Zambia has chosen today, of all days, to act out every American's worst fears about their own election. Michel Sata, leader of the Zambian opposition Patriotic Front Party, announced that he will challenge the result of Zambia's election last week. Sata had announced before the vote that he would not accept a defeat, and has evidently made good on that promise by accusing the army of "intimidating people," and "[fixing] the election" in favor of his opponent, Rupiah Banda.
Could the American election reach Zambia's levels of dysfunction? Well, probably not, though there have been signs that the voting hasn't gone entirely smoothly. The process got off to a bad start yesterday, when thousands of pages of voter information were found inexplicably lying on the side of a highway in Florida. Today, The New Republic's David Jamieson reported complaints ranging from a lack of ballots at polling places, flyers telling people to vote on Wednesday, and even "wet ballots."
Here's hoping for an Election Day with a bare minimum of soggy ballots, and which evokes no parallels to Zambian politics.
It makes sense that the British government would want to smooth over relations with Russia by sending a cabinet minister to visit Moscow, the first such visit in over a year. But couldn't the Brits have sent someone -- anyone -- other than Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who is currently at the center of a scandal over his relationship with a Russian oligarch?
Mandelson's friendly overtures to the Kremlin have been entirely overshadowed by questions from the British press. At issue is whether favors from metals magnate Oleg Deripaska played a role in Mandelson's decision to reduce aluminum tariffs while he was EU trade commissioner, a decision that greatly benefited Russia's richest man. Months after the change, Deripaska entertained Mandelson and other VIPs on his yacht in the Mediterranean.
Mandelson angrily brushed aside a question about the scandal during a press conference Wednesday, telling the reporter, "You have wasted your question." Mandelson has been cleared by the British government of any wrongdoing, but during a BBC interview, also yesterday, he noticeably failed to deny that he and Deripaska had discussed lowering the tariffs prior to the decision being made.
The tabloids have been having a field day with the $9,000-a-night hotel suite where Lord Mandelson is staying during his Moscow visit, a questionable PR move during an economic crisis. The Daily Mail proclaimed the room, "Fit for an Oligarch." It also can't help Mandelson that Deripaska is back in the headlines for the $4.5 billion bailout he received from the Russian government this week.
The Brits might want a do-over on this one.
Photo: Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Mo Ibrahim is a rare breed of African billionaire. On a continent far too often associated with the Mobutu Sese-Sekos and Charles Taylors of the world (whose fortunes came from commodity wealth, skimmed gracefully off the state budget), Ibrahim did it differently. A Sudanese telecoms entrepreneur, he earned his respect and big bucks as a businessman.
Now Ibrahim has set himself on a far more difficult task: fixing African governance and changing the continent's culture of corruption. A politician in Nigeria once described it to me like this: In a continent where so many are poor, when you see the chance to secure a financial future, you take it. Unabashedly, many politicians have done so. In 2006, Transparency International estimated that $140 billion of misappropriated African money was invested abroad.
Ibrahim just may have found one of those rare strategies that is perfectly suited to the problem. Need an incentive for good governance? How about the more than $5 million that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation now offers to its yearly prize winner, a head of state who has recently left office. The qualifications are simply good behavior: attention to economic development, human rights, public health, transparency, rule of law, and security.
It's still nothing compared to the potential payoffs for corrupt leaders, (during my time in Nigeria, a former governor was arrested for having amassed $35 million in foreign accounts, though his official salary was just $25,000 a year) but it is a well-earned reward for those who resist this path. This year's winner, former Botswanan president Festus Mogae, oversaw economic growth and enormous progress in battling the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS patients.
The prize has been criticized by some for rewarding behavior that should just be expected as something extraordinary. But the most important aspect the prize has is not the reward itself, but the chance to tell the other story about African leadership -- to the continent itself and to the world. As Ibrahim explained to the New York Times, we all know about the Mugabes of Africa, but they're only part of the story.
There are two stories today about Western politicans soliciting donations from Russian citizens. One is just funny, the other, a potentially bigger deal.
The BBC reports that Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin has been receiving mailers from McCain's campaign asking for help to "stop the Democrats from seizing control of Washington and implementing their radically liberal policy for our nation."
It's obviously just a mistake so there's no foul here, but Russia's U.N. mission seems to be relishing the opportunity to embarrass Mr. "We are all Georgians." As McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said, "it sounds like they're having a little fun at our expense."
