Links Verified 13 April 2007; Updated 13 April 2007
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The United Kingdom
- Christian Science Monitor, 16 January 2007
[Post-materialism gets a new name.]
New quest in British politics: public happiness
"Once upon a time, the hot-button issue for politicians in rich countries was 'the economy, stupid.'
"But after decades in which Western nations have gotten richer but not necessarily happier, a new performance indicator -- harder to measure and more elusive to deliver -- is beginning to emerge.
"Some simply call it happiness. The more scientific term is subjective well-being (SWB), a composite of factors including income, health, environment, relationships with friends and family, education, recreation, and faith.
"Economists on both sides of the Atlantic believe they are getting good at measuring it, and now the political class in Britain is beginning to take it seriously.
"'There has been no upward trend in happiness despite the fact that we are richer, healthier, and have longer holidays.' says Lord Richard Layard, an economist and advisor to the British government on happiness. 'That is the challenge to government policy and to our own lifestyle.'
"Tony Blair meanwhile has set up a government team, sometimes dubbed the "Department of Happiness" to study how to make people happier...
"The notion of politicians trying to make private individuals happy is not new. The 19th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that the aim of government should be to bring as much happiness to as many people as possible. Even the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 points out the inalienable rights of man including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
"Philosophers are less sure that happiness should be the preserve of government. Some argue that much of the malaise in Western society is due to higher expectations (we demand more of ourselves), peer pressure (others have raised the bar of success), and the need for recognition as well as wealth: All factors mostly beyond the reach of mere politicians...."
- BBC, 15 November 2006
Queen's Speech at-a-glance
At the State Opening ceremonies marking the beginning of a new session of Parliament, the Queen's Speech describes her government's legislative program for the session.
- International Herald Tribune, 24 October 2006
New British poll puts Labour Party 10 points behind opposition Conservatives
"Prime Minister Tony Blair's governing Labour Party lags 10 points behind the opposition Conservatives in popular support, according to a poll released Tuesday.
"The ICM survey for The Guardian newspaper gave the Conservatives the support of 39 percent of respondents, with Labour at 29 percent and the third-party Liberal Democrats at 22 percent.
"It is the first time since 1987 that Labour has dipped below 30 percent support in an ICM poll...
"ICM Research interviewed 1,019 adults between Oct. 20 and 22. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points."
- The Guardian, 6 September 2006
Blair's offer: I will go in a year. Brown: that's not good enough
Chancellor demands a timetable, a public declaration and for his Blairite critics to be muzzled
"Gordon Brown made clear yesterday that Tony Blair's coded offer to leave Downing Street within the next 12 months was not good enough.
"Allies of the chancellor said that Mr Brown was demanding that the prime minister set a timetable for his departure and make the details public.
"Mr Brown also wants Mr Blair to rein in the chancellor's critics, such as Stephen Byers and Alan Milburn, who have been making speeches and writing newspaper articles arguing that Blairite reforms be continued after he has stepped down."
- Guradian, 5 March 2006
Profile of new LibDem leader
"In electing 64-year-old Sir Menzies over the bold, dynamic and abrasive insurgency of Chris Huhne, party activists have opted for comfort: he is their familiar hot water bottle, albeit a very natty one..."
- BBC, December 6, 2005
The David Cameron story
A Profile of the new Conservative Party leader, " They are not meant to make Conservative leaders like David Cameron any more.
"After 40 years in which the party has chosen state-school educated
leaders of relatively humble origins, Mr Cameron is straight out of the
Establishment top drawer..."
- The Guardian (UK), 11 April 2007
Back to the future with Putin
Seven years after ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin took over as president from an enfeebled Boris Yeltsin, Russia has gone back, critics say, to the classic authoritarian model of the state that flourished under the tsarists and the communists...
The accidental anarchy of the Yeltsin era - when TV stations were free to portray the country's leader as an occasional drunk - has disappeared. Instead, Mr Putin has clinically restored the old system of Russian authoritarianism. In this new era, critics of the president mysteriously fail to appear on television; courts eagerly anticipate the Kremlin's wishes; the killers of troublesome journalists are rarely, if ever, caught.
Russia's tiny opposition compares Putin's Russia to Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union in the mid-1970s, another golden economic period characterised by high oil prices and a strongly personalist regime...
Mr Putin abolished elections for provincial governors - he now appoints them. He also imposed Moscow's control over local budgets. Under the latest rules of the game, political parties must have 50,000 members and be represented in half of Russia's provinces.
Additionally, Russia's old mixed constituency and list system has been replaced by a list-only system, making it impossible for popular independent local candidates to stand again as MPs. The hurdle for parties to win seats in the duma has gone up from 5 to 7% of the overall national vote. With fewer Russians voting, the minimum 25% turnout rule has disappeared. Moreover, the Kremlin has invented a social democrat-style "opposition" party called A Just Russia, which competes for votes against Mr Putin's ruling United Russia party. But like United Russia, A Just Russia patriotically supports the president, while maintaining the illusion of democratic rivalry. It also takes away votes from the communists and nationalists...
Kremlin political theorists describe this form of virtual politics as "managed democracy"...
Most political observers believe the Kremlin regime is impregnable, especially when world gas and oil prices remain high. They also point out that Mr Putin enjoys broad support. "One fact about the contemporary Russian situation is that the majority or a plurality of the population supports the current president. The majority isn't very much. But 55-57-58% express their trust in Putin personally," says Dr Grigorii Golosov, Russia's leading election expert, and a professor of politics at St Petersburg's European University. "But judging from recent elections only 31% of the population is prepared to vote for United Russia. Plurality support is definitely there."
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 11 April 2007
The Political Advantages Of Instability
"Establishing stability" appears prominently on almost anyone's list of the achievements of Russian President Vladimir Putin's two terms in office...
Putin's achievements have been largely bolstered by his staggeringly high personal popularity ratings -- especially in contrast to those of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin -- and a generally favorable global political and economic environment for Russia.
The greatest challenge Putin has faced in his seven years at the helm has been controlling the situation in the North Caucasus and ending the vicious wave of terrorist attacks that swept through Russia in the decade ending in September 2004. Putin has been largely successful in this...
Now, however, Russia enters a period fraught with danger for any personality-based political system -- elections and the transfer of power. Inasmuch as the Federal Assembly has been all but entirely subordinated to the Kremlin and is dominated by the Kremlin-controlled Unified Russia and A Just Russia parties, the December 2007 legislative elections are likely to pass smoothly. However, the race in the spring of 2008 to become Putin's successor is another matter entirely.
At present, the front-runners in the race are the two first deputy prime ministers, Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov...
In recent months, Russian political analysts have agonized over the fact that the so-called siloviki -- the section of the political elite that is bound by ties to the intelligence and security structures and is widely believed to be centered around Putin's deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin -- does not back either Medvedev or Ivanov. Increasingly, they are speculating the siloviki could play the role of spoiler as Putin attempts a managed power transition -- a role they fear could easily undermine the surprisingly fragile "vertical of power" that Putin has built so assiduously in the past few years...
It would not be hard to argue that the weakening of the vertical of power or even the collapse of the "entire system" created by Putin would not be a bad thing -- if not for the wild card of the siloviki, since the stability ushered in by Putin is a decided liability for their political fortunes. Although the allegations have never been conclusively demonstrated, it should not be forgotten that many observers have argued that the siloviki engineered their rise to prominence by provoking or exploiting violence in the North Caucasus in 1999 and -- perhaps -- by arranging a series of bombings in Russian apartment buildings that killed hundreds and paralyzed the country with terror.
