Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A treaty or a constitution?

EU treaty is a constitution, says Giscard d'Estaing

"Gordon Brown faces a renewed row over Europe after a declaration by the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing that key parts of the European constitution remain 'practically unchanged' in the new EU Reform Treaty...

"M. Giscard d'Estaing said: 'In the Treaty of Lisbon, the tools are largely the same. Only the order in which they are arranged in the tool-box has been changed. Admittedly, the box itself is an old model, which you have to rummage through in order to find what you are looking for.'

M. Giscard d'Estaing said references to the constitution had been removed 'above all to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary'...

"He also highlighted the importance of the opt-outs secured by Britain during negotiations to maintain the Government's red lines.

He said: 'The Charter of Fundamental Rights, an improved and updated version of the charter of human rights, has been withdrawn from the draft treaty and made into a separate text to which Britain will not be bound.

"'In the area of judicial harmonisation and co- operation, Great Britain will have the right to duck in and out of the system as it pleases...'




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Reactivating civil society

Sophia Parker [right], writing in the RSA eJournal argues that "Civic innovation will only realise its full potential once citizens are involved in setting the agenda and the terms of engagement." (The RSA is the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, founded in 1754 in London.)

Is Parker's argument more than an intellectual's scheme to get us to stop "bowling alone?"

Putting you in the frame

"Sixty years ago, the emphasis was firmly on the need for new institutions in order to transform British society. Since the start of the 20th century there had been growing concerns about the ability of a patchwork of voluntary and charitable organisations to provide appropriate support to people in need.

"These concerns, along with the experience of living through two major wars, led to a powerful cross-party consensus about the benefits of a more interventionist state. The creation of a massive publicly owned infrastructure designed to tackle Beveridge’s five giants of idleness, ignorance, disease, squalor and want marked a new vision of how to create a fair and equitable society.

"As the 20th century progressed, this vision began to tarnish. The optimism of the early welfare agenda was replaced by a fear that an unwieldy state was threatening to undermine people’s own capacity for action, creating a dangerous dependency culture. Capturing the popular spirit of the times, Thatcher argued that it was the power of the market, not state bureaucracy, which would lead to greater wellbeing...

"Of course, both the socialists of the post-war years and the Thatcherites later on recognised that people had a role and some responsibilities for looking after themselves and their neighbours. But implicit in the neo-liberal critique of the welfare state was the view that a large state eroded civic action...

"The ‘third way’ underpinning Labour’s dramatic electoral success drew heavily on communitarian thinking, which sought to put communities themselves back into the picture. Some careful bedtime reading of academics such as Amitai Etzioni and Robert Putnam led to an agenda that placed a new emphasis on the ‘invisible bonds’ that connect people, alongside the ‘invisible hand’ of the market...

"Levels of trust and satisfaction have dropped steadily since 1997. In part this can be explained by a gap between what we want from our interactions with public services and what was being measured. Sure, waiting lists went down, but we wanted more than seven minutes with the consultant.

"This ‘performance paradox’ can also be explained by a deeper problem. Our expectations of what the state can do to alleviate social ills is rising faster than its capacity to deal with an increasingly complex set of problems...

"Implicit within this is a new paradigm of government. Taken to its most radical conclusion, the civic innovation agenda is about blurring the distinction between state and citizen action. It demands that we worry less about the size of the state, and focus instead on how it operates and how it works with each of us as citizens and members of communities. ‘Co-production’ may be an ugly word, but it could be the key to transforming our conception of the public realm and how we can each shape the decisions that affect our lives and those of others around us...

"In that sense, this agenda goes to the heart of what it means to live in a democracy. There has been much hand-wringing over the decline in voter turnout and political party membership, which has been particularly steep in recent years. But these issues cannot be tackled meaningfully while we continue to understand democracy in the sterile terms of casting a vote every few years. We need to modernise what we mean by politics, recognising the inherently political nature of campaigning and volunteering (both activities are becoming more popular), at the same time as returning to the ancient ideal of democracy as self-government...

"So where should politicians go from here?

"First, they should resist the temptation to claim this agenda as uniquely theirs...

"Secondly, unleashing a wave of civic innovation relies on seeing us as ‘whole’ people...

"Thirdly, Number 10’s recent foray into using the internet to unlock participation with its e-petition may have caught them out by its popularity, but the massive growth of social software such as Facebook or eBay must not be ignored..."


Sophia Parker is the author of Unlocking Innovation: why citizens hold the key to public service reform (Demos, 2007), The Journey to the Interface: how public service design can connect users to reform (Demos, 2006), Strong Foundations: why schools must be built upon learning (DfES/Demos, forthcoming), The Other Glass Ceiling: the domestic politics of parenting (Demos, 2006), and Disablism: how to tackle the last prejudice (Demos, 2004).


See earlier entries on civil society.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It was 50 years ago today...

1957: Lords to admit first women peers

"The Government has unveiled plans to reform the House of Lords which include admitting women for the first time..."

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On the other Iranian hand...

Mehdi Khalaji [left], a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Shiite theologian, disagrees with The Economist's analysis of politics in Iran. (See Elite Politics.)

How well could your students sort out these perspectives?

This opinion piece comes from Project Syndicate:

The Decline of Ahmedinejad

"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad may be gaining support across the Muslim world for his fervent criticism of the United States, but inside Iran, he is losing strength. His political rivals are gaining new positions of power, and the population is increasingly unhappy with the economy’s continuing decline.

"Since its inception, the Islamic Republic has had a weak presidency; ultimate authority rests with the Supreme Leader, first Ayatollah Khomeini and now Ayatollah Khamenei. The Islamic Republic’s first president, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, was dismissed from office a year after his election. Ever since, the regime has been intolerant of a strong president, and has repeatedly demonstrated that the office is subservient to the Supreme Leader...

"Ahmedinejad’s opponents are moving to reassert longstanding constraints on the presidency. His foremost rival, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who Ahmedinejad defeated to win the post, has had a remarkable reversal of fortune, reemerging as leader of the Assembly of Experts, the powerful body that elects Iran’s Supreme Leader and that can even remove a Supreme Leader from office.

"Moreover, conservatives who had aligned themselves with Ahmedinejad are now criticizing him openly. Even Ayatollah Khamenei, who as Supreme Leader is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has taken steps to demonstrate his authority, recently firing the leaders of the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia...

"While Ahmedinejad continues his verbal attacks on the US, he does not control the policy-making apparatus that will decide about Iran’s nuclear program and its relations with the international community. The threat of sanctions remains potent, and the Iranian business community – not to mention the public – has felt the sting of isolation...

"So, as disputes with the West come to a head, it is important to recognize the power shifts underway inside Iran’s opaque political system. Ahmedinejad may be making increasingly challenging statements, but he does not have the authority to act on them. Indeed, only a military confrontation with the US can bring him back to the center of decision-making. American policymakers should bear that in mind."


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Monday, October 29, 2007

Diversity and affirmative action

The Economist has a good article on diversity in national legislatures.

The article asks some good questions about legitimacy, political integration/alienation, equality, ethnic/racial integration, and the prevention of terrorism. All those questions would be good ones for your students to discuss. (There are good details in the article.)

Must the rainbow turn monochrome in parliament?

"THE political representation of racial minorities troubles in almost every country, rich or poor...

"Every society is composed of minorities of one sort or another, but few people believe that left-handers, redheads, homosexuals or Elvis impersonators have a claim on any particular degree of representation in elected legislatures. In so far as racial minorities are different, it is because they more often suffer discrimination.

"In general, minorities are indeed under-represented...

"Part of the puzzle is that people count minorities differently...

"Each group behaves differently...

