Browsing articles from "October, 2010"
Oct 29, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Economic Success & Regime Change

Politics and economics tend to make rather strange bedfellows, and I wanted to take a bit to discuss the relationship between the two in regard to China. One of Barak’s comments on a recent post of mine urged me to raise the issue again, as it’s obviously of current relevance given the calls for political change in China.  Often in the past observers of Chinese politics have had their spirits raised at the prospect of political change, only to find themselves disappointed as the status quo is maintained, personally I expect about the same this time around.  That being said, my focus in this post is to discuss the role of China’s economic successes in keeping the nation’s regime precisely as it is. Continue reading »

Oct 27, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society


Aid will not be effective unless it gives governments an incentive to govern well. Thus, when considering whether or not to adopt a new aid mechanism, the question we need to ask is whether it will provide recipient governments with such an incentive. I think we can simply a lot of the debate about improving aid effectiveness by re-orienting it around this rather simple question.*

* I should note that this applies only to outcomes that are endogenous to recipient government behavior. For example, if the US developed a spray that could eliminate malaria, have no other effects, and deliver it from planes above a country’s surface, politics in the host country would be irrelevant.

Oct 27, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Money talks

That Karzai’s been taking money from Iran has been all over the news. This is not a surprise. Anyone who has watched Casino would have seen it coming. As Joe Pesci (Nicky Santoro) sagely observed:

You gotta know that a guy who helps you steal – even if you take care of him real well – he’s gonna steal a little extra for himself. Makes sense, don’t it?

Nicky was referring to casino workers who were stealing from the casino owners. How does this relate to Afghanistan? Karzai has been wearing an “Open for Business” sign around his neck since George W. Bush & Co.”persuaded” him to become Afghanistan’s president. That he would take bribes from pretty much anyone who offers them is exactly what Nicky would expect.

Oct 25, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Journalists who write about the internet should use Google more

Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post seems convinced that a new technology can take down the Iranian regime. He knows this because the the makers of the new technology have told him so in what I think is very humble language:

The companies’ volunteer founders and operators say that if they could get $30 million in funding they could ramp up their server networks to accommodate millions more users — and effectively destroy the Internet controls of Iran and most other dictatorships.

Got it? Give us 30 million and we will end monitoring of the internet over the world!  The technology in question is UltraReach, a type of circumvention software that allows users to evade internet firewalls.  The software works well enough, but the company’s servers keep crashing when too many people use it.  This causes them to limit the amount of people who can use it, and limit the amount of sites users can visit through it.   Diehl seems to agree with the makers of the software that they need more money, and he takes the State Department to task for not spending the money quicker to beef up the servers. Continue reading »

Oct 24, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Information and Transparency in the “Digital Age”

I’ve had some great arguments with friends and “acquaintances” lately on the subject of information, transparency and the digital age, and just what impact technology has on the democratic process in our current day.  The recent controversies over the conflicts between WikiLeaks and the US Government raise interesting parallels with some of the “less free” nations of the world. Though said controversies have been discussed to death in the “blogosphere” and in mainstream media I’d be curious to hear the thoughts of the democracy and society crowd on the subject.

It seems to be widely accepted that transparency and accountability serve important roles in a democratic society.  Whether in the process of development to make certain that resources are applied appropriately, or in elections to assure a relative absence of fraud it is clear that transparency is a cornerstone of functioning and legitimate democracy.  Certainly the current US administration places a great deal of weight on the benefits of transparency and the importance of an informed populace in order to maintain a functioning democracy.

Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

However there is also clearly a consensus that there must be some limit to the scope of transparency, particularly in regard to issues of security and military operations.  My question is less on the morality of the decision to leak theoretically sensitive military information than on how precisely a government should respond to these sorts of controversies. There appears to be little hope of controlling these avenues of information and should an organization like WikiLeaks actually be shut down by a government, it’s pretty much a matter of time until another is created to replace it.

It should be no surprise that governments around the world are currently floundering to limit information of this nature but it seems clear that their energy might be better spent in other ways.  Few outside the danker corners of the internet even knew what WikiLeaks was until it became a mainstream media scandal of the week earlier this year, and so far attempts by governments to repress these sites only feeds into their publicity.  In line with our recent conversation on China and the Nobel Peace Prize I think the current situation with WikiLeaks would be a great opportunity for a “teachable moment” (oh how I love buzzwords) on behalf of the US government.  Given that information is likely to grow more and more readily available on the internet, it might be a great time for officials of varied countries to stand behind those liberal democratic concepts of free speech and transparency.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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