Since Sechin and the siloviki do not seem to have placed their support behind any possible successor, speculation is mounting that their real goal is to compel Putin to accept a third term and thereby extend the status quo...
However, the institutional weakness of the Russian political system -- which remains heavily centered on Putin's personal popularity -- and the superficial nature of the imposed stability that has emerged in the North Caucasus in the last two years means that "managed" destabilization could quickly become unmanageable. And if it does, Russia and many in the international arena could find themselves relieved if Putin does agree to stay on for a few more years.
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 11 April 2007
Russia: Putin's Third Term To Feature In Duma Campaign
For many months, Russia's domestic politics have revolved around one basic but tantalizing question: Will Vladimir Putin leave office after presidential elections in March 2008?
Now, Putin's rumored third term looks set to become the central issue of another key vote -- the ballot for the State Duma in December 2007.
Sergei Mironov -- the freshly reelected speaker of the Federation Council and the leader of the young pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia -- suggested in late March that the Russian Constitution be amended to extend the president's time in office from two to three consecutive terms...
- This series of articles about the elections for the St. Petersburg local legislative elections summarizes the apparent attempts by the ruling elite to keep its hold on power.
- St. Petersburg Times, 30 January 2007
Yabloko Thrown Out Of Elections
Yabloko, the only major political party represented in St. Petersburg’s Legislative Assembly that opposes the policies of City Hall, has been excluded from upcoming elections to the assembly amid claims that City Hall is forcing its most vocal critic out of the political arena...
“They’re afraid of us. That’s why they are trying to get rid of us,” said Sergei Mitrokhin, a senior Yabloko official.
- St. Petersburg Times, 9 February 2007
Election Commission To Review Yabloko Case
The Central Election Commission in Moscow was due to hold a special session Friday to review the conflict between the St. Petersburg branch of liberal opposition party Yabloko and the St. Petersburg election commission that banned the party from upcoming election to the city’s Legislative Assembly.
Now that the option to vote “against all candidates” no longer exists and with Yabloko thrown out of the election, the party’s supporters have been left wondering how to act.
However Yabloko and the opposition coalition Other Russia are considering a bold alternative: suggesting that voters can take ballots out of the polling station and hand them over to party representatives, who would then calculate the results as a “protest vote.”...
- St. Petersburg Times, 12 February 2007
Yabloko Election Ban Upheld
The Central Election Commission in Moscow has agreed with the earlier decision of the St. Petersburg Election Commission to exclude the liberal opposition party Yabloko from the elections to the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly...
- International Herald Tribune, 15 February 2007
Russians to vote, but some parties lose in advance
...The elections [in St. Petersburg] on March 11, like those in 13 other regions, will preview coming national elections in which voters' choices will be severely limited at best. "Democracy?" asked Vladimir Fyodorov, a leader of the Communist Party here, which faces an uphill task of winning any seats to the city's 50-member legislature. "I would not call the process under way in our country democracy."...
At the Kremlin's urging... Parliament has raised the threshold for parties to win seats, eliminated minimum turnout requirements, abolished district elections in favor of party lists, and eliminated the option of voting "against all." A new law on extremism would ban a candidate from criticizing his or her opponent, or anyone actually in office.
The Kremlin has also made it more difficult for political parties to form and register...
That measure, like most of the others, has an ostensibly reasonable and democratic purpose: to simplify and clarify the rules of elective politics. To critics, though, the Kremlin has simply assured the smooth re-election of pro-presidential parties....
- Kommersant (Moscow), 16 January 2007
An Equation with Two Known Values
"The Struggle for Presidential Succession Kicks Into High Gear
"The year 2007 is shaping up to be a decisive one when it comes to resolving the 'problem of 2008.' If Vladimir Putin listens to the voice of the people as expressed in public opinion polls, then the leading contender for his seat in 2008 is now Dmitry Medvedev, who at the end of 2006 finally overtook perpetual front-runner Sergey Shoigu in the confidence-ratings game of Russian presidential succession.
"The question 'Who among Russian politicians do you have most confidence in?' is regularly put to the Russian people by experts from the country's three leading national sociological research bureaus: the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), and the Levada Center. For the past seven years, the answer has unwaveringly be en Valdimir Putin...
- Novosti, Russian News and Information Agency, 29 August 2006
Political apathy spreads over Russia
"The average Russian is paying less and less attention to politics and delving deeper and deeper into his or her own personal, everyday problems. The reasons for this attitude are not only economic; this political apathy is caused by narrowing political choices due to changes made to election legislation (such as the abolition of the "against all" option) and the lack of an alternative, which has become the main attribute of current Russian politics.
"Sociological research shows that due to the absence of a dominant ideology and people's de-politicization, Russians are willing to accept a one-party system and the political dominance of the ruling pro-Kremlin party, United Russia. This is not because United Russia is seen as extremely good, but because ordinary Russians no longer care who controls politics: They want to be left in peace to work for their own survival or, on the contrary, enrichment. Ordinary people do not see a direct connection between politics and their prosperity. Surveys by the Levada Center show that people are inclined to blame the government for all negative developments. At the same time, they view the government not as a political institution, but as an economic body that is unable to cope with people's chief concerns, i.e. inflation (the biggest concern, according to polls), poverty and corruption. As many as 66% worry about low incomes, while 70% of Russians fear a price hike. The government's two main tasks, polls indicate, should be to fight corruption and reduce prices.
"Russians do not see a serious alternative to the incumbent president...
"Still, this apathy and de-politicization cannot last long. With all the relative predictability of the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008, respectively - and it is this predictability that causes apathy - Russians' future political preferences are unclear. For lack of clear ideological priorities and goals that unite the nation, populist doctrines and nationalist parties have a fairly good chance of succeeding. So far, complete apathy has played a paradoxically positive role, toning down the most radical and quasi-fascist sentiments. Yet this phenomenon has another side: the nationalist minority can become a majority because of most people's absolute indifference to what is going on in politics.
"For people to vote consciously and with interest, they need incentives. Perhaps, an adequate solution would be to democratize election legislation in the next political cycle. The first step could be to lower the 7% threshold in the parliamentary election. This measure could lead to a fledgling multi-party system appearing in Russia. Then even apathetic voters would suddenly be interested in the choices on offer."
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 24 February 2006
Russia: Fight Against Corruption Starts With Interior Ministry
"Despite the Russian State Duma's recent ratification of an international corruption convention, it will take a long time before Russia can seriously tackle graft -- especially when the country's Interior Ministry has been accused of corrupt practices.
"On 17 February, the Duma ratified by absolute majority the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which was adopted in 2003 and came into force in December 2005.
"Politicians were quick to warn against the devastating effects of corruption in Russia. Commenting on the ratification, Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia) said that corruption was so widespread that 'some unscrupulous officials see their offices as a source of rent.'
"The same day, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said that corruption threatens Russia's national security. 'Today the scale and degree of corruption impacts on various aspects of state and public life and not only threatens the country's internal security, but causes considerable damage to Russia's image abroad,' he said. Nurgaliev added that in 2005, his ministry investigated 34,500 cases of corruption, a growth of 17 percent against the previous year. All in all 438,000 economic crimes were committed, 1,600 in the energy sector alone, the minister said.
"Interior Ministry Criticized
"But Nurgaliev and his ministry have recently come under fire. On 17 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a meeting with senior police officers, criticized the 2-million strong ministry for corruption and the inability to stop rampant criminality..."