"In due course, though, minorities usually want to take a full part in the political life of their country. Inevitably, the obstacles in their way depend partly on the attitude of the majority...

"The attitude to politics of the minority group itself also matters...

"Minorities' political participation is also affected by the ease or difficulty of gaining citizenship...

"The voting system can also make a difference. Andrew Reynolds of the University of North Carolina found in a survey of 31 countries that proportional representation (PR) tends to attract more minority candidates than first-past-the-post voting...

"Does any of this really matter? In an extensive study, the Minority Rights Group, a British NGO, found that, with the exception of Iraq, countries with the highest minority representation turn out to be those where minorities are pretty safe from political and military threats. That does not necessarily mean that more minority MPs will improve race relations. The causation may run the other way: minority politicians may win election when race relations are good. But promoting minority representation in legislatures is likely to reduce political alienation among minorities. That in itself can be no bad thing."

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Simulations (games for learning)

Games and Simulations for Situated Learning the Liberal Arts Classroom

Ed Webb who teaches in the Political Science & International Studies department at Dickinson College, sent me the link to the "Call for Participation" for this February conference, hosted by Dickinson. (Dickinson is in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.)

The front page of the conference wiki, welcomes you "to the conference wiki. All conference related information can be found here. Feel free to add your own content and make notes. If you have any questions, please send an email to Todd Bryant, (bryantt@dickinson.edu if that link doesn't work for you).

The conference description: "This conference will focus on how instructors from a variety of disciplines have used games and simulations to pursue new models of teaching and learning. Presenters will describe how specific immersive and interactive technologies—from commercial games to more academic simulations—can engender collaboration, the visualization of complex ideas, and the connecting of concepts across courses and disciplines. Participants also will experience the games and simulations from the perspective of the learner through hands-on training in the technologies demonstrated by the presenters. The conference will conclude with participants forming groups based on shared ideas for future pedagogical uses of the technology, including gaming across campuses as part of clubs or collaborative classes.

"Participants can expect to acquire a practical knowledge of specific games and simulations as well a broad familiarity with the pedagogical theory behind these examples. Participants will also be introduced to what their peers in their own and other disciplines are doing in this new area of instructional technology. "

I think the program appears fascinating and informative.

Check it out.


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No "mixing of trades" in Iran

"Mixing of trades" in Iran might mean mixing of ideas.

Iran clamps down on coffee shops

"They have become a haven for modern bookworms everywhere - a place to combine a love of the written word with the pleasures of cafe society.

"But now the trend of opening coffee shops inside bookstores has fallen foul of the authorities amid a general clampdown on social and intellectual freedoms.

"Four bookshops in Tehran this week closed their coffee shops after receiving a 72-hour ultimatum from Amaken-e Omoomi, a state body governing the retail trade...

"Amaken justified the closures by declaring that the coffee shops constituted an illegal "mixing of trades". However, critics suspect the move is aimed at restricting the gathering of intellectuals and educated young people...

"[O]ne bookshop owner told the Guardian.'We are trying through our trade association to find a remedy.'"

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Radio? check TV? check Internet? next

"After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia's dwindling public sphere.

"Allies of President Vladimir Putin are creating pro-government news and pop culture Web sites while purchasing some established online outlets known for independent journalism. They are nurturing a network of friendly bloggers ready to disseminate propaganda on command. And there is talk of creating a new Russian computer network -- one that would be separate from the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the authorities to control...

"Putin addressed the question of Internet censorship during a national call-in show broadcast live on radio and television this month. 'In the Russian Federation, no control is being exercised over the World Wide Web, over the Russian segment of the Internet,' Putin said. 'I think that from the point of view of technological solutions, that would not make any sense.

"'Naturally, in this sphere, as in other spheres, we should be thinking about adhering to Russian laws, about making sure that child pornography is not distributed, that financial crimes are not committed,' he continued. 'But that is a task for the law enforcement agencies. Total control and the work of the law enforcement agencies are two different things.'

"Many people here say they believe Putin didn't mind a free Internet as long as it had weak penetration in Russia. But with 25 percent of Russian adults now online, up from 8 percent in 2002, cyberspace has become an issue of increasing concern for the government...

"Prosecutors have begun to target postings on blogs or Internet chat sites, charging users with slander or extremism after they criticize Putin or other officials. Most such incidents have occurred outside Moscow, and federal officials deny that they signal any broader campaign to control the Internet..."


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Saturday, October 27, 2007

China's next General Secretary and President

Most corrupt officials are from poor families but Chinese royals have a spirit that is not dominated by money -Li Datong

"When he was sent to the countryside at 15 and his father was jailed, Xi Jinping [left] learned a lesson in political pragmatism that has helped to carry him to within a step of the pinnacle of power in China.

"Eschewing the turbulent fervour of the Cultural Revolution in favour of stable growth, he has spent the 30 years since working his way up the Communist party hierarchy. The rise has been unspectacular. So much so that until he took pole position on Monday in the race to lead a fifth of humanity, the party boss of Shanghai was less well known in China than his celebrity wife Peng Liyuan, a folk singer in the People's Liberation Army's musical troupe...

"Despite his pedigree as the son of a high official of the revolutionary era, Mr Xi's elevation was a surprise to many politburo watchers...

"A communist from the age of 21, Mr Xi cut his administrative teeth in the fast-growing provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang. Foreign investors and diplomats spoke highly of his English, knowledge of international business practices and ability to get things done.

"He has twice been called upon to clean up high-profile corruption cases...

"Loyalty to the party, a lack of controversy and the ability to please all factions are the main qualities needed to rise inside today's communist party, according to Nicholas Becquelin of Human Rights Watch. 'There are no particular policies associated with Xi,' he says. 'If you are tipped to go up the ranks, you have to be as bland as possible with nothing on your record that can attract opposition from rivals.'...

"The favourite to become the next party leader had been Li Keqiang, the party boss of Liaoning who was a protege of Mr Hu's for more than a decade. But he was too close to the president for the liking of other powerbrokers, such as former president Jiang Zemin, so Mr Xi became the compromise candidate..."


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Friday, October 26, 2007

CPC constitution

It's another primary source from Xinhua.

This time it's the full text of the Constitution of the Communist Party of China, as amended on 21 October 2007.

The big question, it seems to me, is "What do we compare this to?"


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Electoral footnote in Moscow

Peter Finn reports in the Washington Post on what is likely a footnote to the upcoming elections in Russia.

Kremlin-Backed Opposition Party Foundering as Elections Loom

"Created by the Kremlin just last year and anticipating a bright future, the political party Fair Russia was designed to be the junior partner in a 'two-party system' in which everyone pledges fealty to President Vladimir Putin. But with Dec. 2 parliamentary elections imminent, the Kremlin's creation is suddenly gasping for political life.

"Led by Sergei Mironov [right], a Putin loyalist and head of the upper chamber in Russia's legislature, Fair Russia declared itself the left-wing alternative to United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that currently dominates parliament. Mironov and other party leaders criticized United Russia as little more than a bunch of bureaucrats sitting on a pile of petrodollars with no plan to help ordinary Russians.

"But Fair Russia's populist message was tempered by declarations of undivided loyalty to Putin. 'We support and will support the president,' Mironov said this year.

"On Oct. 1, Putin said he would head the United Russia ticket in December's elections, an announcement that simultaneously boosted that party's already healthy ratings and delivered a swift kick to Fair Russia's ambitions, if not its very legitimacy...

"Fair Russia was formed by a merger of three small parties and was seen as a vehicle for siphoning votes from the Communist Party without threatening United Russia's ascendancy. A similar ploy was used in 2003 when the Kremlin created the nationalist Rodina party, which was purged and folded into Fair Russia when it showed signs of independence...

