Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Back to Russia's future

Elizabeth A. Wood, an MIT historian wrote the following for The Monkey Cage. She describes a dilemma that Putin finds himself in.

Political scientists, less sensitive about historians' labels, often describe this dilemma in terms of Slavophiles and Zapadniki. The Slavophiles, according to the political scientists are nationalistic champions of Russia's unique culture. The Zapadniki, often called Westernizers, argue that unless Russia updates its culture to be more like the rest of Europe, it will be at a significant disadvantage.

Dr. Wood would probably cringe at the use of those terms since there are specific 19th century historical examples described by them.

Nonetheless, these terms have shown up in this blog before.
See:


Putin in July (or the fight for Russia’s soul)
The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has put Vladimir Putin in a bind, evidence that he has unleashed forces in Eastern Ukraine that he cannot entirely control. But he may have also unleashed forces in Moscow, which, while still not very strong, are beyond his control. The liberal Russian intelligentsia, which has been grumbling for months on Facebook, now seems to be marshaling an all-out attempt to persuade the regime to change course…

Political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky described the split in the elites between what he calls the “global kleptocracy” and the nationalist one. Even leaving aside his use of the inflammatory term “kleptocracy,’ he makes it clear that Putin can no longer continue to sit on both chairs at once as the two elites are diverging. While the nationalists would be happy to return to a Soviet era with closed borders, the globalists have been quietly expressing their terror that Putin will make Russia a complete pariah in the international world.

The economists, including and especially Alexei Kudrin, are saying that sanctions would wreak havoc on economic growth in Russia… he has also said… that if the country has to re-arm to keep up with NATO, they could see a 15-20 percent decline in their standard of living. Both of these arguments were published in the official news agency ITAR-TASS, suggesting that they have the support of at least some major players in the Kremlin…

In Russia, rulers do not fall easily. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that Nikita Khrushchev fell in large measure because of his overextension into Cuba. In 1990-1991, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to maintain a delicate balancing act between westward-looking liberals and isolationist hardliners, an attempt that directly contributed to his downfall when the hardliners decided to overthrow him in the August coup.
In the end, the internationalists with Boris Yeltsin at their head were able to come to the fore, but it was the attempt to placate both sides that fatally weakened Gorbachev. In each of these cases (Tsar Nicholas, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev) public figures warned the rulers that they had overextended themselves. What the Kremlin leaders today will decide to do is anyone’s guess at this point, but it appears that Putin is once again in the spotlight within Russia as Russian elites themselves choose to focus on the dire consequences of continued war, even as much of the country succumbs to war hysteria.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

A pointed political joke

A British teacher of English in Liuzhou, China has written a blog titled Liuzhou Laowai (which translates roughly as alien in Liuzhou) since 2004. He says the blog "attempts to chronicle the more interesting, amusing, ridiculous or astonishing trivia of everyday life here… as seen from an irreverent expatriate’s point of view."

A recent post is, I think, a great joke.

Your task, if you choose to accept it, is to understand the political humor.

The caption: "China’s President Xi Jingping meets a communist for the first time in his life."



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Back to the "good" old days?

Those of us who have studied Chinese politics for a long time might see President Xi's campaign to personalize his power as more of the same old, same old.

However, William Wan, writing in the Washington Post, might be right that Xi's consolidation of power might look new to people who have more recently begun to examine Chinese politics. Wan's reminder is that this development is a return to an old theme of Chinese politics.

State media promoting China’s leader Xi with intensity unseen since Mao era
For decades, China has shunned the cult of personality, a result of the tumultuous years when Mao Zedong elevated his personal brand to mythic proportions.

But state worship of leaders appears to be making a comeback, according to a new study by University of Hong Kong media researchers. They say China’s state-controlled media have been promoting the image of President Xi Jinping with a frequency and intensity unseen since the Mao era.

The study comes as China experts and outside observers debate whether Xi is positioning himself to be a Mao-like strongman with a more firm grip than his predecessors over all levers of power. Or whether he is simply channeling the Communist Party’s desire for stronger action and control.

In the study… researchers examined the People’s Daily, the party’s flagship paper.

They compared its coverage of eight top party leaders… [and] focused on the first 18 months after each leader had taken power…

Among past leaders, Mao and Hua were mentioned most frequently, unsurprising given the fervent state leader worship during their time…

But when the chaos of the Cultural Revolution abated and Deng rose to power as the next paramount leader, he criticized the cult of personality and said it was not only unhealthy but also dangerous to build a country’s fate on the reputation of one man. In 1980, the party’s Central Committee issued directives for “less propaganda on individuals.” Party leaders have since continued to feature in propaganda and party-controlled newspapers but with less frequency and intensity.

