Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chinese achievement gap

The educational achievement gap between racial/ethnic groups in the US is a political issue. The gap in China is between urban and rural students. It's also a political issue.

Down and out in rural China
In the past three decades China has made impressive gains in sending rural children to school. This has helped fuel its rise as a low-end manufacturing power. But the easy gains have been achieved. If the country is to create the “knowledge economy” it says it wants, the government will have to change the way rural teenagers are educated and schools in the countryside are funded.

Americans visit a Chinese middle school
Completion of junior middle-school has been compulsory since 1986. (Middle-school in China refers to the six years of education before university [7th - 12th grades in the US].) In big cities it is already the norm to finish the remaining three years, known as senior middle-school. In the countryside growing numbers are entering senior middle-school too, but it is far less common. In 1990 just 7% of rural students did so. Today the figure may be just over one-third. Even at the junior level (despite government figures suggesting full attendance), dropout rates are high: a study of rural students in four provinces found they ranged between more than one-sixth to nearly a third.

Some quit school because of the cost; in contrast to many other countries, the upper years charge for tuition. Senior middle-schools are often far away from villages, so students have to board. Including the cost of books, the bill for three years can easily amount to thousands of dollars—more than a year’s income for poorer rural families…

Tens of millions of rural workers have moved to urban areas since the 1990s. But China’s system of household registration, or hukou, makes it difficult for them to send their children to better-resourced and better-run middle-schools in the cities. Migrants often have no choice but to leave their children behind to be educated. A lack of parental supervision compounds many students’ difficulties…

China has set out to make education cheaper. In 2006 it began eliminating tuition and book fees for primary and junior middle-schools. But urban secondary schools still have much bigger budgets than rural ones…

The government encourages teachers to steer academic underachievers to vocational schools [which has]… helped to boost enrolment in such schools by nearly 50%… But vocational schools in rural areas, no less than their middle-school counterparts, are blighted by scant funding and poor-quality staff. Students still have to pay, hence richer ones enroll more than poorer ones… Many experts argue that providing more opportunity for students to stay in standard secondary schools would prepare them better for the workplace. But that would land the government with a huge new bill.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Imagine

Imagine a government which so lacks in transparency that a respected, mainstream newspaper speculates on presidential health and no one in the government will comment.

Jonathan Ill, Flown To Germany
Contrary to official claims that President Goodluck Jonathan travelled to Germany on a private visit, LEADERSHIP authoritatively gathered yesterday that the president actually took ill and left for Germany to seek medical care.

Jonathan
Efforts to get a confirmation from the Presidency failed up until the time of going to press, as several calls to his spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, did not go through and he didn’t respond to an email enquiry either…

Prior to his departure, presidential spokesman Abati had issued a terse statement saying the president would be making a private visit to Germany…

It was gathered that the president, on arrival in Germany, headed for a private hospital for medical check-up…

Before his sudden departure for Germany on Thursday, President Jonathan was billed to host members of the just-concluded National Conference to a dinner at the Presidential Villa, but the programme was cancelled at the dying minute.

Although no official reason was given for the cancellation, it was gathered that the development was connected with the president’s state of health which required urgent attention.

An authoritative source in the Presidency told LEADERSHIP that despite assurances that the president would return soon from his trip, it was not likely as his health situation was not too good. He said there was uneasy calm and anxiety in the Presidential Villa yesterday over the state of health of the president…

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Doesn't look like soft power to us

China's venture at using soft power to expand its influence is running into some resistance from those who don't see the efforts as "soft power."

TDSB votes to delay partnership with Beijing-backed Confucius Institute
Trustees of the Toronto District School Board [TDSB] have passed a motion to delay the rollout of Mandarin courses [offered by the Confucius Institute] to elementary students in September.

