Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Partial election results from Nigeria

Half the votes are counted. But which half? And who is securing and counting the other half?

Muhammadu Buhari leads Goodluck Jonathan
Partial results from Nigeria's election give ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari a narrow lead over the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan.

With more than half of Nigeria's 36 states declared, Gen Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) is ahead by half a million votes.

A victory for Gen Buhari would make President Jonathan the first incumbent to lose an election in Nigeria.

Correspondents say it is likely the loser will allege foul play.

More than 800 people were killed in protests after Mr Jonathan beat Gen Buhari in the previous election.

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Women's Day in Chinese prisons

Before 1949, the Communists in China made a big deal of gender equality. Even through the Cultural Revolution, women often held positions of power. Now, not so much.

A bad day for women: A round-up of women’s-rights activists suggests a new fear among officials
A group of women’s-rights activists had planned to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th by handing out leaflets and stickers in several Chinese cities to draw attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment on public transport. But the authorities decided to observe the day in a different way—by detaining at least ten of the women. Five remain in custody, charged with the crime of “picking quarrels and causing trouble”…
Li Tingting (Li Maizi) protests against the misogynistic 2015 Chinese New Year Gala -http://feministing.com
The continued detention of some of the activists… suggest that security officials are growing more worried about feminist pressure-tactics… The guardians of social stability will not be comforted by the comparison being drawn by some Chinese activists between these detentions and the case of Pussy Riot…

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Monday, March 30, 2015

News from Africa

Trevor Noah to replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show
South African comedian Trevor Noah is to replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, the New York Times reports.

Trevor Noah
The 31-year-old made his debut as a contributor to the nightly satirical show last December…

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Success as a sign of failure

Political scientist David Shambaugh of George Washington University published a paper recently that argued that the authoritarian system in China was showing signs of falling apart.

As China moves away from communist regime, cracks appear
Mao’s iron rule finds echoes in China’s current leader, President Xi Jinping, who is winding back years of liberalization by cracking down hard on dissent and ordering a wholesale reindoctrination of party officials. At the same time, new cracks are appearing in China’s economic foundation, a coincidence that is rekindling a long-standing debate about the viability of the Communist regime…

David Shambaugh cited the eagerness of wealthy Chinese to leave the country and the risks to Mr. Xi from an anti-corruption campaign that threatens powerful entrenched interests, and also argued that economic reforms will be stillborn without accompanying political change. “The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun, I believe, and it has progressed further than many think,” he wrote…

China has responded sharply. The state-run Global Times newspaper called Prof. Shambaugh an “alarmist” whose “vulgar” work relies on “divining” China’s future to “attract the eyeballs of Western public opinion.” But the thesis has revived hopes among those eager to see the undoing of communist China…

On the other side of the debate is the argument that China is not yet at a “breaking point.” For example, the factors that contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communist regimes – strong popular opposition led by labour unions or prominent dissidents, economic collapse and too-rapid change from the top – exist, but are not seen as sufficiently potent in today’s China.

Tibetan and Muslim minorities are angry at their treatment, but ethnic groups have been heavily and, from the perspective of Beijing, effectively repressed. No counter-communist leader of any stature has emerged inside or outside China. The country’s economy is slowing, but wages are still rising (at a slowing pace) and unemployment remains low…

Chinese students, after 25 years of propaganda following the Tiananmen Square massacre, are little inclined to challenge a system they’ve been taught to love, or at least not to question. And even China’s increasingly restive workers do not appear ready to topple the system.

As the slowing economy creates factory upheavals, the number of monthly strikes and protests has risen… according to Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for China Labour Bulletin… But protests are “not really, by any stretch of the imagination, related to regime change,” Mr. Crothall said. “That would be several steps beyond what workers are thinking at the moment.”

Nor does the Chinese middle class appear angry with the status quo. And there seems little appetite for change from the top down in the form of the political reforms attempted by Mikhail Gorbachev, reforms that created a party backlash and preceded the eventual breakup of the Soviet Union…

In any case, Mr. Xi has a robust police state on his side, not to mention Western backing. A destabilized China is not in the world’s interest…

Mr. Xi’s personal popularity also cannot be discounted. “A great majority of people you talk to in local areas …still think the central government is this benign institution that is ultimately going to rescue them,” said Lynette Ong, a China specialist at the University of Toronto. “I don’t think those people really want a regime change.”

The Chinese leader leans on two sources of power – the network of influence built by former president and long-serving strongman Jiang Zemin and the military. Mr. Xi’s anti-graft campaign has tackled high-profile figures in both camps, raising questions over how much backlash he might provoke…

“The only viable alternative to the Chinese communist party would likely be a military coup,” Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat in China and associated professor at Brock University. “We could be positively nostalgic for the good old days of [Mr. Xi’s predecessor] Hu Jintao.”

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Queen's speech 2015

Program your recorders or write your lesson plans for May 27.

Queen's Speech date announced
The next government will have up to 19 days to come up with a legislative programme following 7 May's general election, Downing Street has announced.

The Queen's Speech will be held on 27 May, a spokesman said.

MPs will meet a week earlier, on 18 May, to formally take their seats in the Commons and to elect a new Speaker…

The polls point to there being no overall winner on 7 May.

If that proves to be the case, as was the situation back in 2010, negotiations will take place between the parties with the aim of forming a government.