- REMINDER: This change came too late to be included in most textbooks published in 2005 (although it is correctly noted in What You Need to Know.)
Washington Post, 13 September 2005
Putin Moves to Centralize Authority - Plan Would Restrict Elections in Russia
"President Vladimir Putin announced plans Monday for a "radically restructured" political system...
"Under his plan, Putin would ... allow Russians to vote only for political parties rather than specific candidates in parliamentary elections...
"His plans must go through parliament, but the Kremlin controls more than two-thirds of the legislature directly and two other political parties quickly endorsed the ideas...
"[T]he State Duma, or lower house of parliament, would consist only of members elected from party lists, meaning that political parties such as Putin's United Russia would exercise exclusive control over everyone who runs for election.
"Under the current system, half of the 450 members of the Duma are elected in individual districts like members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The other 225 seats are divided up between parties based on the proportion of the vote they win in balloting by party. If a party wins 25 seats, then the first 25 names on its party list would be entitled to join the Duma.
"Only four parties qualified for seats in the party-list half of the Duma in elections in December -- United Russia, the Communists and two nationalist parties allied with the Kremlin..."
Peoples Republic of China
- Washington Post, 1 April 2007
Corruption Case Breaks 'Shanghai Taboo'
Long a proud showcase for economic development, Shanghai has recently become the stage for a high-stakes drama of corruption, vice and political intrigue with far-reaching consequences for the Chinese Communist Party.
The scandal, which has brought down one of China's senior leaders, has its origins in large-scale graft in the local party apparatus. But more broadly, it reflects a political decision by President Hu Jintao to flex his leadership muscles against entrenched party officials known as the Shanghai faction, loosely grouped around former president Jiang Zemin and his proteges from this coastal boomtown.
The arrests in Shanghai were part of Hu's cautious but relentless drive to cement his power as party leader and ensure faithfulness to his vision up and down the hierarchy. That effort, foreign and Chinese specialists said, will reach a high point at the 17th Party Congress in the fall, when Hu and his lieutenants are expected to stack the party's ruling bodies, the Politburo and its Standing Committee, with Hu loyalists.
"The political aspect here is much more important than the law enforcement aspect," one Chinese corruption expert said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of inner-party politics. "The interesting point here is that before, nobody could touch Shanghai, and now you can. Hu wanted to break the Shanghai taboo."...
Chen Liangyu, 60, [Party secretary for Shanghai]... was fired and placed under investigation in September for allegedly using a government pension fund to make more than $400 million in loans to a corrupt businessman.
Chen's fall was an important marker in Chinese politics. Not only was he secretary of the Shanghai Communist Party -- the most powerful man in China's biggest and richest city -- but he was also a member of the 24-man national Politburo that sets the course for China's 1.3 billion people.
Only two other Politburo members have been dismissed and prosecuted for corruption since the party came to power in 1949...
In addition, Chen was known as a political heir of former president Jiang, whose base was in Shanghai, and as an outspoken champion of Shanghai's role in national affairs. In particular, he was reported to have questioned efforts by Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao to balance economic growth by favoring poorer central regions over the booming coastal cities epitomized by Shangahi...
Chen's Shanghai operations had long been regarded as corrupt, according to several specialists. But Hu, who became party leader in 2002 and president the following year, feared at first that it would be imprudent to crack down on such a senior official with clear ties to Jiang, they said...
Jockeying between the two groups is more about placing favorites in key positions than ideological clashes, noted a diplomat with long Asian experience...
- Guradian (UK), 17 January 2007
China promises more open government
"China approved new rules on Wednesday promising citizens expanded access to official information as the one-party government seeks to show itself as a promoter of openness.
"A cabinet meeting chaired by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao passed the provisional rules on 'government information openness...'
"But as if to stress the entrenched obstacles to transparency in China's long secretive communist-run state, the terse announcement did not spell out the rules, leaving open questions such as what information is covered and whether people or companies can compel officials to release it...
"China's definition of state secrets is notoriously broad, and officials, long used to saying little specific, even in news conferences, may be reluctant to disclose sensitive or lucrative information.
"Chinese journalists have been prosecuted for revealing state secrets after reporting official misdeeds or speculation about leadership changes; the government tightly censors the Internet, blocking access to many overseas Web sites; and domestic news outlets receive instructions on what stories should not reach the public.
"The information rules will be revised before China's cabinet issues them, the announcement said. It did not give a date."
- BBC, 28 September 2006
China corruption scandal widens
"Another senior Shanghai official has been implicated in a major corruption scandal, a city spokesman said.
"The scandal has already led to the sacking of the financial hub's top politician, Chen Liangyu.
"The investigation is being viewed as an attempt by President Hu Jintao to strengthen his position within the ruling Communist Party..."
- BBC, 31 July 2006
Chinese 'create Wal-Mart union'
"US retail giant Wal-Mart, which has drawn criticism over allegations it is union unfriendly, has reportedly seen staff in China start their first union.
"The union was the initiative of some 30 Wal-Mart workers in the south-east province of Fujian, the official Xinhua news agency said..."
- The Guradian (UK), 24 March 2006
Wal-mart leads charge in race to grab a slice of China
"US giant launches big push in competition for burgeoning £140bn retail market
"'We're going to be growing in all directions,' Joe Hatfield, chief executive of Wal-Mart Asia, told Reuters news agency in predicting that his company's Chinese operation could be as big as its 3,700-store United States business within 20 years. It is one of many. Britain's Tesco and B&Q, France's Carrefour and Leroy Merlin, Germany's Metro and Tengelmann, and Japan's Ito-Yokado and Aeon have all moved into China in the past decade. Most are now expanding at the rate of 10 to 20 megastores a year. In the fast-food sector western firms are so ubiquitous that there is even a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City - Beijing's old imperial palace - and Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's outlets beside Tiananmen Square.
"It is the same in the luxury goods sector, where Prada, Louis Vuitton and Chanel are opening outlets in shopping centres across the wealthy eastern regions. Even more spectacular is the advance of the sporting giants, Nike and Adidas - adding to their Chinese franchises at the rate of more than a store a day each as the 2008 Beijing Olympics approaches.
"Like everything in China these days, the change is at a spectacular speed and on a scale the world has never seen before. It is already one of the fastest expansions in retail history, but analysts say it could get faster as international giants race for territory in a £140bn retail market that is growing at a double-digit pace...
"There are no shortages of incentives. The average annual income of China's 1.3bn people is less than £1,000. But the middle class is growing fast, particularly in eastern cities, and it has enough disposable income to start focusing on brand, safety, quality and taste. For many, price is no longer the priority. Foreign retailers are also finding it easier to set up shop because many restrictions on overseas firms were lifted in 2004 under China's World Trade Organisation commitments...
"Until now foreign investment has been focused in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and other large eastern cities. But, in a sign of the growing power of Chinese consumption, many of the new shops are being opened in smaller cities.
"This invasion has started to raise alarms in some quarters. In many cases foreign firms sell Chinese-made products to Chinese consumers, which is a source of contention. Wal-Mart sources 80% of its products worldwide from China. At its Haidian store in north-west Beijing the Budweiser beer (5 yuan a can) was made in the central city of Wuhan, the Skippy peanut butter (9 yuan) was made in the coastal province of Shandong, and the Coca-Cola (5 yuan for a two-litre bottle) was made in Beijing...