If the British media seems to be overselling the Churkin story, it's probably an attempt to tie it to a British scandal with potentially far more serious implications. In a letter to the Times of London today, hedge fund manager Nathaniel Rothschild accused shadow chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne (above) of soliciting a donation to the Conservative Party from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska while all three were vacationing on the Greek Island of Corfu over the Summer.
Rothschild suggests that Osborne asked for £50,000 on board Deripaska's private yacht and discussed with a Tory fund raiser how the Russian citizen's donation could be channeled through one of the British companies he owns. Osborne has denied soliciting the donation, though he admits spending time on the yacht. The Osborne allegations are actually just the latest twist in a scandal that until now focused on European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, a Labour Party member, who also availed himself of Deripaska's hospitality at the same gathering.
Memo to politicians everywhere: Even if you're not doing anything explicitly illegal, avoid spending time on yachts with wealthy foreign nationals. It never looks good.
Economic development blogger Chris Blattman has posted an interesting interview with Raymond "Ray" Fisman and Edward "Ted" Miguel, authors of "How Economics Can Defeat Corruption" in the September/October issue of FP:
[Chris]: Economists are fond of saying that strong institutions are at the heart of American economic growth. I say they should watch 'Gangs of New York' -- Scorsese makes Lagos and Nairobi look like kindergarten by comparison. Do we underplay violence and corruption in our own history, and overplay it in Africa today?
Ted: Yes, we could easily have written a book about violence and corruption in 19th century America or Europe. And there are surely lessons to be learned about present-day problems from looking at that earlier era, and vice versa.Ray: But there are some highly instructive differences. In the 1970s, Sierra Leonian President Siaka Stevens destroyed the railroad in his country's southeast as a means of weakening an opposing ethnic group, the Mende. Contrast this with the equally corrupt robber barons of 19th century America, who used their power to build railways instead of tearing them down.
Fisman and Miguel have also started a promising-looking blog on the site for their new book, Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations, on which their FP article was based.
If you were investing in South Africa's promising economy, what is the last thing you'd like to see?
Well, there's no need for hypotheticals. You could have just watched the news last night.
The resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, who for all his flaws oversaw fantastic economic growth, has sent shivers up investors' spines. South Africa is one step closer to its next elected leader, leftist Jacob Zuma of dubious economic credentials, who is hugely favored to win polls in 2009. But even more alarming, the country's respected political system looks closer to operating on tit-for-tat political disputes than ever in its democratic history.
Zuma was once Mbeki's deputy prime minister, but since a falling out several years ago, he has pushed hard to make his own name. In December, Zuma ousted Mbeki as the party leader of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). Just last week, Zuma and Mbeki sparred again -- this time over long-pending corruption charges against the former. A court dismissed the charges against Zuma, and the ANC accused President Mbeki of having pressured the courts to go after his rival. Mbeki denied the charges, but tendered his resignation after his party pushed him out.
Since Zuma -- not yet a minister or MP -- is currently ineligible, ANC political veteran Kgalema Motlanthe looks slated to take over until next year's elections. Investors are waiting to see if Motlanthe will keep Mbeki's ministers or stick in a few of his own. Zuma, when he comes, has promised to redo South Africa's growth, empowering the working classes. No one is yet certain what that will look like, but opposition politician Helen Zille tells BBC that it's code for "grab the spoils of state."
It would be a shame if a bitter political struggle sends South Africa back in time. As retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu eloquently put it, "The way of retribution leads to a banana republic."
Remember Angel Matos, the Cuban Olympic martial artist who kicked a referee in the face after he was disqualified from a bronze-medal taekwondo match? According to Fidel Castro, he was totally justified since the match was obviously fixed:
"They had tried to buy his own coach," Castro wrote in his essay, published in state media. "He could not contain himself."
Cuba is accustomed to winning gold in boxing, but settled this year for four silver and four bronze medals. Overall, Cuba took home only two gold medals, down from nine in Athens four years ago.
"I saw when the judges blatantly stole fights from two Cuban boxers in the semi-finals," Castro wrote. "Our fighters ... had hopes of winning, despite the judges, but it was useless. They were condemned beforehand."
After their ejection, Matos's coach alleged that he had been offered a bribe before the match by their Kazakh opponents.
Castro vowed big changes for Cuban sports in the four years in order to counter the "European chauvinism, judge corruption, buying of brawn and brains...and a strong dose of racism" that they were sure to encounter in 2012.
I never like to tell a fellow blogger what he should be writing about, but it seems to me that Castro would better serve Cuban sports by praising an exceptional Cuban athlete like hurdler Dayron Robles, who turned in one of Beijing's more dominating performances, rather than sticking up for an unprofessional bully like Matos.