The Queen's Speech, on the day of the State Opening of Parliament, is one of the highlights of the parliamentary calendar.

It used to be held in the autumn in non-election years but it was moved to the spring by the coalition government as part of its fixed-term parliaments policy.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Just a blip on the political landscape or a sign of bigger problems?

A judicial appointment is often controversial. But whether it signifies major political problems is part of another set of questions.

Close ally to Pena Nieto sworn in on Mexico supreme court
A former prosecutor and ambassador who has been questioned about his public service record and close ties to President Enrique Pena Nieto was voted… onto Mexico's Supreme Court.

Eduardo Medina Mora took the oath of office immediately after being approved by the Senate, despite never having served as a judge, not meeting the residency requirement of two years and facing questions about his impartiality given his links to the presidency…

Critics called his appointment as Supreme Court minister one more sign that the political class is not listening to the concerns of the public as Mexico faces a credibility crisis over of corruption and conflict-of-interest scandals…

Academic and civic organizations launched a petition campaign against Medina Mora's nomination and gathered 54,000 signatures according to the petition Internet site. According to the campaign, Medina Mora's tenure as attorney general was marked by human rights violations and shoddy prosecutions against public officials with alleged ties to organized crime, almost all of whom were eventually exonerated.

He was also criticized for challenging a law in Mexico City that decriminalized abortion…

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Practice, practice, practice…

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Final note on Nigeria's election

The BBC offers final notes on Nigeria before the election.

Nigeria elections: Nation split in Jonathan-Buhari contest
In Nigerian elections, the incumbent always wins. But so far this campaign has been different from all others and this Saturday's poll is a real contest.

Not only has President Goodluck Jonathan haemorrhaged support since he comfortably won in 2011, the "change" chanting opposition has thrown its combined weight behind one candidate - former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari…

With control over Africa's largest economy at stake - this is a country where multi-billion dollar corruption scandals come and go - the campaigns have been toxic with both the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) hurling abuse at each other…

"Shamelessly you will discover politicians, against the electoral law, distributing money," says Bawa Abdullahi Wase of the Nigeria-based Network For Justice rights group.

He says a candidate wishing to get a seat in the House of Representatives needs a minimum of $1m (£670,000) for the campaign. For a Senate seat the war chest must be even larger.

These are the most expensive elections ever held in Africa and Nigerians are left guessing how much of the campaign money has been looted from the public purse by power-hungry men and women on both sides of the political divide.

"When they get into office, instead of concentrating on offering services to the people like electricity, water, roads and education, they amass the wealth of the total budget because they know for the next election they will have to spend more than they've spent in this election," Mr Wase adds.

As well as cutting expensive deals, the main political parties have been dishing out sacks of rice to voters in an effort to influence the outcome.

"I will collect it, but I will vote for whoever I want," says Peter Ayas, standing in a tailor's shop in the commercial capital Lagos's Obalende suburb. He adds that he found the bribe an insult.

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Tied up in red tape

A Wikipedia article says that "Red tape is an idiom that refers to excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to governments, corporations, and other large organizations."

Red tape holding a bundle of Confederate Civil War documents
Large, bureaucratic organizations are natural habitats for red tape, and, according to Dan Levine writing in The New York Times, China might be the best environment. (I'd hate to think that my grand children's educational opportunities might be affected by the fact that I was born in rural Florida.)

How might this affect legitimacy? authority? civil society? government?

China’s Growing Middle Class Chafes Against Red Tape
Though her Scottish father obtained a British passport for Jessica Cherry, the government regards her as Chinese, as she was born in Beijing to a Chinese mother. Because her parents did not get a mandatory birth permit, it is practically impossible for Jessica to acquire a Chinese passport and other documents that define citizenship here. That has forced her family to obtain a special “exit-entry permit” each time she leaves China.

The bureaucratic jujitsu usually takes around 50 days, said her mother, Daisy Li, a media producer, who has applied for the permit nine times. “It makes me curse, and it makes me cry,” she said.

China’s bureaucracy has long been a bewildering maze of “relevant departments,” official red-ink seals and stone-faced functionaries…

To get a license plate for a new car, for example, a resident of Beijing must win a pass in a lottery in which the odds of success are less than 1 percent… Applying for a student loan can require as many as 26 official seals on more than a dozen documents. Just starting a new job and registering for public benefits can mean amassing a small mountain of documents, including a certified background check by the police in one’s place of birth. And no, you cannot get that by mail.

As its ranks grow, China’s middle class – wired, ambitious and worldly – is increasingly unwilling to tolerate such obstacles…

For many educated city dwellers, it is red tape, more than news media censorship and heavy-handed propaganda, that serves as a grinding reminder of the Communist Party’s dominion over their lives…

Analysts say such frustrations feed public discontent at a time when the party is trying to bolster its appeal by combating corruption, promising a more reliable legal system and vowing to ease the constraints on small businesses…

Minxin Pei, an expert on Chinese politics at Claremont McKenna College in California, described the nation’s bureaucracy as a time-tested mechanism for social and political control, one that functions as “an unmovable layer insulating the top leader from popular pressure.”…

[T]he head-spinning tangle of regulations that infuriates many ordinary Chinese. At the heart of their ire is the hukou, or family registration, an onerous system akin to an internal passport that often tethers services like public education, subsidized health care and pensions to their parents’ birthplace — even if that person never lived there.