"'There are worries in China about the opening of more and more foreign-owned supermarkets, but we must put these in the context of the whole retail sector,' said Yang Qingsong of the China Chain Store and Franchise Association. 'Foreign supermarkets have more advanced management methods, which they pass on to local trainees, They also provide a stable flow of finance and rapid turnover, which boosts manufacturing.'
"For Chinese consumers, increasingly conscious about food safety and hygiene, they also offer greater reassurance and a wider choice than traditional markets.
"'Compared with a Chinese supermarket, the service is good, the variety is wide, the food is fresh and they provide shuttle buses,' said Yang Shupeng, a retired woman who spends about 100 yuan during her weekly shopping trip to Wal-Mart..."
- Washington Post, 23 March 2006
Eight-Step Program For What Ails China President Reacts to Rising Greed, Cynicism
"On bus-stop billboards, newspaper front pages and television news broadcasts, in school classrooms, factory study groups and student counseling sessions, at forums and meetings all across China, the Communist Party propaganda apparatus has been spreading the word from President Hu Jintao: Do good and avoid evil...
"8 Do's and Don'ts
- Love the motherland, do not harm it.
- Serve, don't disserve the people.
- Uphold science, don't be ignorant and unenlightened.
- Work hard, don't be lazy.
- Be united and help each other, don't benefit at the expense of others.
- Be honest, not profit-mongering.
- Be disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless.
- Know plain living and hard struggle, do not wallow in luxuries.
- Love the motherland, do not harm it.
- Serve, don't disserve the people.
- Uphold science, don't be ignorant and unenlightened.
- Work hard, don't be lazy.
- Be united and help each other, don't benefit at the expense of others.
- Be honest, not profit-mongering.
- Be disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless.
- Know plain living and hard struggle, do not wallow in luxuries."
- Reporters Without Borders, 23 February 2006
Journalist who was driven mad in prison freed after 16 years
"Reporters Without Borders notes the release of arts critic, Yu Dongyue, imprisoned after the June 1989 student demonstrations, who has left jail a broken man, driven mad after being tortured and held for long periods in solitary confinement.
"And in an act which the press freedom organisation described as "the last word in cynicism" the authorities have just re-arrested his former student companion, Yu Zhijian, for "subversion"...
- Washington Post, 22 February 2006
China Addresses Plight of Farmers
"A senior Chinese official said Wednesday that the government must take immediate steps to raise the living standards of disgruntled farmers and soften the blow when urban development swallows up their fields and villages...
"The net per-capita income of farmers in 2005 was $402.80, while the per-capita income of city dwellers was $1,292, according to government statistics...
"Villagers frequently have complained that promised compensation never reaches them because corrupt local officials pocket a large percentage of the money as it flows from the upper levels of government through provincial, county and township offices down to village committees..."
SEE THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE FOR BACKGROUND DETAILS
- Asia Times Online, 16 February 2006
CHINA'S TRILLION-DOLLAR CRISIS
"A new crisis is at work in China. Its fracture lines are barely apparent; still, they run deep, reaching the very structure of power of the Communist Party: the bureaucracy.
"It was thanks to the efficient chain of command and control of the bureaucracy that the Tiananmen crisis was quickly brought under control. It was the same chain of command that worked miracles in neutralizing Falungong activists within the ranks of the party, by singling them out and expelling or re-converting them. But now this line of command and control is under strain, and this could in time bring real problems to Communist Party rule in China...
"According to Chinese estimates, since 2003 the sale of farmland for industrial and residential purposes created a rough turnover of some 5 trillion yuan (more than US$600 billion)... Only some 10% of the money went to the farmers, some $60 billion... More than $500 billion went into local coffers, feeding local administrations and their needs, and into the pockets of local officials. Taking a cynical view, bribes are partly necessary, as they motivate officials in favor of market reforms...
"[T]here is a risk of a big conflict between local and central chiefs, which if not well managed could become explosive. There appear to be two blocs: the central government, entrepreneurs and farmers on one side, and local officials on the other. In theory the local officials are isolated, because the interests of the former three are consistent and in contrast with those of the local officials. This is not some vague power struggle between central and local government; it is a struggle over how much money goes into whose pocket...
"In the short run, the party, which still has a very strong structure, will have no problem sustaining the stress. But the party discipline in the long run might not be enough. There is a classic historic example. In France in the 18th century, when the king tried to bolster his position against the power of the aristocracy, dominating the country and its administration, he sought the support of the newly emerging bourgeoisie. He created a conflict with the aristocracy but successfully concentrated the power in himself. Eventually, however, the growth of influence of the bourgeoisie and its conflict of interest with the absolute power of the king created the conditions for the French Revolution.
"In China the center doesn't challenge an aristocracy, but its own administration, and no matter what, a country needs an administration. The point at the moment is that district administration is schizophrenic: on the one hand it represents the local interests to the center and on the other hand it represents the requests of the center locally. Ultimately the local officials, disoriented and under thousands of temptations and pressures, only look after themselves...
"Furthermore, the role of the Chinese press should not be underestimated in keeping an eye on local officials. Although many journalists who denounced local abuses lost their jobs, and many papers were put under scrutiny because of their attacks, their action is feared in China, and it can take place only because the central authorities en large approve of it, as it is useful to keep an eye on unruly local chieftains. Their role in the near future will certainly be enhanced and will help create an overall new environment for a greater, though still limited, freedom of the press...
"It is hard to say how long the new social pact might take to strain party discipline seriously, but this could well be something to pay attention to after the crucial 2007 party congress."
- Washington Post, January 28, 2006
In Face of Rural Unrest, China Rolls Out Reforms
"Faced with steadily increasing peasant unrest, the Communist Party has decreed extensive changes to improve the lot of farmers and stop rapid economic development from encroaching on their land.
"The party declared rural reform a major goal of its new five-year economic program, which began this month. The government has also announced the abolition of an agricultural tax that is thousands of years old, free public school education for peasant children and new rural insurance to subsidize medical care for those among the country's 800 million farmers who cannot afford to see doctors...
"In the new era, the Communist Party's main ideology has become growth, creating a natural and often corrupt alliance between officials and businessmen that leaves farmers with no advocate.
"As a result, some Chinese analysts have pointed out, a genuine determination to protect farmers and their fields would require unflinching prosecution of city, county and village officials involved in illegal land confiscations and sales. There has been no sign that Wen and Hu have that in mind. In his speech, which was hailed as an unusually frank discussion of China's rural problems, Wen did not refer to the role of corruption in land confiscations, although farmers routinely cite it as a reason for their violent protests.
"Elsewhere as well, party solidarity seems to have outweighed the desire to improve administration of the countryside...
"Getting rid of the agricultural tax has been especially well received among peasants, who from imperial times have had to fork over a percentage of their crops or earnings to local officials...
"...such decisions announced in Beijing frequently do not fully apply in the towns, counties and villages where more than two-thirds of China's 1.3 billion people live..."
- Asia Times Online, 6 January 2006
[Here's an example of the integration of global challenges, domestic pressures, domestic policy making, and foreign relations (at least).]
China's threatening environment
"China's environment is edging closer to a condition of crisis...
"There is little disagreement that China's environment is a mounting problem for Beijing. The country is one of the world's leaders in sulfur emissions...China is home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities; water pollution affects as much as 70% of the country; air pollution is blamed for the premature death of some 400,000 Chinese annually...and solid-waste production is expected to more than double over the next decade...
"Urban populations are expected to continue expanding...
"The devolution of decision-making to local levels has placed environmental stewardship in the hands of officials who are more concerned with economic growth than the environment...
