What We’re Reading

More of “What We’re Reading” from the TSFR team, with a healthy dose of Egypt links at the bottom:

  • Learn your ABC’s with this Soviet-era erotic alphabet. This is interesting on many levels; in particular, consider that this was a policy by the USSR used to combat adult illiteracy: in other words, art, erotica, and a bit of sexism were combined in imagery as an educational policy. A friendly warning: do not open this at work. Do not open this around children, either.
  • More on protests in Brazil, from Nauro F. Campos. He concludes: “Against the stereotype of a laid-back and peaceful people, the historical record suggests the propensity to protest in Brazil is high and may have increased in the last decades. The current wave of protests has multiple causes but three important ones are corruption and inefficiency in public services delivery, political ineptitude and the electoral cycle. These make for the possibility that protests may well continue as the executive and the protesters push for political reform and improved public services against forces that are well represented in the legislature.”
  • Andrew Gelman writes in Slate about “researcher degrees of freedom” — reminding all of us to leave stargazing to the astronomers.
  • Why all Muslims are not terrorists, according to Bayes (and Phil Arena at the Duck of Minerva).
  • Sometimes it seems like Jordan might be one giant attempt to see how many things you can do to a state before it fails. The current episode: Syrian refugees. Lots of them.
  • Matt Yglesias wonders aloud about whether poor social mobility in the American South is associated with historical efforts to disenfranchise blacks: “If your poor population contains a very large number of African-Americans, then perhaps the only viable means of keeping the black man down are going to involve denying opportunities for upward mobility to poor people of all races. Strong public schools, economically mixed neighborhoods, dense cities, and other pathways of economic mobility would undermine the racial hierarchy, so they meet with unusual levels of resistance.”
  • Ahsan Butt has a clever new piece in International Organization arguing that the decline of U.S. intervention in Latin America in the 1930s is the cause of a bump in Latin American wars during that same time period. We don’t know if we buy his empirical story, but the piece is important because it has obvious implications for U.S. retrenchment today. It seems like trying to find analogous historical episodes of retrenchment is something both sides should be doing in making their arguments for U.S. policy, rather than arguing solely based on fuzzy concepts like “leadership.”
  • Selection effects and the Voting Rights Act: Justice Ginsberg’s dissent in Shelby County v. Holder argued, “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens weighs in on the case (including this particular argument) here.
  • Interesting empirical finding from India: “We find that increasing the political representation of Muslims improves health and education outcomes in the district from which the legislator is elected. We find no evidence of religious favoritism: Muslim children do not benefit more from Muslim political representation than children from other religious groups.” The paper exploits a regression discontinuity based on narrow electoral victories. If the finding is true, it seems like a coalitional story — where Muslim politicians are often part of a coalition that also represents poor Hindus — is likely part of the answer, although the draft has little explanatory narrative.
  • An opposition figure is gunned down in Tunisia with the same weapon used to kill another prominent politician earlier this year, further complicating Tunisia’s transition.
  • Fighting in Syria as diplomatic wrangling proceeds in New York.
  • Egypt!
    • Steve Negus at the Arabist on army chief General al-Sissi calling for mass demonstrations seeking a mandate against “terrorism” — code for the Muslim Brotherhood and allies. Negus argues this marks a strategic shift (“Unless he genuinely miscalculated the impact of what he said  — as we learned with SCAF, this is always a possibility when career military men enter politics — al-Sissi has diverged considerably from his July 3 strategy of having a civilian interim government out in front.”) and offers some possible explanations as to why this shift took place.
    • Steven Cook weighs in with a NY Times op-ed: “A Faustian Pact: Generals as Democrats”
    • Sinai continues to boil over following Morsi’s unceremonious ouster from Egypt’s presidency early this month.
    • If you can’t disperse ’em, massacre ’em (not an endorsement of said tactics): some images (many disturbing/graphic) from clashes at a pro-Morsi sit in on Saturday.
    • Speaking of terrible violence, Sarah Carr writes Saturday on state strategy, and parallels to Tiananmen: “It seems more and more likely that security bodies will act in the next few days. Yesterday night’s violence on Nasr Road demonstrates that they are incapable of acting with restraint or with any kind of sensible plan. That they are taking on a massive civilian sit-in spells disaster. But just for the record, I would like to suggest that there are ways to minimise [a Brit!] the deaths and injuries so that we do not replicate what happened in Tiananmen Square.”
    • Another piece by Sarah Carr, on al-Sissi’s speech and its reception in Egypt: “The general public was sold. It ran stumbling and screaming into Sisi’s protective arms and nestled in his bosom. Almost overnight, people mutated into barrel-thumping nationalists celebrating a victory against a foreign enemy, when no battle has yet been won and their enemy is one of them. Hot air — lots of hot air — has been blown into former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s corpse. Perhaps they are trying to blow his spirit into Sisi. Three years after the heady independent days of January 25, and Egyptians are once again seeking out the army strongman to hold their hand, and an enemy — invented or real, it doesn’t matter — to define and shape their cause. Like all nationalist movements, this is sentiment partly informed by fear and hate. There is nothing of real ideological substance here, no long-term goal other than either containing the Brotherhood or crushing the Islamist movement.”
    • Egypt’s foreign minister on Brotherhood participation, and potential repercussions if they fail to come into the political process following Morsi’s ouster, which the group has strongly opposed: “If they decide to withdraw from politics, it will be disappointing. If they decide to pursue violence, then you are looking at a completely different confrontation […] Even if I personally reject their positions or ideology, they have to find their place in Egypt’s political life.” But…
    • …see Ashraf Khalil on setting the legal basis for Morsi’s detention through investigation of espionage charges: On July 26, “an Egyptian judge announced the detention of deposed President Mohamed Morsi for 15 days while authorities investigate charges of espionage levied against him by the transitional government… The fact of Morsi’s detention is less surprising than the nature of the charges themselves—branding Morsi and the Brotherhood, in essence, as traitors. It is not the sort of maneuver that a government interested in reconciling with disaffected opponents would make. Friday’s ruling, combined with the pro-military protests called for the same day, have now set the stage for a sweeping crackdown on the Brotherhood that seems likely to drive the organization back underground.”

