Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Help for a colleague

Mr. Comparative, asked at the online discussion site, "Does anyone happen to have outlines for Comparative Politics Today: A world View 8th edition? The outlines I have are useless."

You can respond directly in the pedagogy forum or you can add a comment here.


Nigeria voter registration

al Jazeera reports that voter registration was extended again and that incentives were being offered to registrants.

Nigeria vote registration extended

"Nigeria's electoral agency has extended, by three days, the registration of voters for the upcoming April presidential and general elections due to an 'unusual turnout'...

"The decision follows widespread complaints that thousands of eligible voters had not yet registered.

"Registration was first extended by two months after it got off to a slow start in October because of a dearth of registration machines and problems operating them.

"An estimated 53 million Nigerians have registered to vote in April elections and that figure will rise after full results of the registration process are collated, the head of the INEC said on Tuesday...

"About 35 million people voted in the last presidential election...

"In the past few days the Nigerian authorities have offered a series of incentives, such as days off work for public servants, to encourage potential voters to sign up.
"Some state authorities have threatened to deprive citizens who do not sign up of access to basic social services such as healthcare and schooling..."

The April vote is being billed as the first transition in Nigeria's history, long punctuated by military coups, from one democratically elected civilian administration to another.

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Lords gate?

The hero who offered relief from the Thatcher-Major governments a decade ago, has fallen from his pedestal. Between the public's opposition to his support for the war in Iraq and the growing evidence of a fund raising scandal, he may be retiring sooner than he'd planned. The first report comes from the Washington Post. It's followed by a BBC "Q&A" on the "peerages affair," the Tory leader's press release saying Blair should step down now, and the press release from Blair's likely successor urging patience as the facts are made public.

It all raises questions about the growing cost of campaigning in the UK and the political pressures faced by governments these days.

Blair Ally Arrested in Corruption Probe

"The chief fundraiser for Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of hampering a police investigation into whether the party offered seats in the House of Lords and other government honors in exchange for cash.

"Michael Levy, a close friend of Blair's and special envoy to the Middle East, was arrested on 'suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.' He was released on bail and has not been charged with a crime...

"Many people here see the new charge as more significant than last summer's because it suggests an effort by people close to Blair to hide an offense...

"Appointed seats in the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, could be offered to donors with only a 'wink, nod and a handshake,' Knox said. But he said it might be much easier for police to discover that e-mails or other documents had been destroyed or hidden in an effort to thwart the investigation...

"In all, four people have been arrested in a burgeoning scandal that has made Blair the first sitting prime minister to be questioned by police in a criminal inquiry...

"The cash-for-honors scandal, as it is known here, has increased public disillusionment with Blair...

"Scotland Yard has said it is conducting a 'cross-party investigation,' and all major political parties are widely thought to have acted similarly with major donors.

"But the scandal has damaged Blair and his party more because they are in power. In addition, Blair promised to end the sleaze associated with former prime minister John Major's Conservative Party, which he trounced in an election a decade ago..."

Q&A: Cash for peerages affair

"Police are investigating whether cash has been donated to political parties in exchange for peerages. All involved deny any wrongdoing. Here is our guide to the affair..."

'Time to go' Cameron tells Blair

"David Cameron has told Tony Blair that it is in the 'national interest' for him to quit now as prime minister..."

Brown: Wait for facts on honours

"Gordon Brown has urged people to wait until the 'full facts' of the police cash-for-honours inquiry are known..."

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Factors contributing to material success in China

Pallavi Aiyar, the China correspondent for The Hindu, wrote an article for Asia Times Online that offers a detailed view of the economic success of a few people in China. I have seen accounts of other villages like the one profiled here, but none as rich in details.

I'd like my students to identify elements of the political culture of Huaxi that are also important in the country as a whole by finding examples of things like guanxi and local control in other, perhaps broader cases.

How a village went from rags to Rolls-Royces

"Row after row of two-story mansions, with shingled roofs, stucco walls and the occasional mock-Tudor turret. A picture-perfect slice of American suburbia, except only a few meters to the south of this idyll, the smokestacks of steelworks belch out black vaporous clouds.

"This is the quixotic world of what is officially China's richest village, Huaxi - a community whose enterprises collectively earned 40 billion yuan (US$5 billion) in sales last year. Every one of Huaxi's 400 families lives in a 600-square-meter home, owns at least two cars and has assets worth a million yuan. The average per capita income of the 2,000 villagers is $10,000 a year, almost 50 times that of the average Chinese farmer...

"At the helm the village is the 80-year-old former party secretary Wu Renbao, who is credited with more or less single-handedly having steered Huaxi's people out of rags and into Rolls-Royces. Once reviled as a capitalist-roader for his pro-business leanings, today Wu is hailed by China's authorities as a model worker, and Huaxi is upheld as an example of what Beijing means by its recent vow to build a 'new socialist countryside'...

"During the Cultural Revolution (1966-77), a time when 'money' was a dirty word, he disregarded the established orthodoxy and started up a machine-parts factory...

"He cackles in pure glee when he recalls what he terms his 'secret factory' and how whenever county officials came to visit the village, he would quickly send away the workers to till the fields, bringing them back to the factory once the officials had left...

"After China embarked on its economic reforms, Wu once again bucked the nationwide trend and, instead of dividing up village land and handing it over to individual households for farming, he decided to keep the land communal. His focus, however, was away from agriculture and toward developing industry.

"'I have always been a good communist,' says Wu, 'because I have always served the people and tried to make everyone happy and rich.' He adds, 'I believe in practice, not theory, and in learning what's best for my village from facts rather than theoretical formulations.'

"Wu's manner is folksy... Dressed in simple peasant garb, at odds with the flashy surroundings of the gleaming pagoda-style hotel in which the interview takes place...

"But over the years several Chinese commentators have pointed out that Wu's disarming charm hides a canny and even ruthless politician who is probably better connected than his rustic appearance reveals. Indeed, despite repeatedly flouting central party directives, Wu never lost his job and Huaxi's enterprises were able to grow quickly...

"The concept of 'ownership' in Huaxi is complex. Villagers earn a small salary in cash from the company they work for, but the majority of their wealth comes from a substantial bonus and the dividends from their stock... Despite being millionaires on paper, the villagers are in fact only allowed to receive a total of 30,000 yuan a year in cash, including salary and dividends...

"Wu says the secret of Huaxi's success lies in his agnosticism toward different ideological 'isms'.

"'What is capitalism? What is communism? The only "ism" I believe in is making people rich,' he laughs. Then more seriously, "'Everything has its good points and bad points. Our villagers get dividends from shares, that's capitalist. They also get free health care and education, which is communist. Moreover, they get a salary and bonus, which is socialist. We just take the best and reject the worst of everything.'

"But Wu misses out another 'ism', one that he has also been accused of - feudalism. Huaxi is in many ways a Wu family fiefdom... The village's top posts are peppered with Wu's relatives...

"The 'Huaxi way of life' that Wu insists all villagers must follow is a strictly regimented one. Villagers are in bed by 10pm and up by 6am. Few have weekends off and nightlife is prohibited lest it distract people from their jobs. 'We don't allow people to be lazy here,' says Wu. 'The only people with freedom are the jobless, and we don't want that kind of freedom here.'

"Not that the villagers themselves appear to be complaining. Almost none choose to leave and thousands of others are lining up to enter..."

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Discouraging political competition in Russia

From the perspective of many outside observers, political events over the last couple years in Russia have been anti-democratic signs of centralization. Those observers are likely to take careful note of the recent events in St. Petersburg, as reported here by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. However, a protest by 100 people outside the Kremlin doesn't seem like much competition when Nashi can turn out 70,000 people wearing Santa suits for a demonstration.

Opposition Yabloko Barred From St. Petersburg Poll

"The decision to bar Yabloko from upcoming elections in Russia's second city met with dismay from liberals.

"Chanting 'Return elections to the people!' and 'Down with the police state,' some 100 demonstrators gathered outside the Kremlin on January 29 to protest the decision to bar the party from running in St. Petersburg's next Legislative Assembly elections, slated for March 11.

"Russia's Central Election Commission ruled that nearly 12 percent of the signatures submitted in support of Yabloko's candidates are invalid -- more than the maximum 10 percent allowed...