"As the impact of pollution on human health becomes more obvious and widespread, it is leading to greater political mobilization and social unrest from those citizens who suffer the most...
"For the Communist Party and neighboring states, social unrest must be viewed as a primary security concern for three reasons: it is creating greater political mobilization, it threatens to forge linkages with democracy movements, and demonstrations are proving more difficult to contain..."
- Asia Times, 23 December 2005
China: We're just big, warm and cuddly
"BEIJING - China has issued a major white paper on its "peaceful development", stating that this is the way for the country to achieve modernization.
"The 32-page paper, titled 'China's Peaceful Development Road' and published by the Information Office of China's State Council, explains the 'inevitability' of the country pursuing peaceful development. It also outlines the major policies China has taken to achieve the goal and demonstrates the country's resolve to 'stick to the road of peaceful development now and in the future'...
"'China's road of peaceful development is a brand new one for mankind in pursuit of civilization and progress, the inevitable way for China to achieve modernization, and a serious choice and solemn promise made by the Chinese government and the Chinese people,' said the white paper."
(Here is a link to the text of "China's Peaceful Development Road.")
- Asia Times Online, 21 October 2005
The revolution for everyone and no one
"As the gulf between the haves and have-nots widens and social protests increase, China may be assumed to be heading for another revolution. This cannot happen, however: an us-against-them situation is impossible in a country where everyone is against everyone else. Any threat to the Communist Party can only come from within."
- Asia Times Online, 20 October 2005
Is China heading for a social 'red alert'?
"A social storm seems to be approaching China, with the number of protests growing sharply and economic inequality nearing the "red alert" level. But the startling fact that the statistics come from the government itself bespeaks its confidence in implementing its plans for 'harmonious society'."
- BBC, 22 December 2006
The candidates to be Nigeria's leader
As political parties in Nigeria pick their presidential candidates for the April 2007 elections, the BBC News website's Senan Murray profiles the strongest of them.
"The governing People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate is a little known Muslim former polytechnic teacher, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua...
"Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari is the candidate for the main opposition party, the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP)...
"A founding member of the PDP, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was suspended from the party after he was accused of diverting $125m to personal businesses...
"Former military ruler, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, or IBB as he is known among his admirers, is a well-known Nigerian power-broker...
"After withdrawing from the race for the PDP ticket, amid reports that Mr Obasanjo declined to back his bid, he has failed to find another party to nominate him before the 22 December deadline for submissions.
"But he may not be out of the race completely as until February political parties are able to change their candidates...
"A reformed warlord, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu led the failed Biafra secession move that plunged Nigeria into a three-year civil war that ended in 1970.
"Mr Ojukwu is a cult figure among his Igbo people who see him as an emancipator because of his role in the war.
"But that is about where his influence ends.
"Although he has just been given his party's presidential ticket on a platter, it is only from a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), whose field of influence does not go beyond south-eastern Nigeria.
- Washington Post, 17 May 2006
Nigerian Senate Blocks Bid for 3rd Presidential Term
"The Nigerian Senate voted on Tuesday to reject a constitutional amendment allowing President Olusegun Obasanjo to seek a third term, bringing an apparent end to an issue that had bitterly divided Africa's most populous nation.
"Obasanjo's supporters did not immediately rule out other attempts to amend the nation's constitution, but in recent weeks there has been a dramatic and seemingly decisive shift in sentiment against efforts to keep him in power. Assuming Obasanjo is not a candidate in elections next year, Nigeria is on track to experience its first peaceful transition between civilian governments since winning independence in 1960...
- A reminder that social unrest is not simplistically caused by religious differences, comes from a two-year-old article from the BBC
Analysis: Behind Nigeria's violence
"...But this latest unrest in Plateau State is a worrying indication that these tensions remain never far from the surface, and that, in a country with such high levels of poverty, the underlying issues of access to scarce resources such as land and jobs are as much of an issue as ever.
"Some of the violence has pitched Muslims against Christians, but all of them have fallen across different tribal and cultural divides.
"From the deserts of the north to the tropical forest regions of the south and east, it is home to around 120 million people, divided up into some 250 different ethnic groups...
"So, conflict between these communities, when it does occur, is a complex affair.
"It can be rooted in religious disagreements...
"But it most often boils down to competition between those that see themselves as the true 'indigens' of an area, and those that are considered to be more recent 'settlers'.
"Whatever the historical justifications, the conflict is always and everywhere about access to scarce resources.
"This might be farmland, or employment, or access to political power. It could even be jealousy over the provision of water or electricity to one village but not its neighbour.
"At their root, these differences are not cultural or religious. They are economic...
"Many observers in Nigeria believe that the roots of the violence across much of the country are not religious or cultural.
"They say the conflicts are created and stoked by politicians both at a local and national level who seek to gain advantage from social division ... local disputes are hijacked by cynical politicians prepared to pay sections of the community sums of money to foment unrest.
"And that's all it takes..."
- Washington Post, 17 March 2007
Mexico's 69-Year-Old State Oil Firm Facing Threats to Its Stability
Depleted reserves, crumbling pipelines, outdated technology and billions of dollars in debt... While Petroleos Mexicanos executives and union leaders prepare to deliver patriotic speeches and sing the national anthem Sunday on the 69th anniversary of the nationalization of Mexico's oil sector, many energy experts say Pemex needs to stop looking backward.
... Government leaders and Pemex executives have been warning about the problems for years. But they haven't taken much action, in large part because the state-owned company is viewed as a national treasure... Mexicans are wary of any changes to its operation that could be seen as a threat to Mexican sovereignty...
Mexico's constitution prohibits the company from forming production and exploration alliances with domestic and foreign private companies... No Mexican president -- even fiscally conservative, private enterprise-friendly leaders such as current President Felipe Calderon -- has ever suggested changing that...
Oil experts say it is unlikely Mexico will see any significant energy sector proposals this year from Calderon, who is still recovering from a July election that he won by less than 1 percentage point over his rival, leftist firebrand Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Lopez Obrador vehemently opposes private investment in the oil sector, and it was he who led massive marches in the late 1990s against privatizing the petrochemical industry...
The issue is a serious one: The field is Mexico's largest single source of crude oil; oil provides nearly 40 percent of the government's revenue; and Mexico is one of the largest exporters of oil to the United States...
- Washington Post, 1 February 2007
75,000 Protest Tortilla Prices in Mexico
About 75,000 trade unionists, farmers and leftists marched through downtown Mexico City... to protest price increases for basic foods like tortillas -- the staple of Mexico's poor -- and to demand a change in economic policy.
The march represented a challenge to President Felipe Calderon's market-oriented policies and one banner read "Calderon stole the elections, and now he's stealing the tortillas!"...
Since taking office... Calderon has drawn the greatest criticism for failing to control the largest spike in tortilla prices in decades. The national uproar has put him in an uncomfortable position between the poor and some agribusiness industries hoping to profit from the surge in international corn prices, driven mostly by the sudden explosion of the U.S. ethanol industry.
A free-market advocate, Calderon has said he does not want to return to direct price controls enforced by many former Mexican presidents...
- CBC News, 1 December 2006
Calderon sworn in as Mexico's president
"Felipe Calderon was sworn in as the president of Mexico Friday despite earlier brawls on the floor of the Congress between his supporters and those who believe the election was fraudulent.
"Flanked by members of his ruling party and former president Vicente Fox, Calderon quickly swore to uphold the constitution.