As dreams of a gas-tax holiday died in Congress amid concerns of lost jobs for transport and construction, lawmakers in the Ivory Coast are paying for a reduction in fuel costs out of their own pockets. Both government ministers and managers of state-owned companies will see their paychecks halved to pay for a 10-percent cut in fuel prices, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro says:
Having heard the people's cry from the heart, the government has decided to cut the price of fuel," Mr Soro said.
A noble effort on its face, yes, this political stunt could actually be double trouble for the people of Ivory Coast. We've expressed our skepticism toward "gas-tax holidays" before, but lowering government officials' pay can also prove problematic, making ministers more susceptible to the ubiquitous temptation of corruption.
After Kenya's violent polls in December, and Robert Mugabe's "sham" reelection last month, electoral violence is rearing its ugly head once more. The latest victim? Mongolia, an otherwise respectable democracy now "facing its biggest challenge since its birth in 1990," The New York Times reports:
Following cries of fraud in parliamentary elections — accusations that were disputed by international election observers — hundreds of rioters, many of them drunk, attacked the headquarters of the dominant political party and the neighboring national art gallery on July 1. Fires were started. Five people were killed. More than 1,000 pieces of artwork were destroyed, damaged or looted.
But not everyone's jumping off the democracy bandwagon just yet. While the government's response to the violence--which included declaring a state of emergency, shutting down media outlets, and deploying troops into the streets--was far from ideal, there are reasons to remain optimistic.
For one, the violence appears not to be caused by any inherent flaws in Mongolia's system, but rather by the unfortunate confluence of economic frustrations and cheap vodka. Second, as we noted in the March/April edition of FP, Mongolia's parliament is among the world's strongest, and recent research shows that countries with strong legislatures are more likely to have resilient democracies.
While the government must answer for its stronghanded response to the recent violence and address the ecnomic concerns that may have caused it, I'd expect the only democracy from the Sea of Japan to Eastern Europe will endure.
Last month, Dmitry Medvedev assured a group of international CEOs that he would work to enforce the rule of law and establish "absolutely independent modern courts that comply with the country's economic development level." But if the assembled corporate leaders were hoping that the new Russian president would be true to his word, and the corruption and politically motivated prosecutions of the Putin era would end, this has not been an encouraging couple of days.
Yesterday, most of the expatriate staff of TNK-BP, an oil venture co-owned by British Petroleum, were denied extensions of their work visas. CEO Robert Dudley e-mailed employees this morning telling them to prepare for relocation as early as next week. The standoff between BP and its Russian partners has been escalating for months but after today, it appears that that the Russian shareholders have effectively wrestled the company away from the departing Brits. (Medvedev has denied accusations that the government is intervening on behalf of the Russian oligarchs on TNK-BP's board as well as the rumors that his old company Gazprom plans to take control of what's left of the company.)
Also today, new charges were filed against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Once Russia's richest man, the former CEO of oil company Yukos has languished in a Siberian prison since a tax-evasion conviction in 2003 that was widely seen as punishment for the tycoon's political ambitions. Khodorkovsky has now been charged with embezzling more than $28 billion and stealing 350 million tons of oil. Kohodorkovsky's lawyers had hoped he could be released early after having served more than half his original sentence, but the new charges could keep him behind bars for another 20 years. One of his lawyers, Robert Amsterdam, told Bloomberg: "I don't think they're even trying to make these new charges look real."
Russia's leaders have created a legal system in which it's essentially impossible for a business to operate legally, making anyone who does business there subject to arbitrary prosecution. It's an arrangement that's well-suited to protecting state power, but not very effective at promoting economic growth. If Medvedev really wants to make Russia the world's fifth largest economy by 2020, he's going to need to try a littler harder.
Corrupt officials are raking off a sum equivalent to one third of Russia's annual budget, or $120 billion, a senior prosecutor was quoted as saying Friday.
It looks like Georgia's opposition may have a legitimate beef about yesterday's parliamentary election, which President Mikheil Saakashvili's party appears to have won commandingly. Here's what the observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had to say:
Parties were able to campaign actively, but there were numerous allegations of intimidation, some of which could be verified [...] Election day was overall calm and generally assessed positively, although problems with inking and instances of pressure on observers and proxies were noted. Counting and tabulation was evaluated less positively, with many significant procedural shortcomings observed.
While they differ little on policy, opposition parties accuse Saakashvili's government of widespread corruption and are still angry over the crackdown on demonstrators in Tbilisi last year.
