Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, October 20, 2014

Defining the limits of power and freedom

Once again, events in Iran demonstrate that there are many centers of power and many challengers to all of them.

Iran’s Jailing of Activist Offers Hint of Liberty Under Rouhani
Ghoncheh Ghavami
In a country that has virtually no tolerance for activism, Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, an Iranian-British national, provided a nearly textbook example of how to get arrested in Tehran, activists say. Yet if Ms. Ghavami, who began a hunger strike last week to protest her indefinite detention, was guilty of anything, activists say, it was a naïve enthusiasm that Iran was changing.

Now, as Ms. Ghavami languishes in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison without charge, her case has raised anew the question of how far the limits of personal expression and rights can be stretched in the Iran of President Hassan Rouhani.

The answer, many here say, is not that far. The judiciary and Parliament remain firmly in the control of hard-liners, and they can come down unexpectedly on those seemingly not involved in opposition politics…

Iran can also be deceptive, activists here say, especially for people like Ms. Ghavami who spend most of their lives abroad. The return to the motherland can feel warm and surprisingly safe, but dangers lurk, especially for those who return with the idea of promoting change…

“Within four months she burned herself up in Iran, she fell victim to her own optimism,” one of her friends said, identifying himself only as Ali to avoid reprisals from the authorities. “Ghoncheh seriously thought Iran was opening up and saw no danger.”…

There had been some changes after Mr. Rouhani took office. The uniformed men who had been posted on almost every busy square under his outspoken predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, disappeared. The Internet, still under intense scrutiny, had been allowed some higher bandwidth speeds.

“Around that time, people, including myself, were enthusiastic and hopeful about the improvement of social and civil activities,” said Mojghan Faraji, a journalist. “We all thought there would be change. Now, we are no longer hopeful.”…

Why the authorities have come down so hard on Ms. Ghavami remains something of a mystery, though many activists believe her British citizenship has something to do with it.

Historically, Iran holds a deep grudge against the country, which for decades pumped Iranian oil in exchange for pennies and maintained an imperialist grip on the government. Currently, Iran’s leaders view Britain as a center of opposition, home to a pair of Persian-language satellite channels: the Persian service of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which is paid for by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Manoto, a private undertaking. Both are critical of the Islamic republic’s policies…

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Presentations (or Pedagogy II)

One of the things I noticed about Lawrence Stroud's lectures was something that I, and nearly all of us do: we read the visual that's on the screen.

After all, we've done the research, organized the content, and now want to present it in an understandable and coherent way. We've put words together and tried to ensure we haven't left anything out.

But if you're in the audience of someone who reads words off the visual to you, it's difficult to simultaneously read the words and hear what's being said. And sometimes it's hard to stay awake.(I advocate handing out the visuals before the presentation so students can take notes on the handouts.)

If you haven't seen Don McMillan's Life After Death by Powerpoint, it's probably worth 10 minutes of your time.



If you'd like a shorter, more serious set of suggestions, check out WienotFilms'
Powerful Presentations.


Then there's Guy Kawaski's "10-20-30" rule for presentations.




Dr. Carl Wieman, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, claims that the human brain "can hold a maximum of about seven different items in its short-term working memory and can process no more than about four ideas at once…" Thus presentations should include no more than four ideas (concepts) and seven facts.

All right, you say. None of those things takes into account the demands and circumstances of the classroom and an Advanced Placement curriculum.

I agree. You have to "monitor and adjust," as my colleague Ken MacDonald used to chant. You have to adapt to your schedule, your population, your school culture, and your abilities.

But it's really worth thinking about. As the Weinot Films presentation points out, planning and thinking through this kind of presentation takes time and effort. But the results are often amazing.

Don't read your visuals. Don't complicate your presentations. Don't make them very long (even if you have a block). If you class is longer than 20 minutes, plan several 20 minute activities.

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Pedagogy

Ken Halla, on his confusingly named usgovteducatorsblog recently posted links to the "flipped" AP Comparative GovPol lectures of one of his colleagues, Larry Stroud. There are 10 of Larry Stroud's lectures for comparative plus about a dozen for US GovPol.