Trustees overwhelmingly voted for the delay on Wednesday evening, with three opposed. The vote followed heated debate among trustees of Canada’s largest school board…

Former TDSB chair Chris Bolton was the driving force behind the Confucius Institute…

Mr. Bolton resigned last Friday as chair and a trustee, citing personal reasons. Trustees elected his successor on Wednesday – vice-chair Mari Rutka…

Ms. Rutka told reporters the TDSB’s secretive agreement with the Chinese government is typical of the lack of openness. Many trustees had little idea what they were getting into when they approved the Confucius Institute, she said.

It was Ms. Rutka who tabled the motion to suspend the Confucius Institute to give trustees an opportunity to investigate concerns about censorship by the Chinese government…

More than 400 Confucius institutes operate worldwide, most in universities and colleges. The TDSB was the third school board in Canada to open an institute…

The institutes are seen as a global “soft-power” outreach effort by the Chinese government, funding foreign language and culture centres to foster good will.

Critics of the Confucius Institutes suggest there is another agenda. The American Association of University Professors is the latest group of educators to raise alarms about an organization whose instructors are trained to self-censor topics that are politically taboo in China…

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A partial explanation

Nigeria seems unable to produce electricity. Public utilities, subsidies to government agencies and private corporations have done little to make things better. Timi Soleye, a business consultant, offers this explanation.

However good and interesting it is, I have two problems with it. Nowhere in his explanation does he approach the problem of corruption. He doesn't even try to ask or answer the question of who walked off with the millions of dollars worth of public spending on power generation that have produced little more than concrete foundations of planned power plants. And, he claims, ironically, that Nigeria is the greenest country on earth because it generates so little electricity. He ought to take into account the pollution produced by the hundreds of thousands of small, diesel-powered generators used by people to produce their own electricity.

Why Nigeria Generates So Little Power
Nigeria is the greenest populous country in the world, but it is so entirely by accident. We fuel a population north of 170 million -- the seventh largest in the world -- on an available installed grid electricity generation capacity of fewer than 6GW…

[T]he average Nigerian, who uses 136KWH per year, consumes just 3 percent of the power of the average South African, 5 percent of the average Chinese citizen and, under a quarter of the average Indian…

In Nigeria only one in four have access to the grid, and of those that do only a small minority have supplies of electricity for more than a few hours a day. "Epileptic" power outages are characteristic of a sector starved of investment: first as a state-owned monopoly and now, following privatization, from poorly conceived price controls and private regional distribution monopolies that have scared away necessary capital, impeded competition and discouraged new entrants to the market…

The newly established Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading plc (NBET) is now the sole purchaser of power from the national grid. It would seem its only purpose is to obstruct development in the power sector. The NBET fixes the price at which power is sold and the internal rate of return (IRR) for power projects.

If we baked bread like we generate power then we'd starve…

This means that in Nigeria the majority of electricity is generated by expensive small private diesel and petrol generators, and if a household cannot afford a generator they go without. Ironically then fixing the price and profitability of power does not just create shortfalls in supply but, in aggregate, results in some of the most expensive electricity in the world; which most Nigerian's can scarcely afford…

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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Nigerian disaster

If confirmed by later news, this is a major "defeat" for the Nigerian army.

Global Security, an authoritative source of military information, says that "Nigeria's military is the largest in West Africa, but is significantly less capable than its size and equipment inventory would indicate."

Boko Haram crisis: Nigerian troops 'flee into Cameroon'
Some 480 Nigerian soldiers have fled into Cameroon following fierce fighting with Boko Haram militants, Cameroon's army has said.

[Cameroon] army spokesman Lt Col Didier Badjek said the soldiers had been disarmed and were now being accommodated in schools.

Clashes are said to be continuing in the border town of Gamboru Ngala…

Last week, a group of soldiers refused to follow orders to go and fight Boko Haram, saying the militants were better equipped...

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How do silent majorities express themselves?

Politicians of all stripes claim the support of silent majorities. And who can dispute that when there is silence?

In the Hong Kong dispute, understanding the version described by the state media requires that you understand other viewpoints as well. This statement by the government-run news agency certainly isn't held together by internal logic. The CNN description of the opposing point of view seems pretty objective.