Created in the 1950s and designed to restrict the flow of rural villagers into large cities, the hukou system has become widely detested in recent years…

Young professionals often go to extremes to get a coveted hukou in cities like Beijing or Shanghai. The lucky ones find jobs with state-owned enterprises or with well-placed private companies that are granted an annual quota to hire “outsiders” who can then register their hukou under the company’s name and address.

For many Chinese, the most troubling impact of hukou restrictions affects their child’s access to education…

The hukou bureaucracy forces many migrants to choose between their child and their livelihood. As a result, about one-fifth of Chinese children, more than 61 million, live without their parents in villages, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

One recent afternoon, Li Ying, 39, sat in a fluorescent-lit Beijing government office, waiting for her number to be called so she could apply for a temporary residence permit that would allow her 6-year-old son to enroll in school.

Although Ms. Li moved to Beijing with her parents as a child in 1981, her hukou is registered in a distant town, meaning her son will be shut out of the city’s public schools without the permit.

The application process is emblematic of the bureaucratic gantlet many Chinese endure. Among the 14 required documents, Ms. Li must provide her hukou certificate, proof of residence, a diploma, a job contract, a marriage license, her husband’s identity card, his hukou, a certificate proving she has only one child and a company document detailing her work performance and tax payments…

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Obstacles to industrialization

Geoffrey York, writing in The Globe and Mail offers another good picture of how things work (don't work?) in Nigeria.

Industrialization, in the standard version of economic development, is an important step. From the industrial revolution on, that step has involved difficult and often painful adjustments. The same will probably be true for Nigeria.

One note: York writes, "Nissan was the first major automaker to assemble vehicles in Africa’s most populous country…" In fact, Peugeot began assembling cars in Nigeria in the early 1970s. York writes from his office in South Africa. He might need to visit Nigeria more often. That fact does not contradict the facts he describes about Nissan's business in Nigeria (particularly the implied obstacles created by corruption).

Steep, bumpy road ahead for Nigeria’s ‘Industrial Revolution’
Jonathan and new Nissan
Nissan was the first major automaker to assemble vehicles in Africa’s most populous country, and President Jonathan touted it as a key element in his “Industrial Revolution” policy. His dream was to diversify the oil-rich economy by creating thousands of manufacturing jobs.

But ten months later, the Japanese carmaker is unconvinced that the “revolution” is real. While its Nigerian plant has created 600 jobs by assembling hundreds of cars every month from imported components, it still faces huge obstacles: bad roads, congested ports, customs delays, severe electricity shortages and a competing “parallel” market of illicitly imported vehicles…

Jim Dando, general manager of Nissan’s Africa regional office said Nissan was fully aware of Nigeria’s chronic structural problems, so it launched its Nigerian operations last year by simply importing “semi knocked down” or dissassembled vehicles and then reassembling them at its Lagos plant. “This is baby steps,” he said.

While the carmaker hopes to move into more complex manufacturing in Nigeria eventually, this will take time. Nissan is still forced to rely on expensive diesel generators for much of its electricity in Lagos. And when its knocked-down cars arrive in container ships, it can take as long as three months to get them through the congested ports and heavily bureaucratic customs procedures, Mr. Dando said.

Last year, Nissan persuaded the Nigerian government to impose a heavy 70 per cent duty on imported cars, to protect the fledgling auto plants of Nissan and other newcomers, including Hyundai and Kia. But importers have found loopholes in the rules, creating a “parallel” market of luxury cars, usually from Dubai, which arrive at the port in nearby Benin. The cars are then brought into Nigeria as “used” cars – after having been driven for short distances in Dubai. In other cases, the importers simply bribe the customs officers to get the cars in.

At a Nigeria economic forum in Johannesburg on Wednesday, investors and analysts spoke of Nigeria’s enormous potential, but also cited its many vulnerabilities and weaknesses, including the government’s heavy reliance on oil revenue and its failure to push ahead with desperately needed infrastructure projects to improve its roads, ports, airports and electricity grid…

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

To follow up on Nigerian poverty

The taxi driver interviewed in the previous blog post has hopes for his children's futures. Tolu Daniel, a blogger on Waza, tries to explain corruption.

Nigerians Are Not Corrupt, They Are Just Hungry
Nigerian voters are not as gullible as many people think: they are mostly just hungry. And this hunger is why you'll find thousands of them as rented crowds in political rallies, because most of them are probably unemployed. Sometimes, their hunger could be as literal as the fact that so many of them live below the poverty line, and are looking for their next meal.
Political rally
Here in Nigeria, the man who is willing to spend the most amount of money during his campaign will win any election. And regardless of his likely criminal past, he will be compared to the messiah.

How else do you explain that indicted criminals, whose credentials show nothing but evidence of the amount of years with which they have looted this country, contest elections and win?…

Yes, it is true that we have been ruled by a few good men who have good credentials to back themselves up, but the truth remains that it was not their goodwill that won them the elections. It is mostly the amounts of money that they were willing to part with at the time.

Though by some sort of happenstance, these same good men always seem to suffer a kind of amnesia when they get to these posts, and do nothing to benefit their people…

In the interest of self-preservation, many have switched to the newly formed opposition party- all because of a fear that the opposition party might just win. They now claim to champion the cause of kicking out corruption, in the hope that they will get to keep whatever loot that they have stolen over the years without the fear of persecution…

Here in Nigeria corruption has several meanings, 'corruption is not stealing' and vice versa, and this definition is being peddled by those in the highest positions of authority. Pity. So when people say Nigerians are corrupt, I always beg to differ.

