Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Are Russian elections necessary?

Russian Public Opinion Research Center conducts weekly surveys of electoral support of Russian parties. Below you can see monthly and weekly ratings of political parties, for which Russians are ready to vote for on forthcoming presidential elections.

Question: “Which political party would you vote for, if elections to the State Duma were held next Sunday?” (closed question, 1 response).

Data is presented on the basis of the All-Russia surveys. Each survey included 1600 respondents in 153 population centers of 46 regions. The statistical error does not exceed 3.4%.





To compare, below you can see the percentage distributions of answers “Against all” are resulted, “would not participate in elections” and “Difficult to answer”.





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A voice in the wilderness

China Communist Elder Issues Bold Call For Democracy

"In a bold jab before a key meeting of China's Communists, a 90-year-old former secretary to Mao Zedong has urged the Party to embrace democracy, saying that only political freedom can end instability and corruption.

"Li Rui issued his demand for citizens' rights and legal shackles on Party power in a Beijing magazine, China Across the Ages (Yanhuang Chunqiu), just over two weeks before President Hu Jintao opens the 17th Party Congress, which is set to give him five more years in power...

"In the October edition of the outspoken magazine, Li said his country could be dragged back into past decades of chaos unless long-delayed democratization catches up with three decades of market reforms, ending the Party's 'privileged status.'...

"Li's challenge to one-party control is the boldest yet in a series of strikingly candid calls for liberalization from older Party intellectuals this year...

"Li argued that only empowered citizens could end the corruption he said was rotting the foundations of Party rule...

"Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said it will be a long time before his country is ready to directly elect even low-ranking officials, arguing that swift reform would be a recipe for chaos..."

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Britain's LibDems

The op-ed writer for The Econmist who uses the pseudonym Bagehot, offers us a profile of the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain. In spite of the title, he/she doesn't really think the LibDems don't have a future in government. However, the essay is a useful profile of the LibDem constituency.

Why the Liberal Democrats are the party of the future

"... the heterogeneous nature of Liberal Democrat voters: they are a tense alliance of disillusioned lefties and well-meaning patricians, genuine liberals and holders of ancestral grudges against the other two parties...

"The traditional politics of left and right, at least defined in terms of class and economics, is obsolescent. For the time being, familiar issues such as health and education are still salient. Tribal party loyalties, based on old class identities, still obtain: there are millions of Britons, in ex-industrial northern towns and patriotic suburbs, for whom voting for anyone other than Labour or the Tories is more or less unthinkable. But, like religious identities, those bonds are weakening, as the economy that created them is transformed. New political axes will come to rival, if not entirely replace, the old economic one: liberty versus security, say, or liberty versus environmentalism. The result will be that, even more than Tony Blair in pursuit of his 1997 landslide, parties will need to yoke together disparate coalitions of dissimilar voters in order to win elections...

"In one respect, however, the Liberal Democrats are and will remain unique. Not only do their policies not determine their popularity: their popularity will not determine their chances of wielding power. For that they need a hung parliament after the next election..."


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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Coerced creativity

Mara Hvistendahl was in an AP Comparative Government class I taught some years ago. She is now a Shanghai-based writer who writes regularly for Seed Magazine. I'm not taking any credit for her talent or hard work. (Her dad, who lives just 10 blocks away from me can do some of that.) I only mention the connection because it is fun to stay in touch with (or at least follow the careers of) former students.

Seed Magazine's subtitle is "Science is Culture." Hvistendahl's latest article in Seed is not yet online, but it has political implications. What implications could your students identify?

The title is "Cultural Innovation, How China is trying to change 2,000 years of Confucian thinking."

"In 2005, President Hu Hintao unveiled China's 15-year plan for science and technology... China would join global innovators to achieve 'science and technological breakthroughs of world influence.'...

"Now [China] is shifting resources away from massive, state-directed research projects and funneling them into initiatives designed to stimulate zizhu chuangxin, or 'indigenous innovation.'...

"The Chinese government realizes that it needs to 'foster an innovative spirit and culture,' says Gang Zhang, administrator of the OECD's science and technology directorate, which... was approached by China's Ministry of Science and Technology to evaluate the country's potential for innovation. Several of the conclusions of that survey... are expected to target institutional and cultural baggage left over from China's planned economy...

"And therein lies the challenge: To achieve zizhu chuangxin, the government has to bread with the past, engineering noting short of a cultural sea change. And it's not just socialist planning that is to blame. Cultural barriers extend back to Confucianism, which has shaped China's eduational and intellectual environments for more than a millennium.

"From an early age, Chinese students are discouraged from challenging authority or asking critical questions. Both within academia and outside it, plagiarism is widespread... And China's research culture deters risk-taking... Denis Simon, vice president of the State University of New York's Levin Institute... [says] 'In China, a tolerance for failure is still not embedded in the system.'...

"...[N]euroscientist Mu-ming Poo... voiced a common opinion... 'The most urgent task in building research institutions in China... is the creation of an intellectual atmosphere that is conducive to creative work.'...

"To combat institutional rigidity and plagiarism, China is overhauling its evaluation system for scientists, tightening intellectual property protection, and offering financial incentives for start-up companies...

"Creativity is, of course, difficult to mandate..."


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Transparency International's Corruption Index

You may have seen reports of the release of Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

At the bottom of that press release is a link to a .pdf document of the rankings and the sources used to create the index.

These are statistics that students can analyze and compare with other statistics (from the CIA World Facctbook, perhaps; it publishes a number of rank order pages to compare with TI's index) to search for correlations between corruption and other political and economic indicators.

The press release begins with this note: "The divide in perceived levels of corruption in rich and poor countries remains as sharp as ever... Developed and developing countries must share responsibility for reducing corruption, in tackling both the supply and demand sides..."


  • The United Kingdom is tied with Luxembourg for 12th on the index, with a score of 8.4. (9.4 is the highest score shared by New Zealand, Denmark, and Finland.)
  • China and Mexico are tied with Morocco, Suriname, India, Peru, and Brazil for 72nd on the index. Their score is 3.5.
  • Iran is ranked 131st with a score of 2.5. It's tied with Yemen, the Philippines, Burundi, Libya, and Honduras.
  • Russia ranks 143rd on the list. Its score of 2.3 is the same as that of Gambia, Indonesia, and Togo.
  • That's just a bit ahead of Nigeria's 2.2, which ties it at 147th with Angola and Guinea-Bissau.

The most corrupt countries on the index are Somalia and Myanmar tied for 179th place with a score of 1.4.

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Fusion of church and state

Well, integration of church and state was the case of Tsarist Russia. Will it be in the future of the Russian Federation? Is this another case of the struggle between Mother Russia and modernization?

This report from the New York Times seems to indicate that the Russian Orthodox Church is gaining some traction in its efforts to get church-sponsored courses into public schools. (The once-a-week classes remind me of the weekly afternoons in the late 1950s, when my public school classmates and I were allowed to walk to neighborhood churches for religious classes.)

However, a report from Forum 18, in Oslo, Norway, seems to suggest that the inclusion of religious teaching in Russian public schools is not a done deal. (Forum 18, by the way, is an organization "for promoting the implementation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...")

Welcome or Not, Orthodoxy Is Back in Russia’s Public Schools

"One of the most discordant debates in Russian society is playing out in public schools like those in this city not far from Moscow...

"Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return of religion to public life, localities in Russia are increasingly decreeing that to receive a proper public school education, children should be steeped in the ways of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its traditions, liturgy and historic figures...

"The lessons are typically introduced at the urging of church leaders... [and reflect] the nation’s continuing struggle to define what it means to be Russian in the post-Communist era... Yet the drive by a revitalized church to weave its tenets into the education system has prompted a backlash, and not only from the remains of the Communist Party.

"Opponents assert that the Russian Orthodox leadership is weakening the constitutional separation of church and state by proselytizing in public schools. They say Russia is a multiethnic, pluralistic nation and risks alienating its large Muslim minority if Russian Orthodoxy takes on the trappings of a state religion.