What We’re Reading

Happy (belated) 4th of July! While you work off that post-celebration hangover, here’s some more of what we’re reading to pass the time:

What We’re Reading

São Paulo Demonstrations: It’s Not About 20 Cents, Stupid!

(Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Raphael Neves, PhD candidate at the Politics department at the New School for Social Research, and assistant professor of politics at the University of São Paulo)

São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern hemisphere and Brazil’s financial center, is located thousands of miles away from Istanbul but its 11.3 million inhabitants still know what it feels like to be in Taksim Square. This month, both bus and subway fares
increased by 20 cents of real – the equivalent of 9 cents, USD. Protesters took to the streets following the raise, leading to several clashes with the police. Authorities
claim the increase was below the inflation rate (6.50% in the last 12 months). The mayor, Fernando Haddad, a philosophy professor and the former minister of education under Lula, had stated during his election campaign last year that the city would have to raise the already subsidized fares, frozen since 2011. Brazil has received some of the best combined democracy, economic growth and income distribution scores among the BRICS. So why are people complaining? face_protest The demonstrations have been organized by the Free Fare Movement, which promotes free public transportation for all (a demand the mayor says would cost almost 3 billion USD/year). As the event page of one of the protests on Facebook shows, the demands range from the decrease in public transportation fares to better salaries for teachers; from increased freedom on the Internet, to objections of the construction of soccer stadiums for the next World Cup. Furthermore, the São Paulo state police, commanded by governor Geraldo Alckmin, has overreacted and stepped out of the law. Countless people were arrested for bringing vinegar to the demonstrations. According to police officers, vinegar may be used to produce a bomb. In fact, demonstrators say, it alleviates the effects of tear gas. As a result, protesters have embraced a campaign to “legalize” vinegar. They’ve made Guy Fawkes masks their symbol and “V for Vinegar” has become an immediate hit on social networks. Mockery and creativity are central in these protests as
they’ve helped keep people mobilized. Even when they are forced to split up by the police, they keep connected online.

As the construction of a shopping mall at Taksim square became the last straw for protesters in Turkey, in Brazil, the 20 cents increase has catalyzed dissatisfaction. The perplexed may wonder whether ten years of Workers’ Party rule – Lula’s first term inauguration was in 2003, Dilma, his successor, in 2011 – have contributed to
fight inequality. The answer is yes. However, and here we may have a sharp distinction between Turkey and Brazil, the protests are not directed only towards the government. They are much more dispersed and fragmented. On the one hand, a large part of the population has been integrated into the economic market and consumption levels have never been so high. On the other hand, this possibly made people more aware of other problems way beyond material needs. A minimum wage worker may now choose which cell phone or TV she or he is going to buy, but one is unable to have dominion over basic
aspects of everyday life. In São Paulo, where rent is as expensive as in New York, someone who lives in a poorer area will spend at least two hours in an extremely crowded bus or train to get to work. To lose control over one’s own time and space is enough reason to revolt, isn’t it?

"São Paulo will shut down if the fare doesn't go down!"

“São Paulo will shut down if the fare doesn’t go down!”