"The most recent Levada Center poll suggests that only United Russia and the Communists will enter the next parliament... and that United Russia will have an overwhelming majority, more than the two-thirds needed to change the constitution. That would allow the party to amend the constitution to allow Putin to serve a third consecutive term, which is currently barred..."

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Iran's elite politics

U.S. media reported on the resignation of Iran's negotiator on nuclear issues with an emphasis on what it might mean for Iran's intentions and the tensions between the two countries.

The Economist reported on the resignation, not only as an issue of international relations, but also as a matter of politics within the Iranian elite.

Different perspectives and information account for differing conclusions when outsiders try to explain non-transparent systems.

Here's a British take on changes in Tehran.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tightens his grip on Iran

"The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has further strengthened his position within Iran's multipolar political system by effecting the removal of Ali Larijani, one of his most potent rivals, from the position as head of the Supreme National Security Council, which includes leading the team negotiating on matters relating to Iran's nuclear programme. In a similar fashion to the recent dismissals of the oil minister and the governor of Bank Markazi (the central bank), Mr Ahmadinejad has replaced relatively independent figures with his own men...

"Mr Larijani has been at odds with the Iranian president for some time, and is reported to have submitted his resignation on several previous occasions, complaining that Mr Ahmadinejad's uncompromising and adversarial stance towards the West has left Iran with precious little room to manoeuvre in its negotiations on the nuclear issue. Hitherto, Mr Larijani has been able to count on the support of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to secure his position...

"The departure of Mr Larijani at this critical moment in the IAEA discussions, and just days ahead of a scheduled meeting between him and Mr Solana does not bode well for the chances of a compromise. Mr Jalili has not previously served on the National Security Council, and he has not taken part in the negotiations with the IAEA or with the EU commissioner. The manner of his appointment suggests that his role is to follow the instructions of Mr Ahmadinejad to the letter, and the Iranian president has thus far not shown any sign of flexibility on the nuclear question.

"As for Mr Larijani, he can be expected to bide his time until the next presidential election, in the hope that he can perform better against Mr Ahmadinejad than he did as a candidate in 2005."

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hu's Party Congress speech

Do you want an original source document for your students? It's 12 web pages, but there is an option to print it out.

Xinhua offers the Full text of Hu Jintao's report at 17th Party Congress

"The following is the full text of Hu Jintao's report delivered at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Oct. 15, 2007..."

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IMF legitimacy

IMF counters claims of western dominance with promise to give poor more votes

"The International Monetary Fund yesterday sought to respond to anger in developing countries at the institution's dominance by rich western nations by promising an increase in voting rights for the world's poorest nations.

"Admitting that the IMF had to 'address the issue of its own legitimacy', its outgoing managing director, Rodrigo de Rato, said the package of reforms would go beyond the deal struck in Singapore a year ago. He said that the changes would see a shift in power to the bigger emerging countries while an increase in the basic votes - the votes that each of the fund's members have regardless of their size would ensure that the least developed nations did not lose out...

"Aid agencies said, however, that the reforms needed to go much further.

"Elizabeth Stuart, senior policy adviser for Oxfam International... said that even quadrupling the basic vote would not mean any effective increase in the say that the poorest countries have over the running of the IMF, which has been controlled by the US and Europe since it was founded in 1944..."


See also

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gridlock in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate

This article is a week old, but I don't have much luck finding out about Mexico's government and politics. When it comes to Mexico, U.S. media is full of news about illegals and the drug trade. Mexican government and politics gets less attention than that of Kansas.

Of course, the fact that I don't read Spanish makes my problem worse. Few Mexican publications have English editions. This morning I found Mexonline.com. What I found was a list of links to nearly 100 news stories about Mexico. Most of them are about economics and business, but that often involves government and politics. Some of the news stories even come from U.S. publications.

For instance, the following op-ed piece is by Carlos Luken a Mexico-based businessman and consultant. How well could your students sort out the fact from opinion in this article?

Reforms Miss Mark: Mexico's Finance Minister

"Agustin Carstens [at right], Mexico’s Finance Minister, appeared before the Senate finance committee last week and bluntly told legislators that the recently approved 2008 fiscal reform initiative would be insufficient to meet Mexico’s needs for growth and job creation.

"In August the Calderon administration presented a far-reaching fiscal initiative that included an innovative tax system, tariff hikes and proposed value added taxes on medicine and foodstuffs.

"The initiative was rejected by legislators from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who protested against any measures that could lead to price increases, and they oppose many other reform suggestions. Fearing a popular backlash, and attempting to remove the reform’s bite, several legislators from all parties proposed amendments and the initiative was bogged down in a quagmire of debates.

"President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN), with 206 seats in the 500 member Chamber of Deputies and 52 members in the 128 strong Senate, could not swing the necessary votes for approval as their coalition legislators from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) remained uncommitted to avoid unpopular aftereffects...

"What resulted was a tepid reform that had no significant innovations or important effect on the economy.

"Carstens, a University of Chicago Ph.D., former... International Monetary Fund economist... is considered levelheaded and one of Mexico’s top economic minds...

"Carstens also expressed concern for the lack of congressional willingness to bring Mexico out of its tax evasion tradition, and begin a contemporary “fiscal culture” that would propel the country into modernity...

"Ironically, Mexico’s private sector wholly agrees with the finance secretary. In a national poll conducted by KPMG, among Mexico’s top 1,200 financial and tax executives... [e]ighty percent expect it to be meaningless as to encouraging economic growth...

"The Mexican Congress is highly partisan and almost completely politicized. Nearly 70% of all legislators have made their adult livelihood holding party office and/or the ensuing bureaucratic positions; as such, many are inexperienced in trade, job creation and financial management, or in any other entrepreneurial qualities. Most owe their allegiance to party organizations and/or bosses, and they will most likely vote according to party instructions regardless of the matter at hand or the consequences...

"Mexico and its finances need a complete overhaul in order to avoid a financial disaster. And if members of congress fail – or refuse – to understand this, and as long as they keep on playing politics as usual, the time bomb will continue to tick."

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A forum for comparative teachers

Here's a reminder about the "Teaching Comparative Politics" Facebook group. It is an opportunity to make contact with other comparative teachers, get teaching ideas, and getting answers to questions you have.

So far there are only 34 members. You can join. It's not a big process. I think there are security concerns if you open your e-mail address book to Facebook, but you don't have to do that. You don't have to share much more than your e-mail address and a screen name.

There are links to Patrick O'Neil's del.icio.us collection, to the "teaching comparative" blog, and to the AP Comparative blog from Albany High School.

Miguel Centellas, a political science professor at Dickinson College offered to share his voting simulation (comparing various ballot forms).

Paul Rousseau from Toronto is interested in doing an online glossary of comparative terminology.

I'm trying to complete a catalog of' web sites teachers use for their comparative classes.

James Lerch is interested in developing teaching plans about the roles NGOs play in various political systems.

Join us. Ask your questions, tell us what works for you, suggest resources we might find valuable.

Teaching Comparative Politics

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Kremlinologist on Putin

This morning I heard parts of an interview on Minnesota Public radio that taught me things about Russian governance.

Is Russia still America's friend?

The promo for the program said, "George Bush once gazed into Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyes and got "a sense of his soul." Now Putin looks increasingly like Bush's adversary, meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and strongly hinting he will try to hold onto power when his term in office ends."

MPR's Gary Eichten interviewed Nick Hayes, professor of history at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The topic was ostensibly about relations between Russia and the USA, but Professor Hayes recognizes complexities and won't settle for simple answers. In the process of discussing international relations, he offers some valuable insights on Russian political culture, politics in the Kremlin, and Putin's likely political future.