Commentary: Voice of silent majority showcases value of rationality, rule of law
Nearly 120,000 people in Hong Kong joined a Sunday parade as the final stage of the Peace and Democracy movement opposing Occupy Central and supporting a peaceful and legitimate way to determine how the region's next chief executive would be elected through universal suffrage…

[T]his is a strong voice uttered by the majority of citizens living in the international financial center who usually remained silence on political issues and fixed their attentions in their own businesses…

[A] few people instigated a movement calling on citizens to occupy Central, Hong Kong's iconic heart for financial and political facilities, if the election of the next chief executive by universal suffrage is not "consistent with accepted international standards."

No matter what attitude toward Occupy Central movement he or she holds, such an idea has planted a society-tearing concept that could eventually drive Hong Kong into chaos and depression.

Opinion of the silent majority should not be kidnapped by a handful of people. So, they stepped forward Sunday and told the extremists that any action or proposal violating the laws, such as occupying Central and civil nomination for chief executive candidates, are not popular in Hong Kong.

Occupying Central, as rehearsed by some young citizens on July 2 early morning at Charter Garden, could paralyze Hong Kong's core businesses, bring billions of dollars economic loss and frighten thousands of overseas tourists.

It could not threaten the central government and could bring nothing to Hong Kong's constitutional reform but breaking the laws.

The constitutional reform in Hong Kong should not be a zero-sum game. Negotiation and consultation under the Basic Law and the top legislature's decisions will help different social parties reach consensus, which is the only way that could lead the region to future democracy and prosperity…

Hong Kong's Occupy Central democracy 'referendum' -- What you should know
Nearly 800,000 Hong Kongers have done something China's 1.3 billion people can only dream of: cast a ballot to demand a democratic government.

In an unofficial referendum organized by pro-democracy activists and denounced by Chinese authorities, 787,767 people in the city of more than seven million have called for the right to directly elect their next leader.

But Beijing has insisted Hong Kong politics stays in line with Chinese rule, paving the way for a showdown in the city.

Occupy Central is a pro-democracy group founded in 2013. Their goal is to allow the Hong Kong public to elect its next leader without strings attached.

If the Hong Kong government doesn't eventually give the public more voting rights, Occupy Central has threatened to "occupy" Central district, the city's financial hub, with a sit-in that would disrupt businesses and block traffic.

A few weeks ago, the Chinese government released a strongly-worded white paper that said Hong Kong does not have "full autonomy" and asserted that ultimate power over the city lay with Beijing. But many pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong see this as a violation of "one country, two systems."

Currently, Hong Kong's leader, known as the chief executive, is elected by a small committee. In 2012, this committee selected Leung Chun-ying, a staunch Beijing choice, who remains in power today.

The Hong Kong government has promised residents they will be able to vote for their own leader by 2017, but here's the catch: Beijing says it will only allow candidates who "love China."

Occupy Central responded by organizing an unofficial city-wide referendum, which asked people to choose between three ways to reform Hong Kong's voting system. All three plans proposed that candidates be nominated publicly, regardless of whether the candidates have Beijing's blessing…

Organizers had expected only 100,000 votes for what was originally just a two-day voting period. The final tally of valid ballots cast came to 787,767, with 42% going towards a proposal from the Alliance for True Democracy that said candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive should be nominated by the public, and conditions such as requiring candidates to "love China, love Hong Kong" should not be allowed.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Behind the stated reasons…

Would anyone accept a wager that the real reason behind the Russian government's pressures on McDonald's in that country have more to do with international relations than concern for public health?

Russia watchdog shuts four McDonald's in Moscow
Russia's main consumer watchdog has temporarily shut four McDonald's restaurants in Moscow as part of an investigation into food standards.

Watchdog Rospotrebnadzor claimed the restaurants had breached "numerous" sanitary laws…
The watchdog also announced checks at McDonald's in the Urals, in central Russia, said the Itar-Tass news agency.