But as valid as their complaints may be, last night's post-election rally sounds like one uninspiring affair:
The opposition called for protests in Tbilisi late on Wednesday night, saying tens of thousands would gather, but only about 1,000 people showed up [...] Protesters then watched live coverage of the Champions League final in Moscow between English teams Manchester United and Chelsea.
It does sound like it was a good game, but still, this is no way to overthrow a government. I hope they weren't Chelsea fans at least.
For months, Greece has been threatening to veto Macedonia’s admittance into the EU, all because the two can't agree on the name issue. But with violent outbreaks pock-marking Macedonia in the weeks before its June 1 elections, it appears the tiny Balkan state might just knock itself out of contention before Greece even gets the chance.
Since the beginning of the campaign last Sunday, a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) has been stabbed to death and members of the rival Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), have been beaten, shot at, and had their offices attacked. In the latter cases, the DUI has blamed the violence on DPA supporters.
EU leaders have expressed concern over
This seems like an awfully understated response on the part of the EU, for whom Macedonia is quite close to the front of its new membership queue. A candidate country since 2005, Macedonia is on track for EU membership in the coming years. But if the country can’t better control its pre-election tensions, is it really ready? After all, as Bulgaria has shown, EU membership is not just going to make crime and corruption disappear. But on the flip side, the promise of an EU future may be the only thing keeping countries like Macedonia on track toward an eventually stable government.
So back to Greece and its veto-happy approach to its northern neighbor. Is prolonged regional instability really worth it for one little modifier?
It's getting harder for the Burmese state to hide the truly profound level of its own dysfunction:
The Burmese generals were visible all right. State television showed them handing out boxes of the small amount of aid allowed in from neighbouring Thailand. Unwittingly, it also showed that the Burmese leadership had plastered their own names over the true origins of the food aid to fool their own people into believing that the emergency relief supplies had come from them.
You know things are bad when a military dictatorship can't even get its own propaganda right.
(Hat tip: Reason's Kerry Howley)
Today, Israeli police raided the offices of the Jerusalem municipality looking for evidence of bribes given to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by New York businessman Morris Talansky.
With Israel's media gag order lifted, more details are starting to come out about the investigation. It now appears that the investigators are looking into money Olmert received while he was a minister in Ariel Sharon's government, not when he was running for mayor of Jerusalem as previously reported:
"At present, the investigation is clearly focusing on the period when Olmert served as the minister of industry, trade and labor," the official said, adding that investigators may yet expand their probe to cover the period during which Talansky raised funds for Olmert's various election campaigns. "The investigators have solid information regarding envelopes of cash that were handed over to Olmert, and there is no information regarding the fate of that money."
In an interview on Israeli television, Talansky denied bribing Olmert and said that he had donated to Olmert's campaigns but had no idea how the money was spent. However, according to the New York Times, a minibar company started by Talansky picked up a $4,717 one-night Washington hotel tab for Olmert in 2005. Even at the Ritz-Carton, that's a lot of cashews.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush will arrive in Israel tomorrow and plans to meet with Olmert. Asked about the investigation today, he described the Israeli prime minister as "an honest man, an open man, a guy easy to talk to and somebody who understands the vision necessary for Israelis' security."
Fifty-nine percent of Israelis, on the other hand, don't really see it that way.
Fire up your popcorn poppers and invite over all your friends: On Wednesday night, PBS stations nationwide will air the new National Geographic documentary Illicit: The Dark Trade, based on the bestselling book by FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím. You can check your local listings for times. (If you live in Washington, D.C., it's on WETA TV 26 at 8:00 p.m.)
The film explores the dark underbelly of globalization, from the counterfeiting of luxury goods to money laundering to human trafficking. Highlights include live footage of a raid on a counterfeit warehouse and a moving sequence illustrating how the contaminated cough syrup that killed dozens in Panama last year originated at an unlicensed Chinese chemical factory. It also features extensive interviews with Naím and our Carnegie Endowment colleague Minxin Pei.
Here's a preview:
FP subscribers can also check out Naím's 2003 cover story, "The Five Wars of Globalization," to see where it all began.
Bulgaria, the EU’s newest member state, is fast becoming one of Brussels' main headaches.
Back in January, corruption accusations grew so rampant around the country’s road construction projects that the EU froze all related funding until further investigation.
Then, less than a week after EU officials visited Sofia to warn against corruption and organized crime, a prominent businessman was shot twice in the head in the stairwell of his apartment building. Less than 24 hours later, a former mafioso turned novelist was also shot and killed while leaving a downtown café. Their deaths only add to the 150 or so mafia-style killings in Bulgaria since the fall of communism –- none of which have seen convictions.