Lawrence Stroud
The list of topics includes
  • The EU
  • Mexico: Political Institutions
  • Iran (two lectures)
  • Less Developed and Newly Industrializing Countries
  • China: Political Institutions
  • Communist-Post Communist Countries
  • China: Political and Economic Change
  • Russian Political Institutions (two lectures)
  • Advanced Democracies: UK
  • UK: Political Institutions

This is the result of great planning and effort and great generosity on Mr. Stroud's part.

I've watched two of them so far and would pick at some nits of details. Those are probably bits of disagreement rather than factual errors.

Thanks, Lawrence Stroud. And thanks to Ken Halla too. He does include good things about AP Comparative Gov Pol in his blog once in awhile.

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When rule of law isn't rule of law

When people from different political cultures use the same words, they don't always mean the same thing. (One of the many ambiguities of comparative politics.)

Leader Taps Into Chinese Classics in Seeking to Cement Power
When China’s leader, Xi Jinping, recently warned officials to ward off the temptations of corruption and Western ideas of democracy, he cited Han Fei, a Chinese nobleman renowned for his stark advocacy of autocratic rule more than 2,200 years ago.

Han Fei
“When those who uphold the law are strong, the state is strong,” Mr. Xi said, quoting advice that Han Fei offered monarchs attempting to tame disorder. “When they are weak, the state is weak.”

Seeking to decipher Mr. Xi… China watchers have focused on… his many admiring references to Chinese sages and statesmen from millenniums past…

“This is about finding some kind of traditionalist basis of legitimacy for the regime,” said Sam Crane, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts who studies ancient Chinese thought and its contemporary uses. “It says, ‘We don’t need Western models.’ Ultimately, it is all filtered through the exigencies of maintaining party power.”…

China’s modern leaders have often sought to justify their policies by bowing to their Communist forebears, and so has Mr. Xi. But he has reached much farther back than his predecessors into a rich trove of ancient statecraft for vindication and guidance…

“He who rules by virtue is like the North Star,” he said at a meeting of officials last year, quoting Confucius. “It maintains its place, and the multitude of stars pay homage.”…

Mr. Xi has also shown his familiarity with “Legalist” thinkers who more than 23 centuries ago argued that people should submit to clean, uncompromising order maintained by a strong ruler, much as Mr. Xi appears to see himself. He has quoted Han Fei, the most famous Legalist, whose hardheaded advice from the Warring States era made Machiavelli seem fainthearted…

Their [the Legalists] influence on Mr. Xi is likely to become clearer when a meeting of party leaders starting in just over a week endorses his proposals for “rule of law.” Quite unlike the Western liberal version, Mr. Xi’s “rule of law” looks more like the “rule by law” advocated by the Legalists…

Mr. Xi wants party power to be applied more equitably and cleanly, but he does not want law to circumscribe that power… This has created an “enormous amount of misinterpretation in the West that thinks ‘rule of law’ is rule of law in a very Western Enlightenment sense of the term,” [said Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York]…

“When Xi is putting on a political performance, he uses Marxist-Leninist rhetoric and even Mao’s words,” said Kang Xiaoguang, a professor of public administration at Renmin University in Beijing. “But in his bones, what really influences him is not those things but intellectual resources from the traditional classics.”

This restoration of tradition has been encouraged by the party, eager to inoculate citizens against Western liberal ideas, which are deemed a decadent recipe for chaos…

“As China grows stronger, this force for restoring tradition will also grow stronger,” said Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing and author of Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power.

“Where can China’s leaders find their ideas?” he said. “They can’t possibly find them nowadays from Western liberal thought, and so the only source they can look to is ancient Chinese political thinking.”…

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wishful thinking and some statistics

President Xi announces the end of a mass line campaign. Goals, he said, were achieved and he offered some statistics as proof. The language of the speech sounds like propaganda that the leaders want to believe.

Xi says "mass-line" campaign just the start
Chinese President Xi Jinping said… that the "mass line" campaign had played an important role in the Communist Party of China's (CPC's) drive to tighten Party discipline.