"The national anthem was then played, momentarily stilling whistles and shouting from opposition lawmakers who support his presidential opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador...
About an hour before Calderon was to take the oath of office, opposition politicians threw punches and chairs and tried to block the doors of the congressional chamber... The brawl was shown live on television across Mexico.
Hours earlier, Calderon had taken charge of Mexico's presidential residence in an unusual midnight ceremony.
- BBC, 28 August 2006
Mexico court rejects fraud claims
"Mexico's top electoral court has rejected claims July's presidential election was riddled with fraud. The court decided not to order a full recount of votes from the disputed election, as demanded by leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
"Mr Lopez Obrador narrowly lost the election according to the official count. He said the ballot was rigged. Correspondents say the court is now almost certain to make conservative candidate Felipe Calderon the winner.
"Mr Lopez Obrador has warned of a campaign of protests against a Calderon government...
"Mr Lopez Obrador has led mass protests demanding a recount of all 41m ballots cast in July's election...
"The judges' decision is final and there are no appeals..."
- BBC, 7 July 2006
Mexico election result
"The ruling party candidate in Mexico's presidential election Felipe Calderon has won a narrow victory over his left-of-centre opponent. His opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is refusing to recognise the result.
"A long agonising ballot count is over. This impossibly close result now guarantees an even more drawn out political drama. The losing candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, says he'll challenge the vote count before a seven-judge electoral tribunal next week. He's also calling for a big rally by supporters on Saturday in downtown Mexico City. In the last days of the campaign, about half a million of his poor and working-class supporters came to a rally in the same area.
"His victorious opponent, Felipe Calderon, aware perhaps of his potentially weak mandate, has asked Mr Lopez Obrador to join him in a national unity government, but that offer has met with no response. The leftist leader wants a full recount of all forty-one million ballots cast and he's emphasising his demands with his street power.
"A final result has to be declared within two months and the various challenges and protests could drag on here until the end of August. Mexico's election is over, but political instability remains."
- BBC, 3 July 2006
Q&A: Mexico election
"Mexicans went to the polls on 2 July to elect a new president, 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 128 members of the Senate."
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 19 March 2007
For State, Teacher Protests Are Security Matter
Teachers have gathered outside parliament in Tehran on four occasions since their first protest on February 4 to show their dissatisfaction with their salaries and other working conditions.
The first demonstration was suppressed by security agents and riot police... The government is showing yet again -- as it has with similar collective expressions of discontent by feminists, bus drivers, and students -- that it has little patience for organized protests...
Teachers have been asking for their salaries to be adjusted in keeping with other public-sector workers in a country where the annual inflation rate ranges from 12 to 20 percent -- according to the varying assertions of government officials and independent observers -- and where teachers' salaries have fallen behind the rising cost of living...
Teachers were hoping to meet with Education Ministry officials... but met instead with members of the parliamentary presidium ... and the Sarullah Base (Qarargah-i Sarullah)... affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)...
This was perhaps an indication of the state's security-oriented perspective on the issue. [Authorities] told the teachers' representatives that the meeting was not to negotiate over their demands but to inform them of measures parliament had decided in their favor...
The Islamic republic's repressive response may also indicate a fear that small and specific protests, if tolerated, may flare up into large-scale demonstrations, as student protests purportedly did in Tehran in 1999...
- San Francisco Chronicle, 17 January 2006
Iran's Discontent With Ahmadinejad Grows
[It's always difficult to know how much of reports like this reflect reality and how much they reflect the hopes of American policy makers and anti-revolutionary Iranian expatriats.]
"Prices for vegetables have tripled in the past month, housing prices have doubled since last summer — and as costs have gone up, so has Iranians' discontent with hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his focus on confrontation with the West...
"He is being challenged not only by reformers but by the conservatives who paved the way for his stunning victory in 2005 presidential elections...
"'The government has painted idealistic goals like tackling housing problems and unemployment ... but no solution has been offered,' said Mohammad Khoshchehreh, a prominent conservative lawmaker, told The Associated Press.
"Lawmakers summoned Ahmadinejad's Housing Minister Mohammad Saeedikia to parliament for questioning over the rising prices, which he blamed on increasing demand. He promised a plan to control prices, but gave no specifics.
"Demand for housing has swelled because of a population bulge in Iran. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, hard-line clerics encouraged Iranians to have more children, causing a high birth rate in the 1980s and prompting them to reverse the policy in the 1990s.
"Ahmadinejad's government 'has been strong on populist slogans but weak on achievement,' said Khoshchehreh, who campaigned for Ahmadinejad during the election...
"In a sign of the growing discontent, the president's allies suffered a humiliating defeat in December local elections, carried by reformists and anti-Ahmadinejad conservatives.
"Since then, Ahmadinejad's critics have become bolder, denouncing his nuclear policies, long seen as above criticism and an issue of national pride. They accuse him of unnecessarily escalating the nuclear standoff with his harsh rhetoric.
"Reformist and conservative lawmakers are considering calling Ahmadinejad before parliament to answer questions about his nuclear diplomacy and economic policies. So far no date has been set for summoning him."
- BBC, 26 April 2006
Analysis: Iran under pressure
"It's often said in the West that millions of Iranians, even those who are opposed to their government, believe that their country is entitled to a civilian nuclear programme.
"Iranian government propaganda certainly creates this impression. But in reality the picture is more complex...
"There has never been a free national debate about the nature of the nuclear programme, its advantages and disadvantages.
"Iran's highest security body, the Supreme Council for National Security, has ordered the media not to discuss the issue. Newspapers are allowed to support the government line but not to oppose it.
"Therefore many of the Iranians who support the government's nuclear policy may not be well informed.
"Many analysts believe that the widespread support for the nuclear programme in Iran may be shallow and subject to sudden change.
"Since Iran was referred to the UN Security Council in early March, people have suddenly realised that supporting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear policy could may have serious consequences.
"People are now fearful of sanctions and possible military action. They have seen two wars on their doorstep over the past four years, in Afghanistan and in Iraq...
"No-one knows how the Iranian people would react to economic measures against their country.
"Some would rally behind the government.
"But others might see any hardship caused by sanctions as a consequence of Mr Ahmadinejad's policies and hold him responsible.
"There are millions of people in Iran who are unhappy with the Islamic regime and may seek opportunities to vent their anger.
"Any weakening of central authority might also encourage separatist tendencies in the regions where ethnic and religious minorities live, such as Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Baluchistan and Azerbaijan.
"But others say Iranian society is not ready for a liberal democracy and warn that foreign intervention may strengthen the conservatives.
"The majority of the young people who were at the forefront of the reformist movement headed by the former President Mohammad Khatami, are now largely apolitical. Their main concern is to find jobs and earn a living...
"The ruling conservatives are already divided on how to run the country, especially on economic issues.
"Moderate conservatives accuse Mr Ahmadinejad of following a populist agenda for short-term political gains and are unhappy that the hardliners are setting the political agenda.
"Iran's political structure is complex and far from monolithic. The ruling clerics have not been able to establish a totalitarian state and there is a degree of freedom within the system."
- Washington Post, 27 March 2006
In Iran, Even Some On Right Warning Against Extremes; Conservative Faction Fears Radicalism
"TEHRAN -- Nine months after the election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, Iranian politics has shifted so sharply to the right that some traditional conservatives are warning of the dangers of radicalism.
"... In remarks that set off a domestic firestorm, a senior cleric close to the new president suggested in January that Iranian voters were largely irrelevant because the government requires only the approval of God.