All in all, the political system has not been capable of processing this generalized and
fragmented dissatisfaction. The increasing scale of the demonstrations is probably due to their rejection of any sort of party commitment. Of course, the risk of such detachment between civil society and political institutions is to give even more autonomy to bureaucratic structures that administer Brazilians’ lives. In this sense, mobilization may lead to political change, although the result is not necessarily more “progressive” – think,
for instance, of Indignados in Spain, a movement that demanded a radical change of the political system but was followed by the election of Mariano Rajoy. The challenge Brazil
faces is to make democracy more visible; to go beyond the right to cast a ballot in order to empower citizens to exercise effective control over all realms of their lives. These 20 cents are worth a change.
Raphael on twitter: @politikaetc

Representation by law? Gender quotas in Brazil’s elections

On January 1st, 2013, 7,646 women took office as members of the local legislatures in more than five thousand municipalities in Brazil. 665 women were also elected as mayors in these municipalities, marking the largest number of women to enter local office in Brazil’s history.

Is this latest achievement part of the trend started two years ago, when on January 1st, 2011, Dilma Rousseff took office as President of the country? After all, in 2010, not only did Brazil elect its first female president, Marina Silva also gained the largest vote share of any third-runner for the presidency since re-democratization in 1989. Or, are these numbers the direct effect of the gender quota law enacted in 2009? This law requires that a minimum of 30%, of women be on party lists for proportional elections (local, state, and federal legislators). This 2009 law, applied for the first time in the 2012 elections, made a similar 1997 gender quota law more effective by forcing parties to actually enlist women to their tickets.

Examining only the absolute number of elected women in Brazil can be misleading, however. Indeed, careful examination suggests that the proportion of elected women has only risen slightly despite the more effective enforcement of the quota law.


The graphs above tell us part of the story. We can see that the proportion of elected women still remains significantly less than elected men. The first graph indicates that  even though the number of female candidates for local chambers has risen sharply (due to the enforcement of the quota law), the proportion of elected local female legislators is still very small.  Similarly, the proportion of elected state and federal deputies is remarkably stable even through there has been a rise in the number of candidates in the 2010 elections, as shown in the second graph. Given that the gender quota does not affect majoritarian elections, it is a bit surprising that the proportion of elected female mayors has been rising more rapidly than the proportion of elected female local legislators.

One possible explanation for the under-performance of women in elections for local chambers is the lack of resources and support provided by the parties, which recruit women simply in order to formally reach the threshold demanded by the law. This is a difficult hypothesis to test but the graphs above shed some light on it. For instance, the number of female candidates who identified as “housewives” increased in the 2012 elections. This may reflect the greater influence the Electoral Justice had on parties to obey the gender quota law, leading parties to enroll female candidates who were related to existing male candidates.

The gender quota law provides a necessary first step towards equal gender representation. Nevertheless, making sure women have spots on party lists does not guarantee that they will have the resources or access to other factors necessary to get elected.  Like other types of affirmative action, quotas tackle issues of inequality by guaranteeing access of underprivileged groups to the arenas in which they are systematically under-represented (these arenas could be the realm of elections, universities or jobs, among others). Yet, whether this type of affirmative action proves ultimately effective hinges upon empirical and normative assessments.

Guest Post: Understanding Attitudes Toward Corruption

By Nara Pavão*

Brazil very recently hosted the trial of the century, in which important politicians were accused of, and convicted for, their involvement in a large-scale corruption scandal allegedly concocted by some of the most important politicians of the Workers’ Party (PT). The scheme supposedly consisted of the exchange of legislative support for a big monthly payment. This unprecedented event – the trial and conviction of the nation’s foremost politicians –  has brought the topic of corruption to the center of public debate. Although the Supreme Court has convicted these politicians, not all citizens who have thoughtfully assessed the case agree with the ruling. The unique nature of the judgment, a singular case in the juridical history of the country, has generated controversy and disagreement, a clear indication that interpretations of information about corruption are not as homogenous or simplistic as some would have us believe. While some Brazilians were persuaded by the information surrounding the scandal—accusations, media reports, and proper evidence—other citizens were skeptical of this information and continued to believe in the innocence of the politicians.

When investigating what leads voters to take action against corrupt politicians, the rather scarce literature on the topic, generated primarily from the field of political science, calls attention to the notion of a lack of information: voters support corrupt politicians because they lack sufficient information about these politicians’ misdeeds. The reality is, however, far more complex. From the standpoint of voting behavior, we should expect a more multifaceted account of attitude formation. Why should information about politicians’ involvement in corruption automatically translate into negative attitudes toward corrupt politicians? What if individuals have different levels of tolerance for corruption? What if they interpret information about corruption differently, becoming more or less likely to be persuaded to believe in the accusation?

Because ready availability of information is referred to as an “antidote” to political corruption (Winters, Testa, and Fredrickson 2012), little is known about what induces voters to make informed decisions to support corrupt politicians. Similarly, we know very little about how information about corruption translates into attitudes toward corruption. We know even less about the factors that may moderate the impact of information about corruption on individuals’ attitudes.

Opinion data from Brazil offers us some basis to begin thinking more comprehensively about the question of tolerance toward corruption and about the real role of information in leading citizens to adopt less tolerant attitudes toward corruption.