According to [the] study, however, that trend against leader worship has eroded gradually over the years, with the change accelerating especially rapidly since Xi’s elevation in 2012…

[T]he numbers suggest an intensification in propaganda exalting China’s top leadership position…

Since Xi took control of the party in 2012, he has concentrated his power over almost every aspect of state affairs. In January, he became head of the newly formed national security commission. He leads six other Central Committee groups, personally overseeing overall government reform, cybersecurity, finance and military overhaul.
Shop offering Xi and Mao souvenirs
Xi has also launched the most severe anti-corruption campaign in decades. It has brought down high-ranking and low-level officials alike, including senior military officers and ministerial-level leaders.

Besides cementing his power within the party, there are signs that he is also tightening his control over civil society, especially on the ideological front…

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Terrorism in Nigeria moves west

Boko Haram's "home" territory is in the northeast corner of Nigeria. Kaduna, well-known as the home of the Nigerian Defense Academy and the focus of politically active military officers and retired officers, is further west. Some of those military figures lead the opposition to President Jonathan, so not everyone is convinced that this attack was the work of Boko Haram. If Boko Haram is shown to have been the attackers, it made the some very powerful enemies.

42 Are Killed in Bombings Aimed at Nigerian Figures
Bombs targeting two prominent Nigerians, a cleric and a leading politician, exploded in the northern city of Kaduna on Wednesday, killing at least 42 people but missing the intended victims, officials said.

Both Sheik Dahiru Bauchi and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler of Nigeria, have recently been critical of the violent Islamist sect Boko Haram and suspicion immediately fell on that group…

Kaduna is a major city of more than one million people. And Mr. Buhari, the leading figure in the main opposition party, and Mr. Bauchi each have millions of followers in the populous north…

Buhari's car
Mr. Buhari, who ruled Nigeria with an iron hand in the early 1980s and was later deposed in a coup, has since made a comeback as the leading opponent to Mr. Jonathan and is likely to be a candidate against him in next year’s election…

By striking at two leading figures in Nigerian public life, Boko Haram has shown its capacity to reach beyond its narrow base in the northeast and inject itself — violently — into the center of the country’s national discourse…

In a statement on Wednesday night, Mr. Jonathan denounced “the dastardly targeting of the prominent political and religious leaders by terrorists and enemies of the nation in an odious attempt to inflame passions.”

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Job opening in Massachusetts

Juliette Zener, who taught at Newton Country Day School for 20 years before taking a position at Belmont Hill, wants to help NCDS find a new faculty member.


24 July 2014

Newton Country Day School, an independent Catholic girls school in Newton, MA, has an immediate opening in its History Dept for an experienced educator who can teach both AP Comparative Government AND AP US Government.

Inquiries and CVs should be directed to Andrea LaZure (assistant to the Headmistress) at alazure@newtoncountryday.org

DO NOT inquire further here or submit information to the blog or to Juliette. We're just passing along the announcement.


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When, not if

Neal Ascherson, a Scottish journalist writing in The New York Times, says he'll vote for independence, but even if the coming referendum fails, Scotland is on the road to independence.

Scottish Independence Is Inevitable
ONE thing is certain: Whatever the outcome, this referendum campaign is changing Scotland irrevocably. Whether the Scots vote yes or no to independence on Sept. 18, their sense of what is possible for this small nation will have been transformed…

This referendum… dares the Scots to go the last mile: proposing an independent Scottish state within the European Union, sharing a monarch… and possibly a currency, with the rump of the old United Kingdom.

At this moment, a majority for independence looks unlikely…

But it’s the smell, taste and sound of this campaign that should warn us that, this time, a no vote will not be the end of the story. Scotland is changing as we watch…

Flag of Scotland
Where does this come from? In part, from economic confidence. Twenty years ago, postindustrial Scotland was dismissed as an economy shattered beyond repair. Now, even the British government and the “no” campaign admit that Scotland could survive and prosper and be a stable democracy on its own, given wise management of its North Sea oil wealth. The question is no longer “Can we?” It’s “Should we?”

The motives driving “yes” supporters are straightforward. Devolution… needs to be completed. The situation in which a Scottish government’s revenue comes as a block grant from London is irresponsible. The Edinburgh Parliament should be allowed to set and raise its own taxes.

