India’s Role in the Illegal Trafficking of Body Parts

This worrisome story in the New York Times sheds light on an increasingly brazen network of doctors and bandits who have organized an international trafficking ring in human body parts, such as kidneys.  While increasing numbers of Indians, and residents of other less-developed countries willingly sell their kidneys many, like the gentleman in the story, are the victims of deception and fraud.

GURGAON, India — As the anesthetic wore off, Naseem Mohammed said, he felt an acute pain in the lower left side of his abdomen. Fighting drowsiness, he fumbled beneath the unfamiliar folds of a green medical gown and traced his fingers over a bandage attached with surgical tape. An armed guard by the door told him that his kidney had been removed.

Mr. Mohammed was the last of about 500 Indians whose kidneys were removed by a team of doctors running an illegal transplant operation, supplying kidneys to rich Indians and foreigners, police officials said. A few hours after his operation last Thursday, the police raided the clinic and moved him to a government hospital.

Many of the donors were day laborers, like Mr. Mohammed, picked up from the streets with the offer of work, driven to a well-equipped private clinic, and duped or forced at gunpoint to undergo operations. Others were bicycle rickshaw drivers and impoverished farmers who were persuaded to sell their organs, which is illegal in India.

Although several kidney rings have been exposed in India in recent years, the police said the scale of this one was unprecedented. Four doctors, five nurses, 20 paramedics, three private hospitals, 10 pathology clinics and five diagnostic centers were involved, Mohinder Lal, the police officer in charge of the investigation, said.

Human Security Resources

A general trend has developed, amongst governments, academics, and (especially) activists working in IGOs and NGOs worldwide that has moved the focus of security away from traditional concepts–such as protecting borders from external threat–to a new approach that focuses specifically on human security. What is “human security?” Well, the Human Security Report Project, at Vancouver, Canada’s Simon Fraser University, defines human security in this way:

Unlike traditional concepts of security, which focus on defending borders from external military threats, human security is concerned with the security of individuals…

For some proponents of human security, the key threat is violence; for others the threat agenda is much broader, embracing hunger, disease and natural disasters. Largely for pragmatic reasons, the Human Security Report Project has adopted the narrower concept of human security that focuses on protecting individuals and communities from violence.

Traditional security policy emphasizes military means for reducing the risks of war and for prevailing if deterrence fails. Human security’s proponents, while not eschewing the use of force, have focused to a much greater degree on non-coercive approaches. These range from preventive diplomacy, conflict management and post–conflict peacebuilding, to addressing the root causes of conflict by building state capacity and promoting equitable economic development.

The website has an informative and very useful set of links to various organizations, governmental institutions, research institutes, etc., that focus on issues of human security.

Another excellent source for information related to human security is the Human Security Gateway. Below is a thumbnails which will take you to a screen shot of their home page. (Notice the RSS feed icons in the left sidebar.)


The History of Warfare since World War II–via Foods Fighting

We spent much of last Friday’s session understanding various realist approaches to international relations and the importance therein of concepts like anarchy, survival, power and war. Here’s a clear–and highly original–attempt to demonstrate the history of world warfare since WWII. For a menu of the foods and which countries they are meant to represent, click here. Before doing so, which foods do you think represent Great Britain, Germany, France, China, and the United States, respectively?  You can view the film here.

Another Foreign Policy List: How to Steal an Election Without Breaking a Sweat

Foreign Policy magazine frequently publishes “lists” that are meant to illuminate, in a sometimes ironic manner, political phenomena that are receiving much discussion.  In a recent issue, the focus turns to elections.   From their introduction:

From Abuja to Islamabad, autocratic regimes have become adept at manipulating “free and fair elections” to stay in power. Here’s how they do it—and how to stop them.