If you want to brush up on your understanding of things Russian, take some time to sit down at your computer and listen (or download it to your iPod and listen while jogging). This is worth your time.

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A reminder of one of the power bases in China

And note that President Hu is not wearing the suit and tie he wore at all the other Party Congress functions. (Of course, the PLA uniforms are dramatically different than the ones soldiers wore during the Cultural Revolution.)



Hu Jintao meets Army delegates of Party Congress

"Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, state president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, had a meeting with military delegates of the just-ended 17th Party Congress on Monday evening...

"According to law, the Chinese armed forces are definitely under the leadership of the CPC."

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Technology and politics

Technological change obviously affects economics and education, but what will it bring to politics and governance? Ask your students what they would expect.

Nigerian Space Program Isn't a 419 Scam

"Nigeria, a country whose best-known technological export is probably the flowery e-mail output of its "419 scam" artists, is ramping up a scrappy space program that's working wonders with a relatively small investment.

"Robert Boroffice, leader of Nigeria's National Space Research and Development Agency... looks to the sky to solve his country's earthly problems of hunger and disease. The country has launched satellites on the cheap to aid agricultural and medical initiatives and is seriously contemplating building an international spaceport...

"His defense to charges of misplaced priorities -- wasting money on space technology when Nigeria faces so many other pressing problems -- is as disarming as it is forward-thinking: Space is one of the smartest micro-investments a developing nation can make, he said...

"Africa's most populous country, Nigeria is saddled with a sub-Saharan developing nation's standard-issue burdens: disease, poverty, coruption, and malnutrition.

"Boroffice thinks space technology is the key to addressing such woes relatively cheaply and efficiently. For example, NASRDA spent $13 million... in the 2003 launch of NigeriaSat-1, an advanced imaging satellite that punches its weight with 1990s satellites in the $300 million class. NigeriaSat-1... helped sow the seeds of technological development in a nation that needs engineers, infrastructure and IT...

"Today, Nigeria imports food for its booming population while Nigerian farmers' yields depend on seasonal variations in things like water availability and soil fertility. NigeriaSat-1 beams up-to-date agricultural data back to... mission control in Abuja every day, and Nigeria's space support program helps farmers make use of the information to make smart decisions, said Boroffice...

"The challenge... is reaching the point of self-sufficiency so Nigerian engineers can build, launch and operate satellites from within the country's borders...

"With the successful launch earlier this year of Nigeria's first communications satellite... telemedicine is now possible...

"'Most of our doctors don't want to go to rural areas,' [Boroffice] said. 'So we have created primary health-care centers, and we link them to two teaching hospitals. And these two hospitals, with videoconferencing, can provide high-quality medicine to these remote (areas).'..."


See also:

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Editing political culture

Remaking political culture is a multi-faceted endeavor. In Iran, many efforts are underway. From public executions and the arrest of indecently dressed or coiffed citizens to subtle messages in television programs.

Slightly Off Religious Path, Iranian TV Finds Viewers

"State TV, which had a monopoly on viewership until satellite channels began to draw more viewers beginning in the early 1990s, has been trying to win back its audience for several years. One result: a spate of mini-series that depict love stories between characters who are not necessarily pious, and that allow women to show more of their hair — both of which have been considered un-Islamic.

"Analysts say the new programs are part of the government’s bid to use television as a more effective instrument to shape public opinion. Most series still have clear political messages, though they are conveyed with much more subtlety than in the past...

"One popular mini-series, called Zero Degree Turn, depicts the Iranian Embassy in Paris during World War II, when employees forged Iranian passports for European Jews to flee to Iran. The series is built around a love story between an Iranian-Palestinian man and a Jewish Frenchwoman he helps escape to Iran.



"Scenes of terrified Jewish men, women and children being loaded into trucks by Nazis are arousing feelings of sympathy for Jews at a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust.

"But the series has a more subtle message: that there is a difference between Jews and Zionists. One Jewish character, the uncle of the Frenchwoman who escapes to Iran, is depicted as brutal and manipulative. He has ties to Israel..."


See also:

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Want a glimpse of a footnote to PRC history?

The historian who writes the blog Jottings from the Granite Studio offers this footnote:

Come back Hua Guofeng, all is forgiven

"I've been fascinated with the career of Hua Guofeng, who was paramount leader of China for about 18 minutes in the mid-1970s, since I began studying Chinese history. I would stare at my professors' notes on the board:
"1949-1976 Mao Zedong
"1978-present Deng Xiaoping.

"'Wait,' I thought, 'What about 1976-1978?'..."


And if that raises the question of "Where is Hua now?"

Check out the photo of Hua Guofeng at the Party Congress last week.

Hua Guofeng Spotted!

The old man was sleepy.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Facts about a social cleavage

If you want some data to demonstrate the existence of the social class cleavage in Britain (which can be a total mystery to American students), the results of this Guardian/ICM poll should do the trick. And note the results that show how the geographic cleavage reinforces the social class differences.

At the end of the article are links to several related articles.

Riven by class and no social mobility - Britain in 2007

"Ten years of Labour rule have failed to create a classless society, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. It shows that Britain remains a nation dominated by class division, with a huge majority certain that their social standing determines the way they are judged.

"Of those questioned, 89% said they think people are still judged by their class - with almost half saying that it still counts for "a lot". Only 8% think that class does not matter at all in shaping the way people are seen...

"The poll also shows that after 10 years of Labour government, social change in Britain is almost static. Despite the collapse of industrial employment, the working class is an unchanging majority. In 1998, when ICM last asked, 55% of people considered themselves working class. Now the figure stands at 53%.

"Of people born to working class parents, 77% say they are working class too. Only one fifth say they have become middle class.

"Despite huge economic change and the government's efforts to build what it calls an opportunity society, people who think of themselves as middle class are still in a minority. In 1998, 41% of people thought of themselves as middle class, exactly the same proportion as today...

"The poll paints a picture of a nation divided by social attitudes and life-chances, with 47% of those living in south-east England considering themselves middle class, against 39% in the north and 35% in Wales and the west.

"Northern England remains a working-class heartland, with 57% of people describing themselves as part of it..."

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Harmonious, party-dominated society

Melissa Chan's report for Al Jazeera is not news. You might have a better article on the growing disparities between rich and poor and between city and countryside. But Chan's article makes relevant links betweeen the current Party Congress and President Hu's "harmonious society."

China society far from harmonious

"China's president and delegates at the 17th Party Congress this week have been repeating the slogan that China must build 'a harmonious society'.

"Hu Jintao has said that a harmonious society should 'include democracy ... the rule of law … equality and justice'...

"But on the ground, Hu's socio-economic ideology and contribution to Communist thought is a long way off from being realised...

"The fact is that while there may be a new middle-class, most Chinese remain very poor and very left behind by the economic juggernaut.

"The widening income gap, experts say, partly explains the increase in crime and peasant riots, as well as the mass movement of migrant workers seeking jobs across the country.

"In fact, everywhere one goes in China, it is a disharmonious society that one sees...

"Even the opportunity for desperate, ordinary Chinese to come to the capital to beg officials for help - a tradition going back hundreds of years to the time of emperors – has been snuffed out.

"In recent times, people from across the country, travelling sometimes thousands of kilometres to the capital to petition the centre of power to redress injustices back home, have congregated at the Tong Zhuang "petitioners' village" on the outskirts of Beijing.

"There they waited for a chance to bring their cases before officials.

"But the same government that calls for a harmonious society demolished the village days before the start of this week's Communist party congress, saying it needed to build a train station for a high speed link between Shanghai and the capital...