"The head of the party's St. Petersburg branch, Maksim Reznik, says the ban is revenge for Yabloko's consistent opposition to St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin...

"Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin told Reuters that his party is also coming under fire for lobbying against a plan by state-run gas monopoly Gazprom to build a 300-meter tower in St. Petersburg, a city renowned for its classical architecture...

"Political analysts say the ban could be part of a broader Kremlin campaign to sideline rivals ahead of key parliamentary elections in December 2007 and presidential elections in 2008.

"Once a leading political force, Yabloko has lost most of its clout under Putin's tenure.

"It has lost all seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, which is now dominated by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. But it has managed to retain seats in a number of local legislatures, including in St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly..."

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Evaluating sources

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a U.S. news gathering source, and as such we should expect it to report on the political problems of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. The disagreements and criticisms are real, but there's no hint in this article about how significant they are.

It would be helpful, for instance, to know more about the "Iranian dailies Ayande-yi No and Etemad. " I'd hope my students would ask things like,
  • "Where are they published?"
  • "How do their circulations compare to other Iranian dailies?"
  • "Who owns and publishes them?"
  • "How do their editorial positions place them in the spectrum of Iranian politics?"
  • "What prominent candidates for public office have they supported?"

Rift Emerging Between President And Clerics

"The Iranian dailies Ayande-yi No and Etemad have commented this month on increasingly fragile relations between theologians in Qom -- Iran's main center of religious studies -- and the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose populist manner has not proved entirely palatable to clerics concerned with public morals and political stability.

"Ayande-yi No noted on January 15 that the 'roots' of the differences are mainly 'cultural,' but observers have warned that this estrangement could cost the government a lot of public support. Both dailies cited several episodes since Ahmadinejad's election in mid 2005 that have apparently undermined relations.

"One was his decision in April 2006 to allow women into sports stadiums to watch soccer games in mixed crowds...

"Another incident was the president's presence in Doha at the opening of the Asian Games in December, where he reportedly witnessed displays that included dancing women...

"Another, undated incident cited was the reported attendance by Vice President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai at a private party in Turkey, where again there was dancing..."

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A rough road to devolution

The Washington Post reported today on the difficulties of devolution in Northern Ireland. The obstacles are the religious cleavages of Northern Ireland. The article included some subdued optimism for progress.

Your students could find this a good example of the role political leadership plays in politically evolving cases (in this case, Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams). You could ask them to compare this leadership example to those of China in the 1980s, Iran in the '80s, Russia in the 1990s and Nigeria since the '90s.

Britain Closes Northern Ireland Assembly

"Britain shut down Northern Ireland's legislature Tuesday and planned a new election to determine the fate of power-sharing, the central goal of the peace accord for this British territory. The closure of the Northern Ireland Assembly -- a 108-member body elected in 2003 but which failed to form an administration -- will permit Protestant and Catholic parties to campaign for stronger mandates in a March 7 election.

"The governments of Britain and Ireland want the next assembly to form a Catholic-Protestant coalition a week later. Britain would hand over control of most Northern Ireland departments March 26 -- a deadline that both governments insist must be met, otherwise the assembly will be closed again the next day...

"An experts' report also being published Tuesday documents the deepening commitment to peace of the Irish Republican Army since 2005, when the group disarmed and officially abandoned its decades-old goal of overthrowing Northern Ireland by force...

"The last coalition collapsed in 2002 over arguments about the IRA's future. Since then, Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley has stressed he will cooperate only after Sinn Fein accepts British law and order...

"Paisley did concede that the Sinn Fein move was significant because the once-revolutionary party was accepting the legitimacy of Northern Ireland and its institutions..."

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Global influences on Russian choices

Russia's delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland is larger and includes more high level officials than in the past few years. New York Times reporter Alan Cowell writes that the politics of global energy have much to do with that.

Russia Turns to Spin to Redefine Itself and Reassure the West

"Russia's elite players came to the World Economic Forum high in the Swiss Alps with a mission. At a meeting as much about posturing and politics as it is about business and trade, Moscow’s emissaries were here to say loudly that their country was not the bully its detractors depicted it to be..."

Cowell reports that the Russians faced a seemingly-standardized list of questions:

"Yet, at virtually every encounter with Western reporters, academics and business analysts here, the Russian leaders have encountered skepticism and the same series of questions: Is Russia a reliable trading partner? Is its widening state control of the energy business a threat to Russia’s avowed commitment to free markets and to foreign investors doing business inside Russia? Is Russian investment outside the country, equally, a threat to the steel, telecommunications and other companies that Russian executives have sought to invest in? And has the Kremlin moved back toward the centralized power that has dominated much of Russia’s history from the time of the czars to the Communists?"

A couple of the things our students need to consider is how the Russian government answers those questions and whether the questions themselves have any influence on the policy choices that Putin and the rest of the elite make. Does that begin to sound like a short paper topic?

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Seats of Power

The site of executive power in a regime usually has a name. That name is frequently synonymous with the government and/or regime. It's tempting to use characteristics of the seat of power to describe the characteristics of the regime or government - especially when those characteristics reinforce preconceived ideas about the regime. We have to be careful about giving into those temptations, but discussing the limits of those analogies with your students might be a valuable way to review regime characteristics.

The White House in Washington, D.C. is the seat of executive power in the U.S. It's much more than a residence for the U.S. president. Its East and West Wings as well as the Old Executive Office Building house offices of the presidential and White House staffs. The White House is a tourist attraction and, in spite of recent security modifications, it's a very public place. Its accessibility and visibility symbolize values most Americans honor.

Similarly, 10 Downing Street is the residence and central office of the British Prime Minister. The adjacent "houses" (11 and 12 Downing Street) contain a variety of government offices and meeting spaces. "Downing Street" and "No. 10" are often used to identify the government. Like the White House, Downing Street is protected from the public and from terrorism, but it's still a visible public place. In that way it represents values of the British political culture.

These centers of power differ considerably from those in other countries.

Take Moscow's Kremlin. Originally, it was a walled Medieval city on the banks of the Moscow River. After the 1917 revolution, the government and many of the top leaders moved into the Kremlin.

During the Cold War, Kremlinologists were Western experts in academia, journalism, and the intelligence services who tried to divine what was going on behind the opaque walls of the Kremlin from secondary evidence. As Putin's government looks less and less transparent and democratic, journalists are using "Kremlin" once again to describe the Russian government. Those Kremlin walls represented the lack of transparency in the Soviet regime and the separation of the government from the people. These days, the old meanings seem once again apt.

Similarly, Zhongnanhai, headquarters and residence for the leadership and government in China, is behind impenetrable walls. It's a huge area west of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was originally built in the 10th and 11th centuries as a pleasure spot for the emperor. Later it was the center of municipal government. After the 1949 revolution Party leaders and ministries moved into Zhongnanhai.

While the Kremlin now welcomes limited tours for visitors, Zhnongnanhai is still off limits to the public. Even China Central Television only broadcasts from inside the government buildings in Zhongnanhai. You can, however, look at photographs of Zhongnanhai at Google Earth. Those aerial photographs don't do much to make Chinese policy making more transparent. The walls, like those of the Kremlin, symbolize a separation of the government and the people.

Los Pinos is the Mexican president's official residence. It's located in Chapultepec Park in the center of Mexico City. It's on city maps, but it's a secure area. I could only find one photograph of Los Pinos with a Google image search, and the caption on that photo was "The seldom-seen grounds of Los Pinos." This seat of power is more visible than the Kremlin and Zhongnanhai, but it's symbolically separated from the populace by elegance and affluence.

The Villa at Aso Rock is the residence of the Nigerian president. A blogger wrote, "For my unfamiliar readers, Aso Rock is a phrase used to describe the seat of power in Nigeria. It is derived from the name of an igneous rock, which shields the residential/official quarters of the president and his closest aides." The rock, I should add, is 400 meters high. Aso Rock shields more than the quarters of the leadership. There are government buildings and military barracks in The Villa's compound.

I couldn't find even one photograph of The Vila in search of Google and Yahoo! images. The Villa isn't mentioned on the official web site of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The Villa isn't on any maps I could read. (There was a city map online, but the words were too small to read. Have you been there to tell us where Aso Rock Villa is?) Maybe invisibility is as good as guarded walls. It certainly sets the government apart from the people and maybe total transparency is as good as opacity. What message might that communicate about policy making in Nigeria?