"The remarks by Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah, and similar comments by an aide, were roundly criticized, even on the editorial page of Kayhan, a traditional showcase for hard-line thinking. Iranian political insiders said the flap offered a window on intense infighting at the highest reaches of Iran's theocracy just as world attention is focused on the government's determination to proceed with a nuclear program that skeptics call a cover for atomic weapons...
"The tension highlights significant divisions within Iran's conservative camp, often viewed from outside the country as a turbaned monolith. In reality, 27 years after the 1979 revolution that brought Shiite clerics to power, Iranian politics is a nuanced landscape defined largely by the lessons taken from the previous quarter-century...
"Mesbah's followers have now set their sights, Hadian-Jazy said, on gaining control of the panel of clerics that is empowered to name Iran's supreme leader -- an open-ended appointment that has been assumed to run a lifetime. Called the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member body will be elected in nationwide balloting set for October.
"Mesbah is expected to field a slate of graduates from his seminary, and in the preelection positioning now underway, some see preparations for a kind of coup. But the boldness hard-liners have shown since Ahmadinejad's surprise win -- on a populist platform that emphasized quality of life -- has unsettled many here."
- Asia Times Online, 18 February 2006
Ahmadinejad on the warpath
"As the Iranian revolution enters its 28th year this month, the Islamic Republic stands at the most critical stage of its history. While power is being transferred to second-generation revolutionaries, the country is on a collision course with the United States over its controversial nuclear program.
"At the center of this unfolding drama is the perplexing figure of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who has managed to isolate, enrage and frighten important domestic and external constituencies in the space of only six months.
"Left to their own devices, Ahmadinejad and the second-generation revolutionaries who stand behind him are likely to change the Islamic Republic beyond recognition in the years ahead. But the complicating factor in all this is the increasing possibility of some form of military confrontation between Iran and the United States within two years. The key question is whether Ahmadinejad and his inner circle believe that military confrontation serves their long-term political and socio-economic agenda...
"Contrary to Western reporting, Ahmadinejad's performance has generated more controversy and ill-feeling within the corridors of power in Tehran than in the crucible of Western public opinion. Arguably, the most surprising development in the past six months is the extent of Ahmadinejad's independence and freedom of action.
"Originally dismissed as the lackey of the clerical establishment, Ahmadinejad has proved time and again that the only agenda that drives him is his own...
"While liberals and reformists are, broadly speaking, in opposition to the Ahmadinejad government, it is the conservative establishment that has emerged as the second-generation revolutionaries' most formidable adversary. This is not surprising, given that the latter aspire to reorder fundamentally the socio-economic system in the Islamic Republic, changes that would fatally weaken the conservatives...
"Reformists and conservatives alike are desperate to avoid war, for diametrically opposed reasons. For the former, aggression by the US would spell the end (at least for another generation) of the country's emerging grassroots democracy movement...
"What the conservatives fear losing ... is their economic and commercial privileges. Contrary to Western reporting, the conservative establishment is not held together by ideology, but by vast (and impossibly complex) networks of patronage and economic/commercial monopolies..."
EU, et al.
- Daily Telegraph (London), 17 January 2007
Royal seeks 2009 EU charter vote
FRENCH Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal announced today that she would ask the French public to vote again in 2009 on a new European Union constitution if she were elected.
Ms Royal, running neck-and-neck in polls with conservative frontrunner, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, said she wanted the EU to agree on a new treaty during the French presidency in the second half of 2008.
"I want the French people to be consulted once again in a referendum in 2009," she told reporters after a meeting with Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.
Ms Royal said a new European constitution should add a declaration on workers' rights and public services.
"With this, I think that the French people will regain confidence and I will be able to bring them along, those who voted yes and those who voted no," she said.
- BBC, 17 January 2007
Constitution 'key for EU success'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Europe it faces an "historic failure" if it does not revive the deadlocked European constitution.
Setting out her plans for Germany's presidency of the EU, she said the bloc should agree on a new charter before the 2009 European elections.
She said the EU was a success story, embodying the continent's values of freedom, variety and tolerance.
She set out an ambitious programme for the next six months.
But the constitution is one of the Germany's highest priorities.
"The reflection pause is over. By June, we must reach a decision on what to do with the constitution," the German chancellor told MEPs...
This greater coherence in EU foreign policy, she said, demanded that the EU had its own foreign minister.
The proposal for a foreign minister was part of the draft EU constitution which was rejected by French and Dutch voters 18 months ago. The constitution was also supposed to simplify working arrangements and decision-making.
Supporters of structural reform say it is the only way to keep the EU functioning after its enlargement from 15 to 27 members in the past few years.
But opponents say EU leaders should not ignore the wishes of Dutch and French voters who said "No"...
- BBC, 10 January 2007
Far-right MEPs announce alliance
Far-right members of the European Parliament have joined forces and formed their own political group.
The move will give them more influence and access to funds. The group's name is "Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty"...
As a recognised political group in the parliament, the far right will get greater funding and will have a say in setting the agenda for plenary sessions.
The far right is likely to push for a freeze on further EU enlargement - especially the prospect of membership for Turkey - and to resist any attempts to revive the shipwrecked EU constitution...
- The Guradian (UK), 8 January 2007
Romania's first gift to the European Union - a caucus of neo-fascists and Holocaust deniers
In France, the group's prospective leader has been barred from teaching at his university and is awaiting a court verdict for questioning the Nazis' mass murder of Europe's Jews...
Then there is the Polish professor who uses public office to pay tribute to General Franco, the late Spanish dictator. Or the intellectual strategist of an Austrian party whose ideology, according to a Vienna court, is similar to that of Hitler's "national socialism".
Such are the leading lights of "Europe of the Fatherlands", the world of politically organised European far-right extremism who are expected to form their first transnational organisation next week by establishing a formal caucus in the European parliament.
The development is an early result of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. Ironically, given the hostility of the west European far right to expansion, to immigration, and to eastern Europe, it is Romania's entry that has made the caucus possible: the EU parliament's rules stipulate that an official caucus in the chamber needs to have representatives from at least five countries, and a minimum of 19 MEPs. They now meet this requirement...
The plan is to announce the creation of an official parliamentary caucus during the first session of the year on January 15. The caucus will bring together about 20 MEPs from at least six countries...
By establishing a formal caucus, the extreme right will benefit from greater EU funding. A priority, said Mr Moelzer, will be to fight any German-led attempts to revive Europe's comatose constitution.
- al Jazeera, 24 December 2006
EU constitution losing support
The current European Union constitution does not have any chance of coming into effect but its values, principles and substance could be salvaged, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, has said.
Barroso, when asked about Angela Merkel's aim to save the constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, said: "I want to give you an honest answer: the EU constitution in its current form will not come into effect.
"We should not fool ourselves. It's important now to maintain its values, its principles and its substance. Above all, we have to improve the decision-making mechanism, and we need to do that as quickly as possible."...
Germany takes over the EU presidency for six months with an agenda of reviving institutional reforms. The EU is set to grow to 27 members when Bulgaria and Romania join on January 1.
German leaders said they hoped to map out a timetable and blueprint for the EU constitution by the end of its presidency. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, has pointed out that two-thirds of the EU members are behind the constitution.
At their last summit in Brussels earlier in December, EU leaders remained divided on whether and how to revive the stalled EU constitution, a treaty stalemate expected to last well into 2008.