"Many Chinese do believe – at least conceptually – that a harmonious society is important for a dynamic, changing, and potentially unstable China.

"But, of course, a harmonious society means political harmony and stability, stability means no political change and what that means, is a Communist party ever harmoniously in power."


There are also links to other Al Jazeera stories

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Ironing out the details or "Italy gets its parity back"

EU leaders agree new treaty deal

"European Union leaders have reached a deal on a landmark treaty to reform the 27-member bloc, officials say...

"The treaty is designed to replace the European Constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 and will be formally signed on 13 December.

"It includes the creation of a new longer-term president of the European Council and an EU foreign policy chief.

"If what will become known as the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified by all member states, it will come into force in 2009...

"In the last-minute negotiations, Italy gained an extra seat in the future European Parliament, returning it to parity with the UK... [See "Nationalsim meets supranational organization"]

"Poland secured a guarantee that small groups of countries would be able to delay EU decisions they do not like...

"Earlier, Austria reached a deal over its bid to maintain quotas for foreign students...

"Bulgaria also won the right to call the EU single currency the "evro", rather than euro, in its Cyrillic alphabet.

"The new Reform Treaty is designed to speed up decision making in the expanded European Union..."

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Politburo profiles

Want to create an exercise asking students to generalize about what it takes to become part of the Party elite in China?

The Guardian (UK) offers profiles of the Politburo members.

"Hu Jintao, Paramount leader of the People's Republic of China, Born in Anhui in 1942, Hu Jintao joined the CPC during the Cultural Revolution...

"Wen Jiabao... the Chinese premier, is from Tianjin and joined the CPC in 1965...

"Zeng Qinghong, Vice-president of the People's Republic of China, From the Ji'an, Jiangxi province, Zeng Qinghong was part of the elite "princelings", children of veteran Communist party revolutionaries. His father, Zeng Shan, was a Red Army veteran..."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reflection of political cleavages

Another aspect the north-south divide in the UK

The Guardian (UK) reports, Revealed: huge leap in alcohol casualties -- North-south division in drinks crisis

"The shocking extent of England's binge-drinking culture is laid bare today with new official figures showing an alarming increase in emergency hospital admissions owing to alcohol abuse.

"Previously unpublished NHS data obtained by The Observer reveals that the number of people who had to be taken to hospital over the past five years has risen sharply in every region of the country...

"The north-east has the worst problems. It had the highest number of admissions per 100,000 population...

"The north-west was close behind...

"The figures reveal that a north-south divide is emerging in England's drinking culture. Nine of the 10 areas with the highest rates of emergency admissions are in the north...

"Most of the regions with the fewest emergency admissions are in the south..."

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On second look

Once the reporters read the translation of President Hu's speech, the articles they filed changed. More details will follow this week as people analyze the details.

Here's the New York Times example:

Monday: Communist Party Congress Opens in China

Tuesday: China’s Leader Closes Door to Reform

"President Hu Jintao promised to address social fissures, a degraded environment and rampant corruption during his second term as China’s top leader, but he all but ruled out more than cosmetic political reform in his opening address..."

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When policy produces the "wrong" results

When do advocates of a cause lobby to reduce funding for that cause?

Cut Iran Democracy Funding, Groups Tell U.S.

"More than two dozen Iranian American and human rights groups have launched an appeal to Congress to reduce or eliminate new financial support of up to $75 million aimed at promoting democracy inside Iran.

"The U.S. program, launched in 2006, backfired in its first year, undermining democracy efforts in Iran and leading to wider repression of activists as foreign agents or traitors, the groups said. Among those detained were four Iranian Americans, all charged with "crimes against national security" linked to the U.S. program. A second year of funding will further endanger democracy efforts, the groups added...

"'Giving tens of millions of dollars to support Iranian activists inside Iran is counterproductive," said Saman Zarifi of Human Rights Watch. "First, Iranian activists don't want it and can't get it. Second, it supports Iranian government efforts to cast activists as foreign agents.'..."

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Monday, October 15, 2007

We hear what we expect?

The first headlines about President Hu's speech to the Party Congress make for interesting comparisons. This does not count as an exercise in comparative politics though.



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Teaching resource


While preparing the entry on the EU Parliament, I came across the web site for Civitas, The Institute for the Study of Civil Society.

In the "See also" section, I referred to one of the 75+ Factsheets on the EU Civitas has published online. The Factsheets are "Balanced... tailored to A-level curricula," and "Designed to enable the reader to choose how far they wish to delve into the EU."

The ones I've looked at are good and would be useful in teaching about the EU.

You can download them as .pdf files or print them or direct your students (with questions) to them directly. This could be an alternative to using the EU web site for the most basic research.

Bonus
There are also 8 Factsheets on healthcare in 8 countries (UK, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Switzerland, and the USA) that could be used as the basis for a comparative exercise to teach comparative method, even though only one of the countries is part of the AP6.

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Nationalism meets supranational organization

This report comes from the BBC.

New MEP seating plan irks Italy

"The European Parliament has voted to change the distribution of seats in the next legislature despite opposition from Italy.

"Under the new rules, the parliament will have 750 instead of the current 785 seats. National quotas will range from six to 96 seats.

"Italy's share drops from 78 to 72 under the plan, due to take effect in 2009...

"The allocations are calculated to mirror the populations of EU countries.

"Italy would lose the parity of seats it traditionally held with Britain and France, whose populations are bigger...

"The plan revises the allocations envisaged by the 2000 Nice Treaty and would give the UK 73 seats instead of the current 78 and France 74 instead of 78.

"Germany's share would drop from 99 to 96, while Spain would keep its current 54 seats..."


See also:

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rule of personal politics in China

Democracy may or may not be playing a bigger role in Chinese leadership selection, but Edward Cody's report in the Washington Post suggests that rule of law is still threatened by the way things work. It's important to hold up contratry examples as well. And for that I recommend looking for examples at China Law Blog.

Businessman's Defeat Illustrates Party's Rule

"Almost a year has gone by since a court ruled that Zhang Chunjiang was wronged, and still he feels aggrieved.

"Zhang used to be a deputy manager -- and the main shareholder -- of Huilong Paper Corp.... until the [local] government decided it was time to sell the company. So one day, authorities auctioned it off, even though it was privately owned.

"When the Shanxi provincial High Court later ruled that the government should pay Zhang, 48, nearly half a million dollars...he thought that he, at least, as the major stakeholder, would finally get his due after such a clear-cut decision from the province's highest court. He was wrong.

"Instead of settling up Zhang's claim, the district government has resisted, thus demonstrating the hard power of China's Communist Party system -- the enduring ability of local officials to override the rule of law that is regularly heralded by national leaders in Beijing...

"Xiong Wenzhao, a law professor at the Central University of Nationalities in Beijing, said party and government authorities can defy such court rulings because the court system is, in effect, a branch of the party without independent authority. The government names judges and pays their salaries, he noted.

"'China has a lack of judicial independence,' he said. 'The government intervenes in judicial affairs on a daily basis. If we cannot set up an independent judicial system, the enforcement problem will never be solved.'...

"Then last month, as local party leaders sought to bargain with him, the Public Security Bureau sent a notice to the High Court saying Zhang was suspected of economic crimes during his stewardship of Huilong's finances. As a result, it said, no money should be paid out to his account...

Zhang said his interpretation is that the Yuci District authorities are reluctant to abide by the court rulings because handing over that much money could provoke an official investigation. During the probe, he said, their conduct during the illegal auction and their relationships to An would also be examined, raising questions about how the deal was decided and why the price was so low..."

