Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Brave New World of the Political Internet

If parties and candidates move now to establish a presence on the Internet, perhaps they can offset the populist aspects of the Internet (like bloggers and YouTube) that threaten their control of their own images. The Guardian (UK) reports on the British Conservatives' move to attract support from an untraditional group of potential voters. It may represent another development in the trend away from political parties' dependence on formal membership. (And that raises questions about funding political activity.)

Tories unveil their secret weapon: 'webcameron'
  • Video blogging site to be modelled on YouTube
  • Party hopes to reach disaffected voters online

"David Cameron will today unveil radical plans to harness the power of the internet by reaching out to a blogging generation that is disaffected and disconnected from mainstream politics.

"At the heart of the initiative, which is designed to make the Tories one of the most technologically progressive parties in Europe, is 'webcameron' - a website for video blogs by their leader. Mr Cameron will provide regular clips with him speaking direct to camera, as well as written blogs and podcasts.

"The site will also feature guest bloggers - kicking off today with John McCain, the US presidential hopeful - and video blogs from members of the public that will be stored and shared online...

"The site has taken ideas on sharing video and images from YouTube.com and flickr.com, and also social networking sites such as MySpace...

"'It very much represents the values of David Cameron's Conservative party, of openness and community. We see this site as being a way that people can engage with politics in a meaningful way on their own terms, and share a platform with David Cameron and thought leaders around the world on the guest blog, which we think is going to be very powerful.'...

"Today's move reinforces the way all parties are moving away from relying on their declining membership to execute policy and organisation."

In a follow-up story, How parties stack up on the web Ros Taylor describes the online efforts of British parties.

Friday, September 29, 2006

From the Pros

Dr. Timothy C. Lim teaches political science at California State University, Los Angeles. He's the author of Doing Comparative Politics.

His course web site can be quite useful and he's offered his Power Points to those of us who might want to use them. The ones from last year are connected to the contents of his book.

The archived pages from last year's classes are online and complete. The pages for current courses will, I presume, be incomplete for now. On the course web site you can find Dr. Lim's syllabus, online notes, class assignments, online readings, and research tips and strategies. Some of the files are .pdf files and require Acrobat Reader, and there's a link that you can use to download Reader on Dr. Lim's site if you need it.

You can also download the syllabus (a .pdf file) of Dr. Patrick O'Neil's "Introduction to Comparative Politics" course at the University of Puget Sound.

Dr. O'Neil is the author of the textbooks Essentials of Comparative Politics, Cases for Comparative Politics (with Don Share and Karl Fields), and Essential Readings in Comparative Politics (with Ron Rogowski).

I'll bet that if you look at the web pages of a college or university near you, you can find similar helpful ideas. These post-secondary courses won't match the Advance Placement curriculum, if you need that, but there will be useful ideas.

I went looking at the two colleges in Northfield. At Carleton College's web site, I found the syllabus of Dr. Julian Westerhout's "Comparative Political Regimes" course.

At St. Olaf College's web site, I learned that the course materials are only available on an internal network and require a password.

Good ideas abound. Go look for them.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Democratization's Roadblocks

There was a good article in September 27th's Washington Post on the Thai coup and democratization. It draws comparisons with Venzuela and The Philippines. Although none of those countries are part of the AP curriculum, democratization definitely is, and there are lessons from this article that can be extended at least to Nigeria, Russia, and China.

Thai Coup Highlights Struggles Over Democracy

"...respect for [former Prime Minister] Thaksin -- still widely shared among the urban poor and rural farmers across the country's north and northeast -- underscores the core problems confronting Thailand and a host of other emerging nations as they try, and sometimes fail, to cultivate healthy democracies.

"Thaksin followed the path of other democratically elected leaders, like Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, who are accused of using their posts to enhance their power at the expense of democratic institutions...

"Experts say such populist-driven politics has exacerbated class divisions and created a significant hurdle to maintaining the rule of law for some developing countries. Well-educated middle- or upper-class Thais have generally embraced the coup as a regrettable but necessary step toward ending Thaksin's grip on power and ushering in a new constitution...

"Democracy advocates abroad, meanwhile, are viewing the case of Thailand -- an important regional ally of the United States and one of Southeast Asia's largest economies -- as particularly demoralizing.

"In the 15 years since the last military takeover here, Thailand had emerged as the region's model for democratic reform. Already, the jailed leaders of a February coup attempt against Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have made comments to the foreign press hailing the successful military men of Bangkok as exemplary patriots.

"Analysts fear the Thai coup will also embolden existing military juntas, such as the one in neighboring Burma, to resist mounting international pressure to enact democratic reforms.

"'The comeback from other nations in the region when they are told to make democratic reforms will be, "Hey, look at Thailand. They couldn't make it work and the military had to take charge again,"' said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. 'Their argument will be that the people are just not eager for democracy and that the military men still know best.'..."

Even More on Corruption and Politics

Whoa! There's getting to be quite a collection of these news stories about corruption and politics. Here are two more.

Maybe there are enough articles to build a a full-fledged topical unit. Now, where were the first ones? Did you book mark them? How can you find them?

There are many answers to those questions. Some better than others. You could work your way back through the archvies of the blog. Looking for promising titles. (I choose titles that are accurate, but also ones I think will invite you to read further. So, the titles might not always reveal everything.)

A better way to find the articles would probably be to go to the "deli.cio.us" page, "compgovpol," that's connected to this blog. I add each blog entry to that collection.

See the link on the right edge of this page? (Or just click on the name above.) Once there, you can click on a tag on the right side of the page to sort the entries there by topic. Corruption is one of those topics. Individual countries and basic concepts are also topics.

Another method to find the recent spate of articles on corruption and politics is to go to the "Teaching Comparative Government and Politics" forums. Blog entries also become topics in the forums.

There's a link to them at the right as well. (Or you can click on the title here.) Those forums are organized primarily by country, although there is a forum about basic concepts as well.

If that helps you put together lessons or units of study, then I've succeeded here. If there are other things you'd like to see here, let me know. (Use the "Comments" link at the bottom of every entry.)

Nigeria governors in graft probe

"Almost all of Nigeria's state governors are being investigated for corruption, the anti-graft agency head has said.

"Nuhu Ribadu told the Nigerian Senate that 31 of the 36 governors were being investigated and that 15 of them would be charged in the coming weeks.

"He also said that the world's biggest thief was Nigerian but was prevented from naming him.

"Critics of President Olusegun Obasanjo say the fight against corruption is being used as a political tool.

"But Mr Ribadu denies these charges..."

China corruption scandal widens

"Another senior Shanghai official has been implicated in a major corruption scandal, a city spokesman said.

"The scandal has already led to the sacking of the financial hub's top politician, Chen Liangyu.

"The investigation is being viewed as an attempt by President Hu Jintao to strengthen his position within the ruling Communist Party.

"Sun Luyi is the latest senior party official to be investigated in Shanghai's widening corruption scandal.

"The Party leadership in Beijing is wasting little time in stamping its authority on China's richest city..."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Demonstation of the Need for Skepticism

Last week's regional editions of Newsweek did not all carry the same cover.

The variations should provide a simple illustration of the need to take journalistic accounts with a grain of salt.

Why Unions in China's Wal-Marts

The September 23rd issue of The Economist has a good article (pp. 41-42) that describes not an abstract concept, but some of the nuts of bolts of how the political system there worked in the past and how the Party is trying to make it work again. It's not just Wal-Mart that's being unionized in China.

A little solidarity: China's unions

"THE Chinese Communist Party has always been swift to crush independent organisations of workers, but even its own puppet trade unions have had a hard time in recent years. Until recently at least, the burgeoning private sector has eschewed them and so too has its workforce...

"Unions in China are controlled by the Communist Party through an umbrella organisation, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU)... Two decades ago, when China's economy was still mostly run by the state, almost all urban workers belonged to trade unions set up in the state-owned enterprises to which they belonged. At best these unions acted as mediators between management and workers rather than as champions of workers' interests. They had little bargaining power—strikes and other forms of collective pressure being effectively banned...

"Since the 1990s the rapid growth of private, including foreign, enterprise and the widespread closure of state-owned firms has gutted unions from the urban workforce. It has also stripped the party of its own network of cells in workplaces...