Here is their list, with some real-world examples of each:

  1. Control the processKenya’s constitution invests an enormous amount of power in the executive branch. This allowed President Mwai Kibaki to create a vast system of patronage throughout the government based largely on tribal ties. The head of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, has recently admitted that he was pressured by the president’s office to announce results before he could verify their authenticity.
  2. Manipulate the mediaIn the months leading up to the recent presidential election in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government shut down Imedi TV, an opposition-friendly television station founded by one of the president’s rivals and managed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
  3. Keep out the observersDuring the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections, judges at individual polling stations made seemingly arbitrary decisions about whether to allow outside monitoring. The result? Some stations were monitored and some were not. Monitors were beaten by police in one southern city, and eight were arrested and released elsewhere.
  4. Misreport resultsNadia Diuk, senior director for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), relays a tale from Azerbaijan’s 2000 elections: “The light went out in the room where the counting was to take place, and the flashlights of the observers just caught sight of a bundle of ballots sailing through the air to land on the counting table.” [This is my favorite! :)]
  5. Foster incompetence and chaosNigeria’s 2007 national and state elections take the chaos prize. Ballots arrived late to polling stations, if at all, or were printed with missing or incorrect information. Polling places and procedures were changed at the last minute. With security lax, reports were rampant of militants harassing voters and youth gangs breaking into polling places and making off with ballot boxes.
  6. Resort to the crude stuff A favorite tactic in Egypt is to deploy riot police in strategic polling locations to keep out voters for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood—while state employees arrive in buses and are ushered in en masse. In 2005, a bloody showdown in the streets of Alexandria between government-backed thugs wielding machetes and Brotherhood supporters seeking to cast their votes became international news, embarrassing the regime.

The Important Role of the State

A country’s roads and road system can give outsiders a quick and readily available idea of how well that country is governed. Here are some examples:

A video of part of the drive from the Kenyan city of Mombasa (pop. 700,000) to the town of Kilifi (pop. 75,000). (Try to ignore the cackling of the passengers and driver.)

Here are some photographs of the main highway between Moscow and the Siberian city of Yakutsk. The road is a vital federal highway, believe it or not! See many more photographs here.



Also take a look at these incredible and frightening photographs from the world’s most dangerous highway. Find many more of these photographs here.


Mingst and Snyder–Chapter 3 Reading Questions

Morgenthau, Hans–“A Realist Theory of International Politics”
  • Does Morgenthau’s explanation of realist theory focus on any of the levels of analysis in particular? Explain.
  • Morgenthau writes “political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action.” What does he mean by this and why is this important for international relations?
  • How does Morgenthau define political power, and how is it used in internaitonal politics?

Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies, and Excel Charts!

I provide links to many sources that collect data on various political phenomena because I think that describing and measuring are extremely useful tools in helping us understand politics. As Mark Twain was well aware, and as I mentioned in PLSC240 today, often-times researchers (and especially!) politicians use data and statistics to obfuscate reality rather than to illuminate. No sooner had I returned to my office than I saw the following chart on the web (courtesy of Here is a typical example of “massaging” the data to promote a preferred interpretation of political reality. Here’s the original chart:


The inference that the creators of the chart want the observer to make is that the number of instances of applause from Bush’s State-of-the-Union (SOTU) speeches has, except for a spike in the immediate pre-Iraq invasion period of January 2003, been dropping, and significantly. Notice the range of the y-axis. Why did the chart creators decide to make 55 the minimum value? I have to give them the benefit of the doubt, however, as this seems to be a built-in feature of Excel (that’s why I encourage students to start using R for graphing capabilities). When I created the chart above myself in Excel, the program chose 55 as the minimum value of the y-axis. What would the chart look like if one were to make the y-axis minimum value zero? Here’s the result:


Now, the impression made upon the observer is that the drop in applause is not that great at all, and most likely within the range of what is called “random error”. Which chart is the correct one? Well, one way of determining the right answer to this would be to compare the SOTU applause trends of other presidents. Is every president guaranteed 40 or 50 bursts of applause no matter how lame the speech is or how unpopular the president is amongst those present? If so, then a minimum value on the y-axis of 40 or 50 would be more appropriate than zero, but I don’t know the answer off-hand.