Now, Bulgaria’s parliament has reported that its country’s problems extend far beyond the new EU border. Bulgaria’s National Security Agency has found that Bulgarian drug traffickers, who do a sizable business sitting on the fault line between Europe and Southwest Asia, have close links to Arab drug traders who, in turn, fund Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
I’m all for the EU accession of Western Balkan states –- if nothing else because there is presently no other viable alternative for an economically and politically stable future in the region. But it's because of the lack of an alternative that accession standards have slipped as far as they have. And if the EU can’t hold Bulgaria on its commitment to anti-corruption standards, how will it ever manage the likes of Bosnia and Serbia?
As many of you know, I have been blogging this week from the Salzburg Global Seminar’s session on Russia: The 2020 Perspective.
Most of what I've written so far has been focused on U.S. policy toward Russia. But the United States can only influence Russian domestic developments on the margins. So, what does Russia itself need to do over the next 12 years?
If I were president of Russia, my absolute top priority would be to strengthen property rights, which will make it possible for Russia to diversify its economy away from oil and gas, build a real middle class, and bring in much-needed foreign investment and advanced technology. There is much work to do. Exhibit A: the case of Hermitage Capital Management Limited, which until recently was the top portfolio investment fund working in Russia.
Hermitage CEO Bill Browder, you may recall, made news in 2005 when he was suddenly barred from reentering Russia. Browder had been making too much noise about "shareholder rights," and in doing so he apparently stepped on some powerful toes. The fund has since pulled its $4 billion worth of investments in Russia, but new details are emerging that paint a disturbing picture of the business environment in the country. Last week, Hermitage updated its investors on a campaign of "administrative harassment" in Moscow that could have ended with corrupt local officials absconding with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the fund's assets.
According to Hermitage, the story goes like this. In summer 2007, its offices were raided by the Moscow Interior Ministry, supposedly as part of an investigation into Kameya, a company owned by one of Hermitage's clients. The allegation was that Kameya owed $48 million in taxes. When Kameya's people went to clear things up with the Tax Ministry, officials there confirmed in writing that in fact, the company was eligible for a refund and owed no back taxes. Meanwhile, when one of Hermitage's lawyers complained about the raid's questionable relevance to Kameya, he was beaten by Interior Ministry goons, arrested, and fined 15,000 rubles for his insolence.
So, what was going on? Hermitage alleges that "a more sinister agenda" was at work. The real purpose of the Kameya raid was for Moscow Interior Ministry officials to get their hands on documents that could be used to seize the fund's assets.
Here's how the attempted scam worked. The Moscow Interior Ministry official in charge of the "investigation" launched what Hermitage calls a "fishing expedition" to locate the fund's assets -- demanding all records from four foreign banks that might lead him to the prize. At the same time, somebody used the captured documents to fraudulently change the ownership of three investment vehicles owned by British bank HSBC, a Hermitage trustee. From there, it gets complicated, but the bottom line is that a mysterious team of lawyers representing "their" companies then assented to a fake court ruling that would have put the three HSBC entities on the hook for $380 million. Luckily for Hermitage, the vehicles were "dormant" and held no assets, so the would-be millionaires came up empty.
"The more we learned, the more unbelieveable it became," Hermitage says. The fund's management passed along their findings to Russia's finance minister in Davos, which were then put in front of President-elect Dmitry Medvedev and a pair of investigations has begun. The year before, though, Medvedev had personally assued Browder in Davos that his visa troubles would be cleared up, and he couldn't deliver. Now, Hermitage says the officials involved in the attempted theft are making "spurious claims" and feeding misinformation about the fund to the press -- so the fund is going public with the story.
This case will be a key test for Medvedev, a lawyer by training who has vowed to tackle Russia's property rights and corruption problems when he takes office in May. But as European Commissioner for External Relations Bentia Ferrero-Waldner put it to us in Salzburg this week, "Ultimately the world will assess Mr. Medvedev on his deeds, not just on his words." It's showtime, Dmitry.
Blake Hounshell is Web Editor of ForeignPolicy.com. He has been blogging this week from the Salzburg Global Seminar session on Russia: The 2020 Perspective.
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has an op-ed in today's Guardian in which he predicts that President Robert Mugabe is about to bring the hammer down to maintain power after last week's election, the results of which have still not been released:
Adept at stealing elections from the hands of voters, Mugabe is now amassing government troops; blocking court proceedings where we have attempted to seek an order simply for the electoral commission to release the final tally of the March 29 poll; raiding the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); and casting a pall of suppression and gloom over the country. The feared militias, made up of misguided activists and the same war veterans who pushed for and benefited from the disastrous land confiscations from the late 1990s, are being mobilised. This can only mean, despite some earlier evidence to the contrary, that sanity has been discarded along with truth in the offices of Zanu-PF.