"This has been a blow to the authorities. For a party used to all-pervasive control, the withering of its grassroots organisations has left it feeling increasingly uneasy... The party wants its unions back in place in order to keep workers off the streets, which, it accepts, sometimes means restraining employers too. Giving government-controlled unions a little bit more muscle, the party feels, helps to deter desperate workers from trying to establish independent unions. The party still shudders at the recollection of Solidarity's growth in Poland in the 1980s...

"Some companies are worried. A new labour-contract law, which may be passed within the next year or so, contains provisions that critics (inside both foreign and Chinese enterprises) say could give unions a greater say in company decision-making...

"However, there is little likelihood that trade unions in China will acquire the clout that some of their counterparts exercise in Western countries. For all its Marxist pretensions, the party is still more interested in business than in the grievances of the proletariat."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Politics and Corruption in Russia

I read an article by Victor Yasmann on the RFE/RL web site about a corruption scandal in Russia that I thought might be a follow-up to the Chinese and Nigerian examples of the politics of anti-corruption examples.

However, Yasmann was so obsessive about naming names and outlining details, and so reluctant to offer context that it was difficult to follow the story he was trying to tell. That made the article less useful than it might be.

I quote his first and final paragraphs below as an introduction to a two-week old article from Kommersant, "Russia's Daily Online." There is more context and a better outline of the politics in that article. It could serve as another example to use while asking about the relationships between politics and anti-corruption campaigns.

First from Yasmann's article:

Russia: Corruption Scandal Could Shake Kremlin

"A major corruption scandal has unfolded almost out of sight of the public eye -- one that threatens to disrupt the superficially buoyant facade of the administration of President Vladimir Putin...

"At least two conclusions can be drawn from the recent purging of the security agencies in connection with [this] case.

"First, serious infighting is under way within the siloviki, who are the main pillars and guarantors of Putin's power. The infighting does not pit agency against agency, but has instead created deep internal rifts in almost every security body. Until now Putin has tried to restore the balance of power within the security community and purge it of its most corrupt elements. That is a risky business, putting Putin between two conflicting groups of siloviki.

"Second, it also shows once again the depths corruption has infested Russia's judiciary and law-enforcement bodies -- the very bodies that are tasked with protecting society often end up posing more of a threat."

The Kommersant article by Elena Kiseleva, Nikolay Sergeev, and Mikhail Fishman offers more details about the politics of the case. I took special note of the final paragraph.

Mass Dismissals at the FSB

"The Prosecutor General's Office announced yesterday that it had attained the dismissals of 19 high-placed state employees implicated in smuggling cases... Kommersant has received information that the round of firings is related to a report delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin by chairman of the State Committee for Narcotics Control Viktor Cherkesov about two weeks ago.

"It was clear from the prosecutor's statement yesterday that high-placed FSB managers... were temporarily suspended

"Most of those from the FSB named in the report had headed the internal security department there...

"Kremlin sources say that the purge may be aimed at unseating [FSB head, Nikolay] Patrushev. Cherkesov, the author of the report, is seen as a potential successor to the head of the FSB...

"The... case was initiated in 2000 and took on political overtones early in 2002 as the last of the security personnel who had remained from First President of Russia Boris Yeltsin's time were being displaced by new blood brought in from St. Petersburg by Putin. That process was completed in the course of the YUKOS case."

I've added a new article on the "anti-corruption" case in China to yesterday's entry. I've added it as a comment which you can access by clicking on the coment link at the bottom of yesterday's excerpts.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Iranian Political Cleavages

The New York Times offered a graphic reminder of the ethnic cleavages in Iranian society. The article might be a valuable illustration of the generalizations and statistics in your textbook. Ask your students to identify the examples of political relevance.

At Home, Tehran Deals With a Restive Arab Minority

"...Iran wants to be a leader in the Islamic world, spreading its reach and influence among Arabs and Indonesians, Sunnis and Shiites...

"But at home, Iran has often had to labor to unify its own people under one national identity, restricting the expression of ethnic variations — like languages — that it views as undermining that unity. The problem is often most apparent with its Arabs...

"Iran is a multiethnic nation. More than half of its 70 million people are Persian, and about 3 percent are Arabs. Other groups include the Azeris, Kurds, Turkmen, Baluchis and Lurs. Iran has recently faced strong protests from some ethnic groups, like the Azeris, with several demanding greater autonomy and cultural freedom...

"Iranian officials insist that there is no discrimination against Arabs or, for that matter, any of Iran’s ethnic minorities. They note, for example, that classical Arabic is taught in schools. They point out that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is of Azeri descent..."

Testable Hypothesis; Corruption; Patron-Client Politics

Recent reports from Nigeria and China (and entries here - see "Corruption and Transparency and Politics," "Nigerian Politics," and "Guanxi: Patron-Client Politics in China") suggest that anti-corruption campaigns often seem to target corrupt political opponents more often than corrupt political allies. Is this also true in Mexico, the UK, Russia, and Iran? Can your students test the validity of the generalization (hypothesis)? How would they do that? (I'd send them to Patrick O'Niel's book Essentials of Comparative Politics or Timothy Lim's Doing Comparative Politics for hints about methodology.)

Here's the latest example as reported by the New York Times, the BBC, and the Guardian (UK).

Shanghai Party Boss Held for Corruption

"Chinese security officers have detained the powerful party boss of Shanghai for corruption, as President Hu Jintao expands a crackdown on graft that has focused on prominent political opponents.

"Chen Liangyu (at left below), the Communist Party’s top official in the wealthy East Coast enclave and a member of the ruling Politburo, was formally detained on Sunday afternoon, Chinese state media confirmed Monday afternoon.

"It is exceedingly rare in China for members of the ruling Politburo to face legal trouble, even when the authorities have evidence of corrupt activities by them or people close to them. Mr. Hu almost certainly would not have approved of the action unless he considered Mr. Chen an obstacle to his political control or his policy agenda.

"The action seems intended mainly to reduce local resistance to edicts by Mr. Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, while also smashing the remnants of the political clique that had been tied more closely to Jiang Zemin, China’s former paramount leader, than to Mr. Hu.

"Mr. Hu is seeking to reshuffle the members of the Politburo and all the leading government and provincial posts at the 17th Party Congress to be held next year. He has sought to extinguish opposition to his priorities among senior party members ahead of that event and to anoint his own successor.

"Mr. Chen’s political machine has long been considered one of the strongest and most corrupt in a country...

"Some party officials acknowledge that it is rare for officials in China to climb the political ladder without quietly securing economic benefits for themselves or their friends and relatives. The party-run security apparatus usually does not seek to stop such behavior unless the officials in question fall from political favor, they say."

Here's a link to the BBC report on Chen's "arrest" Top China leader fired for graft

and a link to

Power play brings down Shanghai boss,
an analysis article from Quentin Sommerville , BBC reporter in Shanghai.

and a link to

The Guardian (UK) report that Mr. Chen has disappeared from China's Internet as well.

"Earlier today, Chinese state media announced the dismissal of Chen Liangyu, the Communist party boss - and thus leader - of the eastern commercial metropolis of Shanghai.

"Mr Chen, seen by some pundits as a potential rival to President Hu Jintao, was also removed from the party's powerful central politburo for alleged corruption, the Xinhua news agenc y reported.

"Within moments, according to Reuters, every trace of Mr Chen also disappeared completely from the city government's website.

"All Mr Chen's speeches since taking over as Shanghai boss nearly four years ago were excised from the archives, photographs including him were replaced and a search for his name in the site's search engine brought up an error message..."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Recruitment of an Elite in China

The title of this article doesn't sound political, but in the fourth paragraph, New YorkTimes reporter Howard French offers a perspective on leadership recruitment. If the chase for material success has changed so much in China since 1976, has the chase for political success remained the same? If not, how has it changed? Does the textbook you use reflect any changes in political recruitment?

Chinese Children Learn Class, Minus the Struggle

"A generation ago, when people still dressed in monochromes and acquiring great wealth, never mind flaunting it, was generally illegal, the route to success was to join the right Communist Party youth organization or to attend one of the best universities.