"The church calls those accusations unfounded, maintaining that the courses are cultural, not religious...

"Local officials carry out education policy under Moscow’s oversight, with some latitude. Some regions require the courses in Russian Orthodoxy, while others allow parents to remove their children from them, though they rarely, if ever, do. Other areas have not adopted them.

"Mr. Putin, though usually not reluctant to overrule local authorities, has skirted the issue...

"Polls show that roughly half to two-thirds of Russians consider themselves Russian Orthodox... But Russia remains deeply secular, and most Russians say they never attend church.

"About 10 to 15 percent of Russians are Muslim... With emigration and assimilation, the Jewish population has dwindled to a few hundred thousand..."


Putin sounds final bell for Orthodox culture classes?

"The Russian Orthodox Church's ambitious attempt to make inroads into the state education system appeared to flounder this month when President Vladimir Putin publicly rebuffed the Foundations of Orthodox Culture course...

"Putin made his remarks in response to fears that the subject could be jettisoned under current reforms to the educational system: 'Our Constitution says that the Church is separate from the state. You know how I feel, including towards the Russian Orthodox Church. But if anyone thinks that we should proceed differently, that would require a change to the Constitution. I do not believe that is what we should be doing now.'

"The president was speaking during a 13 September visit to Belgorod, the region that has gone furthest in embracing the Foundations of Orthodox Culture. For the past academic year the course has been compulsory for all its pupils...

"Putin's comments also come shortly after Russia's parliament began consideration of educational reforms Church supporters say are designed to sideline the Foundations of Orthodox Culture course...

"[T]he Education Ministry's Social Committee [has recommended] a single culturological World Religions course taught using a textbook compiled by the Russian Academy of Sciences..."

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Iranian presidency and president

This article is a timely reminder of the relative weakness of the Iranian presidency.

Could your students go to their textbooks and find examples of the limitations on presidential power that reporter Michael Slackman mentions? Could they identify the "particular class" which has grown "wealthy and powerful"?

From the New York Times

U.S. Focus on Ahmadinejad Puzzles Iranians

"Since his inauguration two years ago, Mr. Ahmadinejad has grabbed headlines around the world, and in Iran...

"But it is because of his provocative remarks, like denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, that the United States and Europe have never known quite how to handle him. In demonizing Mr. Ahmadinejad, the West has served him well, elevating his status at home and in the region at a time when he is increasingly isolated politically because of his go-it-alone style and ineffective economic policies, according to Iranian politicians, officials and political experts.

"Political analysts here say they are surprised at the degree to which the West focuses on their president, saying that it reflects a general misunderstanding of their system.

"Unlike in the United States, in Iran the president is not the head of state nor the commander in chief... At the moment, this president’s power comes from two sources, they say: the unqualified support of the supreme leader, and the international condemnation he manages to generate when he speaks up...

"That is not to say that Mr. Ahmadinejad is insignificant. He controls the mechanics of civil government, much the way a prime minister does in a state like Egypt, where the real power rests with the president. He manages the budget and has put like-minded people in positions around the country, from provincial governors to prosecutors. His base of support is the Basiji militia and elements of the Revolutionary Guards.

"But Mr. Ahmadinejad has not shown the same political acumen at home as he has in riling the West. Two of his ministers have quit, criticizing his stewardship of the state. The head of the central bank resigned. The chief judge criticized him for his management of the government. His promise to root out corruption and redistribute oil wealth has run up against entrenched interests.

"Even a small bloc of members of Parliament that once aligned with Mr. Ahmadinejad has largely given up...

"Rather than focusing so much attention on the president, the West needs to learn that in Iran, what matters is ideology — Islamic revolutionary ideology...

"Mr. Ahmadinejad’s power stems not from his office per se, but from the refusal of his patron, Ayatollah Khamenei... to move beyond Iran’s revolutionary identity, which makes full relations with the West impossible. There are plenty of conservatives and hard-liners who take a more pragmatic view, wanting to retain 'revolutionary values' while integrating Iran with the world, at least economically. But they are not driving the agenda these days, and while that could change, it will not be the president who makes that call...

"Another important factor restricts Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hand: while ideology defines the state, the revolution has allowed a particular class to grow wealthy and powerful...

"[Ahmadinejad's] talk of economic justice and a redistribution of wealth, for example, ran into a wall of existing vested interests, including powerful clergy members and military leaders..."


Economics is for everyone

If his ignorance of economics is real, Iranian President Ahmadinejad wouldn't do well in a comparative politics course.

It's the economy, Mr Ahmadinejad

"The Iranian president's adherence to 'donkey economics' is damaging his political stock.

"The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, suffered an embarrassing blow to his prestige when his own party attacked him for adopting a jocular tone towards inflation at a time of rampant price rises.

"Now the Islamic Revolution Devotees Society, a fundamentalist grouping of revolutionary veterans co-founded by Mr Ahmadinejad himself, has added its voice to a rising chorus of economic discontent by warning the president that spiralling living costs are hurting the poor and undermining his stated goal of social justice...

"The report also accused Mr Ahmadinejad and other officials of refusing to acknowledge the problem, and of making light of it...

"Mr Ahmadinejad has frequently dismissed complaints of rising prices as the invention of a hostile media, and blamed "secret networks" for rising house prices...

"Mr Ahmadinejad also answered recent criticism of his policies by saying he took advice from his local butcher. "There is an honourable butcher in our neighbourhood who knows all the economic problems of the people. I get my economic information from him," he said...

"Mr Ahmadinejad, an engineer with a PhD in traffic management, is on record as saying: 'I pray to God I never know about economics.'

"That echoes a comment attributed to the late Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, who is alleged to have said: 'Economics is for donkeys.'"


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Monday, September 24, 2007

Politics in the south south (Nigeria)

Oh, the skepticism of journalists and outsiders. The Nigerian army undertakes a mission to end violence of criminal gangs, and Alex Last, the BBC reporter, wonders about ulterior motives.

Nigerian army hits oil city gangs

"The Nigerian army has launched an operation against a suspected criminal hideout close to the oil city of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta...

"It is all part of a new policy to use the military to crush the region's powerful armed gangs.

"Ostensibly, the policy followed a turf war between two major gangs - known as 'cults' - fought out on the streets of Port Harcourt in August...

"But politicians and gangs here have had a long, close relationship.

"In the past, the gangs have been paid to keep things quiet or to help ensure victory in rigged elections.

"It seems that somewhere along the line, following April's general elections, this arrangement has broken down..."



Then, again, maybe it's not just foreign reporters who are suspicious. This report comes from the BBC.

Nigeria probes Delta gang links

"The Nigerian president has ordered an investigation into alleged links between government officials in the Niger Delta and violent criminal gangs.

"Rivers State officials - including the Deputy Governor - are accused of being secretly in control of the gangs...

"Leaders of the Delta's ethnic Ijaw residents met President Yar'Adua to spell out their complaints about the links between the gangs, or "cults", and named senior politicians...

"But civil rights activists say it is an open secret that politicians and gangs have had a long, close relationship, with politicians paying the criminals to rig elections and intimidate opponents.

They say if the government is serious about destroying the gangs, it will also have to go after their political sponsors - and that could prove an embarassment to the ruling party..."


Meanwhile, Vanguard (Lagos) reports that one of the best publicized "cults" has made new threats. However, the complete article makes it clear that the threats are problematic, since some spokesmen for political gangs in the Delta have promised a cease fire and deny their participation in MEND's plans.

FG, MEND in Fresh Face-Off

"PRESIDENT Umaru Yar'Adua has directed security agencies to stop the incessant cases of hostage taking in the country forthwith. However, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) has made fresh threats over the reported arrest of a militant, "Jomo Gbomo", in far away Angola...

"It was gathered that those genuinely involved in the agitation for a better deal for the Niger Delta were not the ones involved in the criminal acts but some other people who were merely taking advantage of the struggle...