As we begin thinking in this vein, we should consider one surprising finding: the percentage of survey respondents who admit that they tolerate corruption is striking, particularly if we consider that social desirability bias is affecting their answers (the socially desirable attitude is to not tolerate corruption).

 Avaliação do Presidente Lula, do Congresso e outros assuntos, 2005. DATAFOLHA

Furthermore, according to an opinion poll conducted in 2005 in Brazil, those who sympathize with the Workers Party tend to be more informed about the corruption accusations against their preferred party; nevertheless, they are precisely the ones who believe that there is less corruption in Lula’s government than evidenced. According to the same data, information about corruption (both awareness about the corruption scandals and the extent to which the individual is informed about the scandals) does not predict citizens’ tolerance for corruption.

Avaliação do Presidente Lula, do Congresso e outros assuntos, 2005. DATAFOLHA

Inconclusive though it may be, this data should stimulate us to think more about attitudes toward corruption not only in Brazil but elsewhere. The challenge is to move the debate beyond lack of information to the problem of how citizens react to corruption and the extent to which they are willing to take action against corrupt politicians. Perhaps disseminating information about corruption and increasing transparency—initiatives perceived as essential to good governance—are not the sole antidotes to corruption in politics. Rather, the remedy may depend on something we still lack: a comprehensive understanding of citizens’ real attitudes toward corruption and how information about corruption scandals impact such attitudes.

Editor’s note: Nara Pavão is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. She specializes in Comparative Politics and conducts research on public opinion, voting behavior, and corruption in Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia.

Affirmative action in Brazil: the challenges of racial classification

It’s old news that Brazil is enacting social quotas – both socioeconomic and racial – for public higher education. In my earlier post, I detailed the impact this sort of policy could have on the quality of higher education.  However, before I had the chance to write a follow-up to that post, a new piece of legislation began being drafted to introduce affirmative action to the civil service.

This is not the first policy of its kind in Brazil. Yet, it is too soon to discuss the implications and effects of this law. Regardless of the final shape the bill takes, any affirmative action will have to grapple with the basic issue of identification of the beneficiaries.

In Brazil, racial classification has always been a contentious topic. For many decades, the government refused to even collect racial information, arguing that race was not a salient issue on this side of the Americas.  However, even if one agrees that there is racial discrimination in Brazil, and that part of the country’s huge inequality hinges upon race and not only class and education, the issue of racial classification is not something to be quickly dismissed. A recent New York Times  forum, for instance, shows very different perspectives.

On the one hand, Peter Fry, a leading anthropologist, argues: “[…], unlike the U.S., the majority of Brazilians do not classify themselves neatly into blacks and whites. In Brazil, therefore, eligibility for racial quotas is always a problem.”

On the other hand, Antonio Sergio Guimarães, a leading sociologist fights back:

Perhaps the biggest challenge in Brazil is the temptation to introduce a systematic verification of self-declared color or race to prevent fraud in affirmative action programs. Race and color are social constructs. It is impossible to define their borders scientifically. Passing is something inherent to this kind of classification. It can be motivated by selfish economic protection or by political altruistic reasons. The fear of fraud must be restrained to give a chance to these programs to flourish.

Ultimately, these scholars seem to be discussing an empirical and methodological issue of racial classification with wide implications for redistribution. Despite the known complexities of racial classification, much analysis relies on a single self-classification based on fixed, mutually exclusive, choices.

Bailey, Loveman and Muniz (2012) present an interesting analysis of Brazil’s racial make-up and racial inequality, taking different racial classification schemes into consideration:

They demonstrate that very different pictures of Brazil’s racial make-up are created depending on which scheme is followed. Comparing the most extreme cases, Brazil could be either 70.4% or 40.7% White. Beneficiaries of affirmative action could either comprise 29.6% or 59.3% of the population. These are hugely different percentages.

Furthermore, these different measurements are not necessarily robust.  Even if more than one measure is used, there is still a lot of incongruence.

In their paper, they go on to convincingly show that different measures also imply different mappings of income inequality between those groups. Their findings do not necessarily challenge the finding that Blacks are, on average, worse off than Whites, but they do bring more precise, rigorous, and contextual evidence to support that claim. In any case, these findings do not mean that race should be disregarded and that it does not influence social interactions in Brazil. They argue that these different measures provide more evidence that race is a multi-dimensional social construct and should be analyzed as such – there is no “true race” to be measured.

But, what do these findings tell us when discussing redistributive policies based on race? Do these inconsistencies hinder any systematic implementation of affirmative action? Or are inconsistencies (and, to some extent, fraud) a “lesser-evil”, with affirmative action a good idea despite these issues? The recent policies seem to have embraced affirmative action despite these problematic measurement issues. The consequences of these choices are still to be fully understood.