"Now the race starts early, with an emphasis not on ideology but on the skills and experiences the children will need in the elite life they are expected to lead. In addition to early golf training, which has become wildly popular, affluent parents are enrolling their children in everything from ballet and private music lessons, to classes in horse riding, ice-skating, skiing and even polo.

"The intense interest in lifestyle training speaks not just to parents’ concern for their children’s futures but also to a general sense of social insecurity among China's newly rich.

“'Parents like myself are worrying about China becoming a steadily more competitive society,' said Zhong Yu, 36, a manufacturing supervisor whose wife is a senior accountant with an international firm and whose son 7-year-old son has been enrolled in the junior M.B.A. classes. 'Every day we see stories in the newspapers about graduates unable to find good jobs. Education in China is already good in the core subjects, but I want my son to have more creative thinking, because basic knowledge isn’t sufficient anymore.'

"Other experts say that for many others, the grooming schools, study abroad and lessons in elite sports like golf and polo are as much about a gnawing sense of social insecurity as they are about getting ahead.

“'Americans respect people who came from nothing and made something of themselves, and they also respect rich people,' Mr. Wang [an expert in comparative cultural studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Beijin] added. 'In China, people generally don’t respect rich people, because there is a strong feeling that they are lacking in ethics. These new rich not only want money, they want people to respect them in the future.'”

Friday, September 22, 2006

Precursors of Democracy

I was reading Guardian (UK) columnist Brian Whitaker's critique of the speech George Bush made at the UN earlier this week ( Mr Bush's mirage) and came across a wonderful hypothesis that could be the basis for teaching comparative.

In the last third of the essay, Whitaker wrote about the chimera of pursuing democracy in Iraq. He asserted, "Anyone who seriously wanted to establish a model democracy in the Middle East would look first at Egypt. Nobody in their right mind would ever have considered Iraq as a possible model. Egypt is not only the most populous Arab country but it has the building blocks: a long-established parliamentary and electoral system (rigged, of course, but that could be changed), political parties that are not based on tribe, ethnicity or (for the most part) religion, numerous civil society institutions (albeit, many of them currently monopolised by the government) and, above all, genuine home-grown movements pressing for democracy. There are certainly many obstacles, such as the institutionalised corruption, but - more than any other Arab country - Egypt has the basic materials to work with.

"Instead of providing real support and encouragement for Egyptian activists and cracking the whip over Mubarak, the Bush administration chose to pursue its democratic fantasies elsewhere, in all the least promising places..."

So, I'd ask my students to
  • identify the factors that Whitaker thinks are precursors of democracy
  • offer an explanation for why and how each of those factors contribute to democratic government
  • identify factors that Whitaker overlooked and explain why and how those factors facilitate democratic government
  • rank the factors in order of importance for creating or maintaining democratic government
  • evaluate the status of each of those factors in each country being studied (done by small groups that report back to class)
  • make predictions, based on those evaluations, of the future of democracy in each country being studied
  • rank the countries being studied for the likelihood of continuance or creation of democratic government

Oh, and if you need a laugh, Whitaker makes reference to the "Dilbert Mission Statement Generator," which is hilarious to anyone who has worked in a large organization, like a school. The "Generator" offers random assemblies of impressive-sounding adverbs, verbs, adjectives, and nouns to create superficially impressive and superficially realistic mission statements.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cultural Change and Political Change

There's no denying that social and cultural change affect politics and governing. However, journalistic accounts of trends are very dependent upon reporters' contacts and perspectives.

This BBC report on women's roles in Iranian society is similar to other reports about change (and political alienation) among the educated elite -- often in northern Tehran. Besides the fact that "...over half of university students in Iran are now women..." the rest of the report is anecdotal. What credence does "social commentator Sayed Laylaz" deserve? How many working mothers are there? How many women are reluctant to get married? Do people with these new atttitudes have any hope of gaining enough power and influence to bring about change?

Our students probably need to be reminded that when studying comparative politics, some generalizations seem to have obvious validity (e.g. change in one area is likely to lead to change in others). But without better data than this and other journalistic reports offer, it's risky to predict what change will result. Will greater education for women in Iran lead to what we might label progressive change or to a reaction by the state to supress the effects of women being more educated than men?

Women graduates challenge Iran

"The number of women graduating from Iran's universities is overtaking the number of men, promising a change in the job market and, with it, profound social change...

"Well over half of university students in Iran are now women. In the applied physics department of Azad University 70% of the graduates are women - a statistic which would make many universities in the West proud.

"It is a huge social shift since the 1979 Revolution: Iran's Islamic government has managed to convince even traditional rural families that it is safe to send their daughters away from home to study.

"But in some areas the larger number of women than men is beginning to alarm the authorities...

"'We women want to show we are here and we have a lot to say,' says Massoumeh Pahshahie Umidvar.

"'For years we have lived under the heavy shadow of men, our fathers and brothers, and now we want to come out of that.'
Massoumeh holds down a job in a factory, has a child and is doing a postgraduate degree. Her life is completely different from that of her mother who stayed at home, cooking and looking after children...

"[Social commentator Sayed Laylaz] hopes this new generation of educated Iranian women will force social change in the decades ahead.

"It will not be long, he argues, before women are in charge of recruitment in offices. Already he sees signs that Iran's politicians recognise the importance of women's votes in elections.

"Massoumeh tells her husband that it will not be long before Iranian men will be forced to sit at home while their wives run the country.

"...young women who do have careers are now beginning to think twice about getting married. Especially as under Iranian law a woman needs her husband's permission to go to work...

"This is a sentiment that is increasingly being heard in a society where a single woman even has trouble hiring an apartment to live alone...

"Working mothers are a relatively new phenomenon in Iran but attitudes are changing among the younger generation of working women, many of whom will no longer accept a husband who does not share the workload at home..."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Backgrounder on British Politics

The September 16 issue of The Economist arrived yesterday. There's a good article there about British politics, especially politics within the Labour Party (pp. 31-34). There are insights into the intra-party and leadership politics. If you have access, take a few minutes with this bit of journalistic analysis. It's probably better for your background than for students of comparative politics -- unless you have access to similar analyses from other countries.

The strange end of Tony Blair -- Who killed the British prime minister?

"The Labour Party is kicking out its most successful prime minister for at least 50 years. Gordon Brown is both the main beneficiary and a big loser from the affair

"IF THE old saw is true that elections are not won by oppositions but lost by governments, the events of the past fortnight must have made David Cameron, the leader of Britain's Conservatives, a happy man. In that time he has seen the most potent election-winner in Labour's history—someone senior Tories still admit they do not know how to beat—humiliatingly reduced to something close to irrelevance. He has also seen Tony Blair's probable successor stained with dishonour and a once-disciplined party suffer a collective nervous breakdown. If nothing else, when Mr Cameron greets his troops at their conference next month they will know they chose a very lucky general...

"For as long as Mr Blair was seen by his party as an indispensable electoral asset, he held sway over it. But these days many believe he has become an electoral liability...

"The sight of Mr Blair at the G8 meeting of rich-country leaders in July playing the fawning courtier to George Bush was too much for many Labour MPs...

"For a few, the deep embarrassment of a party-finance scandal has provided a further reason for Mr Blair's removal. In his long-running battle to reduce the influence of the unions, Labour's traditional paymasters, Mr Blair hoped that the subscriptions of ordinary party members and the donations of the rich, gratified by the government's pro-business stance, would reduce the party's dependence on organised workers. But as party membership fell (in part because of Iraq), the reliance on rich individuals increased. For most of the past year the police have been investigating the possibility that peerages have been offered in exchange for loans..."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Political Legitimacy in Iran

Legitimacy is complex. It offers great opportunities for comparative studies. But sometimes an in-depth examination of a concept is a valuable exploration. You probably have access to other and better articles.

What would your students say about legitimacy after reading these articles? How would they define it based on these examples? Would they recognize the varying perspectives from which legitimacy can be seen? Can legitimacy be coerced? How can it be earned? How can it be lost?

ONE: Iran: Hard-line clerics say their rule is derived from God
From the Northwest Florida Daily News, 29 August 2006

"The legitimacy of Iran's hard-line clerics is derived from God, the head of a powerful clerical panel said Tuesday.

"Hard-liners in Iran are at odds with pro-democracy reformers who believe the legitimacy of the government is derived from elections by the people.