"[The MEND statement reads,] 'The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta wishes to serve as a warning to those behind this plot that a repeat of the Ken Saro Wiwa type set-up will fail this time around. For the sake of the on-going peace process, the Nigerian security agencies, the multinational oil and construction companies and their local and foreign collaborators should not take actions that will jeopardise the peace process and take us back to an era everyone is moving away from.
"'Commanders and fighters of MEND are watching the unfolding conspiracy closely. There will no doubt be very unpleasant and dire consequences if this matter is not handled with fairness.'

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Net Neutrality is important

How would you like a World Wide Web that looked like this?




Without net neutrality, this is a realistic possibility.

Contact your Senators and Representative.

Friday, September 21, 2007

When transparency is missing

What is a student of politics to do when the political culture and its institutions are not transparent? The problem was common during the Cold War, but many people thought the idea of transparency, like the idea of democracy, was ascendant in the 21st century. Maybe not.


Required Reading in Moscow: Tea Leaves

"KREMLINOLOGY during the cold war sometimes seemed to have as much rigor as astrology, offering up prophesies about an opaque nation by surveying all manner of ungainly texts, dubious statistics, retouched photos and back-room whisperings. Perhaps it was folly to predict the new Soviet leadership or policies based upon which apparatchiks clustered around Brezhnev on the parade stand in Red Square, but what else was there?

"You can detect a similar desperation in Moscow these days in the attempts to divine what President Vladimir V. Putin has in store for his nation in the six months before the next presidential election. While Russia in the Putin era is a far more open society than the Soviet state, the inner workings of the Kremlin are as confounding as ever. Still, the art of Kremlinology has changed, in ways subtle and not...

"Without warning, Mr. Putin sent his prime minister into political exile (or did he?) and installed a shadowy newcomer (does he have something on the president?), all the while leaving in place two other potential heirs to the presidency (why didn’t one of them get the prime minister’s job?). Mr. Putin continued to insist that he will abide by term limits and not run for president next year (but will he stick to that?)...

"Grasping at clues about whom Mr. Putin will endorse for the presidency, today’s Kremlinologists have updated some of their old ways. Instead of tracking who stands next to the party general secretary as soldiers march by, they meticulously calculate which officials get the most time on the television news — after Mr. Putin, of course...

"Nikolay V. Petrov, an expert in Russian politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that if anything, Kremlinology was more difficult now. Under Communism, he said, at least the party had practices that were rigidly followed...

"'It is much more closed now, and it’s like studying K.G.B. clans,' Mr. Petrov said. 'There is no public evidence. There are few details that you can see at the surface. And it’s hard to construct what is happening.'

"It could be said that the Kremlin under Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer, reflects a spy’s penchant for tight-lipped leadership. But Russia, whether under czars or commissars, never had a tradition of open government. The word “Kremlin” derives from the Russian for fortress; the government has the nickname because it is based inside Moscow’s medieval walls..."



William Saletan, in an article in Slate, described Kremlinology this way:

"During the Cold War, pundits entertained themselves with a parlor game called Kremlinology. Every time a Soviet premier was ousted or a new man joined the Politburo, Western analysts spun fresh theories about who was up, who was down, why the chairs were being rearranged, and what those wily old Russians were up to..."

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Electoral reform in Mexico

As a case study, the Mexican example described by James McKinley in the New York Times seems to offer a great comparison with proposals for election and campaign reform in the USA. This would offer students an opportunity to practice comparative thinking and methodology.

Mexico’s Congress Considers Proposals to Change Election Laws

"A year after a closely contested presidential election divided this nation, the Congress is moving to revamp electoral laws to rein in negative campaigns and to keep businesses and individuals from trying to influence elections...

"Late Wednesday, the Senate approved, by a vote of 111 to 11, a series of constitutional changes that would radically change how Mexico conducts elections. If they become law, the bills would change the structure of the autonomous Federal Electoral Institute...

"The package of bills now goes to the lower chamber, the House of Deputies. If the bills pass, those measures that would amend the Constitution must then go to the states for ratification. But because the three main parties support the amendments, their ratification is considered likely, political strategists say...

"The deal among the parties came about as part of a legislative trade, and it would benefit the party structures because it consolidates their power. Among other provisions, it bars independent candidates and limits political advertising to established political parties — the three main parties and a few registered smaller parties...

"Under the proposed measures, all political advertisements would be placed through the electoral institute. The institute would distribute three minutes of free airtime that television and radio stations would be required to reserve for public service announcements among the main parties, saving them millions of dollars...

"One proposal would also create a new position for an auditor within the electoral institute and allow that person to examine the parties’ bank accounts. It would cut spending limits for presidential elections in half and limit campaigning to three months before the vote.

" Some political analysts said the proposed changes stemmed from two strong currents in Congress. Leaders of the three main parties want to consolidate their power over the electoral process and keep private industry out of the fray. Leftists, meanwhile, want to avoid the kind of defeat they suffered last year.

"José Antonio Crespo, a political scientist and columnist, said that because the parties had a pact, the bills were very likely to become law..."




Jorge G Castañeda, former Foreign Minister of Mexico (2000-2003), is a Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University. He wrote an op-ed essay about Mexican election reform that was published in the Daily Times, ("Leading News Resource of Pakistan").

Mexico’s paradox of reform

"While the IFE undoubtedly committed several serious public-relations mistakes during last year's election, it remains one of Mexico's most respected institutions, with credibility ratings that are regularly double or triple those of Congress and the three political parties

"Sometimes no reform is better than the wrong type of reform. That seems to be the case in Mexico, which recently passed new tax and electoral laws — but not the ones the country needs...

"Opposition legislators wanted electoral reform, but no new taxes; the administration wanted more revenues, but no new election laws. Both sides got part of what they wanted, and Mexico got the short end of the stick.

"...the three main parties — the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) — united in order to keep newcomers out of the electoral arena...

"The one positive feature of the reforms — a scheme aimed at ensuring equal radio and television airtime for parties during electoral campaigns — was tainted by serious legislative omissions. Given the absence of any regulation regarding fairness in news coverage of campaigns, the blatant corruption of many news organisations, and the absence of a current affairs programme on national, prime-time television, banning the purchase of airtime merely erects an insurmountable barrier to potential new political entrants...

"Unfortunately, the attack on the IFE’s autonomy is not an isolated event in Latin America. Although independent central banks have been crucial in helping the region achieve macroeconomic stability over the past two decades, they, like electoral authorities, are being subjected to increasing pressure..."


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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

China's favorite kind of capitalism

This from Harold Meyerson's op-ed column in the Washington Post.

China's Hot Stock: Orwell Inc.

"The American economy may be teetering on the brink of a recession, but there's an industry our hedge fund gurus believe has an almost limitless future: the Chinese police state.

"In a stunning report in the New York Times last week, correspondent Keith Bradsher documented the rise of China's electronic surveillance industry, whose leading companies have incorporated themselves in the United States and obtained the lion's share of their capital from U.S. hedge funds. Though ostensibly private, these companies are a for-profit adjunct of the Chinese government...

"An authoritarian government can never be sure how many of its citizens would relish its demise, which means the Chinese Communist Party has 1.3 billion potential targets for surveillance. Bradsher reports that 660 Chinese cities have begun installing high-tech surveillance systems. By one estimate, high-end surveillance will expand from a $500 million industry in 2003 to a $43 billion industry by 2010...

"These numbers have drawn Wall Street's notice. China Security and Surveillance Technology (CSST) has received $110 million in convertible loans from the Citadel Group, a Chicago-based hedge fund, which it has used to buy up smaller Chinese surveillance companies. Some Wall Street executives have even defended their investments by equating the Chinese surveillance system with the surveillance cameras of London and New York...

"Once China turned communist repression into an investment opportunity, however, capitalism responded as capitalism is supposed to respond: It wanted in. There are mega-bucks to be made, the hedge funds concluded, in hedging against democracy.

