President Obama speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today made news when they spoke directly by phone for 15 minutes. It was the first top-level conversation between the two countries in more than 30 years, and marks the culmination of a week of speculation surrounding various United Nations presentations. According to the White House, the call was initiated by the Iranian President with the support of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and focused largely on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. That revolution resulted in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Revolutionaries sympathetic to the Ayatollah seized control of the American embassy and held 52 American diplomats hostage for more than a year.
But Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, is widely viewed as a moderate who desires improved relations with the West. Opening conversations with the Obama administration could be the first step in a broader strategy to do just that.
What do you think? Is Iran serious about improving relations with the West? Does Rouhani have the support of the key elements of the Iranian government—most notably the Ayatollah—to pursue his agenda? Or will Iran’s commitment to maintaining its nuclear weapons program undermine prospects for improved relations with the United States? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
As German voters head to the poll this weekend and interesting challenge is emerging for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats. While the CDU appears to be well positioned to retain its dominant position in parliament, early polling suggests that their coalition partner, the Free Democrats, may underperform. If the Free Democrats do as badly as expected, Merkel may be forced to find a new coalition partner or to include a third party in the ruling coalition, making the government more fragile. Some analysis are even projecting another “grand coalition” that forces rival center-right Christian Democrats and center-left Social Democrats into a government together.
The news is not good for Merkel, whose party is ironically expected to win their largest share of the vote ever. But that’s the politics of parliamentary systems. The voting system encourages a larger number of parties, representing a broader array of interests and issues, to participate. But because of the large number of parties, compromise between rivals is often necessary for government to function effectively, and no single party is usually able to rule without the assistance of others. It will be interesting to see what the vote—scheduled for Sunday—produces.
What do you think? Does the more inclusive nature of proportional representation systems like that of Germany offset the disadvantage of greater instability? Or is the stability of first-past-the-post electoral systems preferable to the inclusiveness of parliamentary systems? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
We tend to think of states as fairly stable and long-lasting institutions. But a new video tracing the rise (and fall) of states in Europe from 1000AD to the present highlights the importance of national boundaries. What’s of particular interest is the relatively brief period in which the map looks like it does today. At just over 3 minutes, it’s a fun way to introduce the concept of statehood in your IR and comparative classes.
Two Farmers in Ethiopia Pick Coffee Cherries, the fruit processed into coffee beans (Image courtesy The Upcoming).
A new report issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) claimed thatthe child mortality rate in Ethiopia has been cut from more than 200 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 68 per 1,000 today. With a per capita gross domestic product of less than $1,200, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 169th (out of 180) according to World Bank estimates. The Ethiopian economy is heavily dependent on coffee exports, which account for more than a quarter of the country’s export earnings. Coffee production—like agricultural production in Ethiopia more generally—is highly dependent on rainfall. But the Unicef report suggests that Ethiopia—a country with a long history of famine and malnutrition—is one of the few African countries making progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality rates. The country’s success, according to Health Minister Kesetebirhan Admasu, has been based on a strategy of “aggressively expanding its primary healthcare network.” Increased household incomes have, according to Admasu, “also resulted in better nutrition for children [and] women; this has translated into better sanitation – all these have direct or indirect impact on the survival of children.”
Ethiopia’s success has been driven, at least in part, by a price increase for coffee between 2003 and 2010 (see graph above). This price increase generated additional employment and income at the household level and higher tax and excise revenues at the national level. But since 2010, global coffee production has grown sharply and prices are starting to decline. And with lower coffee prices, Ethiopia’s development strategy might falter as well. For now, though, Ethiopia is rightly basking in the limelight, having shed its image as a land of famine and hunger.
What do you think? Does Ethiopia’s success in reducing child mortality rates suggest a path for other developing countries? Or is Ethiopia’s dependence on coffee exports too risky a model? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
High profile cases like this one are beginning to change this perception. The February rape sparked national protests, prompting the Indian Parliament created fast-track courts to address rape and to impose harsher sentences for convicted rapists.
And now a new campaign is focusing attention on domestic violence, using images of the Hindu goddesses Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswati touched up to reveal black eyes, swollen lips, or lacerations indicative of domestic violence. Each image is accompanied with a short text reading, “Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68 per cent of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.” It’s a powerful campaign.
Tailgate Decal in Texas
Meanwhile Huffington Post reported that a Texas business created a decal of a woman bound and tied curled up in a truck. When placed on a truck’s tailgate, the image creates an optical illusion making it appear the woman is lying in the back of the pickup truck bed. The shop producing the decal hopes that it will attract new business. But critics argue that the image contributes to a culture of violence against women.
What do you think? Will India’s campaign to reduce gender-based violence be successful? Is the violence against women in India indicative of a “culture of violence”? Does such a culture exist in the United States? And if so, what might be done to reduce or eliminate gender-based violence? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
The ruling Labour Party was handed a stinging defeat in national elections in Australia today, with Kevin Rudd’s center-left party losing soundly to a center-right coalition headed by John Abbott. Interestingly, climate change policy—or more specifically, a carbon tax—was one of the central issues at stake in the election. The ruling Labour Party, which had seem three separate leadership changes as a result of its support for a controversial tax on carbon output, was pummeled in the polls. This video, produced by The Guardian’s Environmental Network, highlights some of the issues.
There are obviously a number of issues at play here, and it’s difficult to pin the election outcome solely on the Labour Party’s climate change policy. But the election outcome does suggest that Australian voters, at least in the present, are not supportive of a carbon tax.
What do you think? Would you support a tax on carbon emissions in an effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions? What lessons might American political parties draw from the Australian experience? Does this election make addressing climate change more difficult? Why? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.