"But Ayatollah Ali Meshkini said all of the Iran's institutions operate under the supervision of the supreme leader who has been appointed by God.

"'This (God) has given them legitimacy,' the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Meshkini as saying when he addressed a meeting of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran. The panel has the authority to choose or dismiss Iran's top leader.

"Earlier this month, assembly member Ayatollah Abolqasem Khazali said the legitimacy of the 'governance is not derived from people. In Islam, the legitimacy of the government comes from God.'"

from EurasiaNet, 29 August 2003

"The political gridlock caused by infighting between conservative and reformist forces in Iran has fostered what analysts in Tehran characterize as a "crisis of legitimacy." Growing popular apathy towards the political process is preparing the ground for a possible authoritarian alternative, some observers go on to warn..."

THREE: Iran opposition group seeks US legitimacy
from Iran InterLink, 26 October 2005

"Even by the standards of Washington politics it was an unusual spectacle - the veiled leader of a Middle East group banned in the US as a terrorist organisation delivering a speech by live video-link to applauding members of Congress inside the Capitol itself.

"But since the organisation is dedicated to the overthrow of Iran's theocracy, the People's Mujahideen Organisation and its political co-leader, Maryam Rajavi, are given leeway in the US as they campaign to have the "terrorist" tag removed and to become eligible for US funding of Iranian opposition groups.

"Despite its attraction to the US - and particularly to some Pentagon planners - as an armed force inside Iraq ready in opposition, analysts in Washington doubt the group will regain legitimacy..."

FOUR: Legitimacy and Succession in Iranian History

(There's a link to a .pdf file of the whole article.) From Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East at Duke University, 2003


"In Iran, both before and after Islam, the ruler was thought to be God's vicegerent on earth and, unlike Europe, his legitimacy was not dependent on the law of primogeniture. Thus he was not bound by any written or unwritten law or tradition and could take decisions up to the utmost of his physical power, the only restraint being the fear of rebellion. He would lose God's Grace and somehow fall from power if he ruled unjustly, but there was no test either for possessing the grace or for losing it except by virtue of holding power or being overthrown. There were thus no rules for succession and rebels could and did claim legitimacy once they were successful. The position both justified and was justified by arbitrary rule, where long-term functional social classes did not exist and history became a series of connected short terms, a sociological phenomenon which still persists in Iranian society."

FIVE: Press Conference on Iran
from the U.S. Department of State
, 31 May 2006

"QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in the past this Administration has been very reluctant to do anything that might be seen as giving legitimacy to a government that you, at least the past, always talked about as being led by the "unelected few." By agreeing to sit down with this government, are you now providing that legitimacy to this administration which has been in power for 27 years in Iran, and are you also saying that the U.S. is not going to actively try to undercut, overthrow, undermine the Iranian Government?

"SECRETARY RICE: We have been very clear and nobody is confused about the nature of this Iranian regime. We know precisely about the nature of this Iranian regime. We know that this is a regime that does not give rights to its people for political participation. We know that this is a regime that is engaged in supporting terrorism around the world. Nobody is confused about the nature of this regime.

"But the President made very clear that we are going to do everything that we can to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear problem and the only thing that is being provided legitimacy here is the international community's consensus that Iran must suspend its current enrichment and reprocessing activities, return to serious negotiations, find a civil nuclear program that does not have proliferation risks associated with it through the fuel cycle, and negotiate in good faith. That's what's being provided legitimacy. What's being provided legitimacy here is the negotiating process to which we have long been committed.

"We will continue to have our differences with the Iranian regime on the vast number of issues that are before us, but it is our view that a diplomatic solution to the nuclear program is necessary, a diplomatic solution to the nuclear program is in sight by a unified response of the international community and that this is our best way to get that response..."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Idioma 语言 Язык Language

Usually, when we think of "common language" and civil society, we're thinking of a national language or a language that allows for communication across linguistic barriers (like English in Nigeria and India).

Michael Harvey wrote from Abu Dhabi suggesting that the example below from Australia is an example that we could use to teach about the politics surrounding civil society. The news story illustrates that common first thought about common language. But, the essay by Frances Hesselbien that follows suggests that a common language in today's global society might be a technical jargon used in many national languages. (Frances Hesselbein is editor-in-chief of Leader to Leader, chairman of the board of governors of Drucker Foundation.) Other examples are the .html, .xml, and other programing languages used by web sites. (Even those are not without controversy. See: Divided by a common language.)

What effects might these technical common languages have on civil society, the state, politics, nationalism, governance, and democracy? How important is a common language? Should countries legislate an official language? If only some countries should declare a legal language, which countries ought not do so? Which facets of government and politics are hindered most by the lack of an effective common language? What facets would be hindered by declaring an official language that is not used by large segments of the population? (think Nigeria) Can specialized technical common languages compensate for the absence or weakness of a national language?

Howard: English tests for entrants

"Australia will demand new citizens pass an English language test and sign up to undefined Australian values, Prime Minister John Howard said...

"Howard said the conservative government was also considering lifting to four years from three the wait for new immigrants to become an Australian and imposing a "fairly firm" test on knowledge of Australian history.

"'It won't become more difficult if you're fair dinkum, and most people who come to this country are fair dinkum about becoming part of the community,' Howard told Australian radio, falling back on a local slang term for genuine.

"Australia is a nation of immigrants, with nearly one in four of the country's 20 million people born overseas. Almost six million people have settled since 1945 and Australia plans to accept about 144,000 new immigrants in 2006-07..."

Speaking a Common Language by Frances Hesselbein

"Today leaders speak a common language. It is understood across the borders that once separated business, nonprofits, and government and moves just as easily across cultures, countries, and continents. It is a global language of mission, strategy, and customer, as readily understood by leaders in Beijing as in Boston.

"To today's business, government, and nonprofit leaders of change, the principles of leadership are basic, generic to all organizations, and universal in their reach and relevance..."

See also:

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Grassroots view from China

I discovered a blog called Migrant Worker, written by "a Princeton-in-Asia Fellow living and working in Kunming, Yunnan"

Sunday's entry is titled, "A million toilets is a statistic" and is about

"China’s government recently announced a project to construct or remodel over 1,000,000 public bathrooms in rural areas, including my home province of Yunnan."

The blogger explains and offers a real-world cautionary warning at the end:

"For those of you who have never travelled in rural China, these “public toilets” they’re talking about aren’t some sketchy structure to be avoided on the edge of a public park. In many villages, the public toilet may be the only formal bathroom of any kind.

"The problem isn’t lack of a place to dispose of the poo (it all ends up getting mixed with straw and used as fertilizer aka “nightsoil”). The issue is simply whether or not streams or runoff get contaminated by the poo in the meantime. Bravo to the Chinese government for doing something about this. Here’s hoping that the funds actually become bathrooms, and not Hummers for local officials"

The blog is only two months old, but there are quite a few perceptive examples, including "Whose land is it anyway?" "Labor laws in my 'new home'" "Just a little taste of home..." and "Nomad solar makes the news" There are also links to other "Princeton-in-Asia Fellow" blogs.

It's not all appropriate for students, but there are examples here you can use in teaching about China. Besides that it's just interesting.

Corruption and Transparency and Politics

Transparency is one of those ideas upon which we can base comparative studies. A beginning point is Tansparency Intenational's work promoting the value of open government and business. (Nigeria's President Obasanjo was head of Transparency International before being elected president.)

News about Nigeria's anti-corruption campaigns can be part of a case study. (Also see earlier entries here like Nigerian Politics.)

This from the BBC, 13 September 2006: The politics of Nigerian corruption

"Daily, low-level corruption is visible on the street; policeman extorting money from motorists to supplement their meagre wages.

"But it is in the world of politics and government, where corruption has been most damaging.

"For decades the government has accrued huge oil revenues, yet the country suffers from a lack of basic infrastructure, and tens of millions live in poverty.

"At the same time, some politicians and their business associates have amassed personal fortunes.

"Although accusations of graft have long been a feature of Nigerian politics, as elections approach early next year, the politics of corruption have taken on a new powerful role.

"For the past four years, the fight against corruption in Nigeria has been embodied in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) and its Chairman Nuhu Ribadu - a 46-year-old senior police officer.

