Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to make a state?

At this moment, the events in Libya offer an opportunity to discuss the elements necessary to make a state. If you can identify the elements in Libya, can students find examples of those elements in other countries they study?

The Vacuum After Qaddafi
Colonel Qaddafi spent the last 40 years hollowing out every single institution that might challenge his authority. Unlike neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, Libya lacks the steadying hand of a military to buttress a collapsing government. It has no Parliament, no trade unions, no political parties, no civil society, no nongovernmental agencies. Its only strong ministry is the state oil company. The fact that some experts think the next government might be built atop the oil ministry underscores the paucity of options.

The worst-case scenario should the rebellion topple him, and one that concerns American counterterrorism officials, is that of Afghanistan or Somalia — a failed state where Al Qaeda or other radical groups could exploit the chaos and operate with impunity.

But there are others who could step into any vacuum, including Libya’s powerful tribes or a pluralist coalition of opposition forces that have secured the east of the country and are tightening their vise near the capital.

“It is going to be a political vacuum,” said Lisa Anderson, the president of the American University in Cairo and a Libya expert, suggesting that chances are high for a violent period of score-settling. “I don’t think it is likely that people will want to put down their weapons and go back to being bureaucrats.”

There is a short list of Libyan institutions, but each has limits. None of the tribes enjoy national reach, and Colonel Qaddafi deliberately set one against the other, dredging up century-old rivalries even in his latest speeches.

There are a few respected but elderly members of the original 12-member Revolutionary Command Council who joined Colonel Qaddafi in unseating the king in 1969…

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who has participated in several White House meetings on the crisis, said Libya’s tribal nature and absence of civil society were worrisome. But he said the experience of eastern Libya, where ad-hoc committees have taken control of local affairs, is a strikingly positive sign.

“People seem to be adopting a new identity based on their common experience of standing up to a dictator,” Mr. Malinowski said. “That doesn’t mean peace and love and brotherhood forever. But it’s a reason to hope that our worst fears about a post-Qaddafi Libya may not be realized.”…

“The current opposition movement in Libya is diverse and includes secular, nationalists, monarchists and Islamist elements,” said Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “I don’t think that any movement is in the position, in terms of resources and ideological power, to monopolize the political process.”

But he said that some hybrid of Islamism and nationalism was likely to emerge. In Libya, the strong nationalism that has run through all the recent uprisings is more likely to take on a religious tinge, experts believe, because it is a conservative society whose royal family once drew its authority in part from its spiritual role.

Probably the greatest insurance that Libya will not descend into Somalia-like chaos is its oil. The oil — once production fully resumes — can buy social content during a rocky transition period and offers insurance that Western powers cannot afford to sit by and watch such an important oil exporter disintegrate…

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Comparative neoliberalism

This opinion piece from an Egyptian commentator writing at Al Jazeera, offers some interesting comparisons. It's too long to offer more than a glimpse of the article in this space, but it's not too long for a student reading. The commentator is identified as Abu Atris, the pseudonym for a writer working in Egypt.

A revolution against neoliberalism?
Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, an urge to account for its crimes and to identify its accomplices has come to the fore. The chants, songs, and poetry performed in Midan al-Tahrir always contained an element of anger against haramiyya (thieves) who benefited from regime corruption…

To describe blatant exploitation of the political system for personal gain as corruption misses the forest for the trees. Such exploitation is surely an outrage against Egyptian citizens, but calling it corruption suggests that the problem is aberrations from a system that would otherwise function smoothly… This was less a violation of the system than business as usual. Mubarak’s Egypt, in a nutshell, was a quintessential neoliberal state…

Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the "proper functioning" of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.

Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.

And the application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies as surely as the application of utopian communism did…

The only people for whom Egyptian neoliberalism worked "by the book" were the most vulnerable members of society, and their experience with neoliberalism was not a pretty picture. Organised labor was fiercely suppressed. The public education and the health care systems were gutted by a combination of neglect and privatization. Much of the population suffered stagnant or falling wages relative to inflation. Official unemployment was estimated at approximately 9.4% last year… and about 20% of the population is said to live below a poverty line defined as $2 per day per person.

For the wealthy, the rules were very different. Egypt did not so much shrink its public sector, as neoliberal doctrine would have it, as it reallocated public resources for the benefit of a small and already affluent elite. Privatization provided windfalls for politically well-connected individuals who could purchase state-owned assets for much less than their market value, or monopolise rents from such diverse sources as tourism and foreign aid…

Most importantly, the very limited function for the state recommended by neoliberal doctrine in the abstract was turned on its head in reality. In Mubarak’s Egypt business and government were so tightly intertwined that it was often difficult for an outside observer to tease them apart…

Similar stories can be told throughout the rest of the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Everywhere neoliberalism has been tried, the results are similar: living up to the utopian ideal is impossible; formal measures of economic activity mask huge disparities in the fortunes of the rich and poor; elites become "masters of the universe," using force to defend their prerogatives, and manipulating the economy to their advantage, but never living in anything resembling the heavily marketised worlds that are imposed on the poor…

The story should sound familiar to Americans as well. For example, the vast fortunes of Bush era cabinet members Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, through their involvement with companies like Halliburton and Gilead Sciences, are the product of a political system that allows them — more or less legally — to have one foot planted in "business" and another in "government" to the point that the distinction between them becomes blurred. Politicians move from the office to the boardroom to the lobbying organization and back again.