It's the poverty, stupid.

I am not saying that the system is corruption-free, but I want to say that the various definitions of corruption do not explain the Nigerian situation, at least not in the true sense of it. The situation of poverty and lack, the reason why you would find people sitting in the streets of rich politicians groveling for their daily bread.

The truth is that Nigerians deserve better, we deserve better than the corruption infested liars that we have as our leaders who will blame anybody else but themselves for the downward spiral of things.

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Taxi driver from Abuja

A BBC reporter interviews a taxi driver in Abuja and offers insights into the lives of the non-elite. Students will have to have patience (and might have to listen to the interview more than once) to understand all that is said. It's worth the effort.

Nigeria elections: Poor families want fairer share
Tackling social injustice will be high on the agenda for voters in Nigeria as they head to the polls on Saturday for a presidential election.

This is NOT a live link. Go to the BBC site.

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Keep those grannies inline

Literally, in line. Some government authorities have plans to regulate public dancing, mostly done by elderly women. (another bit of civil society not controlled by the Party, yet)

China orders square dancers to walk the line
Chinese officials say they will introduce guidelines to regulate square-dancing in the country.

The dance is wildly popular with elderly Chinese women and is performed en masse at night in public squares.
However, Chinese authorities say the "over-enthusiasm of participants has dealt it a harmful blow, with disputes over noise and venues".

Fitness authorities plan to introduce 12 authorised routines and also permissible times and music volume…

The new guidelines on choreography will be put together by an expert panel.

"The unified drills [routines] will help keep the dancing on the right track where they can be performed in a socially responsible way," Wang Guangcheng, a fitness trainer and member of the panel, told China Daily

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Are debates too presidential?

One of the epithets British politicians toss at each other is that the other is acting "too presidential." It's a reference to the direct election of the US president and the indirect election of the British head of government. For a politician to appear to be out grubbing for votes among the grassroots is not very British. That's one of the reasons why televised debates at election time first happened in Britain 50 years after they happened in the USA. There are other reasons too.

U.S.-style TV debates are making a mess of Britain’s elections
Clad in a bright yellow chicken costume, British Prime Minister David Cameron appears on the front page of the Daily Mirror, a left-leaning British newspaper, on Friday under the headline: “Why are you such a chicken, Mr. Cameron?”

The mock photo echoes the charge that many of Cameron’s rivals have been making this week that the prime minister is running from TV debates…

American-style TV debates… were popular [in 2010], with some 22 million tuning in over the course of three debates.

But this time, the televised debates are shrouded in controversy, and it’s unclear whether they will actually happen before the general election May 7, which polls suggest is one of the closest in a generation…

The broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News, insisted on Friday that they intend to press ahead with three debates — currently scheduled for April 2, 16 and 30 — and urged Cameron to reconsider his “final offer” to appear in only one debate…

Earlier in the week, Cameron’s office said that he would take part in only one debate with at least seven party leaders, reflecting the fragmentation of the political landscape. Support for smaller parties has surged, with current polls suggesting that they could win up to 30 percent of the vote.

Under Britain’s parliamentary system, Britons don’t vote directly for the person who becomes prime minister. Before the TV debates were introduced here in 2010, critics said they were too American, too presidential, too much about the personalities of the leaders and not enough about the policies of the parties.

Cameron was no such critic. When he was in opposition, he repeatedly goaded then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown to a TV debate…

Today, Cameron, as prime minister, is receiving the same kind of criticism he once gleefully doled out in opposition…

Last fall, the broadcasters proposed a four-way debate with the leaders of the Conservatives, Labor, Liberal Democrats and UKIP. Cameron argued that it wasn’t fair to include a smaller party like UKIP, which is expected to peel votes away from his Conservative Party, if the Green Party was not included. The left-leaning Greens are likely to pull votes from Labor, which may be another reason he wanted them included…

Cameron is an astute debater, so why is he shying away from the debates this time?

Analysts say he decided there is little for him to gain… [W]ith Miliband’s personal ratings being so poor, even a modest performance from him could dispel the idea that he’s not up for the job. The race is nail-bitingly close, and it seemed Cameron was willing to endure a few days of bad headlines as long as Miliband’s unpopular image remained intact.

But with the broadcasters not budging, the gamble could backfire if voters judge him to be cowardly and cheating the electorate of three debates with their prime minister…

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Monday, March 23, 2015

This won't show up in Jonathan's campaign material

Will Buhari exploit the news that Nigeria is dependent on foreign troops to liberate its territory from Boko Haram?

Nigerian Army Noticeably Absent in Town Taken From Boko Haram
Boko Haram’s black flag is everywhere in the town of Damasak, deep in Islamist-held territory in northern Nigeria…

[P]ractically none of the residents are left in a once-thriving town of 200,000. They have either fled to the state capital, Maiduguri, or been killed by Boko Haram…

Mostly, the only sound in the hot, still air is from military vehicles, carrying soldiers from the neighboring countries of Chad and Niger as they make their way through the wreckage of the deadly five-month Islamist occupation of this Nigerian town…

Rather than a display of important regional cooperation in the battle against Boko Haram, the visit instead pointed out some of the confusion and resentment that are creating tension among neighbors. The soldiers from Chad and Niger had succeeded here, but there was not a single Nigerian soldier to be found. The force members were bewildered to find themselves as foreign liberators without any help from the Nigerians…

“We asked them [the Nigerians] to come, to receive this town from us, but they have not come,” said Second Lt. Mohammed Hassan, resting in the shade of the armored vehicle he had manned with his company…

Now Damasak, like much of northeastern Nigeria, is in a vacuum. Boko Haram has been chased away for now, but it is not clear that the Nigerian Army is ready to occupy and hold this and other towns.