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

So much for democratization

eXile is the home-grown Russian equivalent of the US' Onion. In other words it's satire. And often satire with the bite of truth. There's a long tradition of political satire in Russia. Krokodil was founded in the early years of the Soviet Union and published until 1990.

eXile, as far as I know, is a post-Soviet publication, with an online version in English. I first found it online during the Yeltsin years, when it published baseball-like trading cards of Russian political leaders.

In its 2006 year end issue, it featured an article, looking like a college course catalog, describing the "courses" which Russia offered the rest of the world in '06. What bits of Russian political culture and politics could your students pull out of this attempt at serious humor?

One example was SUBJECT: Civics 5

"Course Description: Remember all those Western-backed NGOs that popped up in this part of the world as soon as the Soviet Union fell? You know, because they were designed to give Russia 'non-biased' and 'non-profit' advice to gently guide it along a path to a democratic society by providing a non-partisan counterbalance to red-Soviet/Stalinist inbred ways? The same NGOs which formed the backbone of every 'Color Revolution' (see 'Fingerpainting 121' above) are now consigned to the bone yard.

"Russia is and has always been the undefeated intelligence-gathering/disinformation champion of the world. Do they think that disguising Western spy nests with harmless sounding names and giving them democratic-sounding missions, like Amnesty International or the British Council, can fool the ever-vigilant Russian intelligence services?

"Unfazed at being labeled 'increasingly authoritarian,' Russia enacted legislation giving it the power to shut down foreign-funded NGOs at will. And shut 'em down they will! Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev said it straight: 'Foreign NGO's are being used to spy on Russia.' And just to rub it in, Russia humiliated the MI6 by publicly broadcasting surveillance footage of a British diplomat kicking an electronic 'rock.' What were you guys thinking?"

Friday, January 26, 2007

Guanxi and ethics

Many textbooks make a point of emphasizing the Chinese version of patron-client politics by describing the importance of connections (guanxi) in moving upward in one of the Chinese bureaucracies. (It should sound familiar no matter what country you're studying.)

According to this article in Xinhua, the government sees guanxi as a potential source of corruption. (That, too, should sound familiar.)

If so much sounds familiar, how well can your students describe the patron-client networks in the countries they're studying?

China to curb nepotism by investigation of cadres' families

"China's Ministry of Justice is to launch an extensive investigation of the employment of government cadres' spouses and children this year in an effort to curb nepotism.

"Government officials in leading posts will be ordered to report and register jobs of their spouses and children, and any unfairly preferential job arrangements shall be corrected immediately, the ministry announced on Monday.

"The ministry will also intensify supervision so as to prevent cadres' families and relatives from being offered special favors in jobs that benefit them illegally...

"Officials are also prohibited from taking senior posts in the CCP committee, government, court and prosecuting organs of the county and prefecture in which they are born and grew up, according to the regulation.

"Checking nepotism is part of the ministry's effort to curb corruption this year, according to sources at a teleconference among justice departments.

"The ministry will also target government cadres who take advantage of their posts to buy apartments much cheaper than market prices or occupy houses and cars on 'loan'...

"The ministry would also strengthen investigations into abuse of power, especially the abuse of judicial power.

"Efforts would also be focused on cheating in tenders for government-funded projects, selling land at below market prices, investing in the development of mines, as well as concealing, privately sharing, transferring or cheaply selling state capital during the restructuring and reform of state-owned enterprises, the ministry said."

Guanxi, An Important Chinese Business Element from the Los Angeles Chinese Learning Center

Guanxi: The China Letter

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rule of Law in Mexico

The Miami Herald reprinted a Los Angeles Times story by Times editor Denise Dresser.

How would your students evaluate the thesis in Dresser's article?

Calderón's risky war on drug trafficking

"Who would have thought that Felipe Calderón, Mexico's mild-mannered, wonkish and uncharismatic president, would morph into an action hero? Clad in military fatigues, at the helm of an increasingly active and visible army, Calderón has declared an all-out war against Mexico's two main scourges: drug trafficking and the organized-crime networks it has spawned. This is a bold move and one fraught with risk. If Calderón wins, he will strengthen his presidency and ensure Mexico's long-term stability and national security. If he loses, he could imperil both...

"He must prove that he can establish the authority many Mexicans believe he didn't gain legitimately and use it to govern in an effective way...

"This will not be easy... Cocaine traffickers spend as much as $500 million on bribery, which is more than double the budget of the Mexican attorney general's office...

"In the face of police corruption, Calderón has turned to the military to take on the anti-drug effort... As a result of its expanded role, the military is becoming the supreme authority -- in some cases the only authority -- in parts of some states...

"Over the last decade, Mexico's transition to democratic rule has cast a glaring light on the country's limited rule of law. Often judges, prosecutors and state officials have been unable to withstand the corrupting influence of the drug trade...

"So, while Calderón's efforts are to be applauded, they must also be accompanied by comprehensive measures that entail more than soldiers on the streets and photo-ops of the president dressed in olive green. The prospects for a stable, less insecure Mexico will be contingent on Calderón's capacity to enact a major overhaul of the country's judiciary and law-enforcement apparatus. In other words, he needs to fight not only drug traffickers but the political networks that protect them..."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Economics and Politics

The bloggers at China Law Blog describe what most comparative politics students should recognize as a given. It's still worth emphasizing for the young people who are just beginning the course.

Structural adjustment has political ramifications and politics affects the process of economic restructuring, but politics is politics. Economic considerations may be part of the political calculus when policies are made, but there aren't any places where Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is the dominant concern. (What else would you expect from political scientists?)

In any case, here is the reminder from the lawyers at China Law Blog:

China Business: Power Trumps Economics

"[My] co-blogger... and I recently engaged in a long e-mail discussion with a company that contacted us wanting to start a business in China that is forbidden to foreign companies...

"[We] would explain that what the company was proposing is prohibited in China.  The company would respond by noting how good its business would be for China's economy... [and] would then talk about how difficult it would be for the government to shut down a business that was doing so much to help so many Chinese businesses...

"China's Communist Party does want to see China's economy expand, but... [f]aced with a choice between allowing a foreign company to conduct business in China that will expand the economy, while at the same time presenting a real challenge to the supremacy of the Party, China will forsake the economy every time.  Power will trump the economy every time.

"And this should not be a surprise, because this is pretty much true (to varying degrees) of every government in the world... it is certainly true of present day Russia, where the government seems much more interested in controlling its oil production, than in maximizing it...

"China is very interested in expanding its economic pie, but not so interested that one can analyze its actions strictly by using an economic model.  Applying a strict economic model to Chinese government decisions regarding something as fundamentally economic as foreign business could prove mistaken.  Using such a model as the basis for believing an illegal foreign business will eventually be allowed in China could prove disastrous.  Not saying it could never happen... but I am saying the odds are heavily stacked against it."

[For more on Russia and the kind of argument based on economic and not political logic see Russia Kills the Oily Goose and the article from the American Enterprise Institute on which it's based, Russia’s Oil Woes, "Moscow’s attachment to statist economic policy is undermining its bid for global energy dominance... By re-nationalizing its energy sector, Putin’s regime is slaying its largest golden goose."]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Devolution to Independence

Devolution is one thing. Dissolution is something else. Where will the British draw the line? The BBC and the Guardian (UK) reported on the issues.

SNP campaign

"On Tuesday [today] it will be 300 years since the Anglo-Scots Union was passed through the Scottish Parliament.

"The anniversary of the new country of Great Britain falls on May 1st - just two days before Scots go to the polls to decide the makeup of the Scottish parliament.

"The SNP, which has long declared that independence is on the horizon is hoping to replace Labour as the largest party..."

Break-up of Union will sell both sides short

"With the 300th anniversary of parliamentary union, and four months to go until elections to the Edinburgh parliament, the question of Scottish independence is very much alive.

"Public opinion gives a mixed picture: the Scottish National Party is doing well - several surveys have suggested it could win a majority in the Holyrood parliament in May - but polls last week suggest more Scots are in favour of the union than are against it..."

UK's existence is at risk - Brown

"The identity of the United Kingdom is threatened by an 'opportunist group of nationalists', Gordon Brown has warned.