The significance of the campaign would manifest itself in time…

"Mass line" refers to a guideline under which CPC officials and members are required to prioritize the interests of the people and exercise power on their behalf. Based on arrangements made at the 18th National Congress of the CPC in November 2012, the campaign began in June 2013 with an aim of cultivating closer ties with the people.

As promised, there was a thorough cleanup of undesirable work styles, with officials required to reflect on their own work and correct any bad practice.

President Xi
Xi said the… campaign enhanced the Party's prestige and image among the populace; Party members and the people become more cohesive. The campaign had realized its desired goals and concluded with great achievements.

Through the campaign, official meetings were reduced by 586,000, almost 25 percent fewer than in the period before the campaign began. Over 160,000 phantom staff were removed from the government payroll and almost 115,000 vehicles taken out of illicit private use and returned to exclusive regular government affairs. Construction of 2,580 unnecessary official buildings was stopped.

Systems to solidify those results are in place to ensure the effects of the campaign last. In the past year, spending on officials' travel, use of government vehicles, and construction of official buildings have been strictly regulated.

"The close of the campaign is not the end of good work styles," Xi told the meeting… He called for the "mass line" to be a continuing aspect the Party's ties with the people.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First woman of Scotland

Scotland's new first minister will be Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon to become new SNP leader
Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon is set to replace Alex Salmond as leader of the SNP and Scotland's first minister, it has been confirmed.

Ms Sturgeon is currently the party's deputy leader, and the country's deputy first minister.

She will formally take over the leadership next month, and will also become Scotland's first female first minister…

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When is the government no longer THE government?

Some Mexicans are asking whether the government there is legitimate.

Thousands in Mexico demand justice over missing students
Mexico City demonstration
Thousands of people marched in various parts of Mexico on Wednesday to demand justice in the disappearance and possible massacre of 43 college students at the hands of police…

”I am here because I am outraged and it hurts me, what is happening in my country,” said Alejandra Orozco, 22, a sociology student. “We cannot act as if these massacres are normal in this country.”

Another student said she thought the governor of Guerrero, who has been accused of allowing rampant corruption in the state’s local governments, should resign.

“We demand the resignation of the governor, and if the students don’t reappear, [President Enrique] Pena Nieto ought to resign too,” said Maria Flores Solis, 23. “What happened to the students is unpardonable and speaks to a Mexico without law.”…

It remains unclear why the students were kidnapped and possibly killed. Their leftist movement has long clashed with local police and governments, while the penetration of those governments by drug-trafficking criminal organizations has become increasingly evident.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wealth to the top?

Any publicity is good publicity? Not so, according to Nigerian President Jonathan.

Jonathan: My Inclusion in Richest African Presidents’ List Baseless, Libelous
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday said the inclusion of his name on the list of African richest presidents, was baseless and libelous.

Jonathan
He therefore, demanded retraction and apology from the website that published it.

A website, RichestLifestyle.com had rated Jonathan as the sixth richest African President with an estimated net worth of $100 million…

A statement issued by Jonathan’s spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, said the inclusion of the president’s name on the list was to deliberately portray him as corrupt…

According to Abati, there was no factual basis for ranking Jonathan as the sixth richest African Head of State. “As is well known, President Jonathan has never been a businessman or entrepreneur, but a life-long public servant. The president has held public office since 1999 and has regularly declared his assets as required by Nigerian laws.”

RichestLifestyle.com, while profiling how some of the Heads of State came about their wealth, did not explain how they reached the $100 million figure allegedly owned by Jonathan…

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Is UKIP becoming a major party in the UK?

The three major parties and UKIP held their annual conferences recently. The editors at The Economist try to explain how UKIP might become one of the major parties.

The flexible Mr Farage
LIKE many in Heywood and Middleton, two former mill towns outside Manchester, John Bickley is fed up with the Labour Party. It was formed to take on the upper classes but has now joined them, complains this son of a Labour trade unionist as he denounces “Labour’s evil bankers” at Goldman Sachs. Despite appearances, however, he is no socialist. He is the local parliamentary candidate for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a self-described libertarian outfit on the right of British politics.