“It is up to them to hold the town. Not us. Our role is offensive. Our mission is to chase the terrorists,” Lieutenant Hassan said. “But they are afraid,” he repeated angrily.

“Our biggest wish is that the Nigerian Army pulls itself together — that it takes responsibility in the towns,” said Mr. Mahamat, the Chadian foreign minister. “We are ready to disengage, right away.”

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Unlikely possible on the AP exams

Reminder: The College Board does not allow this or any other kind of delivery of any kind of cheat sheets during AP exams. In India 300 people have been arrested, 750 students expelled, and 4 exam centers have been closed.

Parents deliver exam cheat sheets in Bihar, India.

One wall climber was a photographer

This reminds me of stories about the Imperial exams in ancient China.
"While many artistic figures were perhaps hampered by their own creativity in tackling the relentless rote learning required by the exam system, others succumbed to the temptation to cheat, and suffered the consequences of being caught. The renowned Ming period painter, Tang Ying, resurrected his career through his painting after his hopes of an official position were shattered when he was caught cheating in the exam hall. Before winning influential friends and patrons through his talent, Tang was reduced to poverty as a consequence of his dishonesty.

"The sheer volume of knowledge required to succeed in the Imperial examinations elevated cheating to something of an art form in China. Miniature books were devised to be concealed in the palm of a hand; shirts had important passages from the Confucian Classics sewn, in miniscule lettering, to their insides; fans were constructed with pass-notes on their obverse. Other duplicities included hiring veteran scholars to sit the exams in one's stead, and the simple expedient of copying a neighbour in the exam hall. At certain times, bribery of examiners was commonplace.

"As every Chinese teacher can attest these cheating methods, refined over centuries - are alive and well today.

"One lasting legacy of an inflexible and daunting examination system is that Chinese students have become experts at subverting such systems. But the most important legacy of the imperial examination system is surely the massive academic effort channelled into the National University Entrance Examinations in China each year."

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Friday, March 20, 2015

How did that happen?

Go back and review the televised debates between party leaders in 2010. Look at Nick Clegg's reviews.

To survive as a party of government, the Lib Dems must hold south-west England. They probably won’t
No party emerged from the 2010 election with a majority, so the largest, the Conservatives, had to form a coalition with the third-largest, the centrist Liberal Democrats. The result of the general election on May 7th could be even more finely balanced. The Tories and the Labour Party are neck-and-neck in polls. The Liberal Democrats have been badly burned by the compromises they have had to make as a junior coalition partner: after winning 23% of the overall vote in 2010, the party reached a new low of 5% in a YouGov poll published on March 3rd…

The Lib Dems are bracing themselves for the loss of many of their 56 seats in the House of Commons. The party’s footholds in the north of England and Scotland will probably crumble, so unpopular is its deal with the Conservatives in those left-leaning parts. But it is fighting hard in southern England, knowing there is a big difference between holding on to, say, 30 seats and salvaging half that number. The more seats the party holds, the more useful it is as a coalition partner for Labour or the Tories.

Its fate will be decided largely among the rolling hills of south-west England…

Campaigns defined by local politics will probably return Lib Dem MPs. Those defined by the choice between a Tory-led government and a Labour-led one will probably see the Conservatives prevail…

The Tories’… task is to convince voters that the battle is not entirely parochial, but is also about the government of Britain. David Cameron, much the most popular of the party leaders, will tour the region in the run-up to the election…

The Liberal Democrats are confident that they can hang on in the south-west nonetheless. Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system has long punished them for having geographically dispersed voters. But their popularity has fallen disproportionately in seats they did not win in 2010, so their support—though much smaller—is now more efficiently distributed…

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Campaigning with utilities

Sometimes campaigning takes unusual forms. Will this win votes for President Jonathan? Do you know why this is such a big deal? What's next?

Nigeria: FG Cuts Electricity Tariff By Over 50 Percent
Following recent complaints of high electricity tariff by consumers and its grave impact on the nation's economy, the Federal Government has announced reduction of electricity tariff by over 50 percent in some places…

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Rocking Africa's boat

While the government sometimes seems impotent within Nigeria's borders, it's actions have real effects beyond its borders.

Big fish (or shark) in a small pond
HUGE jars of iridescent yellow liquid glow on almost every street corner in Cotonou, the commercial capital of Benin. Taxi drivers pull over to fill up their cars using a hose and funnel. Proper petrol stations, by contrast, stand empty. “It’s cheaper this way,” explains a taxi driver, as he tanks up using the unofficial method.