"The chancellor told the Fabian Society that some groups were 'playing fast and loose' with the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"He said the UK was a country 'built on shared values' which served as a 'model for the rest of the world'...

"'It is very important to recognise that Britishness and Britain itself is not based on ethnicity and race,' he said. 'It is founded on shared values that we hold in common: a commitment to liberty for all, a commitment to social responsibility shown by all, and a commitment to fairness to all.'

"He said there was now a dividing line in Britain which pitted 'those of us who are prepared to support the shared values of the union' against 'those who are prepared to play fast and loose with the union and put the whole future of the union at risk'...

"Earlier, he had written an article in the Daily Telegraph where he criticised the Conservatives for siding with the nationalists over constitutional issues.

"In it he warned: 'It is now time for supporters of the union to speak up, to resist any drift towards a Balkanisation of Britain and to acknowledge Great Britain for the success it has been and is.'

"He attacked today's Conservatives for embracing 'anti-unionist positions' in collusion with nationalists - contrasting them with Lady Thatcher's determined support for the union.

"Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the chancellor was right to highlight the 'Faustian bargain' between the nationalists and the Tories.

"'They may have different motives but their actions will jointly lead to the same conclusion - the break-up of the union,' he said."

Monday, January 22, 2007


If you're looking for something more specifically addressing democratization in general besides what's in your textbook, check out 2003 article by Chip Hauss of Search for Common Ground and George Mason University quoted below.

The essay appears on the Beyond Intractability site. The Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base Project is based at the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado. The project is an extensive collection of essays and interviews about the study of conflict (see some of the topics in the next paragraph). Many of these topics are inherently part of comparative politics.

The democratization article is an interactive essay. There are links within the text to related ideas like colonialism, globalization, tolerance, ethnic division, power, development, and civil society. With access to the other articles, your students should have no trouble reacting to the ideas in this essay and applying them to the countries they are studying.

At the end of the essay is a wonderful collection of online, offline (i.e. in print), and video sources for further pursuit of the concept, and links to a couple teaching sources.

by Charles (Chip) Hauss

"Democratization is one of the most important concepts and trends in modern political science, one whose significance is just beginning to be understood by conflict-resolution practitioners. On one level, it is a relatively simple idea, since democratization is simply the establishment of a democratic political regime. However, in practice, democratization has been anything but easy to understand, let alone achieve...

"Democratization is the process whereby a country adopts such a regime. There is less agreement among political scientists about how that process occurs, including the criteria to use in determining if democratization has, in fact, taken place...

"Democratization is important because of one of the most widely (but not universally) accepted trends in international relations, known as the democratic peace. Put simply, democracies do not have wars with other democracies...

"Most average citizens... can... engage in the political process of their home country to promote policies that help democratization...

"As already noted, we do not really know how democratization works...

"There is some agreement about what some of the best practices are likely to be, however. All involve a commitment to an integrated approach to democratization in which it is inextricably intertwined with sustainable economic development, education, and conflict resolution..."

The main sections of the article are:
  • What is Democratization?
  • Why is Democratization Important?
  • What Individuals Can Do
  • What States and Third Parties Can Do

Citation: Hauss, Charles (Chip). "Democratization." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2003 .

See a list of other entries about democratization in The Politics of democratization in Russia.

Measures of globalization

Don Share, one of Patrick O'Neil's colleagues at the University of Puget Sound, forwarded this graphic from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

O'Neil wrote, "The institute has an interesting site with maps and lists that rank of different levels and forms of globalization (economic, social, political) over the past thirty years (there's even an animated map showing these changes over time)."

Check out their material at the site of Der Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich).

This is great stuff. Once again, thanks to Dr. O'Neil.

You and your students will find a raft of longitudinal data that could be used to understand the effects of globalization. For example, as you look at the animated map, you'll notice that the status of countries changes from year to year. You could ask your students to identify the events that caused changes for Russia, China, Nigeria, Mexico, and Iran. Then you could ask them to evaluate the validity of those changes. (Don't expect to see much change for the UK.)

Politics of democratization in Russia

The anonymous authors of the Wikipedia article on "democratization" name several factors that affect democratization in a country: the amount of wealth, the value of natural resources, the size of the middle class, the state of capitalism, the health of civil society, the degree of homogeneity of the population, the culture, the record of democratic government, and the effects of foreign intervention.

Your textbook probably has its own list of important factors.

Masha Lipman who is the editor of Pro et Contra, a policy journal published by the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote the opinion piece excerpted here for Project Syndicate. She seems to credit some of those factors and discount others in her assessment of politics in Russia.

How well would your students do in evaluating Lipman's arguments and reasoning? You will want to direct your students to the complete article if you're asking them to respond to it.

They might also benefit from considering earlier entries here like,

The Moscow Mystery of 2008

"Usually at this time of year, people are obsessed with what the coming year will bring. But in Russia, the real uncertainty concerns 2008, not 2007. Indeed, one can boil Russian politics down to one issue nowadays: Will President Vladimir Putin stay on as president after 2008, despite repeatedly stating that he won’t? And if he indeed steps down, whom will he groom as his replacement? Will his chosen successor belong to one of the Kremlin’s feuding factions? Or will he pick an “outsider”?

"Unless Putin maintains his stature as the country’s ultimate arbiter and decision-taker, there is a high risk of fierce infighting. In an environment where power and property are inseparable and all government institutions are emasculated, a major transfer of authority at the top may lead to violent redistribution. Thus, resolving these questions is vital for Russia’s political elites who are anxious to preserve the current perks and gain more.

As for the public, the vast majority appears resigned to accepting whatever is arranged by the leadership...

"Alienated from politics, ordinary Russians are indifferent to everything that does not immediately affect them, and do not seek to hold anyone accountable...

"The alienation between the state and the people has a long tradition in Russia, and so does public apathy...

"Of course, there are plenty of reasons to complain, and people may grumble, but they won’t come together to oppose the status quo...

"Since the election results are preordained, many may simply not vote. In fact, today’s Russian state barely has a reason to muster active support. On the contrary, public participation is seen as an obstacle to the goals pursued by the bureaucracy: self-perpetuation and expanding control over lucrative assets. If any among the Russian elite ever nursed modernizing ambitions, they have abandoned them, for without public participation, modernization is a fallacy.

"Instead, the Kremlin increasingly draws on the conservative, Soviet-style electorate as its power base, while alienating the advanced, the entrepreneurial, and the best educated...

"Thus, if there is any threat to a smooth transition in 2008, or a risk of subsequent destabilization, it may stem from infighting at the top, not from the public. Optimists hope that at some point Russia’s burgeoning middle class will assume responsibility for Russia’s future and demand a radical improvement in governance..."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

External influences on public policy

When governments have to respond to things outside their control, the policy choices center on things they can control. But those choices do not always (often?) offer realistic or effective alternatives. Consider three recent examples: the gasoline shortage in Iran, the rising price of corn and tortillas in Mexico, and the gasoline shortage in Nigeria.

  • How is it that countries that produce great quantities of a product face shortages and dangerous price increases?
  • Are these problems related to public policy?
  • Can public policy be an effective response to them?
  • What are the politics of making those policies?
  • Are the politics evidence of democratic governance?
  • Can you make generalizations based on these cases?

RFE/RL reported on one of the reasons for grassroots dissatisfaction with the Iranian government.

Iran: Power Cuts In An Energy-Rich Land

"Despite its wealth of oil and natural-gas reserves, Iran has faced a gas crunch as people turn up the heat this winter.

"Partial or total energy cutoffs were reported in 11 provinces, with residents of colder western provinces worst affected, and exports to Turkey were suspended for five days...

"Officials have blamed rising consumption and delays in unspecified projects for the shortages...

"In western Iran, the energy cuts led to protests. In Saqqez, in Kurdistan Province, residents gathered outside the district governor's office on January 4 to protest eight days without sufficient gas supplies.

"From there, some 200 protesters went to the city council, then to the town's central square, by which time they numbered about 1,000, according to advarnews.com..."

The Houston Chronicle offers this account of the Mexican case.

Mexico absorbs effects of ethanol push

"High corn prices are wreaking havoc on Mexico's inflation rate and forcing shoppers to pay more for eggs, milk and tortillas. But they're a godsend to farmers...