Tsvangirai goes on to promise Mugabe that he need not fear prosecution if he steps down.
Mugabe, predictably, is going back to one of his favorite tactics by raiding the country's few remaining white-owned farms and accusing white farmers of trying to regain their lost property amid the election chaos:
"Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites," President Mugabe told a crowd gathered at a funeral of his wife's uncle.
Stoking racial tensions has worked for Mugabe in past times of crisis, but the fact that election results have still not been released and he is accusing his own handpicked election commission of "errors and miscalculations" is probably a sign that Mugabe did much worse than expected. Mugabe's "father of the nation" routine is going to be harder to pull off this time. Short of resorting to brute force on a massive scale, it's hard to see how he gets out of this one.
Via allAfrica, Nigerian papers are reporting that the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Comission is investigating ex-President Olesegun Obasanjo for corruption. The former leader is suspected of misappropriating $16 billion in funds meant for Nigeria's energy sector.
The investigation of Obasanjo, along with the firing two senior ministers on suspicion of stealing public funds, could be a sign that current president Umaru Yar'Adua is trying to distance himself from the predecessor that essentially appointed him in badly flawed elections last spring.
A word of warning: Should you get an e-mail from "Obasanjo" asking you to look after his money during the investigation, don't reply.
Lawrence Lessig -- FP contributor, Stanford law professor, and Internet superstar -- today staked his claim as the leader of a new cause: attacking corruption.
At a joint press conference with the Sunlight Foundation, a relatively new group that seeks to improve transparency and public trust in Congress, Lessig launched the "Change Congress" movement. His new organization will seek pledges from lawmakers and candidates to turn away lobbyist and PAC funds, vote to outlaw earmarks, advocate for public campaign financing, and promote transparency. U.S. voters can also join the movement to let their representatives know that they want the buzzword on everyone's lips: change.
In an interview after the press conference, Lessig told me how he decided to pursue the issue of money in American democracy:
It kind of hit me that it was the same problem that was causing the misallocation of policy in [Al Gore's] area was causing it in my area... just the recognition that Congress failed to address [global warming] for 10 years when it should have addressed it because of the enormous influence of money in that process. That's what made me realize that this was not just limited to marginal, esoteric problems."
By "esoteric problems," Lessig was referring to his intellectual property work. I also asked him about the climate for reform now that a new presidential administration is on the way. His response:
The climate's great but I think anybody who expects a president can affect change like this on his own is not understanding where the system works. So that's why it seems to be really critical to recognize the only way you're going to tee up reform for the president is to begin to build reform in the trenches."
Lessig said his goal is to spark a "process revolution" rather than push for specific policy changes. It's like alcoholism, he said: Only by solving Congress's addiction to money will you be able to tackle its side effects. Here's hoping Congress can sober up.
Dmitry Medvedev's Sunday win in Russia came as no surprise, but it appears the Kremlin was concerned about one possibility: low voter turnout. Fifty percent turnout was needed to validate the election, according to Russian electoral law, and officials were determined to avoid an embarrassment for Vladimir Putin's heir.
Prior to the election, Putin called on Russians to get out the vote, and the Kremlin predicted a turnout of at least 70 percent. But despite their public confidence, officials nonetheless resorted to non-traditional means in order to ensure desired numbers.
In Moscow, voters were lured to polling places with promises of grocery store discounts, and in Nizhnevartovsk and Nizhni Novgorod (Russia's third largest city) they were given lottery tickets offering a chance to win Volgas and brand new apartments. Elsewhere, election officials were simply instructed to guarantee high turnouts, even if that meant tapping into the local psychiatric ward.
And in Sochi, future host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, voters were offered double the fun: Vote for the next president and for the Olympic mascot. Amongst the choices –- a torch-bearing Father Christmas, a polar bear, a snow flake, and a skiing dolphin -– the dolphin came out on top. In striking resemblance to the presidential contest, however, the mascot race may be largely for show. Dima the baby mammoth is already the predicted winner of the 2011 decision.