The origins of this black market lie less than an hour’s drive away, across Benin’s eastern border, in Nigeria, where imported fuel is sold at subsidised rates and the price paid by drivers is capped, thus generating a massive trade in illicit petrol. Known in Benin as kpayo, it is a third cheaper than the legal stuff; 80% of the petrol in Benin’s cars is said to have been smuggled in. Of the 2m or so barrels of oil pumped out of wells in Nigeria each day, as many as 400,000 are reckoned to be stolen, often with the connivance of politicians…

Ghana is another country in the region that has been hurt by Nigeria’s shortcomings—in the supply of gas. Nigeria has consistently failed to fulfill a contract to supply its neighbour with 120m cubic feet a day. In fact, it has recently been providing as little as half that amount, causing Ghana to fall short by as much as a third of peak demand for electricity every day.

Fuel-smuggling and gas hold-ups are not the only way in which Nigeria affects its region. Since its population, of 170m or so, and its economy are both by far the biggest in Africa, it has a huge influence in almost all spheres. Some of it is beneficial. With annual growth of over 6% in the past decade, it lifts the economy of the entire region…

Yet Nigeria is also an exporter of insecurity, much of which can be traced to dizzying levels of corruption and political inertia. “Corruption is so pervasive in Nigeria,” said a report in 2011 by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog, that “it has turned public service…into a kind of criminal enterprise”—with spillover effects across the region.

The inability of Nigeria’s army to defeat or even contain Boko Haram, a violent Islamist group that has been trying to set up a caliphate from its base in the north-east, has also hurt the region, by letting the rebellion seep into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. This, too, is partly down to corruption…

Nigeria also hurts the region with its protectionist trade policy. It bans the import of hundreds of goods, from cement to noodles. Yet Nigeria has failed to industrialise. The biggest beneficiaries may well be businessmen (often politicians) with ties to government. With friends in the right places, Nigerian supermarkets and posh shops can stock up with prohibited imports such as exotic beer and shoes…

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My favorite

My favorite explanation for the "invisibility" of Putin last week.

The Sixth Edition of What You Need to Know is also available from the publisher.

Quick and clear Nigerian election guide

If you want a short and direct guide to the upcoming Nigerian election, you probably can't beat the BBC.

Nigerian elections: Goodluck Jonathan vs Muhammadu Buhari again
Nigeria's presidential election, postponed until 28 March, promises to be a closely fought rematch between incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari…

Past elections have been marred by violence and allegations of vote-rigging. Since campaigning began in mid-November, both the ruling and opposition camps have reported violent attacks against their supporters…

  • Who are the main candidates?
  • Where they stand on key election issues?
  • Profile: Goodluck Jonathan
  • Profile: Muhammadu Buhari
  • How does the electoral system work?
  • What happens if there is a run-off?
  • What about the parliamentary and gubernatorial elections?

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Trouble in the Middle Belt again

Nigeria: Herders Kill Scores in Tensions Over Grazing Rights

Cattle herders killed 82 people and wounded 25 in a village in central Nigeria over grazing rights, the police said Tuesday. The attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen on the mostly Christian Egba ethnic group occurred over the weekend in Benue State. A police spokesman described a “longstanding issue over grazing rights and cattle rustling between Egba and Fulani people.” Some fear that if presidential elections next week are disputed, politicians could exploit tensions in the region, known as the Middle Belt, setting off deadly unrest, as happened in 2011. The vote pits the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, against the former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim.

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The bounds of state power

Economic, political, and diplomatic limitations on Iranian policy makes any action less effective.

Fading hope
TO TEHRAN’S businessmen, they are known as the tea-ceremony set: foreign day-trippers sizing up the bounty that could be on offer if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, takes the plunge and backs a conclusive nuclear deal with the West…

With a population close to 80m and the world’s 18th-largest economy, Iran could be an attractive market. Hassan Rohani, its outward-looking moderate president, argues the case for foreign investment and the jobs it could create. Yet his hopes of opening up the economy are stymied not just by sanctions and the elusive hope of a deal that would lift them. He also faces strong opposition from hardliners in Tehran, many of whom bridle at the notion of foreign companies on their turf. And time is not on his side. Iran’s economy is suffering from the effects of sanctions, a plummeting oil price and decades of mismanagement, not to mention the cost of funding militias and dictators in the region. Youth unemployment is rising and living standards are falling.

The president’s team of technocrats has had some successes…

Yet many of these gains are now at risk because of low oil prices. Although Iran’s economy is less dependent on the black stuff than some others in the region, it still accounts for 42% of government revenues…

The squeeze on government revenues is setting Mr Rohani on a collision course with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards. The military force that underpins Iran’s clerical regime has a sprawling commercial empire. With their control of seaports and multiple land borders, guard commanders have become rich sanctions-busting traders, dabbling in industries from telecoms to banking. When Mr Rohani speaks of the need for “monopolies” to pay their taxes, people know exactly who he means…. Mehrdad, an Iranian-American [said,]“When the Sepah [army] import from China and don’t pay any taxes, well, it makes guys like me unviable.”

The optimism that a nuclear deal would soon see sanctions lifted has largely evaporated. Domestic investment has stalled. Several state-owned banks are said to be close to collapse. Efforts to circumvent sanctions have made an already corrupt country worse…

Foreign business visitors continue to pop in for tea, but the numbers have dropped sharply in the past quarter, according to a European airline manager in the capital. Other indicators also suggest that hope is fading…

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Does Mexico need a new revolution?

President Peña has reform on his agenda. Not everyone does. Can reform work?