"The U.S. is the world's No. 1 corn producer and exporter, shipping an estimated 2.2 billion bushels to international buyers last year. Most nations can't compete with govern- ment-subsidized U.S. corn, which countries such as Mexico have come to rely on to fatten their hogs, chickens and cattle.

"But with 110 ethanol plants in the United States snapping up hundreds of millions of bushels and an additional 63 refineries slated to come on line in the next 18 months, some foreign farmers are betting that America will soon have less of the grain available to export...

"Another major concern for Mexico is the effect corn prices are having on consumers.

"President Felipe Calderon signed an accord with businesses last week to curb soaring tortilla prices and protect Mexico's poor from speculative sellers and a surge in the cost of corn driven by U.S. ethanol."

A Dallas-Ft. Worth television station offers more information on the tortilla crisis.

Is Mexico tortilla crisis a wrap?

"President Felipe Calderón sought to defuse a political crisis over the rising cost of corn tortillas Thursday by reaching an agreement with producers to adhere to voluntary price controls on the Mexican staple.

"Mr. Calderón announced the agreement in a ceremony at the presidential residence, Los Pinos, and warned that anti-speculation laws would be enforced.

"'The objective of this agreement ... is to immediately stabilize the price of corn and tortillas in order to directly protect the budget of Mexican families and [guarantee] our economy's continued march forward,' Mr. Calderón said.

"'We will not tolerate speculators or those who seek to monopolize,' he said. 'We are going to apply the law firmly to punish those who would take advantage of the necessity of the people.'

"The crisis was distracting the public from Mr. Calderón's announcements of new social programs to fight poverty..."


Vanguard (Lagos) reported on the government's consideration of actions to resolve the problems of gasoline pricing and distribution in Nigeria.

Nigerians Groan As Fuel Scarcity Bites Harder

"ECONOMIC activities are being grossly impacted by the persistent scarcity of petroleum products nationwide...

"Already, the Senate has set a machinery in motion towards unraveling the petrol scarcity with summons on the authorities of the Pipeline Products Marketing Company (PPMC) and of the Petroleum Products and Price Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).

"Similarly, Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, yesterday, urged the Federal Government to scrap the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for, according to him, failing in its responsibilities to the nation.

"In Lagos, economic activities are grinding to a halt as long motor queues at petrol stations impede vehicular and human traffic within the metropolis.

"In places like Ibadan, Osogbo, Ilorin and Ile-Ife yesterday, petrol was available in only a few filling stations...

"In most parts of the South-South, including Port Harcourt, Yenagoa, Warri, Uyo and Calabar, the scarcity of petroleum products persisted with serious implications for economic activities...

"Addressing newsmen in Abuja, weekend, Dr. Funsho Kupolokun, Group Managing Director of the NNPC... [said] 'Measures taken to address the situation include community policing... posting of mobile task force along pipelines, engaging the Nigerian Security & Civil Defence Corps to provide intelligence as well as co-operation from IPMAN and PTD with NNPC on establishing anti-vandalisation committees to identify and report vandals.'...

"Responding to a question on the efforts of the Senate to tackle the persistent scarcity of petroleum products and its debilitating effects, Senator David Brigidi, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Downstream Petroleum ruled out pricing as a factor in the crisis..."

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Long March to Rule of Law

This story emphasizes the point made by David Wolf that I quoted a few days ago in Rule of law or Rule by law.

A few months down the line (perhaps as your students are preparing for the AP exam), you might want to do a web search for developments in Wenzhou, Zhejiang or the Shangchen District Court in Hangzhou. It would be good to review the topic by revisiting a familiar case.

From Asia Times Online

The Long March to the rule of law

"A stubborn group of fish farmers in eastern China's Zhejiang province has struck a blow for both the environment and rule of law in the country, leaving analysts to speculate on the promising long-term implications of their case.

"The 82 farmers, who have been fighting for years to have authorities investigate the pollution of their fish ponds by the 2,000 factories operating in the municipality of Wenzhou, last week won a landmark ruling against provincial police in a local court. The farmers allege that between 2003 and 2004, pollution from factories in the Wenzhou industrial zone caused 170 million yuan (nearly US$21.8 million) in damages to more than 367 hectares of fish ponds.
"The Shangchen District Court in Hangzhou ordered Zhejiang police authorities to determine why the Wenzhou Public Security Bureau did not act on the farmers' complaints.

"While the ultimate resolution of the case is unknown, it has already made Chinese legal history in that a local court has ruled against a provincial authority. China's big problem with implementing reform - environmental and otherwise - has been that local and provincial officials have often acted in cahoots to subvert central-government edicts that they did not perceive to be in their economic interests.

"If in Wenzhou the factory owners are ultimately ordered to compensate the farmers for their loss, the case will stand out as an exception to that rule. It may also signal a new era of environmental awareness among ordinary citizens.

"Actually, the Shangchen ruling is just the latest legal victory for the farmers…

"The farmers' legal victory over SEPA compelled the agency to intervene, and their latest triumph should force provincial authorities to act. But the farmers are hardly home free.

"Questions remain: Will fines imposed on the factories provide adequate or merely token compensation for the farmers? And will these factories be required to build and maintain a sewage-treatment plant so that such wholesale pollution cannot occur again in the Wenzhou development zone?..."

Rule of Law and Effective Government

The following excerpt is from a World Bank publication that your students can access. Ask them to evaluate the argument and look for evidence in the countries they are studying to support or contradict the conclusions.

Civil Liberties, Democracy, and the Performance of Government Projects

"How does the extent of civil liberties and democracy in a country affect the performance of its government's investment projects and, more generally, the government's effectiveness?

"Empirical analysis demonstrates that the extent of civil liberties in a country affects the performance of a government's investment projects. This finding contributes to accumulating evidence that the degree to which citizens' 'voices' in the public sphere are repressed or are allowed to be 'heard' has an important influence on whether the accountability necessary for government efficacy will be created. In what is perhaps a surprising contrast, there is no clear relationship between indicators of electoral politics or 'democracy' and the performance of government investments..."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Achievement of happiness through politics

Post-materialism is based on the idea that as Maslow proposed, people have a hierarchy of needs. As lower needs (like survival and social needs) are fulfilled, people pursue the satisfaction of higher needs like belonging and self-actualization. If enough people in a society achieve the satisfaction of basic needs, the whole society will pursue post-materialist goals more directly.

Steve Fisher at Oxford University and many others have written about the connection between post-materialism and the formation of parties like the Green Parties.

But the whole idea may be getting a new label from researchers and political momentum from established political party leaders. According to the Christian Science Monitor article from 17 January, Tony Blair and opposition leader David Cameron in the UK are proponents of making people happier.

What can your students find out about post-materialist politics in other countries?

New quest in British politics: public happiness

"Once upon a time, the hot-button issue for politicians in rich countries was 'the economy, stupid.'

"But after decades in which Western nations have gotten richer but not necessarily happier, a new performance indicator – harder to measure and more elusive to deliver – is beginning to emerge.

"Some simply call it happiness. The more scientific term is subjective well-being (SWB), a composite of factors including income, health, environment, relationships with friends and family, education, recreation, and faith.

"Economists on both sides of the Atlantic believe they are getting good at measuring it, and now the political class in Britain is beginning to take it seriously.

"'There has been no upward trend in happiness despite the fact that we are richer, healthier, and have longer holidays.' says Lord Richard Layard, an economist and advisor to the British government on happiness...

"A poll last year found the proportion of people saying they are 'very happy' had fallen to 36 percent today from 52 percent in 1957. Four in five people said government's prime objective should be the 'greatest happiness' not the 'greatest wealth.'

"For David Cameron, leader of the Conservative opposition, improving society's sense of well-being is the central political challenge of the era...

"Tony Blair meanwhile has set up a government team, sometimes dubbed the "Department of Happiness" to study how to make people happier...

"The notion of politicians trying to make private individuals happy is not new. The 19th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that the aim of government should be to bring as much happiness to as many people as possible. Even the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 points out the inalienable rights of man including 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'...

"Philosophers are less sure that happiness should be the preserve of government. Some argue that much of the malaise in Western society is due to higher expectations (we demand more of ourselves), peer pressure (others have raised the bar of success), and the need for recognition as well as wealth: All factors mostly beyond the reach of mere politicians..."