"The agency has had some successes, and Mr Ribadu (right) has been praised both at home and abroad...

"Talking to people on the street in Lagos, many are supportive, and wryly amused by the idea that the top politicians would disqualify themselves by accusing each other of corruption.

"People are desperate to see Nigerian politics cleaned up and very few politicians are considered to be clean.

"Ultimately that is the real dilemma.

"In a country where corruption is seen as endemic, an anti-corruption campaign used selectively as a political weapon is likely to provoke a bitter fight amongst the political elite."

But, before going on to look at this issue in other countries, students ought to examine the idea itself.

J. M. Balkin, of Yale University, does that in his essay, How Mass Media Simulate Political Transparency. Balkin's theme is the importance of media, but the concept of transparency is on the front burner.

"...the metaphor of transparency encompasses three separate political virtues, which often work together but are analytically distinct. The first kind of transparency is informational transparency... A second type of transparency is participatory transparency... A third kind of transparency is accountability transparency..."

This essay should be quite accessible to students, and it offers some interesting ideas for them to consider. If you look around the Internet and the library, you can probably find other appropriate articles (like Transparency Matters: The ‘Second Generation’ of Institutional Reform).

Other topics that are related include the ongoing debates about campaign financing in the UK

the question of whether transparency in Russia is possible

the possibility of growing transparency in China

frustrations outside the state with the lack of transparency in Iran

and questions about how much transparency is transparent in Mexico

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Talk amongst yourselves or to me

I'm going to be away and (GASP!) away from the Internet for a few days.

You can read things from the archives here. (See the links on the right below.)

You can add comments to one of the entries here. (Click on the "Comments" link at the bottom of each entry.)

You can tell me what topics or concepts you'd like to hear more about. Democratization? Legitimacy? Economic restructuring? Transparency? Comparative methodology? Russia's court system? China's parallel bureaucracies (government and Party)? the UK's constitution? Sharia in Nigeria? Human rights in Mexico?

One of my goals here is to help you teach comparative politics and government. Give me some more hints about what would be helpful.

If you'd rather not leave a public comment, you can e-mail me at Ken(dot)Wedding(at symbol)gmail(dot)com
(Hopefully, the coded address will discourage spammers from harvesting it and bombarding me with more spam, but won't discourage you from sending me your ideas.)

Partisanship and Teaching and Learning

Do you let students know your political preferences? Do you work at playing devil's advocate with classes? How do your revelations, your acting, or your attempts at neutrality affect your students' learning?

These topics have come up often during discussions at exam readings and in workshops. They are questions we all have considered and found ways of answering for ourselves and our students. Our own values, our knowledge, and our debating and acting abilities all influence our choices. Is there decision-making guidance beyond the anecdotal experiences we and our colleagues have?

Patrick O'Neil, in his blog at the University of Puget Sound, referred to an interesting article in PS, a publication of the American Political Science Association.

The article is My Professor is a Partisan Hack: How Perceptions of a Professor's Political Views Affect Student Course Evaluations. It was written by April Kelly-Woessner and Matthew C. Woessner. (Free registration is necessary to read the article.)

What do the authors tell us?

As you might expect, students give more favorable ratings to professors they perceive as ideological "soul mates." The other part of the findings we need to pay attention to is that when students perceive political distance between their professors and themselves, they express less interested in the subject matter. Dr. O'Neil reminds us that "Striking a balance in the classroom, challenging students' existing ideological biases while not alienating them in the process, is no easy task."

The study did not tell us about learning, but we can probably infer that greater interest leads to learning. (Someone want to do another study?) In any case, here's some research to guide our choices as we teach politics in a political environment. The choices are important and they are still ours.

By the way, secondary teachers can join APSA at a reduced rate.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Policy Making Environment

Two articles about China, one from the BBC and one from the New York Times. What hypotheses would your students make about the connections between the two? What evidence and logic would they use to support those hypotheses? Where would they find supporting facts?

China trade surplus at new high

"China's trade surplus with the rest of the world reached a record $18.8bn (£10bn) in August, beating both July's $14.6bn record and analysts' forecasts...

"The latest figure brings China's 2006 global trade surplus to $95.6bn so far...

"US figures suggest that the growing trade imbalance with the United States is a major factor..."

China Puts Stricter Limits on Distribution of Foreign News

"China imposed broad new restrictions Sunday on the distribution of foreign news in the country, beefing up state regulations on the news media.

"Under new rules that were said to take effect immediately, the state-run New China News Agency said it would become the de facto gatekeeper for foreign news reports, photographs and graphics entering China. The agency announced in its own dispatch that it would censor content that endangers 'national security.'...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Comparative Politics and International Organizations

International organizations affect and are affected by policies of governments and global economics. Throw in the effects of natural events (weather, earthquakes, and violent storms, for example), and we all should begin to recognize a complex system. When we look at international organizations as part of comparative politics, we must recognize their roles as stimulators and responders. Just like nation states. And, how are international organizations different from nation states? How are they similar? Can we make generalizations about international organizations and their actions?

Here's the beginning of a case study. What else would your students need to consider about OPEC in order to analyze it in a comparative mode? Where will they find it? Or news reports like the one below from The Washington Post.

As OPEC Meets, Fresh Doubts About Its Power

"When the secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries spoke in London in October 2003, he advocated moderation in oil prices, sounding a familiar OPEC theme that extremely high prices could drive off consumers.
'OPEC knows, through both intuition and experience, that it does not operate in a vacuum,' said Alvaro Silva-Calderón, then the secretary general. 'If it wants to sell its oil, then it must attract buyers. And it does not attract buyers by scaring them off, or being unreliable.' He added, 'Producers need consumers and consumers need producers.'...

"At the moment, the only factors reining in production by the group have nothing to do with oil policy. Nigeria's output has been cut by 600,000 barrels a day because of insurgents sabotaging pipelines in the Niger Delta. Iraq's production has been trimmed by about 800,000 barrels a day by the continuing mayhem there. Venezuela, which is busy quarreling with oil workers' unions and foreign oil companies, is falling about 600,000 barrels a day short of what it once produced. If the would-be cartel is holding back, it isn't by grand design.

"And few of the members can boost production immediately -- except Saudi Arabia..."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Changing Policy in the face of Official Truth

Policy debates in a state that recognizes an "official truth" can be difficult and extended. Such seems to be the case in Iran. This report is from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seems to based primarily on public records and public statements of officials.

Iran's Drug Problem Goes Beyond Afghan Deluge

"...Iran's drug problem is not merely supply-driven, however, with domestic opium cultivation making a return and the popularity of synthetic drugs on the upswing.

"The UNODC reported in 2005 that some 60 percent of the opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) produced in Afghanistan leave that country via Iran...

"Tehran tends to look at domestic drug abuse as a supply-driven issue that can be addressed mainly through interdiction and law enforcement. But a resurgence of domestic opium cultivation suggests that the problem is more complicated...

"Opiates originating in Afghanistan are not the only illicit drugs that Iranians are using. Ecstasy (MDMA) was once smuggled into Iran from Europe, but is now frequently produced locally. Other 'club drugs' -- such as GHB, Ketamine, LSD, methamphetamines (crank), and Rohypnol -- also appear to be gaining in popularity...

"Tehran's emphasis on supply-interdiction versus demand-reduction has undergone changes in recent years. Each approach has its proponents. Initially, the government had a law-and-order approach that considered any drug-related offense a serious crime...

"This approach filled prisons, but addiction rates continued to rise as the average age of drug users fell. The strategy changed during the latter years of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's presidency (1997-2005), and an increasing amount of the drug-control budget was shifted to demand-reduction efforts and to treating addicts...