Flunking the test
The CNTE, which is smaller but far more aggressive than Mexico’s main teachers’ union, the SNTE, holds sway over four of Mexico’s most unruly states, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán and Chiapas, which contain about 15% of the population. All have large concentrations of indigenous people. Using a mixture of intimidation and political skill, the union is trying to knock down one of the pillars of Mr Peña’s government: a transformation of education that is central to a series of reforms aimed at making Mexico a more competitive economy…

The reform of 2013 is aimed at boosting the quality of education in a country that Mexicanos Primero says gives children an average of 8.8 years of study, compared with 13.3 in the United States. As in much of Latin America, most schools are awful. Graduates of teacher-training colleges have been promised jobs for life, regardless of their performance. According to PISA, a global education study, less than a fifth of Mexican students performed adequately in maths in 2012, compared with more than three-quarters in South Korea…

Imperfect as it may be, pollsters say the education reform is far more popular nationwide than others promoted by Mr Peña, such as bringing competition into the monopolistic energy and telecoms businesses. That is particularly true in the industrialised states in central and northern Mexico, where PISA scores are already well above the national average… They see better education as a way to attract more investment. The moderate SNTE largely supports the reforms, and is implementing them in most states.

In the south, where reform is needed most, resistance is strongest. Teachers there say what they need is electricity, running water and toilets, not evaluations…

Despite its extremism, the union has got its way by threatening ruinous blockades if its demands are not met…

Such statements ought to be a red rag to the federal government. The education minister, Emilio Chuayffet, declares that all children should have the same opportunities and that no state is above the law. But with mid-term elections approaching in June, the interior ministry is handling the crisis, implying that political dealmaking will win out over policy…

If militant unions can so easily undermine reform by threatening havoc, so may moderate teachers, who still wield huge influence in the states. Vested interests threatened by Mr Peña’s other reforms will also be tempted to counter-attack…

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Rehearsing the past?

Chinese leaders until now seemed to have learned about the dangers of the cult of personality that surrounded Mao Zedong — especially during the Cultural Revolution.

When Deng Xioaping finally consolidated his power in the regime, he ran things from a position formally behind the scenes. (His highest position was vice chair of the party's central military commission.)

Later leaders took official offices, but avoided personality politics. Now comes Li. How will it affect governing?

Move Over Mao: Beloved ‘Papa Xi’ Awes China
“The sons and daughters of China follow you forward hand in hand,” goes one soft-rock paean to Mr. Xi that has been downloaded thousands of times. “Great general secretary, beloved President Xi, the Chinese nation is sure to rejuvenate because we have you.”

Not since Mao dominated the nation with his masterly blend of populism, fervor and fear has a Chinese leader commanded so much public awe. Deng Xiaoping was a formidable power, but he disavowed the mania of the Mao era. Since then, fawning public displays over political leaders have been taboo. Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, made a virtue of dull self-effacement.

Not Papa Xi.

Some of his appeal stems from his war on corruption and from feel-good sloganeering like the “Chinese Dream,” his pitch for a rejuvenated, powerful nation…

“You can see the whole Chinese propaganda machine has geared up to promote his personality,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who monitors developments in Chinese media and censorship for the website China Digital Times. “It’s become over the top.”

While many Chinese welcome a strong, plain-speaking leader, critics say the zealous promotion of Mr. Xi has begun to show some of the hallmarks of a personality cult, alarming those who see echoes of the hubris that engulfed Mao…

In interviews, many ordinary citizens said they welcomed the splash of charismatic leadership, especially after the dreary, plodding manner of Mr. Hu, whose keynote slogan, “Scientific Outlook on Development,” lacked the emotional punch of Mr. Xi’s “Chinese Dream.”…

Liberal intellectuals have been less impressed, saying the party’s image-building juggernaut is playing with fire, given China’s unhappy experience with the cult of personality and the ideological witch hunts of the Mao years. Some of those concerns have been heightened by a government crackdown on political dissent and a campaign against so-called hostile foreign forces, including Western ideas like human rights and “constitutionalism.”

Mr. Xiao of China Digital Times agreed, saying that some of the more recent propaganda flourishes have generated ridicule online, especially published remarks in which Mr. Xi denounced “strange” contemporary architecture and exhorted artists and writers to serve the masses rather than their own creative impulses. “It made Xi Jinping look like an idiot,” he said…

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Crash Course: Iran's Revolutions

Ken Halla posted a link to John Green's version of recent Iranian history and politics. It's good, but in 13 minutes of illustrated lecture, you can't do everything. I wish the narrative was more integrated (it jumps from history to politics to history and back to politics in the middle section). Some things are, to me, over simplified and under explained. Maybe they won't be for your students.

One of the earliest comments on YouTube was "Great video, however, how did you fail to mention:

"-The Iran-Iraq war
"-Khomeini Mass executions and the sick nature of the Islamic regime
"-The immensely corrupt nature of the Islamic regime
"-The wider scope of the Shah's contributions
"-The further details of the Anglo-Russian invasion? "

I'd recommend Green's lecture as a follow-up to studying government and politics in Iran, and ask students to critique it. If I were using it, I'd divide it into 3 or 4 segments for discussion. And I'd ask students to pay special attention to the final segment which addresses comparative government directly.

Thanks again, Ken.