The Moscow closures and the unscheduled Urals checks come amid rising tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in the Ukraine…

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The sniping goes on

Conservatives "slap the hand" of the Iranian president. He doesn't seem too concerned.

Minister Seen as Pro-Western Is Ousted in Rebuke to the President
Parliament dismissed Iran’s science minister on Wednesday over his supposed support for pro-Western voices at universities, dealing a blow to moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
The no-confidence vote… reflected conservative lawmakers’ frustration over his support for teachers seen as pro-Western or those involved in opposition rallies after the disputed 2009 election…
Mr. Rouhani was out of town but showed his support before the vote by calling Mr. Dana a “polite and knowledgeable minister.”

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The see-saw version of history

My students have heard me say many times that comparative politics is not history; it's an analysis of what's going on now. Then they'll hear me explain the historic origins of some bit of political culture or practice. As I say in my review book, comparative politics is rife with ambiguity. Students must learn to tolerate and appreciate it.

Sergey Kuznetsov, a Russian author, tries to explain Russian politics in a historical framework. Historians, feel free to add your comments on his historiography. Nonetheless, Kuznetsov offers sort of testable hypotheses (if we're patient), and that makes his explanation more a social scientific commentary.

A Choice Between Boredom and Blood
I was born in Russia at the dawn of the Brezhnev era…
Brezhnev

The world of my childhood was quiet and secure. There were no unemployed, beggars or homeless — or maybe I just never met them. There was no Coca-Cola or McDonald’s — but no one was starving, either. Of course, the TV and newspapers were filled with state propaganda, but we tuned it out, the way our children tune out annoying ads.

The world of my Soviet childhood didn’t look like a totalitarian dystopia or the threshold of a gulag. It was just boring…

Really, I hated it all. I sensed a big lie. I was sure that there was hidden terror under the surface of everyday life. There had to exist zones of violence and chaos — I knew this even before I heard about the prison camps and political repression.

And then Brezhnev died and the chaos I had always suspected rose to the surface. The Soviet Union collapsed, and the ’90s became a frightening decade of gangsters, corruption and poverty…

Shelling the Duma, 1993

My generation, which had been on its way to living the boring lives of state employees, was enchanted. An underground punk group sang, “We left our melancholy in the past to turn Moscow into Beirut!” and a young journalist, commenting on the bloody conflicts in October 1993 that followed Yeltsin’s attempt to dissolve the legislature, marveled, “I had never expected to see Russian tanks shoot at the Russian Parliament!” …

In the ’90s, we discovered that Russian history is cyclical. A phase of boring bureaucracy is replaced by a phase of chaos and violence. So Stalin came to power after the Russian Civil War, and Brezhnev’s boring ’70s replaced the dramatic ’60s…

Putin
By the end of the ’90s, many of us regretted the excitement we had once felt. Everyone was tired of anarchy. Even teenagers had come to appreciate family values and stability. This mood helped Vladimir V. Putin rocket to power in the Kremlin. He resurrected the Soviet culture of our childhoods, with old hymns and state propaganda on TV. Of course, political repression and persecution soon followed.

Brezhnev had been the head of the Soviet Union for 18 years. Mr. Putin has ruled Russia for nearly 15. It’s time to turn the wheel of Russian history once again. The anti-Putin rallies of 2011-12 were the first reminder of this; the Ukrainian Maidan revolution was the second. My guess is that Mr. Putin’s sincere fear of this cycle is one of the reasons for the current war…

Chaos at the margins can make a repressive system stronger. However, the system has to up the ante in order to maintain itself. This time, the zone of lawlessness is bigger than ever. Instead of risking his own Maidan revolution in Red Square, Mr. Putin has exported Russia’s Chechnya-style chaos to the southeast of Ukraine…

Now I see that the choice between boredom and chaos is only the tool that corrupt rulers use to save their regimes. I hope that Russia can escape from this deadly cycle in time to avoid new victims, inside and outside.

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