Now, it's Greece's turn, and it may be the most fascinating one yet. Here's the story: A young woman slept with the general secretary of the culture ministry in the hopes of obtaining a permanent job (judging by his photo, left, that had to be the only reason). When he didn't follow through, she recorded her encounters with him on a DVD, allegedly to blackmail him, and ended up taking it to the press. Most journalists wouldn't work with her, but a copy of the DVD somehow found its way to the prime minister's office. Once the official being blackmailed got wind of this, he resigned and jumped from his balcony in a suicide attempt. He's now in the hospital recovering, but the scandal has penetrated Greek society deeper than anyone anticipated.
The Greek government tried to spin this as "a sex scandal blown out of proportion," but the public just isn't buying it. The tape submitted to prosecutors as evidence was found to have been edited, raising suspicions the government is hiding something, possibly revelations about graft and corruption. The culture ministry official, whose finances and other possibly shady deals are now under investigation, had controlled significant amounts of EU and Greek funds and had close ties to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
The scandal has sent the government's approval rating below 30 percent, the worst level since it came to power in 2004 -- ironically, on an anti-corruption platform. With the ministry official's resignation, the ruling party is down to 151 seats out of 300, a bare majority.
While corruption has been a huge topic of discussion, others see an opportunity to shed light on
You study, you work hard and still you have to let someone grab your butt to rise."
Did you see that today, government workers make more money than people who work in the private sector. Can you imagine what happens to an economy where the best opportunities are for bureaucrats?
I'm not really sure what Romney is talking about. I think it's pretty clear that the U.S. private sector is the way to go if you want to make real dough. But there's a real case to be made for paying bureaucrats well. In Singapore, where the GDP per capita is nearly $50,000, ministers make more than a million bucks a year. Back in April, the government there gave itself a big fat pay raise:
The government says a million dollars is not enough, and on Monday it announced a 60 percent increase in ministers' salaries, to an average of $1.9 million Singapore dollars, or about $1.3 million, by next year.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s pay will jump to about $2 million — five times the $400,000 earned by President Bush.
The move was extremely controversial domestically, but the government's rationale makes a lot of sense:
The ruling People's Action Party defends the high incomes by saying ministers and civil servants must be paid enough to attract the best talent and prevent corruption.
So, I would pose Romney's question the other way: Can you imagine what happens to a government bureaucracy that can't attract the best talent? I can.
In booming India, newspaper and magazine sales have been skyrocketing. Newspaper circulation was up 54 percent from 2001 to 2006, along with an 85 percent increase in advertising revenue.
Unfortunately, one enterprising magazine has been struggling. Tehelka, which FP featured in a Global Newsstand article last year, isn't getting the advertising rupees it needs to stay afloat. The weekly publication, which calls itself "Free.Fair.Fearless," has gained fame for bold undercover investigative reporting that has exposed government corruption. For example, journalists with hidden cameras posed as defense contractors and gave cash bribes to politicians and military officials. The defense minister had to resign as a result (though he was later reinstated).
But challenging the powers-that-be doesn't exactly reel in investors. Editor in chief Tarun Tejpal, who recently launched a Hindi-language Web site of the English-language magazine, says, "There's a certain reluctance to be associated with us because we are seen as people who create trouble and get into the wrong side of money and power."
Part of the problem, too, may be that as India booms, people want more upbeat, "feel-good" news. "The serious part of journalism is taking a back seat. The entertainment journalism is at the front," says a consulting editor for the Indian Press Agency. Anil Dharker, a media critic and columnist, may sum it up best by saying:
Psychologically, Indians are on such a high with the economy booming. They are in no mood to hear bad news. And that's what Tehelka offers.
Nigeria's top corruption fighter is forced to take a year's sabbatical:
Nuhu Ribadu, who has spearheaded Nigeria's attempts to combat financial crime, is involved in the prosecution of seven former state governors...Nigeria's police chief Mike Okiro called a press conference to say there were no ulterior motives behind the move, and that Mr Ribadu had been ordered to attend a one-year policy and strategic studies course in central Nigeria.
A government official says the course will "make him a better officer." The man was clearly in need of some reeducation.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR)—which has spent the past three years looking into allegations of fraud, misconduct, and waste in the efforts to rebuild Iraq—is now under investigation itself. According to a front-page story in today's Washington Post, the FBI, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Presidential Council on Integrity and Efficiency, and the Army's Equal Employment Opportunity are all conducting separate probes into misdeeds by Inspector General Stuart Bowen and his staff. Some of the allegations, and expenditures that have raised eyebrows:
Ironically, SIGIR has been cited by both Democrats and Republicans as an example of an agency that has worked effectively to spot mismanagement and overspending, and dig out bad apples. It must be payback time. A SIGIR official told the Post that the agency's headquarters is "gripped by paranoia. It's almost a siege mentality."