"Iran's state Welfare Organization's prevention and addiction-treatment department claims that 8 percent of the population is addicted to drugs... [and] noted that Iran sees 90,000 new drug addicts every year, with more than 180,000 people treated for addiction in the state or private sector. He listed 51 government facilities, 457 private outpatient centers, and an additional 26 transition centers that exist to combat the problem.
"The provincial prosecutor in Ardabil is a critic of existing drug-control policies. Hojatoleslam Rabii argues that the activities of the Drug Control Headquarters and the police are not coordinated... He claims legislation is contradictory, with 'drug addiction...regarded as a crime' while 'addicts are portrayed as patients who must be cured.'...
"Clearly, the Iranian government recognizes the extent of the drug problem it faces. Still, it does not appear to have decided on a preferred approach. The head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, Fada Hussein Maleki, insisted in early August that his organization and the Expediency Council have formulated general counternarcotics policies, and that they have been referred to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his approval, Hemayat reported on August 2.
"Iranian officials no doubt hope that once that happens, they might reverse the current trend of rising drug abuse."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Nigerian Politics

First comes the good news, reported by the New York Times. It seems there has been a decline in perceived corruption in Africa, including Nigeria. Is it the result of policy decisions and actions by Nigerian officials?

(See the earlier posts about Nigeria's anti-corruption campaign:

Then there's the uptick in activity aimed at Nigeria's 2007 presidential election. Will the system work? Or perhaps we should ask whether the power elite will let the system work?

ONE: The New York Times reported recently that Nigeria and other African countries appear to have made progress in the campaign against corruption. Students could compare these rankings to the rankings done by Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

In Africa, a More Business-Friendly Approach

"Africa moved up from last place to the middle of the pack among world regions in carrying out changes that make it easier to start and run a business, according to a World Bank report released Tuesday.

"Tanzania and Ghana catapulted this year into the ranks of the top 10 reformers. Rwanda and Nigeria made it into the top 20.
And 26 other African countries took modest steps to ease business regulations “by the stroke of a minister’s pen,” the report noted.

"Africa, the world’s poorest region, currently has the highest tax rates and some of its most convoluted and antiquated business regulations. In every African country, most businesses operate underground, beyond the reach of regulators and tax collectors...

"The World Bank’s 'Doing Business' report ranked 175 countries by the number of days it takes to start a business and on other indicators that measure contract enforcement, investor protections, corporate taxation levels and the flexibility businesses have to hire and fire workers."

TWO: Let the games begin
Nigerians now have a date for the next election. But little else is certain

(see p. 45 of the September 2 issue of The Economist)

"ON AUGUST 29th Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Africa's most populous country, finally announced the date of elections to choose his successor: April 21st 2007. The organisation of these polls, which could mark Nigeria's first successful transition from one civilian government to another since independence in 1960, gives Mr Obasanjo an opportunity to help cement his country's fragile democracy...

"But there is a long way to go if a free and fair election is to take place.

"For a start, the country's electoral commission... is in a mess.... It has barely started the monumental task of registering the country's voters and is unlikely to be equipped to deal with Nigeria's predilection for serious vote-rigging...

"The splits in the elite are unnerving, considering the bloody sectarian violence that often accompanies political divisions in Nigeria. Its 140m people are equally divided between Christians and Muslims and split between three main ethnic groups and hundreds of minorities. The debate over Mr Obasanjo's successor is partly centred on whether his successor should come from the Muslim-dominated north or the Christian-dominated south...

"The jockeying for power has increased the sense of insecurity across the country. Three candidates for governor in different states have been killed in the past two months, while political mafias in some parts of the country have been buying up thugs and unleashing them on each other in anticipation of a bloody race for power...

"Nigerians may have a date for the election, but that is small comfort in troubling times. If the violence and instability worsen, and Mr Obasanjo does resort to a 'transitional government' to try to prolong his rule, they know one thing: the last time that happened, in 1993, the government was toppled just months later in a military coup."

THREE: The Washington Post reports on Fraud Allegations Fuel Fight Between Top Nigerian Officials

"President Olusegun Obasanjo sent the Senate a report by a state anti-corruption agency accusing his deputy of diverting millions of dollars in public funds to private business concerns, officials said Thursday.

"Vice President Atiku Abubakar rejected the report as a 'cocktail of lies' and threatened to present lawmakers with 127 impeachable offenses against Obasanjo, including milking the state oil company of funds for political activities...

"The two men have waged a low-intensity power struggle for years...

"The elections next year should mark the first democratic handover of power in Africa's most populous country since independence from Britain in 1960...

"The anti-corruption agency's report details what it said was the authorization by Abubakar of millions of dollars in payments from the Petroleum Technology Development Fund to private business concerns.

"Abubakar's spokesman... said Abubakar plans to ask the Senate to investigate what he called 127 impeachable offenses by Obasanjo, including the use of "phony accounts" for the president's political activities funded by the state oil company..."

See earlier entries on presidential politics,

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Comparative Elections

James C. McKinley Jr., in Thursday's New York Times, does a good job of beginning a comparative study of electoral rules. Where would you "send" your students from here?

Long History of Vote Fraud Lingers in the Mexican Psyche

"Felipe Calderon was named the next president of Mexcio on Tuesday by a tribunal that confirmed that the vote was basically free and fair. Yet a significant slice of the voting public still believes that the election was marred by fraud and that the country’s electoral institutions are corrupt.

"To some extent that is because his leftist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado, has waged a fiery campaign to persuade his supporters that his narrow loss on July 2 was part of a broad conspiracy between President Vicente Fox and business leaders to deny him victory.

"But why do between a quarter and a third of voters, according to recent opinion polls, agree with him?
One reason is history. After decades of one-party rule sustained by fraudulent elections, many Mexicans still deeply distrust their institutions and courts. But it is also because Mexicans have a very different notion of electoral fraud than voters in the United States, a notion that goes beyond stuffing ballot boxes...

"Mr. López Obrador pointed out that more than half of the tally sheets from the nation’s 130,000 election precincts contained errors in arithmetic, a sign of widespread incompetence among poll workers or of extra ballots magically appearing in some boxes and disappearing from others...

"But the Mexican conception of fraud is strikingly expansive, compared with United States traditions, and by those lights the cries of fraud become more plausible.

"For instance, most of Mr. López Obrador’s supporters complain bitterly about the “intervention” of President Fox in the election. They talk about 'a state election' and the 'imposition' of the candidate from Mr. Fox’s conservative party, Felipe Calderón, whom the electoral tribunal finally proclaimed president-elect on Tuesday.

"There is no doubt that Mr. Fox used his position as president and his official tours to campaign vigorously against Mr. López Obrador. Though he never mentioned the leftist candidate by name, he used code words for him, railing against populism, demagogy and false messiahs.

"The president also warned against 'changing riders' in midstream and said that government handouts to the poor, a centerpiece of the leftist’s campaign, would bankrupt future Mexicans. Meanwhile, the Fox administration spent extravagantly on public service messages praising the government’s achievements.

"Such use of the bully pulpit may seem tame in the United States, but in Mexico it is against the law for a president or any elected official to use public resources to campaign for his party’s candidate. The law is rooted in history. For seven decades before Mr. Fox’s election in 2000, Mexico was ruled by one party, with the sitting president choosing his successor and spreading government largesse to make sure he was elected...

"Worse in many leftist’s minds were the actions of various business leaders. Toward the end of the campaign, the largest business association, as well as some big companies, spent more than $19 million on advertisements aimed at undermining Mr. López Obrador, who promised to raise taxes on the rich and on business.

"The advertisements never mentioned candidates by name. But some of them said, for instance, that Mexico did not need a dictator like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, to whom Mr. López Obrador is often compared by his enemies...

"United States voters are used to these 'soft money' campaigns and take them in stride. But here, once again, such spending is illegal under the election law and is plausibly considered to be fraud by many of Mr. López Obrador’s supporters. The magistrates agreed, saying the business leaders had broken the law. But they said the impact was too slight to warrant annulling the election...

"Mr. López Obrador’s followers also have no confidence in the Federal Electoral Institute, which organized the election. In October 2003, when congressional leaders were making deals to appoint new members to the institute’s governing board, Mr. López Obrador’s party was shut out...

"What is sure is that Mr. López Obrador has defined himself for many voters as the candidate who lost the election, not through his own errors but because the entire apparatus of the state was against him. That is an old tune in Mexico, one that many know the words to."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What next for President Calderon?

Are you collecting the history of this election? Will it make a good case study of electoral politics? of legitimization? of democratization? of something else? It looks like we will soon see the next stage. These articles are from the New York Times (if you're not a premium subscriber, the articles will be costly after September 13.)

