are all in this together” is beginning to ring hollow for a British public battered by high gasoline prices, a dormant job market and, now, more expensive pasties.

It has long been expected that the party in power would suffer political consequences as the public feels austerity’s bite. But Mr. Osborne has been betting that the prospect of economic recovery would be enough to convince voters that the current Conservative-led coalition government was better positioned than Labour to improve Britain’s parlous finances and make the economy more competitive on world markets.

That, in fact, was the stated impetus behind Mr. Osborne’s central budget measure: cutting the top tax rate to 45 percent from 50 percent. Many economists have supported such a rate cut as essential to attracting more investment and bolstering London’s claim to be world’s leading financial hub.

Mr. Osborne proposed to pay for the cut in part by increasing the fees that the wealthy pay when they buy and sell expensive properties in London.

Other revenue-raising measures, however, affected the middle class, including the scrapping of tax allowances for retirees — a change that was quickly labeled the granny tax — and the snack-food levy, perhaps forevermore known as the pasty tax.

Inflaming the debate is not only that the chancellor announced the tax, but how he has defended it.

At a parliamentary hearing Wednesday, Mr. Osborne was asked when he had last sampled a pasty at Greggs, a nationwide bakery chain that specializes in the delicacy.

The chancellor, who in public settings can come across as haughty in comparison with the more glib Mr. Cameron, scrambled for an appropriate response before acknowledging what, by then, had become obvious to all: he does not frequent the chain…

The dispute threatens to set back Mr. Cameron’s signature accomplishment as prime minister — detoxifying a political brand that in the post-Thatcher years had become closely linked with policies that favored the better-off…

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

PRI return

In spite of problems, the PRI seems set for a comeback in Mexico.

Mexico's vanquished ruling party stages a comeback
PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto starts the 90-day campaign, set by electoral law, with more than a 10-point lead in most polls over Josefina Vazquez Mota of the now-governing National Action Party, or PAN. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, known as the PRD, trails in third.

Though the PRI lost the presidency in 2000 after ruling 71 years with an iron fist, it has maintained the political machinery of eight decades, not to mention two-thirds of Mexico's 31 governors.

The hope for democratic change that swept the PRI's opponents into the presidency has evaporated. People are weary of President Felipe Calderon's bloody assault on organized crime after 47,000 deaths and many are nostalgic for a party that, for all its faults, brought Mexico into the modern era without the coups, revolutions and civil wars that plagued the rest of Latin America.

The party has been fast out of the blocks this election season with the charismatic, Kennedy-handsome Pena Nieto, 45, who carries the message of a "new PRI" that has learned from its mistakes. Party leaders say it has a whole new slate of young candidates who are more democratic and didn't work under the old regime…

But the comeback has been helped by the shortcomings of rival parties as much as a yearning for the return of the PRI…

The PRI had been dubbed "the perfect dictatorship" by Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa because everything was conducted under the guise of democratic elections, in which a president could only serve a single six-year term.

"The PRI is a party that was born without ideology," said historian Lorenzo Meyer at the College of Mexico. "It has an authoritarian mentality ... Its principle objective is to have power and to enjoy it, but with some intelligence, not like an animal."…

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Candidates' TV ads in Mexico

Daniel Hernandez writing in the Los Angeles Times, offers videos of three ads by the major candidates for the Mexican presidency and some analysis of each one.

Sizing up campaign ads in Mexico's presidential election [Video]
[T]elevision ads from the three main candidates are already spreading through social media, an advertising deluge that will continue until election day on July 1.

The first ads give an indication of the tone that each of the three candidates hopes to set. They include promises of a new strategy to fight drug cartels from opposition front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto and Josefina Vazquez Mota, the successor to President Felipe Calderon who must distance herself -- in perception at least -- from his unpopular handling of the crackdown.

There is also a reminder of the last campaign from leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who felt the need to apologize for his party's bungled response to its razor-thin loss in the last election…

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Trouble for major parties?

When a Labour MP resigned because of poor health, most observers (until recently) thought the seat was safe for Labour. But it wasn't. Is this a sign of future problems for Labour and the other major parties? Or is this just a very special set of circumstances?

George Galloway wins Bradford West by-election
Respect Party candidate George Galloway has taken the Bradford West parliamentary seat from Labour, winning the by-election by 10,140 votes.

Mr Galloway, expelled by Labour in 2003, said it was the "most sensational victory" in by-election history.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said it was "incredibly disappointing" and the party needed to "learn lessons"…

Mr Galloway won 18,341 votes, a 56% share of the total vote. Labour candidate Imran Hussein came second with 8,201 votes as the party's share of the vote was 20% down on its 2010 figure…

Mr Galloway, who co-founded the anti-war Respect Party after being expelled by Labour because of comments he made as part of his opposition to the Iraq war, said the result represented the "Bradford Spring".

He said the "mammoth vote" represented a "total rejection" of the three major parties in the British political system.

He said Labour "must stop imagining that working people and poor people have no option but to support them if they hate the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

"They have to stop supporting illegal, bloody, costly foreign wars because one of the reasons why they were so decisively defeated this evening is that the public don't believe that they have atoned for their role in the invasion and occupation of other people's countries and the drowning of those countries in blood."

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Who is tapping whose phone?

A day before the campaigning officially began, one of the candidates for the Mexican presidency began defending herself.

A leaked tape is an early twist in Mexico's presidential race
A voice thought to be that of Josefina Vazquez Mota, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) standard-bearer and first female candidate from a major political party, is heard in a leaked phone call suggesting that federal police chief Genaro Garcia Luna taps her phones but doesn't monitor those of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the world's most-wanted drug lord.

The accusation that the federal government protects Guzman has dogged the incumbent president from her party, Felipe Calderon, for years. His government denies the charge…

In a statement Tuesday, Vazquez Mota's campaign accused the country's resurgent former ruling party of spying on her.

“The Institutional Revolutionary Party has routinely carried out these types of practices,” said the statement from the PAN headquarters. The former ruling party, known as PRI, denied the charge Tuesday…

Mexico's 2012 presidential campaign officially [began] Friday, when the four presidential candidates' campaign messages [began] bombarding voters on airwaves and billboards.

The vote is July 1.

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