"Capitalism is global now; democracy is not. We are moving toward one unified world market that is home to democratic and authoritarian systems alike. The Chinese model of Leninist capitalism poses a systemic challenge to the democratic capitalism that the West espouses. It promises continuing power and greatly increased wealth to the ruling elites of developing nations. Which means that America must disenthrall itself from one of its most cherished myths: that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand, that the spread of markets inevitably means the coming of democracy. That was a key argument that proponents of extending permanent favored trade status to China made during the 1990s. In fact, the creation of the Chinese-American economic entity that followed -- in effect, moving our manufacturing belt from the Midwest to Shenzhen -- has demonstrated the opposite. Leading American companies such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have acquiesced in Chinese Internet censorship. China's nonexistent standards of product safety -- the direct consequence of its absence of democracy -- became our standards, too.

"And now, some of Wall Street's smoothest operators are investing directly in China's suppression of speech, worship and the right to assemble..."

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Democracy with Chinese characteristics

Tom Doctoroff writes on the China Business InfoCenter web site, Democracy in China: They Just Say No.

Doctoroff is a "leading authority on marketing in China" and is China CEO of J. Walter Thompson. His warnings second those I quoted last Friday in Insights for us teachers.

The article would make a good study for comparative students considering what democratization in China really means.


Democracy in China: They Just Say No

"Authoritarianism is noble. Individualism is selfish. Liberal democracy yields economic stagnation (or worse) and technocratic dictatorship produces sustained growth. Is this how mainland Chinese really feel?...

"China is not evolving towards democracy in the Western sense (i.e., one-man-one vote, not merely distaste for corruption). Even more unsettling to Americans is that "new generation" Chinese, in some ways so much "like us," do not want democracy...

"Like the United States, China boasts an upwardly mobile population and continental scale. It's burgeoning highway system looks and feels just like ours. But China's world view is radically different from America's. To ensure a harmonious 21st century, we must avoid rash assumptions that Chinese, in their hearts, want to become Americans. They want to be modern. They want to be international. But they don't want to be Western. And this isn't just because the Communist Party says so.

"There are three reasons why democracy, within the next several decades, will not take root in the PRC.

"Learning from Others. First, and most circumstantially, the Chinese look around at what democracy has wrought to non-Western nations, and they are not amused. In their eyes, the Russian economy collapsed under the weight of democratic folly and only regained momentum with the strong arm of Vladimir Putin. India's vibrant elections are regarded as the cause of its dilapidated infrastructure and bloated bureaucracy, not the cure. And the natural disasters hammering Indonesia, from tsunami to earthquakes, are almost seen as omens of heavenly displeasure.

"Cultural Imperatives. Second, Tang dynasty poetry, checker board city layouts, calligraphy, gaudy neo-rococo interiors, Hello Kitty clubs, the Cults of Mao and Yao, porcelain cups and "Buick hip" did not pop up by accident. China boasts a cultural blueprint that stretches back 5,000 years and it is not democracy-friendly. The country, pounded year after year by drought, famine and invasion, has always regarded the (outside) world as dangerous. It has never taken survival for granted and, when threatened, defends its turf through ruthless mobilization of resources, both material and human. Chinese philosophy and religion are, therefore, morally relativistic (ends justify means). Each strand mandates stability and balance, never sanctioning "pursuit of happiness." Universal human rights are dangerous, not noble.

"As encapsulated in the ba gua and Yi Jing, Daoism's universe has an exquisite natural design and man must never tinker with it, lest chaos erupt. Confucianism, the elaborate hierarchical code dictating human interaction concerns societal order. In both, the basic productive unit of society is the clan, not the individual...

"Trust in Leadership. Third, to the Chinese, robust central authority is efficiency's lynchpin. That's why behemoth brands are revered - Microsoft is trusted more than Mao - and challenger brands usually fail. Singapore's "managed democracy," not Western liberalism, is often cited as a model for political reform...

"Therefore, the middle class... is not itching for democratic reform. Yes, they demand protection of financial interests. They rail against corruption... However, in Han eyes, any weakening of central command militates against stable economic advancement. Indeed, the majority of young, educated mainlanders endorse President Hu Jintao's technocratic savvy and support his government's authoritarianism...

"The Chinese are, if nothing else, supremely pragmatic... and blessed with an expansive world view... They are masters of relentless incrementalism, as both the gradual-yet-inexorable depreciation of renminbi and steady crawl up the manufacturing value chain attest.

"But the Chinese economy and government will continue to evolve at a pace and in a direction that accommodates cultural imperatives and contemporary circumstances. Any hectoring about human rights, let alone Jeffersonian democracy, will elicit wan, tired smiles. However, if we are able to help the Chinese understand the relationship between, say, "rule of law" and efficient capital allocation, mainland audiences will listen..."

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Thinking about thinking

Two things this morning. Both are related to the assumptions we bring to the comparative process (some of which we don't recognize). The first comes from an Indian academic. The other from an advertising exec in China. Both are related to Insights for us teachers that I posted here last Friday.

Put all this together and you could come up with at great lesson in the need to stay objective and still get trapped by unconscious ethnocentrism.

Pankaj Mishra is the author of Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Beyond. His essay in The Guardian (UK) offers a powerful rationale for studying comparative politics.

What would your students make of his argument?

Indians are baffled by the paranoia and prejudice of European liberals

"David Miliband, the [British] foreign secretary... told a group of journalists that politicians of his generation who didn't understand what the world looked like through Indian eyes, weren't going to understand the world very well.

"Miliband's curiosity most likely derives from India's growing economic strength. But the country's political and intellectual life, particularly its experiment with democracy and pluralism, has an equal bearing on Europe today. With its many religions and languages, and inequalities of caste and class, India possesses greater social and cultural variety than even Europe. Aware that the potential for conflict between religious and ethnic communities was immense, India's founding fathers hoped to build a pluralist democracy...

"The scale of political-religious violence in India dwarfs anything suffered by western Europe in the postwar era. Yet India's unique liberal tradition, which respects minority identity and community belonging, remains central in the country's intellectual life. Indian economists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, novelists and journalists are deeply divided on many political and economic issues. But, apart from a minuscule few, they remain wedded to India's founding vision of pluralism.

"Not surprisingly, these postcolonial Indians are bewildered to see liberal politicians and intellectuals in Europe embrace a majoritarian nationalism, recoiling from what, by Indian standards, seems a very limited experience of social diversity and political extremism... It is clear that recklessly globalising capital and technology, and the failed modernisation of much of the formerly colonial world - of which religious extremism and migration are consequences - pose daunting challenges to European societies. But instead of facing them squarely, many Europeans have retreated into old insecurities about Islam and Muslims...

"Still looking at the world through the ideological simplicities of the cold war and longing to give battle to another evil "ism", they have found a worthy enemy in the conceptual conceit called Islamofascism...

"If this disturbs Indian intellectuals, it is because they are accustomed, from bitter recent experience of the BJP, to see strident rhetoric about values as a rightwing ploy meant to channel middle-class anxiety over seemingly insuperable problems into xenophobia...

"[I]t is likely that just as the militant Hindu is usually an upper-caste man fearful of assertive low-caste groups, the non-relativist muscular European liberals are no more than a few middle-aged pundits rattled to see their assumptions defied by the upstart regimes of Iran and Venezuela, as well as India, China and Russia.

"In any case, claims to superior values are likely to fall on deaf ears in a world where the chasm between moral grandstanding and actual conduct is quickly exposed. Last century, Indian thinkers pointed to this credibility gap.

"Indeed, much of Gandhi's strategy of non-violent persuasion consisted of alerting the British to the contradiction between their claims of fair play and the reality of imperial rule. Asked for his opinion of 'western civilisation', Gandhi replied: 'It would be a good idea.' It sounds like a cheap jibe, but he was in earnest. Civilisation, he implied, is never a fixed achievement, as Europe's own frequent descent into barbarism in the 20th century proved; it has to be maintained, primarily by a high degree of awareness about its fragility.