Another set of rankings:
Happiness rankings

The  net happiness statistic for this 50-country survey* was measuredby the percentage of people who rated themselves as 'quite' or 'very' happy, minus the percentage of people who rated themselves as 'not very' or 'not at all' happy.

1. Iceland 94%
10. United Kingdom 87%
13. United States 84%
29. China 49%
31. Mexico 48%
46.Russia 2%

(Iran and Nigeria were not included in the poll.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The British Civil Service

A long time ago, The Economist published an article about the British civil service that I assigned many times over several years. The article was a very welcome addition to what my textbooks had to say about the vaunted British civil service. About all I remember about it now was that it included a chart showing how many of civil servants were Oxbridge graduates.

The Economist may have done it again. The issue of January 13, 2007 includes the article excerpted here.

The article suggests that the problems of dealing with law enforcement and state schools (among other things) are problems with the civil service. The article outlines three causes, one seemingly originating from Whitehall (the headquarters of big ministries) and academics and another coming from politicians. The third cause comes from The Economist itself.

There's enough meat in the article so students could do an initial evaluation of the arguments. You could then assign them the task of finding more information with which to take a position on the validity of the explanations.

The civil service: From Rolls-Royce to old banger

"BRITAIN'S civil service has often been lampooned, but... people are criticising civil servants for their incompetence rather than laughing at their cunning...

"These [laughs]... have caused a fit of introspection among both politicians and senior civil servants. If so many good intentions... have failed so dismally, maybe the cause lies within government itself. But who is to blame?...

"One camp puts the politicians in the dock. The charge: reckless driving of a civil service once renowned as a sleekly purring Rolls-Royce. Under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, ruling parties with big majorities have failed to respect the old convention that allowed civil servants to speak truth to ministers without fear or favour. As Whitehall has become meekly compliant with ministerial whims, 'Yes, minister' has ceased to mean 'No, minister', and poorly designed and executed policies have proliferated...

"In contrast, another camp blames Sir Humphrey [permanent secretary at the top of the Department of Administrative Affairs]. The civil service may once have been the fabled Roller but it has now become an old banger. According to a recent report from... Labour's favourite think-tank, 'Whitehall is poor at reflecting on its purpose, strategic thinking, dealing with inadequate performance, managing change effectively, learning from mistakes or working across departments.'... the authors, argue that these inadequacies are rooted in the hallowed but now moth-eaten doctrine of ministerial responsibility. Under this convention, ministers are accountable to Parliament and civil servants to ministers. This allows each to hide behind the other...

"Neither camp is necessarily right... For example... reform [could] draw a divide between policy, for which ministers would carry the can, and delivery, for which a more managerial cadre of civil servants would be accountable...

"But Christopher Hood, professor of government at Oxford University, says that it would be hard to draw such a line... and that the deal would be likely to break down in mutual recrimination... [I]t would be difficult to separate out strategic objectives and implementation, pointing out that the 'how' can often be quite political...

"Arguably the most important change the civil service needs to make is to curb its itch to centralise. The top-down control of British public services is exceptional... Britain may have lost an empire overseas, but politicians at Westminster and civil servants in Whitehall have rebuilt one at home and they will not let go."

Accounting and Democracy

Is accounting related to democracy? The writer of this Economist story from the January 13, 2007 issue, suggests that. Could your students diagram the logical links in the argument? (By the way, the concept "rule of law" gets mentioned here too.)

Chinese accounting - Cultural revolution

"SEPARATING truth from propaganda in China has always been hard, not least when it comes to numbers. Accountants, of all people, were seen as such a threat that during the 1960s they were packed off to re-education camps, dooming the profession for decades afterward. Even in kindlier times, businesses reported information that would interest a centrally planned economy, such as production quotas. The measuring sticks of bourgeois managers—costs, debt, depreciation, and (of course) profit—were ignored.

"But since the 1990s China has begun scrubbing up its accounting system. At the beginning of this year it made its biggest move yet when the Ministry of Finance required the 1,200 companies listed on the Shenzhen and Shanghai stockmarkets to adopt, with important exceptions, norms similar to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). These standards may sound like instruments of accounting torture, but countries all over the world are embracing them. China has given all its other firms the option of complying with them 'voluntarily'—a word with many shades of meaning. If the changes are more than just cynical window-dressing designed to attract foreign investment, they will mark a profound shift in what China wants people to know not only about its companies, but also about its economy and its government...

"There is abundant evidence, from trade statistics to fumes spewing out of factories and power plants across the country, that the Chinese economy is doing well. But how well individual companies are doing is far harder to tell... It is said (with apparent sincerity) that some Chinese firms keep several sets of books—one for the government, one for company records, one for foreigners and one to report what is actually going on...

"...by properly reflecting costs, the heavy burden of state control would become more evident, as would the pricing signals that indicate the real desires of the Chinese people. Sleazy transfers of mispriced assets from the state to the private sector would become vastly more difficult. Theoretically, accounting would serve as a force for democracy...

"[But] international accounting standards are built on foundations that China does not possess, such as experience of truthful record-keeping and deep, clean, markets so that “fair” valuations can be placed on financial instruments, property and softer assets like brands and intellectual property. (These in turn rely on enforceable laws.)..."

Rule of Law in Nigeria

Rule of law comes up again, this time in relation to governance in Nigeria. this op-ed piece by Funke Aboyade from This Day (Lagos) raises questions about the role of courts and the rule of law that are different from those raised about

How will your students describe the differences between the issues in China and the issues in Nigeria?

How the Executive Contributes to Undermining of the Judiciary

"The recent trend whereby judgments of the trial High Court and even the Court of Appeal are not obeyed, perhaps because they’re perceived as worthless, until the Supreme Court pronounces on same is not only ill advised but dangerous. This unfortunate trend is more pronounced  particularly in high profile political matters where the stakes are high...

"Of concern to me as a lawyer is the possible impression being created in the minds of the public that judgments delivered by a validly constituted court are worth nothing and need not be obeyed unless and until the highest court in the land says so. It is therefore perfectly alright to scoff at any judgment that isn’t from the Supreme Court as not being worth even the paper it is written on. Given the generally slow pace of adjudication in the country... this is a dangerous perception and unhelpful to the cause of respect for the rule of law and good governance and order.

"Whilst it may seem politically expedient for government to keep certain persons out of political office, this executive attitude and interference may well hasten the erosion and further decline of judicial authority... It also sends out the wrong signals to potential foreign investors...

"This is an ominous portend for the rule of law and a step in the direction of anarchy. No other country in the civilised and developed world which we want so badly to be a part of, treats its Judiciary in this cavalier and unthinkable manner. We need to retrace our steps lest we be relegated as a country with no regard for law and order."

Monday, January 15, 2007

We have a dream

"I have a dream..."

Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What is comparative politics?

Almost 10 years ago, when the World Wide Web was a new thing, Dr. Iren Omo-Bare of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, put the notes to his introductory lecture, "What is Comparative Politics?" on the college web site.

Dr. Omo-Bare has probably revised his presentation, but the old notes are still there (things can live forever on the web). Maybe the outline will give you ideas you can use if you're beginning a new semester and a new comparative politics and government course.

Here is a link to the outline and the main topic headings:

What is Comparative Politics?


Dr. Omo-Bare's home page

A more recent set of introductory notes (in the form of downloadable Power Point slides from the early classes) from Dr. Timothy C. Lim's "Foundations of Comparative Politics" course at California State University, Los Angeles, January 2007.

These lecture notes are correlated with Dr. Lim's book, Doing Comparative Politics. You can download the book's introduction at the publisher's web site.

Dr. Lim's home page

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rule of Law and Order in Russia

The Financial Times (London) offers this assessment (4 December 2006) of the Russian government's actions effects on the rule of law.

The Kremlin is killing Russia's rule of law

"Russian president Vladimir Putin took power in 2000 with promises of recreating a strong, law-abiding state. The killing of Alexander Litvinenko, the former spy, and a spate of other assassinations suggest Mr Putin's Russia may well be strong - but it is far from being law-abiding...

"The Kremlin bluntly denies any involvement. But Mr Putin cannot reject responsibility for contributing to the creation of a state in which assassination has become commonplace...