British elections must no longer trample the will of the Scottish people: The Scots are solidly anti-Tory, returning just one Conservative M.P. to Westminster in the last three general elections, yet they are outweighed by southern English voters and regularly have to endure Conservative governments. Scotland should also be allowed to become a full member of the European Union, not a bolt-on to English interests.
Scottish currency

Add social welfare to those motives. In Britain, it’s not only Conservative-led governments but “New Labour” ones as well that now seem committed to Thatcherite economics, to the steady privatization of health, education and welfare. Most Scots hate this…

If Scottish “yes” reasoning is not hard to grasp, neither is Scottish “no” reasoning. Some of it is material: People are not convinced that their living standards would survive independence, and would like firmer promises about pensions and interest rates. Some of it is fear for the economic safety of Scotland, turned loose among the giant predators stalking a globalized world.

Some of it is emotional: a feeling that Scottish and English societies are so closely integrated now that separation (a word the S.N.P. never uses) would be absurd, even anachronistic…

The English media and many politicians explain the independence movement by claiming that the Scots are obsessed by “anti-English racism.” My own experiences tell me the exact opposite. Scots, these days, have almost forgotten about England, so fascinated are they by their own country. (This is sour news for the English, who can bear being hated but not being overlooked.)…

I shall vote yes this September. The campaign has already taught me that if we don’t make it with this third referendum, there will be a fourth. It’s time to rejoin the world on our own terms.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Imbalances affect stability

Mara Hvistendahl, a former comparative politics student, wrote a book (Unnatural Selection) about the "missing 100 million females" in Asia. The cause of the gender imbalance in China, India, and other countries is a preference for male children. Hvistendahl speculated about political, economic, and social changes that will come with these imbalances.

Perhaps she should have included Nigeria in her book as well. What affects might this imbalance have on Nigeria's politics, economy, and society?

Bring back the girls
SEX-SELECTIVE abortions are used round the world to discriminate in favour of boys. But not in Africa. Nigeria’s sex ratio at birth is the natural one…

Yet despite all this, a recent study* finds that Nigeria also suffers from sexual bias from birth and that, while this does not skew the sex ratio, it manifests itself in other ways that harm individuals and society as a whole. Son-preference damages maternal health, makes marriage trickier for women, increases polygamy and alters the institution of child-fostering, which is widespread in west Africa.

In Nigeria, as in many other African countries, men have stronger ownership rights over land than women do. This gives everyone an economic need for sons, including women, who face a grim widowhood without one… [W]omen whose first child is a daughter are likely to have more children than those whose first child is a son…

It also changes a woman’s married life. Women with first-born daughters are 1.2 percentage points more likely to end up in a polygamous union. Some husbands, it turns out, take another wife if their first child is a girl (polygamy is legal in northern Nigeria and recognised by customary law elsewhere). Men also seem more willing to abandon or divorce wives who produce a daughter…

Heading a household may sound like a good thing. But in Nigeria, as in most countries, female headship is associated with poverty. In fact, almost everything to do with having a daughter first is bad for women. Being in a polygamous household harms their health and their children’s because of competition for food in the home. Having children in quick succession damages maternal health, since mothers need time to recover after giving birth. The need to produce sons may also help explain Nigeria’s maternal-mortality rate of 550 deaths per 100,000 live births—one of the highest rates in the world, even though Nigeria is now a middle-income country…


* “Son preference, fertility and family structure”. By Annamaria Milazzo. World Bank. Working Paper 6869.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Linguistic cleavages

An illustration of the linguistic diversity of the UK. However, as a tone-deaf Yank, I have trouble distinguishing one from another in many of these short examples.

This performance does give us an idea of the diversity behind the facade of British uniformity. Do any of these accents represent political cleavages?



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Friday, July 18, 2014

Do you know...

who these people are?


 What BRICS is?

Chinese president proposes closer, more solid BRICS partnership
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday proposed a closer and more solid partnership among BRICS countries, as he delivered a speech at the sixth BRICS summit held here.

Besides Xi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Jacob Zuma also attended the summit held under the theme of "Inclusive growth: sustainable solutions."…

Xi stressed that BRICS countries, which express themselves concertedly and contribute their share to solving many major international and regional issues, are committed to boosting world economic growth, improving global economic governance and promoting the democratization of international relations.

They have become an important force in international relations and an active constructor of the international system, he said.

According to Xi, BRICS countries should carry forward the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, and develop a closer, more comprehensive and more solid partnership.

He urged to unswervingly push forward sustainable economic growth, adhere to inclusive growth, turn quantitive growth into qualitative growth, and coordinate economic development, social development and environmental protection…

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