"Gandhi's warning came during the interwar years in Europe, when liberal democracy proved feeble before demagogic nationalism. It is no less relevant today, as opinion-makers berate what appears to be the latest of many minorities Europe has found indigestible. Intellectuals may balk at learning from a supposedly inferior Asian country. The lesson, however, from an embattled and resilient Indian liberalism in the 61st year of India's existence is clear: liberal values will prove their superiority by not collapsing before the challenge of pluralism and political extremism."




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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You Tube

A year a go, I noted the possibility of using YouTube videos in class. Maybe it's time for an update. Since I'm posting pedagogical things from Amery, Wisconsin this morning, here's the update.

During the last morning of the Carleton Institute last June, we looked at some video on YouTube and talked about the possibilities of using some of them in class.

YouTube does not allow you to download videos from its site. However, there are a couple of different Web sites that allow you to copy a YouTube URL and download it to your computer.

PC INSTRUCTIONS: Then you will need to convert YouTube's FLV format into a video format that you can view on a PC and burn to a CD-ROM.

1. Go to YouTube (or any other online video Web site) and select the video you want to save to CD-ROM.
2. Copy the URL from YouTube into an online encoder to convert the FLV file to DivX and save it to a folder ("My Videos") on your PC. I like a beta Web site called: http://vixy.net/. You can also use VideoDownloader.com to download it.
3. Open your DivX player. Import the YouTube DivX file to the player. Insert a CD-ROM into your PC. Drag the file to burn it on the CD-ROM.
4. Once your CD-ROM is burned, it should play on any Windows PC computer.

A more recent article at C/Net announced, "New Realplayer allows easy YouTube downloads:RealNetworks announced today the public availability of its beta release of RealPlayer 11, which is able to download and burn videos from popular Web sites, such as YouTube."

"Available [now] from the RealPlayer Web site is the latest beta version of RealPlayer 11. The key feature of this new edition is the ability to download non DRM-protected videos from any Web site. Senior director at RealNetworks Asia Pacific, Hunsen Law, said during today's media launch, that while there is other software on the market which performs a similar function, none match the simplicity of RealPlayer 11's one-click download..."


For Mac users, there's this:
TubeSock is a neat little piece of software that Apple is providing links to, but does not endorse or offer any representation as far as ownership or support for. So what does TubeSock do?

For visitors to YouTube.com, it can provide you with a way to copy your favorite video clips and fan videos over to your iPod, Macintosh or Playstation portable. The TubeSock knows exactly what codec's and bit rates to use in order to port the video over to the destination device.

TubeSock, while not supported by Apple, Apple does provide a link to download this utility on their website.




And when you do get software working to capture YouTube videos for class, here's some that might be relevant. What would you ask your students to look for?



There is good material on YouTube, but you know the old Hill Street Blues command: "Be careful out there."


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Pronounce Yar'Adua

Ever wonder about the proper pronunciation of some of those names? Like Deng Xiaoping? Or Umaru Yar'Adua? or Nicolas Sarkozy?

The "Comparative" page at John Unruh-Friesen's web site (see: Subscribing to this blog and others) directed me to the Voice of America Pronunciation Guide

Type in a name or type in how you think it's spelled or choose from a long list of prominent people, or choose a country for a list of people from that nation state, click on the loudspeaker icon, and a mechanical voice will "say" the name for you.

For years, according to the VOA guide, I've been pronouncing President Obasanjo's name incorrectly.


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Join the Facebook group

Last July, Patrick O'Neil of the University of Puget Sound organized a Facebook group for teachers of comparative government and politics. Yesterday, he named me (me?) AP Poobah in Chief. I don't know what that means, but I'll take it as a call to action. Here's my action.

I wrote about the formation of the group in July, but it was summer vacation. Perhaps you were looking at the ocean, a glacier, a grand canyon, or a massive desert.

Here's is A LINK TO THAT ANNOUNCEMENT in case you missed it.

So far there are 31 members and discussions are just getting off the ground. Join us. All the necessary instructions are at the group's Facebook site.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Subscribing to this blog (and others)

Greetings. I'm writing this morning in Grandma Bonnie's Coffee House in downtown Amery, Wisconsin. That has no relevance to anything comparative. It's just a personal reference.

It's often a safe assumption that students are more technologically proficient than their elders. After all, the stereotype holds that 12-year-olds are best able to answer questions about how to program the DVD recorder, operate the cell phone, or subscribe to a blog.

Like most stereotypes, this one is full of holes. Also like most stereotypes, there's some truth to the generalizations.

John Unruh-Friesen, teaches at Hopkins High School* in Minnetonka, Minnesota and manages one of the most sophisticated course web sites I've seen. In one of the beginning of the year messages to his students, he offered this helpful bit of instruction.

I pass it along in case some of you need technical help and advice as much as I do.

"A newsreader is a computer program that displays all the new content from your favorite websites. Instead of visiting twelve websites, you only have to visit one.

"If you want to use a reader, try Google Reader. You'll need a Google Account (free) to get started.

"When you see this symbol on a website (often it appears in the address bar) it means the website can broadcast its content to Google Reader. Just click the symbol and select Google as your reader.

"So...whether it's keeping up on the latest political cartoons, posts at apgov.org, or the latest rumors from Perez Hilton...it's all going to be in one place, your Google Reader."

You can subscribe to this blog using Google Reader or any number of other newsreaders. You can use the RSS image in the address bar or the link to the right. I've been trying out Google Reader and a couple others. They all seem to work. I think your choice of which one to use should be based on how easy a reader is to use and how nice it looks.

You can also subscribe to receive e-mails whenever something new gets posted here. (There are about 100 people who already subscribe that way.) All you must do is enter your e-mail address in the appropriate space to the right and click on the "Subscribe" button.

As far as I know, your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone or added to any other mailing lists. If you suspect that's not true, let me know.

*In the interest of full disclosure, here's another personal reference: I taught at Hopkins HIgh School for 34 years. But that has nothing to do with my admiration of John's web presence.

If you know of other admirable pedagogical web sites, let me know and I'll publicize them.


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Saturday, September 15, 2007

British segregation

Will there be political effects of the newly documented growth of class segregation in Britain?

Where you live can be crucial to your future

"Britain is becoming increasingly segregated across all age groups by wealth, health, education and other factors, according to a pioneering atlas based on people rather than geography. The cradle-to-grave 'atlas of identity', to be published on Monday, provides a visual representation of the stark social contrasts now dividing different areas of Britain, and even adjoining neighbourhoods.

"It shows how the area in which an individual lives can be a strong predictor of their identity not only in terms of class but also health, family structure and likely lifespan. It can even reveal the likelihood that a person is divorced - divorcees are clearly clustered along the south coast, possibly because property there is cheaper and the population is older - and when they are likely to have their first child. Women in the affluent south-east are generally much more likely to be older when they give birth...

"The atlas, which includes sophisticated maps combining an array of factors as well as charting individual features such as the locations in Britain in which children are most likely to go to boarding school, provides a powerful visual interpretation of growing evidence that Britain is becoming a more divided and less socially mobile society...

"...there are now fewer areas where most people are 'average', and instead there is one set of neighbourhoods where most people are advantaged and another set where most are disadvantaged. That division was last seen in Britain in the 1930s, but levelled out as inequalities fell in the postwar years..."


The BBC report on the atlas reemphasizes the rising coincidence of class and geographic cleavages.

Class segregation 'on the rise'


"A UK social atlas suggests that British society is becoming more segregated by class, researchers have said...

"Professor Daniel Dorling, co-author of the report, said: 'Our atlas shows that what is normal changes rapidly as you travel across the social topography of human identity in Britain.

"'Most people think they are average when asked. In most things most are not.'"