"Mr Putin has reasserted the Kremlin's authority by riding roughshod over the rights of others, including businessmen, journalists and regional governors. Ex-KGB agents, led by Mr Putin, have restored much of their influence.

"Mr Putin would argue that in the process he has recreated the rule of law. However, this does not mean law as applied by independent courts, but law as imposed by the Kremlin. The state can resort even to gross violations of human rights without fear of legal challenge, as with the recent mass deportation of Georgian migrants. Might, not right, has triumphed.

"As a result, growing numbers of those with power and money feel no need to respect the law. Some seem to think they can bully their way out of any trouble...

"With presidential elections looming in 2008, political rivalries will become more intense. Mr Putin must act now to contain the forces that have been unleashed. For order without law is no order at all."

And for you and your students:

Jurist, a web site at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law has good summary descriptions of the judicial systems and legal education in Russia, China, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom.

Each web page also includes links to the country's constitution and government web sites.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rule of Law in Iran

The author of this analysis (from 2005), Iranian Mohsen Sazegara was a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute when he wrote this article. He has been a scholar at Yale and Harvard since then.

He was a founder of the Revolutionary Guard and a government official after the 1979 revolution. After the war with Iraq and the death of Khomeini, he became known as a reformist. He published several newspapers in Tehran, all of which were shut down by the government. He applied to become a presidential candidate in 2001, but was refused by the Guardian Council. In 2003, he was arrested and left the country after his release. He now lives in the United States.

Lawful Crimes in Iran
By Mohsen Sazegara
June 1, 2005

"As this month's presidential election campaign gets underway in Iran, the Iranian government is emphasizing that the country enjoys the rule of law and elected government. In fact, both statements are false...

"The president... is not a particularly powerful figure in the Iranian system. Iran's true political power rests ultimately in the hands of the supreme leader... To whom does the leader answer? Does he answer to the nation, or to a body elected by the nation? No.

"The Assembly of Experts elects the leader... as a practical matter, not even the Assembly of Experts can dismiss the leader...

"The twelve members of the Guardian Council fall into two categories: the six clerical jurists, appointed directly by the leader; and the six lawyers, nominated by the head of the judiciary (himself appointed by the leader) and approved by parliament. All twelve the members of the Guardian Council are appointed either directly by the leader or by his subordinates and are obedient to him...

"In the vicious circle of Iran's current constitution, the responsibility for appointing and dismissing the leader falls on members of the Assembly of Experts. But members of the Assembly must pass muster with the Guardian Council, whose members were appointed by the leader. That explains why no member of the Assembly has ever said anything critical of the leader in public session. That is why the leader cannot be said to answer to anyone. Iran's constitution provides no checks or balances on the leader's boundless powers. Thus the judiciary, which reports only to the leader, also is neither accountable to the people nor limited in its authority...

"Articles 19 to 33 [of the constitution], in the chapter, 'The Rights of the People,' specify certain rights as belonging to the Iranian nation. On the face of it, this chapter resembles the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But, examined more closely, all but one of the articles therein are qualified and include phrases like 'except as provided by law' or 'unless detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.'...

"Iran has a constitution and specific laws that, on close scrutiny, turn out not to be laws at all because they can be interpreted in any way to the advantage of the rulers. The rulers can undertake any transgression against the rights of citizens and against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the guise of upholding the law. And Iran holds elections that are subject to the manipulation of the supreme leader, who is unanswerable to the people -- meaning that Iranian elections have little effect on who exercises political power."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

TV reminder

Just a reminder that the PBS series China from the Inside is scheduled to begin on January 12 in most areas. Check your local PBS station schedule.

Rule of Law in the UK

The rule of law in the UK would seem to be a settled matter. But the topic does come up. Lord Woolf, The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, gave a speech entitled, The Rule of Law and a Change in the Constitution, as the Squire Centenary Lecture at Cambridge University, 3 March 2004.

What distinguishes Lord Woolf's approach to the issue of rule of law from the approaches described in the articles from China, Nigeria, and Mexico? Lord Woolf's argument is much more complex than this little excerpt might suggest, so you might want your students to read the whole thing.

"Any worthwhile society requires an efficient and effective legal system...

"Constitutions have to evolve to meet the needs of their citizens. A virtue of our being one of the three developed nations that does not have a written constitution, is that our constitution has always been capable of evolving as the needs of society change. The evolution can be incremental in a way which would be difficult if we had a written constitution. But flexibility comes at a price. We have never had the protection that a written constitution can provide for institutions that have a fundamental role to play in society. One of those institutions is a legal system that is effective, efficient and independent. A democratic society, pledged to the rule of law, would be deeply flawed without such a legal system.

"So far we have coped successfully without a written constitution. That we entered the 21st century without there being more of a clamour for our constitutional arrangements to be reduced into writing is a situation in which we can take genuine pride. It reflects our national culture. It suggests we have benefited from a tradition of mutual respect, restraint and co-operation between the three arms of Government. Of course there have been times of tension, but with good sense and good will on all sides they have been successfully managed. This was made easier not because of the separation of powers, but because of the absence of the separation of powers...

"Over recent years, recognition of the importance of the rule of law and the significance of the independence of the judiciary has increased dramatically. One of the most important of the judiciary's responsibilities is to uphold the rule of law, since it is the rule of law which prevents the Government of the day from abusing its powers. Ultimately, it is the rule of law which stops a democracy descending into an elected dictatorship. To perform its task, the judiciary has to be, and seen to be, independent of government. Unless the public accepts that the judiciary are independent, they will have no confidence in the honesty and fairness of the decisions of the courts..."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rule of Law in Mexico

Here's a third installment of a series about the rule of law.

Fred Rosen wrote on Monday in The Herald (Mexico) about the lack of rule of law in Mexico. If you read the complete article, you'll find examples to support his contentions.

In this case, the absence of rule of law has less to do with judicial power (as in the Chinese and Nigerian examples described earlier) and more to do with effective legal and administrative authority -- another important aspect of this topic.

Citizenship in Occupied Territory

"As Felipe Calderón continues to send troops and federal police to combat narco-traffickers in the states of Michoacán and Baja California, we are reminded that there are large swaths of Mexico that exist essentially as 'occupied territory,' under the de-facto control of criminal organizations...

"Citizens of Michoacán, that is, have greatly reduced recourse to the rule of law and to any sort of transparent social compact...

"Massive police corruption is another problem for democratic rule...

"As Mexico’s democratic activists... continue their struggles to develop a meaningful set of democratic institutions and a genuine sense of citizenship in the country, the question of 'occupied territory' raises some crucial questions about democracy and citizenship.

"Principally, the question is whether we can meaningfully speak of the 'rule of the people' or of any defined set of citizens’ rights and responsibilities in a country in which the state itself is constrained from ruling over its own territory.

"It has typically been the nation-state that mediates the relations among citizens (individuals with a certain set of rights and responsibilities within a defined territory), and relations between those citizens their rulers, democratic or otherwise, within a defined territory.

"When that defined territory is occupied by outside forces, what happens to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship? What happens to democracy? Can citizenship of any sort exist within an occupied territory?...

"Powerful international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank likewise have a strong say on the limits to which a government can go to expand rights and provide services to its citizens.

"These are all forms (some less malign than others) of 'occupied territory,' i.e. displacing the role and power of the state, democratic or otherwise...

"When the power of that state is occupied, abolished or diminished by outside forces, whether those forces are malign drug dealers, self-interested investors or well-intentioned technocrats, democracy, citizenship and (therefore) general well being are at risk..."

See also: The index for this blog at the CompGovPol del.icio.us page, click on the "RuleOfLaw" tag to see more articles about this topic.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Rule of law or Rule by law

The universe of blogs is quite inbred. It's probably a sign that there are more bloggers than significant ideas.

Or it could be a sign that blog audiences are very small and specialized.

Most of you who read my little thoughts here are involved in teaching comparative government and politics. I'm citing a blog that aims to inform lawyers and business people. That blog cites another which seems aimed at people doing business in China.

So why all the referrals? In this case the referrals are about the rule of law in China.

Rule of law is a complex and important concept for students of comparative politics. Hopefully, these comments will help illustrate the idea and its ramifications.