- Washington Post, 23 October 2006
Europe's Long Legal Tether on Russia -- Court of Human Rights a Powerful Check on Excesses, Abuses
"While President Vladimir Putin has been marginalizing Russia's parliament,
opposition, media and human rights groups, this international court sitting
1,250 miles away in Strasbourg, France, has emerged as a powerful check on
the excesses of the Russian bureaucracy and failures by the country's own
investigative organs and courts to follow Russia's laws.
"The European Court enforces the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms, drawn up by the Council of Europe, an international
body founded in the wake of World War II to defend human rights, parliamentary
democracy and the rule of law. Russia ratified the convention in 1998,
agreeing to accept the court's decisions as binding..."
- The Economist, 19 September 2006
The IMF and World Bank are getting on. They are struggling to find new roles at a time of global economic stability
"...The organisations were born into a world torn apart by war. The economists meeting at Bretton Woods also had sharp memories of the international financial crisis of the 1930s, when mercantilist policies and the failure of the international-payments system devastated world trade. They hoped to avert future crises by setting up multilateral institutions to act as a stabilising influence during the post-war reconstruction. The bank’s first job was rebuilding Europe; the IMF oversaw the fixed exchange-rate system established at Bretton Woods. Later on the pair sought new roles as the stewards of global economic development and financial stability.
"Now the IMF and World Bank have fewer jobs to do. Markets work better, as do other financial institutions. Helped by improved economic theory, the world has grown richer and more stable...
"The power struggle between rich and rising economies is pushing into the area of governance. The IMF has won approval for the first stage of an overhaul of its voting structure that gives a slightly bigger voice to China and other emerging markets. But many poorer countries want substantially more say. Tinkering with the voting rights of various countries will make it no easier to resolve deep-seated disputes. The IMF has promised a more fundamental overhaul by 2008. Nor is it clear what might replace the once widely-supported “Washington consensus”, which has guided interventions over the past decade but is falling out of favour.
"Nor will reform shield the World Bank. Its leader, Paul Wolfowitz, seems to want to undertake a similar overhaul of his institution. But questions remain over the efficacy of its aid. And worries persist about the weakening market for the banks loans to creditworthy middle-income countries, which help to finance development. Both institutions are in dire need of a cure for creaky old age."
- The Economist, 21 April 2006
Reshaping the IMF
Not even a cat to rescue
The International Monetary Fund contemplates its future
"WHAT is a firefighter to do when there aren't any fires? The IMF spent 1994-2002 dashing from one financial conflagration to the next. But the sirens have been silent for some time. As a result, the fund's budget is shrinking and the morale of its staff is sinking. Some of its best customers are now doing without it, leaving some of its biggest shareholders wondering what to do with it.
"...the fund's job is to furnish foreign exchange to countries that have temporarily run short. It can call on about $220 billion of hard currency in the first instance. That sounds like plenty. But some of its former customers now have big, shiny fire-engines of their own. South Korea, for example, has $217 billion in its vaults. Between them, eight East Asian countries (Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and South Korea) command reserves worth about ten times the IMF total. These countries have even begun to pool a small fraction of their combined hoard, under what is called the Chiang Mai Initiative.
"Lately no one has been calling on the fund's own supply... Quiet times are lean times for the IMF. Like any bank, it covers its running costs ... from the interest it earns on its loans. But this financing model “is no longer tenable”... By its own projections, the IMF will live beyond its means by almost $300m in 2009-10. The belt-tightening this implies has not gone down well with staff, who show little taste for the austerity they are notorious for prescribing to others.
"There are lots of ways to plug this gap... But is the fund worth the price? Friends and foes alike urge it to recover its standing by rediscovering its roots. It was set up in 1944 to police exchange rates and to oversee the orderly resolution of trade imbalances...
"But the fund's authority does not match this ambition. John Maynard Keynes envisaged his brainchild as a “grandmotherly” institution, able to guide and chide national governments. But the fund now has little sway over family members who do not need its money.
"With no way to punish offenders, the fund is left only with the power of “surveillance”: keeping an eye on the policies and frailties of its members and reporting on each in turn...
"If the IMF were to wither away—its money untapped, its advice unheeded—should anyone care? If emerging economies want to insure themselves against financial crises, rather than run to the fund, surely they should be applauded? Alas, their self-reliance is expensive and inefficient...
"How can the fund regain the confidence of its estranged members? The first step ... is to give them a greater say in its affairs. The fund is close to being a shareholder democracy: the votes a country wields are proportional to the money it contributes. This “quota” is in turn meant to reflect a country's weight in the world economy. Even by the obscure formula that the fund uses, several emerging economies are now hugely underrepresented and many European countries overrepresented..."
- The Economist, 12 April 2006
Islam in Europe
An op-ed column from The Economist describes some problems for Europe with a Muslim minority and some problems for Muslims in Europe.
"...Traditional teaching frowns on the idea of distinctive forms of Islam, holding that there is a single community of believers, the umma...
"Theologians have wrestled over the terms under which Muslims may live in non-Muslim lands. In the background is the belief that, if Muslim-friendly conditions do not exist, believers have a duty to migrate in search of more congenial places. But what makes the European Muslim experience challenging is that Muslims have migrated from their heartlands to places where they are a permanent minority. Theologians can hardly say that conditions in Europe are intolerable, when millions have voted with their feet...
"In the teeth of traditional teaching, European Muslims are creating a distinctive form of Islam. They are driven by their experience as minorities; by a desire to overcome ethnic differences; and by the trauma of emigration. The first encourages Muslims to co-operate with non-Muslims; the second encourages them to look beyond their traditions; the third forces them to come to terms with change and modernity...
"Internal ethnic differences are reinforcing the minority experience to encourage a European Islam. Outsiders tend to see Europe's Muslims as all the same. But in fact they fall into at least five categories: those from European countries (Bosnia, Albania, bits of Russia); converts; first-generation immigrants; second- or third-generation Muslims born in Europe, who speak only European languages and, except in their religion, are indistinguishable from others; and those who have become largely secular...
"The question is whether the search among young European Muslims for a new reading of their faith will stop there. Merely to live in pluralist western societies, where 'choice' is important, is to pose questions that their parents never faced. In Bradford, the Islamic teaching curriculum had to be entirely overhauled to make it comprehensible to young Muslims. The development of a European Islam is, in a sense, at a caterpillar stage. As the final declaration of the conference of imams in Vienna said, there is no agreement on how to resolve the conflict between freedom of expression and defending Islam. Nor is there a consensus on the rights of European Muslim women.
"For all these reasons, Europe's emerging Islam has not so far had any impact farther afield. But it is hard to believe that an Islam that is more open to democracy, sexual equality, and modernity would have no effect in the Middle East. And, uncertain and gradual as its gestation may be, that seems to be the Islam that European Muslims are trying to create."
- Guardian (UK), 23 March 2006
EU's 'big three' in crisis, says third way guru
"France, Germany and Italy are facing an economic crisis with worrying levels of unemployment, Tony Blair's intellectual guru has declared on the eve of an EU summit which starts in Brussels this afternoon.
"In a rare insight into the prime minister's private thoughts about some of Britain's closest European partners, Anthony Giddens warned of further trouble unless the three countries reform...
- BBC, 21 October 2005
The identity crisis facing Europe
"...In Europe we have British Asians, German Turks...
"In the US the emphasis is the other way around, they are not American Poles but Polish Americans.
"Americans first and foremost, implying a sense of belonging and of acceptance which Europe
sometimes struggles to emulate. I think it is because we live in a continent still trying to define its identity..."
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