The atlas is available from Amazon UK, "usually dispatched within 1 to 4 weeks" for £28.49.
Identity in Britain by Bethan Thomas and Danny Dorling

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Insight for us teachers

The historian who writes the blog, Jottings from the Granite Studio, wrote today about an important insight for teachers of comparative politics. In it he quotes another blogger, and if you want to read the original essay that inspired this, I've included the link.

The stupidity of things past

"Interesting post on the academic blog, New Kid on the Hallway ("The Glory of Progress") about the tendency by students and even some scholars to assume that because people from the past didn't write what we would write or think the way we would think, that somehow this means they were...well, not as smart as we who live in the present day...

"I think that this is even more common when the subject is China...

"If today's students in a class on medieval Europe occasionally feel as if their forbears from the Middle Ages were just "modern Europeans in training," it is even more insidious when Americans view China's past (and frankly, the present) in the same unfortunate way...

"And so let's play our game. China lacks equivalency with the west because it lacks FILL in the BLANK_________: (human rights/a civil society/subway manners/hygiene/open government/environmental protections).

"We've seen it written a thousand times, I've probably done it myself. As with the New Kid's students, few of us would admit this assumption of inferiority so boldly--but we all know of conversations, articles, or comments that are harder to swallow because of a slightly acidic aftertaste of western/progressive/presentist superiority.

"That China is lacking in all of the above categories is hard to deny, but what shouldn't be assumed is that it's because the Chinese (past or present) didn't/don't somehow 'Get it yet.' That on the timeline of human progress, China is still stuck at an earlier point in the developmental chart and is thus implicitly inferior to the modern, developed west. It's a seductive trap and--quite frankly--a sentiment that is used as both a curse and a crutch. Witness the Chinese government brushing aside many of its social, political, industrial, and environmental problems as 'stages of development' with the not so-subtle subtext of 'we're just not there yet, give us time.'..."


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Iranian popular culture and political culture

New York Times' reporter Michael Slackman wrote recently about the continuing struggle to create an Iranian political culture. For comparative purposes, this example offers a wonderful case to hold up to Chinese and Russian examples.

Molding the Ideal Islamic Citizen

"In Iran, pleasure-loving Persian culture and traditions blend and conflict with the teachings of Shiite Islam, as well as more than a dozen other ethnic and tribal heritages...

"Such flexibility is one way the government shapes, or is shaped by, society’s attitudes and behavior. These days, however, its use is an exception. The current government has become far better known for employing the opposite strategy: insisting that society and individuals bend to its demands and to its chosen definition of what it is to be a citizen of Iran.

"In fact, both tools remain part of a larger goal: securing the Islamic Republic by remolding people’s own definitions of themselves. In that way, the strategy resembles the failed effort in the Soviet Union to build a national identity — the New Soviet Man...

"Since 1979, the clerics of Iran have tried to forge a new national identity based primarily on a marriage of Shiite Islamic teachings with a revolutionary ideology. Initially, some leaders tried to dilute the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian traditions. But that effort proved impossible and has largely been abandoned.

"Other Iranian governments since the 1979 revolution have also tried to adapt to the realities of modernity, but those efforts did not last. President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to open the state-controlled economy, and President Mohammad Khatami tried to ease the strict controls on dress, public behavior and free speech.

"Both those efforts have been rolled back. Rather than rest comfortably on the reality that the Islamic Republic and its institutions have survived for three decades, hard-line leaders still seem to be afraid that the system is vulnerable. And so their struggle continues.

"'From one president to another the whole orientation of the country changes,' said a prominent political scientist in Tehran who, in the current climate of fear, agreed to speak only if he remained anonymous. 'Why? Because we do not have a consensus on who we are or where we are going.'...

"For the generation born after the revolution, religion has been mandatory, no longer revolutionary. Before then, a woman wore an Islamic covering or hijab, for example, as an act of rebellion. For this generation, the head scarf is an obligation, and taking it off is viewed as a challenge to the state..."


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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Russian siloviki is not menu item

In preparation for the December legislative elections in Russia, President Putin has replaced the prime minister. Reading about that led me to a BBC analysis article that might be a valuable teaching tool.

Putin names next prime minister

"Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted the resignation of PM Mikhail Fradkov and nominated a financial crime investigator to replace him.

"Victor Zubkov, head of the federal financial monitoring service, is a relative unknown in Russian politics...

"Mr Zubkov is also reported to have close ties to Mr Putin, both men having worked for the St Petersburg city administration."




But this is also part of the run up to the presidential elections next March. (Isn't the timing of these elections a wonderful thing for comparative classes?)

Behind the scenes, of course, there's the insider politics that really matter in Russia. Most of the textbooks I've seen discuss the siloviki, but this article might be a good supplement for students.

Similarly, the profile of Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev published by the BBC last June might hold up as good updating for awhile longer.




Russian ex-spies flex their muscles

"Communist-era secret police became hate figures across much of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.

"When those regimes unravelled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, people celebrated their demise. Archives were opened, informers were exposed, former dissidents became presidents.

"But in Russia, things turned out differently.

"In March 2000, [Russians] turned not to a dissident writer or activist. They elected a former KGB officer to lead the country.

"As he prepares to leave office next spring, Vladimir Putin enjoys popularity ratings his predecessors could never have dreamed of...

"The secret police under one name or another were a hugely influential force in Russia throughout the Soviet period...

"Many of Mr Putin's former fellow officers have prospered during his tenure.

They are known in Russian today as the siloviki. The name comes from the Russian word sila, meaning "strength" or "power".

"In Soviet times, those who joined the KGB's ranks were in a position of privilege. They were considered reliable enough to see and hear things which the Soviet regime kept from the majority of the population...

"Their varied experience and extensive contacts gave them the qualities they needed to find their way through the chaos and uncertainty of Russia in its immediate post-Soviet years.

"Not only have they survived, they have succeeded. KGB agents, and those from the KGB's main successor agency, the FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, or State Security Service), are among those making millions from Russia's economic boom...

"Many of those now occupying positions of power in the Kremlin, and in the top levels of Russian business - the two often overlap - are believed to have been KGB agents. Their official biographies rarely spell it out, but gaps in individual CVs, or foreign postings during Soviet times, strongly suggest it.

"Olga Kryshtanovskaya, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has studied the country's centres of power since the late 1980s. This is what she sees today.

"'A quarter of the political elite are siloviki,' she says...

"Ms Kryshtanovskaya estimates that when those she describes as "affiliated" - that is, not publicly declared - are taken into account, the figure could be as high as three-quarters.

"One of those who makes no secret of his KGB past is Sergei Ivanov. 'I am proud of it,' he told the BBC's Hardtalk programme last year.

"Mr Ivanov is currently one of Russia's first deputy prime ministers. He is frequently spoken of as a likely successor to Mr Putin.

"The siloviki look set to stay strong."




Russia's Ivanov steps out of shadows

"Among the high-profile speakers at the St Petersburg Economic Forum were the two men currently seen as the frontrunners in the race to become the next Russian president - the first deputy prime ministers, Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev...

"The two men are remarkably similar. They are the same age, come from St Petersburg and worked for the Russian intelligence agencies before entering politics..."



See also:

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Iranian use of soft power

This story comes from PressTV, the Iranian international broadcaster whose goal is to present the Iranian point of view to the world.

PressTV credits this story to the Islamic Society of North America. The ISNA says its mission is to be "an association of Muslim organizations and individuals that provides a common platform for presenting Islam, supporting Muslim communities, developing educational, social and outreach programs and fostering good relations with other religious communities, and civic and service organizations."

Does this report promote those goals? It does describe the use of soft power. It is also a reminder to keep the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in mind.

Soft power to counter the US

"With Indian and Russian support, Iran is to form a soft balance of power to counter US unilateralism in the world.

"The Political Research Center Office of the Iranian Parliament said in a report '... the true enemy of Iran in the three subsystems of the Persian Gulf region, Central Asia and Southwest Asia is the US'...