An advertisement in Xian, " According to the Rule of Law: Construct a Nation with a Socialist Legal System" (Photo by Stephen W. Lewis, 2000)

Dan Harris at China Law Blog (China Law is policy) quotes David Wolf's blog, Silicon Hutong: When is Innovation Indigenous? on the relationship between law and policy in China. It's an important distinction for students of comparative politics.

David Wolf wrote:
"The Chinese government is not interested in legislating on the basis of establishing a principle, taking into account hypothetical problems that might arise in the future (an approach that stands opposed to the Talmudic traditions at least, and probably those of Justinian, English Common Law, and the Napoleonic code).

"Indeed, the nation's bureaucrats and policy makers are far more interested in using the law as a tool to serve near-term policy goals, rather than use law to build a system that will withstand the test of history. (Hence the old saw "rule by law, rather than rule of law.")

"This is another one of those critical differences in viewpoint between the two cultures. In the west, policy and government action occur with the framework of law. In China, the law occurs within the framework of policy and government action.

"Is the law important in China? Absolutely, and getting more so over time.

"But pay attention to policy. Those will tell you how the laws will be interpreted and acted upon."

Don Harris commented:
"Wolf has it right. 

"Without an independent judiciary, China's courts are doomed to be a policy arm of the government.  This does not mean China's courts will necessarily rule unfairly, because one of the government's policies is that the courts be respected and fairness is a necessary precondition for that.  But this does mean that we should not expect much innovation from China's courts and we certainly cannot expect them to go much against governmental goals, if at all. 

"China's courts will go with the governmental tide, not against it."

  • So, is an independent judiciary necessary for rule of law?
  • Must the judiciary have the power to negate the decisions of policy and law making parts of the system?
  • Is fairness an adequate substitute for independence?
  • Where does the power of the judiciary come from in a political system?
  • What differences does it make if there's nothing in the political culture resembling separation of powers or an adversarial legal tradition?

Friday, January 05, 2007

PBS "China from the Inside"

Pardon my reminiscing. I just saw an announcement about a PBS series about China that's going to be broadcast beginning January 10. It reminded me of past experiences in recording television programs recorded under fair use provisions of the copyright law for teaching.

In 1977, I hauled home a reel-to-reel video tape recorder and a little television that had the proper jacks so I could record an episode of "Roots" for our department. (Each of us who felt technologically competent did that during the run of that series.)

Then there was the time in 1983 (the pre-comparative government days), when I paid my older son $1.00 an episode to record the Emmy-winning PBS series The Heart of the Dragon hosted by Robin MacNeil. I was teaching about China in a World Studies course at the time.

For several years after I began teaching Comparative Politics, I showed Carma Hinton's 1985 film All Under Heaven about the political evolution of a Chinese village from the revolution to the 1980s. The film was part of a series called One Village in China. The village was the one her father, William Hinton, called Long Bow in his books Fanshen and Shenfan.

(Data collected by Hinton for Fanshen was the basis for a set of lesson plans developed at Harvard as part of the "new social studies" back in the mid-'60s that was one of my first experiences with the idea of getting students to try to structure what they were learning. I thought it was very successful.)

But enough of the past wonders of videos to help teach about China.

On Wednesday, January 10, PBS will begin a new series entitled China from the Inside. (Thanks to the guys at China Law Blog for the alert on this one.)

The series will reportedly delve into both China's history and its current political landscape and will, among other things, examine China's treatment of women, its problems with air and water pollution, religion in China, and the government's slow response to the AIDS epidemic. The documentary's four parts will consist of the following:
  • Power and the People
  • Women of the Country
  • Shifting Nature
  • Freedom and Justice

Here's a link to the PBS China from the Inside website. You can watch previews of the films and check local broadcast listings at the site. There's also a link for educators that has a list of content standards, a globalization lesson, an environment lesson, and a list of sources. The lesson plans include film clips, activities, supplemental articles, and "classroom extensions." There's also a link to a discussion site for the series.

Let's hope for good things.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Travel comparisons

I've been on the road for the past couple days. My son and I drove about 650 miles -- about the distance of a round trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg or about as far as the drive from Lagos to Yaounde in Cameroon or the round trip from Tehran to Baku in Azerbaijan. My son and I drove through 3 states with no border checks and never having to produce proof of identity.

Traveling got me to thinking about what it takes to travel to places like Russia or Iran. It's a lot more complex to travel to most countries.

For an American to visit the UK, no visa is necessary, but you do need a valid U.S. passport. American tourists who visit Mexico do not need a visa.

Here, briefly, is what the Russian embassy in Washington, D. C. says you have to do in order to get permission to travel to Russia: You must send to the Consular Section
  • A completed visa application form...
  • A valid passport...
  • One passport size photo...
  • A standard tourist confirmation from a hosting authorized Russian travel agency or a hotel, registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a voucher from your hotel or travel agency in Russia
  • A cover letter describing your itinerary in Russia
  • A cashier's check for $100 to $300 (depending on how quickly you want your visa processed)

To get a visa to visit China you'll need to produce a valid passport, a completed Visa Application Form, and a fee of$50 to $150 (depending on the nature of your visit).

To visit Nigeria, the Nigerian embassy says you must have:
  • a valid passport
  • a recent passport photograph
  • a round-trip ticket
  • a letter of invitation accepting immigration responsibility or evidence of financial support while in Nigeria from individual Nigerians or Nigerian organizations
  • copies of your onward tickets and visas to your destinations
  • copies of your certified hotel reservation statements
  • a non-refundable fee of $100

To visit Iran, an American needs to apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through a government approved travel agency. When the ministry approves your request for an application, you must submit it, your passport, 4 passport-sized photos, and the ministry authorization form. You must then pick up your visa in person at the consulate where you originally asked for permission to apply for a visa.

Could your students describe the political and policy choices behind the various policies? How well would they describe the various political forces that shaped those policies?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Politics of fashion; fashion of politics

Frances Harrision writes for the BBC from Tehran about a police-sponsored fashion show and the politics of women's dress.

I'd say it was progress in human rights if her statement "that imposing Islamic dress by force hasn't worked" is actually an observation accepted by those in power. However, it might be revolutionary (or counter revolutionary in Iran) if she is right that "Increasingly there is a recognition that women - rather than men - should be the ones who decide what kind of Islamic dress they wear..."

Iran police move into fashion business

"Women in high-heeled shoes and plenty of make-up strut down the catwalk amid clouds of artificial smoke. It is the first time live models have been allowed to appear in a fashion show in post-revolutionary Iran.

"The only unusual aspect is they're draped from head to toe in the all enveloping chador that hides everything except the face.

"It's part of a new drive to give women more attractive choices of Islamic dress that allow them to express their individuality, while remaining within the letter of the law.

"Not everyone in the all female audience was happy.

"'I don't think ordinary people will like this show because everything comes from Arab culture,' complains Faranak who says she wants something more Iranian and indigenous...

"Many young women born after the revolution do not seem to have accepted the official idea of Islamic dress.

"Conservative MP Rafat Bayat, who always wears a black chador, believes the problem is the state never educated young people properly.

"'The generation born after the revolution has grown up in families that do not believe in these principles and they are estranged from these laws,' she says.

"'We thought there would be no problem because we had an Islamic Republic and we thought everyone knew the constitution,' says Mrs Bayat with regret.

"According to the law, a woman who does not cover her hair and body in public can be fined or imprisoned for up to two months.

"But there are hundreds of shops throughout North Tehran selling glamorous strapless dresses and low-cut, beaded tops for women to wear at parties...

"'Observance of hijab has got worse since the new government because Mr Ahmadinejad is not that strict on this issue,' complains Mrs Bayat...

"Aware that imposing Islamic dress by force hasn't worked, Iran's police decided to hold their own fashion exhibition recently to educate women about what they should be wearing - though there were no live models.

"'We want to guide our designers to meet the needs of our society,' explained Sardar Ansari of the Iranian police force. 'We don't want them to get their ideas about fashion from satellite television.'...

"For many older women it's a symbol of their commitment to the revolution. But young women are increasingly turning away from the chador - it's expensive, hot and difficult to wear...

"Increasingly there is a recognition that women - rather than men - should be the ones who decide what kind of Islamic dress they wear...

"In other words, the establishment realises that the children of the revolution are rebelling against drab, uniform-style clothing, and it wants to keep them in line by offering a little glamour."