For years UKIP’s calls for lower immigration, less regulation and withdrawal from the meddlesome European Union have challenged the governing Conservatives…

UKIP hurts the Tories more than it does the opposition Labour Party, but it has started to give them the jitters, too…

How is a defiantly Thatcherite party (whose quotable leader, Nigel Farage, is a pinstriped former commodities trader) now threatening Labour?… the answers tend to show Labour in a bad light.

The first is that the party has become moribund in many of its working-class strongholds…

Labour’s underbelly is softest in precisely those places where voters are receptive to UKIP’s isolationist messages. Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, academics who have studied UKIP’s rise, argue that it thrives among blue collars, grey hair and white skin; that is, in ageing working-class backwaters like Heywood and Middleton where folk feel alienated from the liberal values of the big cities…

UKIP, by contrast, is a suppler gymnast. Its charismatic rejection of the… establishment, embodied by its boozy, cheerful leader, is built on emotion, not policy. That gives it flexibility: it can make a small-state, libertarian pitch to Tory voters and wealthy donors while lambasting private-sector involvement in the NHS in Labour areas like Heywood…

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Another party in Commons

UKIP achieves the big time.

U.K. Independence Party Wins a Seat in Parliament
The populist, right-wing U.K. Independence Party scored a striking political success early Friday, winning a seat in the British Parliament for the first time…

Opposed to immigration and to British membership in the European Union, the party, known as UKIP, had already made big gains in European and local elections, often at the expense of the Conservative Party…

Early on Friday, the U.K. Independence Party went one better by winning the House of Commons seat that had long eluded it from the Conservatives by a large margin in a by-election in the south of England…

The victory for the U.K. Independence Party, which was once ridiculed and derided by establishment politicians, came in the coastal resort of Clacton-on-Sea, where a by-election was prompted by the defection of the lawmaker Douglas Carswell from the Conservatives.
Carswell posing with students

Mr. Carswell, who had represented Clacton-on-Sea since 2010, was seeking re-election under the banner of the U.K. Independence Party…

Because Britain’s electoral system puts smaller parties at a disadvantage, the U.K. Independence Party is unlikely to win a significant number of seats in next year’s general election, but it could secure enough to influence the outcome.

Moreover, its success on Thursday shows that many voters are disenchanted with the mainstream parties.

With higher-than-average unemployment and lower-than-average wages, Clacton-on-Sea is typical of the places where Britain’s established parties are losing support. “There are a lot of old, white, working-class pensioners, few middle-class university graduates and few minorities — in short a lot of people who like to vote for UKIP and relatively few of those who don’t,” Professor Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, said…

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Cracks in the Iranian facade

It's widely known that the wealthy in Iran are as a different from other classes as wealthy in any country. Does this cleavage indicate a division that the clerics and hardliners can no longer tolerate?

The 'rich kids of Tehran'
An Instagram account which appears to show Tehran's wealthy young elite living like their counterparts in the West has become a sensation in Iran.

If it wasn't for the Farsi number plates, you'd be forgiven for thinking the account belonged to a rich American living in sun-drenched Los Angeles. But this - apparently - is Tehran, the Iranian capital, where women are forbidden from going uncovered in public places, and alcohol is strictly forbidden.

Rich Kids of Tehran - a play on Rich Kids of Instagram - is a collection of photographs that appears to show the decadent lives of the city's gilded youth. Young women in bikinis lounge by deep blue swimming pools, while the men recline in supercars or slouch in front of tables stacked with liquor… while it is impossible to confirm where the alcohol has been photographed, it has been widely reported that drink is available to Iranians with deep pockets.
Iran newspaper on the Instagram account

The images have alarmed many in the country, and yesterday one Iranian newspaper ran pictures from the site under the headline: "The hidden lives of the rich." Most of the images are publicly available on what look like genuine Instagram accounts of the individuals in the photos.

It seems they do not fear repercussions from the Iranian authorities, who have been known to pursue other young people for engaging in subversive activities. Seven Iranians were recently issued with suspended sentences for uploading their own version of Pharrell Williams' music video Happy to YouTube.

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