"The report continued that since the hard balance of power is not feasible at present, the Islamic Republic of Iran with the support of India and Russia will form a new front of a soft balance of power to neutralize the aggressive policies of the US towards Iran...

"Thus the policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in line with India's policy of preventing the US from claiming sovereignty over the world, and is to seek a multipolar world...

"Another part of this report says: 'The Islamic Republic of Iran has shifted its policies from a position of direct confrontation to a model of cooperation and understanding'."


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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A break from soft power

A metric system, first made official in revolutionary France, seems to have been a political football (meterball?) ever since. Scientists use metric systems almost exclusively. (I remember using feet and tenths of feet on my first archaeological excavation.) However, cultural conservatives and commercial interests have argued loudly and often successfully to preserve traditional measurements.

Thirty years ago, the metric rationalists seemed to have gained the upper hand and even in the US people saw km/hr speed limit signs, learned that a dime (part of a metric system) weighed about a gram, and that a meter was about a yard long. In 1977, the NCAA sanctioned a Division III metric football game between Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges here in Northfield, Minnesota.

But the enthusiasm for imposing metric uniformity may be waning.

The fight goes on, but here's an example you might use when teaching about the EU. When bureaucratic rules, backed up by legislation from the European Parliament challenge national sovereignty, sparks fly. What's a sovereign nation to do?

In this, the latest example involving the EU and its members, the EU bureaucrats, using their wide range of discretion, seem to have backed down. The defenders of pints, miles, and pounds (as weight, not money) are not entirely satisfied. By the way, those of us not in the UK might not understand that the pint is the most important of these traditional measures.

EU gives up on 'metric Britain'

"The European Union is set to confirm it has abandoned what became one of its most unpopular policies among many British people.

"It is proposing to allow the UK to continue using pounds, miles and pints as units of measurement indefinitely...

"Under the plans which have now been scrapped, even displaying the price of fruit and vegetables in pounds and ounces would have become grounds for a criminal prosecution.

"The decision to back down was made by Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen... 'I want to bring to an end a bitter, bitter battle that has lasted for decades and which in my view is completely pointless. We're bringing this battle to an end.'...

"John Gardner, director of the pro-imperial British Weights and Measures Association, said: 'If a trader tries to conduct his business in just imperial measurements that will be illegal.'

"The UK Metric Association said the statement does not mean that traders can go back to weighing and pricing in imperial measures, and it will be 'business as usual'..."


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Islamic democracy

Mohammad Habash [left] is a member of the Syrian Parliament and director of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus. In this opinion piece for Project Syndicate, he recounts some of the main ideas in a lecture he gave at the Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies in Saudi Arabia.

As your students learn about Iran, Islam, and velayat-e faqih (the guardianship of the jurists), this article might be a good counterpoint to the authoritarianism exhibited by the Iranian regime.

Habash's refers to soft power in the second quoted paragraph below.

Breaking the Democratic Taboo

"It was obvious that the conference organizers’ goal was to revive religious and political speech in order to find a middle ground between Islamic faith and democracy. I argued that, as many Islamic scholars have recognized, Islamic jurisprudence is compatible with democratic values. Every country that has chosen democracy has come closer to achieving Islam’s goals of equality and social justice.

"Democracy suffers in the Islamic world due to skepticism about everything that comes from the West, especially the US. Thus, some leaders view democratization efforts as a new form of colonialism or imperialism in disguise.

"But the region’s hesitancy to embrace democracy goes beyond mere fear of Western hegemony. There is a deep philosophical dispute about the nature of democracy. Some Islamic thinkers point to an inevitable contradiction between Islamic and democratic values. They argue that Islam requires submission to the will of God, while democracy implies submission to the will of people. This notion was clear in the writings of Said Kotb, who saw parliaments as preventing people from submitting to the rule of God...

"Reconciling the true understanding of Islam and democracy will, I believe, lead to a full realization of the richness of the Islamic experiment. It could also add great vitality to the democratic experiment by bringing it closer to the Muslim street. But the Islamic mainstream must first realize the importance of democratic reform, which is possible only by clearly understanding the Prophet’s message, which promises genuine solutions for every time and place..."


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Monday, September 10, 2007

British diplomat on soft and hard power

Jeremy Greenstock [at right], former UK ambassador to the UN and director of the Ditchley Foundation, offers this description of the roles of soft power and hard power. This essay was published in The New Statesman, a 94-year-old British magazine of current affairs.

Greenstock's conclusion is a powerful argument for the value of soft power. He offers details and examples in the full article, which I recommend if you want to use this with students.

We must learn from our mistakes

"Does Britain really understand its true position in the new world order?...

"The fact is that the British people, if not always their poli tical leaders, have become more attuned to the European instinct for maximising soft-power approaches than to the American preference for hard action. This is not just the predilection of an over-mature nation for avoiding bullets and bombs because we are tired of them. It also contains an understanding that, in today's world, there are costs in making new enemies which we may not be able to afford, and that other peoples with a greater freedom of choice need to be persuaded, not pushed around. Even the worthy objective of promoting democracy in the world has to be pursued with interested rather than suspicious populations.

"Yet we and our EU partners have so far generated too low a capacity for hard-power responses when they are really needed. The US showed us up over Bosnia. The Iranians would call our bluff if we faced up to them on our own. Afghanistan may go sour on us anyway, but the inclination of some major European allies to avoid the hard fighting there could become a nail in Nato's coffin...

"Terrorism will remain in the headlines because it is lethal and mysterious and because it has probably not yet reached its peak. While the US is a significant ally in confronting it, we need to take account of an important difference in the threat facing the UK: we have a problem within our borders, not just beyond them.

"Ultimately, all terrorism must be countered at source. For the US, the prime requirement beyond effective frontier security is to persuade moderate Islam to assert its entirely acceptable values over violent extremism, an objective that most Islamic world governments will see as being of equal relevance to their own interests.

"In the case of the UK, and certain European allies, we also have to calculate and react to the effect of our history, our relationships and our policy choices on the domestic arena. A 'War on Terror' will not do. A proper defence becomes a matter of values, of respect for other systems, of diplomacy in establishing a global culture of the rule of law. As a nation with a surprisingly solid record of social change without civil strife since the industrial revolution began, we can, with wisdom and time, probably find some good answers. But they have to be assessed under our own criteria, with the necessary hard-headedness when it matters..."


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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fears of Soft Power

Iran also sees American soft power as a threat, and therefore as a rationale for policy decisions.

Consider the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari, which came, according to Ahmendinejad, as a direct result of the US's exertion of "soft power." (See "Intersection of comparative politics and international relations") [Esfandiari was released from prison and allowed to leave the country on 3 September.]

Yahoo! News published Fredrik Dahl's August 8th Reuters article, "Iran sees U.S. plot to topple its leadership"

"An Iranian minister said he believed the United States had dropped the idea of attacking Iran but wanted to topple its leadership through what he called a 'soft revolution'...

"The United States accuses Iran of fomenting instability in Iraq. Iran blames the presence of U.S. forces for the violence threatening to tear its neighbor apart. Washington and Tehran are also at loggerheads over Iran's nuclear program...

"The U.S. administration, which believes Tehran is seeking to build atom bombs, says it would prefer a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff but has not ruled out military action.

"Iran, which insists its nuclear program is solely aimed at generating electricity, has threatened to retaliate if attacked.

"It says Washington is working for a 'soft revolution' in Iran with the help of intellectuals and others in the country.

"Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei listed what he said were plans by the United States and its allies to undermine and discredit Iran's leaders:

"'The first one which the Americans are leading ... is to create disputes and divisions among the revolutionary forces.'

"He said they were also trying to portray the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West and Israel, as 'useless in order to ready the ground for the entrance of some of their own elements into the government.'

"But, Mohseni-Ejei said: 'This plot will not be successful.'"




Last May, The Jerusalem Post suggested that "Bush okayed 'soft revolution' in Iran."