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Leadership and democracy in China

The historian who writes the Jottings from the Granite Studio, pointed me to blogger Li Datong's analysis of leadership changes in China. His description of leadership changes over the past 60 years seem detailed and reasonable to me, although I'm not an expert. His optimistic conclusion requires some evaluation that we may not be able to do for another 5-10 years.

Li Datong is described on the Open Democracy web site as "a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper."

This essay could be a valuable supplement to your textbook. I'd like to find an alternative analysis to use with students as an evaluation exercise.

China’s leadership: the next generation

"The five-yearly national congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) takes place on 15-19 October 2007, the seventeenth such event in the party's history. Anyone who is interested in Chinese politics is paying close attention to the preparations. The most suspenseful aspect of the build-up is speculation over who will be on the new politburo standing committee - the highest level of party leadership...

"[H]igh-level party politics have always lacked transparency. The manoeuvrings are highly complex and wouldn't seem out of place in a novel on royal court conspiracies. We often only see how things are going to turn out at the very last moment... However, the perspective of party history offers a route to discern the important changes that are beginning to take place in the ways in which party leaders are selected.

"In the past, a key characteristic of the party's paramount leader was that, as an individual, he had significantly higher status than the rest of the party leadership...

[In the middle part of this essay, Li Datong, describes Mao's ascent to power and the leadership changes since 1976. He continues by describing his vision for what's going to happen as Hu's successor is chosen.]

"Hu will be looking at the group of potential successors and seeing that none of them is in a stronger position than any of the others. The rising stars... are starting out on a level playing-field.

'It is this set of circumstances that will give rise to real change. All Hu can now do is bring a group of potential successors (probably three or four people) into the politburo standing committee and see who can establish the most authority for themselves over the coming five years. Then, before he steps down at the eighteenth party congress in 2012, he must put in place a strict system for choosing between these candidates. This system can only be in the form of an election - there is no other legitimate way of selecting the next leader. This will be the start of the democratisation of the Chinese Communist Party.

"The party was founded in 1921, and intra-party democracy could be established by 2012. Ninety years is a long time for this development to emerge, but the rule in Chinese politics has always been the same: the older generation has to disappear before the new generation can truly emerge."


However, Joseph Kahn reported in the New York Times on 13 October, the "manoeuvrings" of party politics have indeed been complex. Jiang Zemin and his Shanghai "clan" still have considerable power and seem to have designated President Hu's successor. It's probably wise to take into account Kahn's reminder that " top leaders have continued to bargain and make changes in the hierarchy even after the Central Committee approved a slate of candidates..." Before you begin entering names into a new leadership list, check Kahn's facts after the Party Congress ends.

Whether this supports the idea that more transparency and democracy within the Party is likely remains to be seen. Kahn is certainly skeptical about that prospect. (See last quoted paragraphs.)

New China Hierarchy May Limit President’s Power

"After intensive bargaining, China’s Communist Party has approved a new leadership lineup that denies President Hu Jintao the decisive consolidation of power that his supporters hoped would allow him to govern more assertively in his final five-year term as China’s top leader...

"Xi Jinping, the party boss of Shanghai, is also expected to join the Standing Committee... and become the most likely successor to Mr. Hu as party chief...

"Mr. Xi, whose father was a senior party official under Mao, is viewed as a compromise choice, acceptable to Mr. Hu but also to his now-retired predecessor as top leader, Jiang Zemin, who party officials say exercised broad sway over the reshuffling...

"Personnel shifts in the ruling party are decided in secret, and the final leadership lineup will not be made public until the conclusion of a party congress, which convenes Monday. In the past, top leaders have continued to bargain and make changes in the hierarchy even after the Central Committee approved a slate of candidates...

"[T]he coming party congress seems likely to underscore the collective nature of decision making in the ruling party...

"The semiofficial China News Service said Thursday in a report that Mr. Hu would not follow Mao’s or Mr. Deng’s lead in picking a successor, but would rely on “collective discussion and collective decisions” within the party...

" Some political observers have suggested that by having two younger members of the Standing Committee, the choice of a future leader could become competitive, permitting the 190 members and the 152 alternate members of the Central Committee to choose among candidates rather than ratifying decisions made at the very top...

"[O]ne person said, 'The party is too concerned about stability to leave the issue undecided.'"

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Electoral reform as authoritarianism

If you would like a brief summary of how Putin has managed to virtually eliminate his political opposition, Clifford Levy's article from the New York Times offers a good source for students.

With Tight Grip on Ballot, Putin Is Forcing Foes Out

"Nearly eight years after Mr. Putin took office and began tightening his control over all aspects of the Russian government, he will almost certainly with this election succeed in extinguishing the last embers of opposition in Parliament.

"Strict new election rules adopted under Mr. Putin, combined with the Kremlin’s dominance over the news media and government agencies, are expected to propel the party that he created, United Russia, to a parliamentary majority even more overwhelming than its current one...

"The president currently appoints and wields far more power than the prime minister, but that could change should Mr. Putin become prime minister. Some analysts are speculating that Mr. Putin may try to create a parliamentary system with a strong prime minister and the president as a largely ceremonial post, akin to the arrangement in countries like Italy or Israel.

"Mr. Putin has high approval ratings, and whatever the political climate, Russians today have far more economic and social freedoms than existed under Communism. Many people would like Mr. Putin to remain president, giving him credit for the strong economy and stability of recent years. Still, it appears that he is leaving little to chance in the parliamentary races.

"Mr. Putin has said the tougher election rules are in part intended to eliminate the fractious politics that he asserts are caused by a proliferation of small parties. In recent months, he has contended that he is a champion of multiparty democracy, though he has also said that the system needs time to develop.

"'We cannot build Russia’s future by tying its many millions of citizens to just one person or group of people,' he said last month. 'We will not be able to build anything lasting unless we put in place a real and effectively functioning multiparty system and develop a civil society that will protect society and the state from mistakes and wrong actions on the part of those in power.'...

"In the last parliamentary election, in 2003, half of the 450 seats in the lower house of Parliament, called the Duma, were allocated according to geographic districts, and half were allotted based on party support...

"The 2003 election was also heavily skewed in favor of United Russia, political analysts said, and the party swept to victory.

"Even so, liberal and independent lawmakers were able to retain a toehold...

"After the election, saying that he was responding to several acts of terrorism in Russia, Mr. Putin declared that the government structure needed to be centralized to unify the country. He pushed through legislation that abolished geographic districts in parliamentary elections and did away with elections for regional governors.

"In the parliamentary election on Dec. 2, Russians will vote only for parties, not for candidates. What is more, parties now need 7 percent of the national vote to gain seats in Parliament, up from 5 percent. They also need to submit proof that they have at least 50,000 members to be recognized as official parties, up from 10,000.

"It now seems possible that United Russia’s advantages are so great that it will be the only party to surpass 7 percent. In that case, the Constitution requires at least one other party in Parliament, so some token seats will be allocated to the second most popular one...

"Mr. Putin’s allies said United Russia was winning elections not because the rules were biased, but because the public approved of Mr. Putin and valued the nation’s new strength. They said Russians looked askance at the example of Ukraine, the neighbor to the west, where three leading parties have been closely matched and have regularly feuded over the last three years.

"'For Russians, the Ukrainian scenario is terrifying,' said Igor Y. Dyomin, a spokesman for United Russia in Parliament..."

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"Guys like us, we had it made..."

There's only one overtly political paragraph here, but the rest is a window on Russians "of normal social status."

Utopia with no poor people: Moscow's new billionaire's row

"With birds twittering gently in the background, Aras Agalarov [at left] explains why he has decided to build a housing estate for Russia's super-rich.