Iran's Revolutions: Crash Course World History 226
John Green teaches you about Iran's Revolutions. Yes, revolutions plural. What was the 1979 Iranian Revolution about? It turns out, Iran has a pretty long history of unrest in order to put power in the hands of the people, and the most recent revolution in 1979 was, at least at first, not necessarily about creating an Islamic state. It certainly turned out to be about that, but it was initially just about people who wanted to get rid of an oppressive regime. Listen up as John teaches you about Iran's long history of revolution

And the citations, in case you don't see them at the bottom of the YouTube annotation:
Citation 1: Caryl, Christian. Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century. New York, Basic Books. 2014, p. 11
Citation 2: Axworthy, Michael, Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic. Oxford U. Press. 2014, p. 62
Citation 3: Quoted in Axworthy, p. 81
Citation 4: Axworthy, p. 114
Citation 5: Axworthy, p. 163

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Friday, March 13, 2015

The Gini Index

Here's one to save for your introduction of methods of measuring income inequalities and asking how those factors influence government and politics.

The Gini Index will be around in textbooks and exams for some time to come, but Palma might show up in unexpected places, so students should be ready to respond appropriately to both.

Who, What, Why: What is the Gini coefficient?
When Italian statistician... Corrado Gini died in Rome on 13 March 1965, he could not have known that 50 years on, the UN would still use his name in their annual rankings of nations.

"The Gini coefficient provides an index to measure inequality," says Antonio Cabrales, a professor of economics at University College London.

It is a way of comparing how distribution of income in a society compares with a similar society in which everyone earned exactly the same amount. Inequality on the Gini scale is measured between 0, where everybody is equal, and 1, where all the country's income is earned by a single person…

"The Gini has been around for a very long time, and it's very technically sound if you want to measure income inequality across the whole population," explains Andy Sumner, director of the International Development Institute at Kings College, London. "But one might say the Gini is oversensitive to changes in the middle, and undersensitive at the extremes."

The coefficient doesn't capture very explicitly changes in the top 10% - which has become the focus of much inequality research in the past 10 years - or the bottom 40%, where most poverty lies. As a result, Sumner and colleague Alex Cobham put forward an alternative - the Palma ratio - which does.

"We tried to come up with a measure more sensitive to changes at the top which people are more interested in, and which is more intuitive," says Sumner. If the richest 10% of the population has five times the income of the bottom 40%, a country's Palma ratio is 5.

The idea is picking up steam. The Palma ratio has since been listed in the OECD rankings of countries' inequality, and in annual UN Human Development reports, alongside the Gini. Whether Corrado Gini's coefficient will last another half century is uncertain.
A Better Yardstick for Measuring Inequality
We always get what we measure. And if we measure inequality with a yardstick that only wonks can decipher, we’ll end up with a society too confused about inequality to do anything meaningful about it…

In Gini’s formulation, a society where one person grabbed all the income would have a value of one. A society with all income shared absolutely evenly would have a value of zero.

No nation, of course, has ever had either absolute income equality or absolute income concentration. Most nations end up with Gini numbers like 0.57, the Gini rating for the United States last year, or 0.49, the Gini for Japan.

These numbers tell statisticians a great deal. A rise or fall of a mere 0.1 in Gini values can be a big deal and signify a major change in income distribution. But these abstract numbers mean nothing to the general public and, consequently, essentially do nothing at all to raise inequality’s political profile.

The Gini numbers have other problems as well. Gini ratings say a good bit about a society’s overall level of inequality, but offer no clue about what’s driving changes in that level. Are the rich grabbing more or less of the income pie? Are the poor losing ground? Or households in the middle?…

The “Palma ratio” [defines]… income inequality as a ratio between the top 10 and bottom 40. In a society with a Palma ratio of 4, the top 10 percent is grabbing four times the income of the bottom 40 percent.

This simple relationship gives every Palma ratio figure a readily understandable meaning. In a society where the Palma ratio has gone from 2 to 3, households in the top 10 percent have gone from making double the income of that society’s poorest 40 percent to making triple the bottom 40′s income share.

Last March 90 noted social scientists urged a key UN economic development panel to place the Palma ratio front and center. The top 10-bottom 40 inequality that Palma stats measure, they argued, really matters. Nations with shrinking Palma ratios, as researchers have detailed, turn out to be three times better at reducing extreme poverty and hunger than nations with rising Palma ratios…

Top-heavy income distributions, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his colleague Michael Doyle observe, “undermine both political equality and social stability” and generate chronic underinvestment in infrastructure, education, and other public goods that make for “long-term economic prosperity.”…
The following includes a link to a video explaining the Palma ratio.

How the world’s countries compare on income inequality (the U.S. ranks below Nigeria)
The way we measure income inequality is changing. After years of relying on a complicated metric called the Gini coefficient, some economists argue that we should adopt the Palma ratio, which measures the gap between the rich and the poor in a society…

In the map up top, I've illustrated the latest data on income inequality around the world, as measured by the Palma. The results are pretty revealing. Bluer countries have greater income equality, according to the metric, meaning that there's less of a gap between the rich and the poor. Redder countries have more income inequality, meaning that there's a wider gap. Purple countries are about in the middle -- that includes the United States, which is the most unequal of any developed country measured.

The countries that come out looking best include, no surprise, the usual suspects of Northern Europe. Interestingly, Eastern Europe scores quite highly as well, as do some post-Soviet countries in Central Asia. Perhaps that's a legacy of Soviet-era social programs meant to flatten class divides. But it's also a reminder that, while economic equality is great, it's not synonymous with a healthy economy. Some countries are economically equal because everyone is well-off, as in Denmark, and some because most everyone is equally poor.

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