"The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) received presidential approval for a covert operation in Iran aimed at destabilizing the Islamic Republic by 'non-lethal' means, ABC news reported early Saturday morning.

"According to the report, the plan includes several non-military measures by which the US could deeply harm the Iranian economy through global measures while simultaneously undermining the regime on a local political level by distributing propaganda and building on an already existing lack of support for the regime among Iranians...

"A commentator pointed [to] 'ferment among the students and the intellectuals' of Iran as fertile ground from which propaganda and encouragement towards the local population to overthrow the government could bear fruit..."




Michael Slackman, writing in the New York Times on 5 September, reemphasizes the theme that has appeared here before.

Hard Times Help Leaders in Iran Tighten Their Grip

"Rents are soaring, inflation hovers around 17 percent, and 10 million Iranians live below the poverty line. The police said they shut 20 barbershops for men in Tehran last week because they offered inappropriate hairstyles, and women have been banned from riding bicycles in many places... in a country whose leaders see national security, government stability and Islamic values as inextricably entwined, problems that usually would constitute threats to the leadership are instead viewed as an opportunity to secure its rule...

"Paradoxically, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic missteps and the animosity generated in the West by his aggressive posture on the nuclear issue have helped Iran’s leaders hold back what they see as corrupting foreign influences...

"'[The Iranian leaders] are convinced the rest of the world is trying to put pressure on Iran to keep Iran down,' said [a Western] diplomat, insisting on anonymity so as not to compromise his ability to work in Iran. 'They believe if Iran makes a concession to the West on the nuclear issue, it will be the first step toward regime change.'...


"'The only thing that has kept Ahmadinejad in power is the support of the leadership,' said Muhammad Atrianfar, publisher of two newspapers that have been closed and an ally of a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani...

"Many journalists, academics, and former government officials said they thought Mr. Ahmadinejad had been more active and reckless with the economy than Ayatollah Khamenei had expected. But he is comfortable with Mr. Ahmadinejad because he can count on him to preserve the system and to roll back political, economic and social changes that conservatives feared were insidious steps toward a velvet revolution, those interviewed here said..."




See also: More Distractions


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Friday, September 07, 2007

The use of soft power

Soft power is one of those concepts that is on the interface between comparative politics and international relations (two of the sub-fields of political science). For comparative purposes I think we need to emphasize policy decisions that are made to use soft power and policy decisions about how to react to the use of soft power by others.

The USA is not the only country to use soft power.

China is also seen as using soft power, especially in its dealings with its Asian neighbors and with energy rich countries.

The International Herald Tribune describes it this way, China's 'soft power' winning allies in Asia

"It looks like a pleasant place to conduct affairs of state, a broad, palm-fringed compound by the side of the sea with reflecting pools, a rock garden and fluttering flags.

"It is the future Foreign Ministry of East Timor, as depicted on a large billboard at the gate of a construction site - and it is a gift from the Chinese government.

"Together with a new presidential palace that is also being built by the Chinese, it will be one of the most impressive buildings in this low-rise capital...

"China's friendly stance is part of a broad diplomatic and economic policy throughout the region that has acquired the epithets 'soft power' and 'charm offensive.' Most analysts say East Timor seems to be of interest less as a prize in its own right than as a natural extension of China's energetic courtship of its neighbors in Southeast Asia...

"Reversing a more confrontational policy after the Asian economic crisis of 1997, China plays down any self-interest as it increases trade and aid throughout Southeast Asia...

"In the longer term, some analysts say, China may want to create its own sphere of influence, elbowing aside the United States in the region. Washington's preoccupation today with wars and terrorist threats has left inviting openings for China's advances in Southeast Asia..."




A Xinhua article about the March 2007 meeting of the National People's Congress, adds this about Chinese "soft power" and extends the domestic theme of building a harmonious society to a foreign policy goal of "building a harmonious world."

Soft Power, a New Focus at 'Two Sessions'

"To develop China's 'soft power', a term first invented by Harvard professor Joseph Nye... emerged as a hot topic at this year's annual sessions of China's parliament and top political advisory body.

"Mr. Nye defined 'soft power' as the ability to get what a nation wants through attractions -- rather than coercion -- such as culture, political values, and foreign policies. He regarded these attractions as the true means to success in world politics...

"Such an expression of soft power can be found in government agendas and suggestions offered by legislators and political advisors...

"'We should never underestimate the importance of building soft power as economic miracle is only one side of China's rising in the world arena,' said NPC deputy Peng Fuchun, a philosophy professor at Wuhan University in central Hubei Province.

"In light of this, China is striving to achieve the other side, namely exerting more international influence through diplomacy and national image lifting...

"China was widely believed to have used the three major events to foster its soft power by strengthening cooperation, publicizing the concept of 'building a harmonious world' and allaying fears over its rising from other countries..."


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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Soft Power and NGOs

Russian government officials have publicly complained about the use by the United States' soft power to subvert the Russian regime. They have been especially critical of the use of US-supported NGOs. Here are some details on American NGOs from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Soft Power: Democracy-Promotion and U.S. NGOs

"Democracy-promotion has long been an aspect of U.S. foreign policy, but it became a central component after September 11. The U.S. government has several channels for promoting democracy, most notably the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI); and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which provides funds to nations that already meet certain democratic standards. But a plethora of U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also exist for this purpose, with varying degrees of financial dependency on the government. In recent years, their budgets have increased dramatically. Their activities include election-monitoring, educating citizens about their rights, and working with legislators, judges, and the media...

"[T]he majority of these institutes receive funding from the U.S. government...

"Most of the organizations are very sensitive about being associated with any political party, and all claim to be neutral...

"[The National Endowment for Democracy] NED, the biggest American NGO focused on democracy-promotion, distributes equal amounts of funds to four affiliated institutes: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Center for Independent Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity ("Solidarity Center"). CIPE and the Solidarity Center are meant to balance the interests of business with those of labor...

"National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Established in 1983 under the Reagan administration and funded by Congress, NED is governed by an independent, bipartisan board of directors. Its core budget in FY 2005 was $74.02 million. Funds are distributed... to its four core institutes, and... among several other democracy-promoting organizations, as well as smaller indigenous groups across the globe...

"National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)... helped monitor the January 25, 2006, Palestinian elections. NDI's activities take place before and after elections, and include education campaigns, debate organization, and encouragement of women's participation in the political process...

"International Republican Institute (IRI)... is the Republican counterpart to NDI... [It] is active in approximately sixty countries.

"Center for Independent Private Enterprise (CIPE)... focuses on 'market-oriented reform' as the path to democracy... CIPE provides grants and direct assistance to indigenous organizations -- primarily business associations and chambers of commerce -- to improve private and public sector governance...

"American Center for International Labor Solidarity ("Solidarity Center")... is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)... The Solidarity Center is primarily concerned with building and supporting democratic trade unions, educating workers about collective bargaining, accountability, and health safety...

"International Foundation for Election Systems... focuses on providing technical assistance in four main areas: elections; rule of law, often working with a country's judiciary; civil society; and governance at the parliamentary—and more recently—local levels.

"Freedom House... one of the oldest democracy-promoting organizations in the United States... is well known for its annual survey "Freedom in the World,"... Freedom House has several field offices and also provides small grants in their efforts to promote human rights and advocate press freedom...

"Eurasia Foundation (EF)... was started in 1992 to aid nations of the former Soviet Union. EF provides approximately 600 grants each year for programs throughout the region, including student loans in Russia and professional business programs in Belarus...

"Carter Center... focuses on conflict resolution and human rights... Citing reasons of sovereignty, it will only enter a country if it is welcomed by the major political powers...

"Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Soros foundations network... does not see itself as a democracy-promoting organization, but does pursue activities that contribute to this goal. The only completely privately funded institution on this list... [it] operates as a network of foundations in various countries, where the boards and employees are nationals, focusing on human rights and public health, as well as election-monitoring and advocating government accountability and transparency."




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