David Bosco recently argued in a provocative piece for FP that "vulture funds"—global investment funds that buy up mostly poor countries' debt on the cheap and then sue the countries to earn it back with interest and penalties—perform a necessary function in the international financial system. Essentially collection agencies for states, they hold "corrupt and irresponsible regimes to account." Some critics of vulture funds, however, counter that these funds actually end up harming the populations of poor countries. And rather than cleaning up corruption, they sometimes even benefit from it.
But Bosco's argument may be bearing out in the Republic of Congo, at least. According to the International Herald Tribune, campaigners for greater government transparency in the Republic of Congo believe that vulture funds are helping the country's fight against corruption. Brice Makosso, one such campaigner, posits:
If it were not for these vulture funds, we would not know any facts about the way our country's wealth is being taken away.... We don't agree with their ultimate aims, but they are the only ones capable of exposing the truth. No one else has the means."
Indeed, countries granted debt relief often do not become more accountable, say groups such as Global Witness and the Publish What You Pay Coalition, and they can end up becoming heavily indebted again. Debt-relief campaigners, on the other hand, contend that debt-relief savings are used by the vast majority of countries to help the poor.
So who's right? It depends on the country in question. As Bosco acknowledges, it's a "spectrum." But when an indebted country's leaders blow $20,000 on room service in only six days at an elite New York hotel—as Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso did—it's only fair to investigate their financial management, and question why they aren't paying up their debts first.
Writing from Shanghai in the voice of an imagined young Chinese, David Brooks concludes that China has become mired in a "meritocratic paternalism":
You ace the exams and get into Peking University. You treat your professors like gods and know that if you earn good grades you can join the Communist Party. Westerners think the Communist Party still has something to do with political ideology. You know there is no political philosophy in China except prosperity. The Communist Party is basically a gigantic Skull and Bones. It is one of the social networks its members use to build wealth together.... Imagine the Ivy League taking over the shell of the Communist Party and deciding not to change the name. Imagine the Harvard Alumni Association with an army."
I like Brooks and often find myself agreeing with him. But his argument here seems wholly unfair.
For starters, the China Brooks describes doesn't sound much different from the America I see today. Brooks laments that, "In the West, there are tensions between government and business elites." But, "In China, these elites are part of the same social web, cooperating for mutual enrichment." One need only spend some time in Gucci Gulch to quickly dispel the notion of a firewall between business and government in the United States. Ever heard of the revolving door? I seem to remember something about Dick Cheney running Halliburton, no?
Brooks also bemoans the fact that the children of Chinese elites enjoy privileged upbringings that grant them access to the China's best universities and, eventually, cushy jobs in industry and government. True. But this is different from America how? What do George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Barak Obama all have in common? The "social web" of Harvard and Yale. According to one Yale historian, the CIA's predecessor organization, the OSS, was once "so heavily populated with Yale graduates that members stationed in remote areas of Asia and Africa during World War II — Yalies and non-Yalies alike — would frequently end 'a festive occasion' with a round of the Whiffenpoof Song." It took a couple generations for the executive ranks of America's Fortune 100 to open their doors beyond the Ivy League. Even many within America's information revolution, whom we celebrate as vanguard renegades, hail from exclusive schools. Bill Gates attended Harvard, not Appalachian State (no offense, Mountaineers). Jerry Yang and Sergey Brin went to Stanford. Why should it happen any differently in China?
This is to say nothing of the fact that Brooks drastically underestimates the pragmatism with which, in my experience, most Chinese youth approach the Communist Party and its system of rewards and punishments. When I visited Peking University last year, I had a frank conversation with a group of international affairs students and their professor. The young professor had landed a prestigious job. But he was not a party member and had no desire to become one. In fact, he scoffed at it, which was impressive not least of all because my visit had been arranged through the Foreign Ministry in Beijing and my government-assigned handler was in the room. Many of the students told me they had passed up opportunities to join the Communist Party, despite the fact that, given the focus of their studies, many would eventually want to work in the Foreign Ministry.
Most of the students I met spoke not lovingly about the Communist Party, but of its corruption and dishonesty. Brooks is right to say that China has supplanted a true middle class with a bloated civil bureaucracy. But that bureaucracy is too corrupt and too convoluted to be a real meritocracy. And that's why there's hope. Not all of them are selling out. Many of the very people who were reared to become a part of the system seek something better, something freer, and something more fulfilling. Give it time. It's premature to throw China's emerging generation out with the Communist bathwater just yet.
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