"Next to him work has almost finished on a vast neo-classical villa; down the muddy track a Scottish baronial mansion rises magnificently above a line of newly planted birch trees.

"'The people who will live here are of normal social status,' Mr Agalarov says...

"The idea is for Russia's new billionaire elite to live here happily together. Mr Agalarov describes his project as a kind of utopian social experiment - but without poor people...

"The estate boasts an 18-hole golf course and an exclusive private school.

"There are also 14 artificial lakes, waterfalls and a spa and beach resort with imported white sand...

"Residents are forbidden from hanging out washing, carrying out home improvements, or letting off fireworks. Additionally, all bodyguards will be banished to small houses on the edge of the community.

"'Most families have five or six bodyguards. Two hundred families means 1,000 bodyguards,' Mr Agalarov says...

"Those who have grown rich under Vladimir Putin are not only plugged into Russia's oil and gas industry. They also include many well-connected Kremlin bureaucrats, some with homes in Kensington or the south of France...

"The development is likely to be completed by 2009. The only obstacle spoiling Mr Agalarov's vision of paradise is the hamlet of Voronino, which abuts the watery edge of the estate.

"The tycoon has managed to buy 14 of its 28 houses - with a view to demolishing them..."

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Channelling Schwarzenegger

Maybe this is what David Cameron had up his sleeves when he challenged PM Brown to call a snap election.

From The Guradian (UK): Cameron: 'Look at me and think of Schwarzenegger'

"David Cameron signals today that he will try to extend the dramatic political gains the Conservatives have made over the last fortnight by pressing ahead with his centrist, liberal agenda, inspired by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger...

"Turning his back on calls from party hardliners for distinctive rightwing policies, he will move into core Labour territory by claiming that only his party can tackle poverty in Britain...

"'My wife said to me: "How are you going to explain to an American audience what sort of Conservative you are?" I said: "I'll say look at me and think of Arnold Schwarzenegger".'...

"Speaking later to the Guardian, Mr Cameron said: 'He's [Mr Schwarzenegger] a very impressive politician. He's achieved huge amounts in California because he's had to work with a Democratic legislature, so he's very good at making compromises, making deals, getting things done. His analysis of US politics is very sharp.'...

"'It's shown that a centre-right politician can make a lead on this issue,' Mr Cameron said, adding pointedly: 'And he got re-elected.'...

"'The parties are closer together than they have been in the past and there is always going to be a bit of policy stealing going on. What matters in politics is that you stand up for what you believe in, say what you want to do and if the other side nick it, great, say "Well, implement it properly."'"...

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Political gaming

Do you have RPG gamers in your class? Maybe you can tempt them with something that has educational potential.

Nation States appears to be a cross between a Second Life-like virtual world and an RPG. Judging from a quick sampling of the discussion threads, many of its active participants are more interested in the RPG competition than in making a political system that works.

But, that doesn't mean that a comparative government and politics student (or several of them) couldn't strike off in the direction of testing political theories as well as national defense and/or aggression.

And perhaps you'd be willing to offer some credit for a documentation of the ideas to be tested, the methods of testing, and the results of the testing.

Max Berry, the creator of Nation States describes it in this Q&A:

"--So what is this?

"Jennifer Government: NationStates is a nation simulation game. You create your own country, fashioned after your own ideals, and care for its people. Either that or you deliberately torture them. It's really up to you.

"--Is it a serious political thing, or just for fun?

"Well, you can play it either way. NationStates does have humorous bent, but that's just because international politics is so inherently funny.

"--Who's Jennifer Government?

"Jennifer Government is a novel by Max Barry, on which NationStates is based. The book is set in an ultra-privatized world, of the sort you can create in NationStates, if you're mean enough. For more information check out www.maxbarry.com...

"--How do I play?

"Click on the Create a Nation link and follow it from there. You'll be asked to choose a name for your nation, a motto, a national animal, and a currency. Then you answer a short questionnaire about your politics. This will determine what sort of nation you end up with: authoritarian or permissive... left-wing or right-wing... compassionate or psychotic... you get the idea.

"Once a day, you'll be faced with an issue, and need to make a decision as to what to do about it. This determines how your nation evolves...

"--How do I win?

"Ah, but what is 'winning,' grasshopper? There is no way to win as such. Which is better, a left-wing civil rights paradise with no money, or a right-wing economic powerhouse where the poor are left to fend for themselves? (That's a rhetorical question.)

"One way to succeed, at least in a sense, is to make it onto the top rungs of a United Nations report. These are compiled once per day, one for each Region and one for the entire world. Nations are ranked on anything from economic strength to the most liberal public nudity laws (the UN has a lot of time to fill in). There's a certain glory in making it onto one of those.

"--Which region should my nation be in?

"It's up to you. New nations begin in the Pacific, but you can move out. You can even start your own region. This is a good idea if you're playing with a few friends: create a region and all move there. To do this, visit your current region's page and click the link that says, "Tired of life in (your region)? Then move to a new region!"

"Unless your nation is a member of the United Nations, its region only determines which daily rankings list it appears in. For UN members, however, region is more important (see the 'United Nations' section of this FAQ)..."

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Another one to watch

Nigerian Judge Reverses Election

"A judge in the northern state of Kogi has ordered a rerun of the election for governor that took place in April, ruling in favor of an opposition candidate who argued that the polls were so marred by fraud and violence that the results lacked legitimacy.

"It is the first in what could be many reversals for the ruling People’s Democratic Party, which virtually swept the state and federal elections amid rigging, intimidation and incompetence so serious international observers said the results were not credible. Hundreds of races are being challenged across the country, and a number of the 36 governorships could change hands.

"Nigeria’s new president, Umaru Yar’Adua, also faces challenges to his landslide victory. He has pledged to reform the country’s electoral system."

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Political education in China

Weijun Chen reports for the BBC on a political campaign in a classroom of 8-year-olds in his hometown of Wuhan.

There are a couple interesting observations that may apply generally to China's political culture.

Democracy in a Chinese classroom

"Thousands of years of life under a feudal system in China have fostered a culture where official power and authority have seldom been checked.

"Once one has the power, then one has everything, and so the whole nation would like to be government bureaucrats.

"For example, 60% of China's college graduates choose government as their ideal career.

"Chinese government officials are not civil servants in the Western sense, rather they are the people who possess real power.Ch

"Against this backdrop, I decided to film a class of eight-year-old schoolchildren in my home city of Wuhan as they went through the process of electing a class monitor.

"It was the first time that the post had not been the gift of the teacher and it was the children's first taste of democracy. It turned out to be a cut-throat competition..."

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nigeria as Cosa Nostra

A new report from Human Rights Watch, Criminal Politics: Violence, "Godfathers" and Corruption in Nigeria, suggests that organized crime might be a better analogue for Nigeria's political system than some theoretical "developing democracy."

There are four case studies in the report from the states of Oyo, Anambra, Rivers, and Gombe. Perhaps groups of students could summarize these case studies and the whole class could make comparisons.

What measures would your students suggest we use to evaluate Nigeria's political system and compare it to others?

The report (123 pages) and a 9-page summary are available as downloads from Human Rights Watch.

This report is from the New York Times:

Report Traces Twisting Routes to Power in Nigeria

"[A] new report on Nigeria released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch... says that the real sources of power in Nigeria are the wealthy political godfathers who financed an epidemic of election-related violence that killed at least 300 people in the flawed election. And ballots, the report says, are no match for the bullets of the gangs hired by politicians to rig the vote.

"'The conduct of many public officials and government institutions is so pervasively marked by violence and corruption as to more resemble criminal activity than democratic governance,' the report says...