Election Ruling in Mexico Goes to Conservative

"Felipe Calderon, a conservative from President Vicente Fox’s party, was declared Mexico's next president on Tuesday by the nation’s highest electoral court, officially ending a bitterly contested election that has polarized the country.

"Though the decision settled legal challenges to the most contentious election in Mexican history, it did not put an end to the political crisis that has gripped the country since voters went to the polls here on July 2. Mr. Calderón’s first challenge as president will be to defuse the anger of leftists who believe the election was fraudulent..."

(Photo from Calderon's web site.)

Felipe Calderón: A Politician at Birth

"It was more than 30 years ago that a seventh-grade history teacher in Morelia, a quaint colonial city in central Mexico, went around the room surveying the career plans of his 12-year-old pupils.

"There were future doctors, lawyers and teachers in the room; no surprise, as this was the city’s leading school. But one boy — chubby, serious, with a wild mane of hair — announced that day that he wanted to be president of Mexico...

"As of Tuesday, Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa, 44, was on his way to becoming just that, one of Mexico’s youngest presidents..."

Tony Blair's Tempest

The Guardian (UK) reported on the ongoing maneuvering going on within the Labour Party. How much is jockeying for position within a new Labour government and how much is Tony Blair's ambition to remain in office longer than Margaret Thatcher did?

Seven quit government in Blair protest

"Seven members of Tony Blair's government resigned today in protest at the prime minister's reluctance to publicly name a departure date.

"One junior minister, Tom Watson, quit as well as six parliamentary private secretaries, after 48 hours of leaks and rampant speculation about an exit timetable.

"The open rebellion, after Downing Street dubbed reports of Mr Blair quitting next May 'speculation' but did not deny them, led the Conservative leader, David Cameron, to describe the Labour party as in 'meltdown.'...

"A parliamentary private secretary is the most junior role in government, essentially a conduit between ministers and backbenchers...

"The Sun today claimed that Mr Blair would resign as Labour leader on May 31, sparking an eight-week leadership contest that would see him leave Downing Street at the end of July...

"If Mr Blair resigned on May 31, it would mean he had been the prime minister for 10 years and 30 days - still short of Mrs Thatcher's 11 years at the helm."

Blair's offer: I will go in a year. Brown: that's not good enough

"Gordon Brown made clear yesterday that Tony Blair's coded offer to leave Downing Street within the next 12 months was not good enough.

"Allies of the chancellor said that Mr Brown was demanding that the prime minister set a timetable for his departure and make the details public.

"Mr Brown also wants Mr Blair to rein in the chancellor's critics, such as Stephen Byers and Alan Milburn, who have been making speeches and writing newspaper articles arguing that Blairite reforms be continued after he has stepped down..."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Guanxi: Patron-Client Politics in China

Guanxi is a powerful force in China. In many ways it's the Chinese version of patron-client politics. And since historically politics has controlled so much economic activity, guanxi is also patron-client economics. Transparency makes it difficult to maintain the power of such in-group forces as the following report from Asia Times Online illustrates. The Shanghai Gang is just one of the currently visible facets of guanxi.

It is also worth noting that the connections that offered the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by the Shanghai Gang, also offered some freedom for self-determination to high rollers in Shanghai. From one of the early Special Economic Zones to the Pudong New Zone, Shanghai has pursued goals beyond those laid out by economic planners and policy makers in Beijing. The 1989 protests in Tiananmen, which led to the promotion of former Shanghai mayor Jiang Zemin (at right in the photo below), put elements of the Shanghai Gang in charge of China.

What would your students do with this? Look for analogies in other systems: comparisons with camarillas (Mexico) or with prebendalism (Nigeria) or with old school ties (the UK) or with power ministry networks, St. Petersburg connections or with Yeltsin's "family" (Russia) or with Deng Xiaoping's family (China)?

While we're mentioning guanxi in China, how about dynasties in the US: the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Gores, the Chafees, the Dodds, the Tafts, the Byrds, the Longs... (See USA Today's "Members of Congress with family ties".)

Shanghai Gang losing power struggle

"Beijing is waging a whirlwind anti-corruption campaign in Shanghai to shake up the so-called Shanghai Club or Shanghai Gang, headed by former president Jiang Zemin. The group dominated China's political power scene for more than a decade until Jiang began to fade from active political life in late 2002.

"The anti-graft campaign has been launched one year ahead of the all-important 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and thus is seen as President Hu Jintao's maneuver to gain full control by eliminating all Jiang's influence...

"Over the past two decades, Shanghai has appeared immune to Beijing's anti-graft campaigns, which have netted senior officials in all other provinces, as if Shanghai were the only 'clean soil' in China.

"And not only did Shanghai officials escape censure, many of them were promoted to key departments in the central government in Beijing. That situation began to change after the CCP's 16th Congress in late 2002, when Jiang finally resigned as the party's general secretary.

"So what was it that allowed all those Shanghai officials to remain so clean in the face of so much temptation in the booming city? Was it because they were all saints, or that the municipality had created a perfect environment to immunize officials against graft-prone temptations? Neither, is the answer.

"As with other parts of mainland China, Shanghai is ruled in the so-called socialistic system with Chinese characteristics under which bureaucrats wield vast power. The evidence points to their using this influence to line their pockets, and the pockets of business associates...

"Quite simply, for many years Shanghai officials had been able to escape scot-free because of the protection given to them by the most powerful man in China - Jiang Zemin. This was especially true after 1989, when Jiang was promoted to CCP general secretary from his post as Shanghai's party chief.

"Under the umbrella of Jiang's administration, corruption scandals involving the Shanghai Gang were swept under the carpet.

"All that has changed. In recent months, the central government has mobilized more than 100 commissioners in Shanghai to rake out the filth..."

The Sunday Times of South Africa has a similar report.

China probes Shanghai scandal

"Chinese President Hu Jintao, secretary general of the ruling Communist Party of China, has urged officials to wipe out what he called 'rampant' corruption in the party.

"The deepening scandal also comes at a critical time in Chinese politics when party leaders are currently engaged in political horse trading ahead of a key party congress in October.

"With Hu expected to consolidate his power at the meeting, Chen's apparent closeness to the case could taint Shanghai politicians, most of who were cultivated under the leadership of Jiang Zemin, the former president.

"'This is a critical stage, (party leaders) are drawing up all types of lists at various levels for endorsement and finally for the 17th party congress,' said Joseph Chen, a political analyst at Hong Kong's City University.

"Since he became president in 2002 Hu has made no attempt to confront Jiang's 'Shanghai gang', but he has slowly strengthened his position through appointments to the central ministries and the military, Chen said."

You can read more about the Pudong New Zone in this profile from the Chinese government's "China in Brief" web site.

Even more information is available at the Pudong New Area web site, and from the web site of Ron Gluckman, an American journalist in an article titled, "21st Century City."

You can read a BBC profile of Jiang Zemin.

There are a couple of wonderful posters in Stefan Landsberger's collection showing how Jiang Zemin connected himself with Deng Xiaoping thus connecting him with the old "second generation" leader.

To read more about guanxi, read "A Bush In Hand Is Worth...A Lot," a 2003 Business Week article about a deal between an American company that "hired a certain Neil Bush... the son of the former President and brother of President George W. Bush," a Taiwan company headed by Winston Wong, son of Taiwan's "most powerful businessman," and a Chinese company headed by Jiang Zemin's son Jiang Mianheng (at right).

Time magazine's feature article, "Thriving in the Middle Kingdom, China's burgeoning middle class holds the key to the future of the country" includes this insight into a downside to guanxi, "But start probing middle-class Chinese and you discover that they, too, harbor resentments and skepticism behind their professed political indifference. Corruption and its euphemistic handmaiden guanxi (connections) have convinced many in the middle class that the playing field is not level, and that merit will only get them so far..."

The Future of Iran

I reacted to the "...former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners..." line. It reminds me that many countries have demonstrated that experienced and competent functionaries are not necessary to keep a corrupt and authoritarian system running. That is especially true when there's an "official truth." But the results have not been happy ones, especially in the long run. Is that the direction Iran is headed? (Critiques of my comparative method are welcome and might be a good exercise for your students.)

Iran’s President Calls for Purge of Liberal and Secular Professors

"Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Tuesday for a purge of liberal and secular teachers from the country's universities, urging students to return to 1980s-style radicalism...

"Ahmadinejad is widely believed to need to jockey between various interest groups in Iran, at a time when hard-liners increasingly control more of the top rungs of government but still encounter resistance from parts of the public at large. Moderates also still remain in the government.

"But Tuesday's comments seemed to follow a campaign promise by Ahmadinejad to develop a more Islamic-oriented country. Since taking office last August, he has also replaced pragmatic veterans in the government with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.

"Ahmadinejad's aim appears to be installing a new generation of rulers who will revive the fundamentalist goals pursued in the 1980s..."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Beijing Photo

Wen Ling is a photographer in Beijing who posts some of his photos on a photoblog, ziboy. He recently published this photo.

He has published several pictures like this one. I once e-mailed him to ask what was going on with people kowtowing on the sidewalk next to chalked essays.

His response was that these people were beggars and might have suffered great misforture or might have been con artists. The little essays explain reasons for begging and the prostratations are signs of self-effacement.

In the midst of great prosperity, there are beggars in Beijing. At least until the Olympics come to town.

Labor Day History

In the US, it’s Labor Day. The first Monday in September was chosen for this holiday to distance a holiday for workers from May Day, which is globally associated with socialism, Marxism, and Communism. But maybe this is an opportunity for a comparative lesson. At the beginning of the year, it's an opportunity to introduce comparative methodology and to practice identifying and describing differences and similarities.

Here are some starting points:

The U.S. Department of Labor on the history of Labor Day in the the U.S.

“May Day - The Labor Day” from an anarchist site in Norway

Socialist Review on "May Day, Fetitval for the Workers"

UK's Trades Union Council on "Workers' Memorial Day"

A little history from Liberation & Marxism, "May Day, The Workers' Day, born in the struggle for the eight-hour day"

Pravda on "International Workers' Day"

The People's Daily on Chinese Workers' Day

and the Chinese government's web site notes, "Chinese Open International Labor Day Holiday with Joy"

A Nigerian online site asked, "How Did You Celebrate Worker's Day? (1st May, 2005)"

and the Nigeria Labour Congress reflects on the fact that people don't reflect on the meaining of May Day, "May Day! May Day !! May Day !!!"

For Mexico, here is a bit of history, "Historia del Primero de Mayo"

and if you don't read Spanish, there's the clumsy, automatic Google translation "History of First of Mayo"

From Iran Focus "Photo report: Protests in Iran capital on Workers’ Day

The Inter Press Service News Agency reported, "MAY DAY/IRAN: Workers Protest Ban on Demonstrations"

The New York Sun reported last May, "Laborers at a May Day Rally in Iran Turn the Tables Against Mullahs"

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Politics and Religion

Here's a policy topic that invites comparative study: What is the role of religion in politics? What is the role of politics in reilgion?

The BBC article immediately below, brought this topic to my attention, but the Moscow Times article that follows provides more detail and a broader consideration of the role of Orthodox Christianity in Russian society and politics.

Religion enters Russian schools

"The Orthodox Christian religion is being made a compulsory school subject in four of Russia's regions.

"Pupils in the Belgorod, Bryansk, Kaluga and Smolensk regions will be taught the basics of Orthodox Christianity.

"It will also be included as an optional subject in the school curriculum in 11 other regions across the country.

"Supporters say the move will help protect traditional spiritual values in Russia. Critics say it violates the constitution of the secular state.

"In the Soviet Union the teaching of religion was strictly outlawed in schools and elsewhere.

"Orthodox Christianity is Russia's main religion, but the country's Muslim community makes up more than 10% of the total population. There are 86 regions and republics in the Russian Federation...

"Russian Education Minister Andrei Fursenko also voiced support, saying 'schoolchildren must know the history of religion and religious culture'.

"He said it was a matter for the regions to decide..."

Schools Told to Give Orthodox Lessons

"Compulsory courses on Orthodox Christian culture will be part of the curriculum in public schools in several regions of the country this school year, which begins Friday.

"In response, the Council of Muftis of Russia announced it would push the government to expand instruction of Muslim culture beyond the Muslim republics in the North Caucasus to other regions with established Muslim communities, Interfax reported Wednesday.

"Initiatives to introduce obligatory courses on religious subjects into public schools run counter to the Education Ministry's position. The ministry contends that such courses should be offered as electives only.

"In addition, the Constitution mandates the separation of church and state.

"The introduction of courses in Orthodox culture are just one example of the growing influence of the church...

"Most Muslims in Russia are concerned about the Orthodox Church's expansion into public schools, said Geidar Jemal, the head of the Islamic Committee, a nongovernmental organization.

"'This educational initiative ... is obviously backed by forces that want to drive a wedge between Russians and newcomers,' Jemal said, adding that most regions now hosted refugees from conflict zones in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

"Neither of Russia's two chief rabbis have received complaints from Jews living in regions where the Orthodoxy classes have been introduced. But Berl Lazar and Adolf Shayevich said all world religions should be taught in a culturally varied state such as Russia."

And this example of policy debates about the roles religion plays in the state, brings to mind the controversy about what the EU constitution should say about Christianity. That topic came up again this week when German Prime Minister Angela Merkel discussed it with the Pope at the Vatican.

Merkel backs more Christian EU constitution

"Europe's 'Christian values' should be enshrined in a new version of the EU constitution, the German chancellor declared yesterday after meeting the Pope.

"In remarks which will reopen the debate on religion in the EU, Angela Merkel threw her weight behind Pope Benedict's campaign to recognise Europe's Christian heritage. 'We spoke about freedom of religion,' she said after talks at the Pope's summer residence near Rome. 'We spoke about the role of Europe and I emphasised the need for a constitution and that it should refer to our Christian values.'..."

Some background to that recent coverage comes in this 2004 article from The Guardian (UK):

Christianity bedevils talks on EU treaty

"Tuesday May 25, 2004

"The controversial question of Christianity returned to the EU yesterday when seven states, led by Italy, urged the union to recognise a 'historical truth' and refer explicitly to the 'Christian roots of Europe' in its new constitution...

"The preamble of the current draft treaty, drawn up by the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's convention, refers only to the 'cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe'. Specifically mentioning Christianity or God was considered too controversial in the face of furious opposition from secular France and Protestant northerners such as Sweden and Denmark.

"Opponents argued that it would be wrong to exclude Muslims and Jews, and would therefore be better to avoid any religious reference.

"The European parliament even rejected a proposal from Christian Democrat MEPs to mention the continent's 'Judaeo-Christian roots'.

"But the largely Catholic states of Italy Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have made clear they want more..."

And then there are these recent religious issues in other countries:

Mexico: The entry about clericalism and anti-clericalism here last Sunday

Nigeria: Restoring Faith in the Polio Vaccine

"Across northern Nigeria health workers say that villagers... are slowly accepting polio immunisation again but not before the virus crippled many hundreds of children..."

Iran: Iranians taste freedoms on own terms

"TEHRAN -- Emad Baghi is a human rights activist who spent three years in prison for his writings. Shadi Vatanparast is a promoter of underground Iranian rock bands who, in the semi-privacy of her office, throws off her government-mandated headscarf. And Fazel Mehbadi is a mullah who preaches a message that's dangerously dissident in the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran: Religion should be separate from government.

"These Iranians, in large ways and small, want more democracy and pluralism in their country, and they have taken risks to change their society..."

China: China 'frees' underground bishop

"China has reportedly released a bishop jailed for more than 10 years for being a member of the underground Roman Catholic Church, loyal to the Vatican..."

China Warns Hong Kong Cardinal to Avoid Mixing Religion, Politics

"Chinese authorities warned Hong Kong's newly appointed Cardinal Joseph Zen that the frequent critic of Beijing's policies should avoid mixing religion and politics..."

UK: Blair shuns US religion politics

"Religion should not play the same role in British politics that it does in America, Tony Blair has said..."

Muslim Miss England attacks Blair

"The country's first Muslim Miss England has accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of fuelling hostility towards Islam in the wake of the London bombings.

"Hammasa Kohistani, 19, said government statements since last year's 7 July attacks had created a 'negative image' of Muslims..."