"The report lays out in stark detail the contracts made between politicians seeking office and the rich kingmakers who back them in exchange for kickbacks from government coffers. It also describes the brutal means used by criminal gangs to sway elections, including intimidation and assassination, in the 2003 and 2007 elections, both of which were marked by violence, fraud and administrative incompetence...

"Nigeria’s new president, Umaru Yar’Adua, has admitted there were lapses in the election and pledged to reform the electoral system to stamp out abuses..."


The Human Rights Watch report on "godfatherism" in Nigeria:

"Godfatherism is both a symptom and a cause of the violence and corruption that together permeate the political process in Nigeria. Public officials who owe their position to the efforts of a political godfather incur a debt that they are expected to repay without end throughout their tenure in office. Godfathers are only relevant because politicians are able to deploy violence and corruption with impunity to compete for office in contests that often effectively, and sometimes actually, exclude Nigeria’s voters altogether. But their activities also help to reinforce the central role of violence and corruption in politics by making it even more difficult to win elected office without resorting to the illegal tactics they represent. Nigeria’s godfatherism phenomenon is not unique to the ruling PDP, but as with many of the other abuses described in this report it is seen most often in the conduct of PDP officials as both a cause and a result of the party’s success in maintaining itself in power."

On "Impunity and Governance in Nigeria:"

"Throughout Nigeria there exists a deeply entrenched culture of impunity that developed at all levels of Nigeria’s government under military rule and remains as a source of the country’s worst human rights abuses since the return to civilian rule in 1999. On several occasions since then, the Nigerian military has carried out misdirected reprisals against civilian populations, destroying entire communities and murdering hundreds of Nigerian civilians. No one has been held to account for ordering or participating in those atrocities."

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Democratization as a disease?

If you're looking for an article to help your students consider democratization, this New York Times opinion piece by Noah Feldman might be a good one.

Democratosis

"It seems strange to the rest of the world, but we Americans can’t seem to stop talking about how other countries should be democratic like we are. From George Washington’s boast of being 'irresistibly excited whensoever, in any country, I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom,' to Woodrow Wilson’s vow to make the world safe for democracy, to George W. Bush’s second inaugural, our presidents have invoked the aspiration to expand self-government ever outward...

"When we fail to follow [our own preaching], we look hypocritical. An empire that extends itself selectively is just being prudent about its own limitations. A republic that supports democratization selectively is another matter.

"[T]he fear that Islamists would come to power in free elections — as they did in the Palestinian territories — makes the United States’ interest in supporting the status quo [in places like Pakistan] understandable. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, sometimes sounding suspiciously like an apostate from the democratization cause, argued in a recent speech for the necessity of using realist methods — including short-term alliances with despots — to pursue idealist goals such as the establishment of more democracy. And of course he is right to say that the United States cannot suddenly abandon its useful allies when they do not put themselves up for election.

"But Gates’s measured realism has its weaknesses. The problem is that our support for dictators in some countries tends to undermine our ability to encourage democracy elsewhere..."

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Protest in Tehran

The Los Angeles Times headline makes it sound like a report on last February's protest in Tehran. It's not. It's from Monday, 8 October, and it's smaller than February's protest.

Tehran students denounce Ahmadinejad

"Dozens of students opposed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's human rights record confronted the leader and his supporters Monday at the country's most prestigious university.

"The students, defying a broad government crackdown on dissent, accused Ahmadinejad of corruption and discrimination, and chanted, "Death to the dictator!"...

"During his appearance Monday, Ahmadinejad was flanked by the head of the university and the minister of science. Black-shirted members of the Basiji, a hard-line pro-government militia, shouted in support of Ahmadinejad. "Our president, thank you, thank you!" they said...

"About 50 students each from pro- and anti-Ahmadinejad camps participated in the demonstrations. Additional protesters came to complain about the university's lack of facilities, including a shortage of dormitory space and poor Internet connections..."

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Video about Iran

Here's a reason to ignore the camera phone videos of Tehran that I found on YouTube awhile back.

Juliette Zener, who teaches comparative government at Newton Country Day School in Newton, MA., wrote that she "came across this fantastic BBC documentary on the lives of average Iranians from Feb of this year."

She added, "Thought you might like to pass it along to folks on your list serv."

I haven't seen the whole thing yet, but I do recommend that you consider using it with your students studying about Iran.

I'm always thankful for images that fill in the blanks left by my lack of imagination and textbook descriptions. This video does this many times over.



The one-and-a-half hour video is Rageh inside Iran. It comes from former BBC reporter Rageh Omaar. The BBC description says,

"Rageh Omaar embarks on a unique journey inside what he describes as one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, looking at the country through the eyes of people rarely heard - ordinary Iranians.

"It took a year of wrangling to get permission to film inside Iran but the result is an amazing portrayal of an energetic and vibrant country that is completely different to the usual images seen in the media.

"Rageh soon discovers that Tehran is a complex place and uncovers a city of extremes of wealth and poverty, where some people survive on less than a dollar a day and others shop till they drop in glitzy shopping malls.

"Iran is a country that bans women from riding motorcycles but where 60 per cent of the student population is female. It is also a youthful place, with two thirds of Iran's 70 million population under the age of 30.

"Rageh meets with local people to hear their personal stories and feelings about the current state of affairs in Iran. There are stories of taxi drivers, wrestlers, business women, people working with drug addicts and the country's leading pop star and his manager - the 'Simon Cowell' of Iran.

"Rageh Inside Iran transcends images of angry demonstrations and burning flags to reveal a country that isn't without its problems but which is also fascinating, dynamic and hospitable."


The scenic shots and the faces and voices of individuals really do make my mental pictures of the place and the people more realistic than the images inspired by the black and white words in books.

It's a long program, but it looks like it should be pretty easy to select segments to use in class. In addition a number of related videos are accessible at the GoogleVideo site where the program is offered.

And in case you want shorter segments already packaged, I searched for Rageh at YouTube. Several scenes from the program (4 - 10 minutes) are available there.

If you're going to be teaching about Iran in the future (even next semester), now's the time to take a look at this video and begin preparing teaching plans to use it.

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Politics of health care in the UK

There won't be a snap election in the UK, but it will be interesting to see how the parties respond to this report by Health Consumer Powerhouse. It's bound to make NHS a bigger issue than it has been.

UK falls further down European health league despite rise in funding

"Britain's National Health Service remains a 'mediocre' provider of healthcare, performing much less well than almost all of the UK's peers in western Europe, according to a European survey.

"The index of European health services, issued yesterday in Brussels by Health Consumer Powerhouse, found Britain had slid further down the European league table over the past year despite the investment in the NHS under New Labour. Of 29 countries assessed, the EU's 27 plus Norway and Switzerland, Britain came 17th.

"Apart from Italy, all the countries ranked worse than Britain were much poorer, mainly from eastern Europe...

"Austria came top of the survey, followed by The Netherlands and France. New and poorer EU member states such as Estonia, the Czech Republic and Cyprus were ranked higher than Britain.

"The analysis criticised Britain for long waiting times, the regional variations in supply of healthcare, the low rates of five-year cancer survival, and the scale of MRSA infection in NHS hospitals...

"Britain and Germany represent the two fundamental systems of public healthcare in Europe, with the British 'Beveridge' system unifying funding and provision, while the German 'Bismarck' system is based around a plethora of competing insurance organisations independent of health service suppliers. The survey found that the German model is delivering better results.

"'It is very hard to avoid noticing that the top five countries all have dedicated Bismarckian healthcare systems,' the report said. 'While not at all arguing that the Bismarck-type healthcare systems are in every way superior, it seems that for total customer value, the Bismarck model runs rings around Beveridge.'"

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