As neoliberal dogma disallows any legitimate role for government other than guarding the sanctity of free markets, recent American history has been marked by the steady privatization of services and resources formerly supplied or controlled by the government. But it is inevitably those with closest access to the government who are best positioned to profit from government campaigns to sell off the functions it formerly performed…

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Pronunciation: \-ˈmi-tənt\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin intermittent-, intermittens, present participle of intermittere
Date: 1601
: coming and going at intervals : not continuous ; also : occasional
— in·ter·mit·tent·ly adverb
Source: Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Retrieved 23 December 20010

Spring is near. I'll be on the road for the next week or ten days. It may snow in San Francisco, where I'm heading (that'll make me feel at home). In any case, postings here will be intermittent. If you find a bit of information that might be useful for teaching comparative politics, post it at Sharing Comparative or send me a note with the information. Maybe my granddaughter will let me get online.

Remember that the 2075 entries here are indexed at delicious.com/CompGovPol. There are 77 categories and you can use more than one category at a time to find something appropriate to your needs. (And if Yahoo really does abandon Delicious.com, I will find a replacement.)

Planning for soft power

Some Chinese are openly discussing why to increase the country's soft power. Too bad they don't say more (publicly) about how they're going to do that.

Report: China should stress modern culture
China should strive to gain more cultural soft power by discussing its current culture rather than lingering over its traditional culture, said one of the country's top think tanks…

"We have emphasized our traditional culture to an extreme extent in the past decade, but we don't have a strong voice in international dialogues," Yi Junqing, director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, said during a press conference for the release of the Annual Report on China's Cultural Soft Power Research (2010).

In general, a country's soft power refers to its ability to get other countries to share its goals and values through the use of attraction, rather than of coercion or payments. Yi said he thinks China can reap great benefits from wielding soft power, but so far has failed to do so…

Experts conceded it will be a long time before China can become a "strong country" by promoting its cultural soft power. But steps are already being taken along that path…

See also previous blog entries about China's use of soft power.

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And first, the backstory

Who is Xi? The mythology begins, according to Edward Wong, writing in The New York Times. From this version, it's clear that in spite of being the son of one of the elite targeted in the Cultural Revolution and being "sent down," Xi (or his family) maintained ties to privilege: his special food rations and going off to university before Mao died.

Tracing the Myth of a Chinese Leader to Its Roots
The cave is dim and narrow and musty. A platform bed covered with a reed mat sits by the door. A green canvas satchel and a lantern hang from two rusty nails on a wall — possessions supposedly left behind by a lanky teenage boy from Beijing sent here four decades ago to do hard labor.

These days, Mr. Xi’s reading materials veer more toward speeches and government planning documents — the vice president of China, age 57, he is expected to take over from Hu Jintao next year as the nation’s top leader. His official biography is being airbrushed...

[The village of] Liangjiahe is the foundation of a by-the-bootstraps creation myth that Mr. Xi has long cultivated. In an essay for a 2003 book Mr. Xi… [u]sing standard Marxist-Leninist-Maoist language… wrote about learning to serve the people…

The village is in a narrow valley about 70 miles from Yan’an, the city in the northern province of Shaanxi that served as the Communist Party’s revolutionary base for 12 years during the Chinese civil war. Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, a native of Shaanxi, helped build the base and became a venerated party leader. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution, and his son was sent here from Beijing at age 15 to toil in a work brigade…

But there were also divides between Mr. Xi and the villagers. Like many other youths sent to the countryside, Mr. Xi had been allocated corn flour rations. The villagers ate corn husks. Mr. Xi cooked in his cave and ate alone…

Mr. Xi led villagers in building small dams to prevent floods and to irrigate crops. He left Liangjiahe in 1975 to attend Tsinghua University in Beijing, an incubator for political leaders...

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gorbachev on democracy with Russian characteristics

Thanks to Jeff Silva-Brown, who pointed out this article that I missed. The money quote is this one: "We have everything – a parliament, courts, a president, a prime minister and so on. But it's more of an imitation."

Think illiberal democracy and think about how many other regimes are similar.

Mikhail Gorbachev lambasts Vladimir Putin's 'sham' democracy
Russia under prime minister Vladimir Putin is a sham democracy, Mikhail Gorbachev has said in his harshest criticism yet of the ruling regime.

"We have everything – a parliament, courts, a president, a prime minister and so on. But it's more of an imitation," the last president of the Soviet Union said.

Gorbachev, who oversaw the softening of the communist system and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, has become increasingly critical of the modern Russian state, accusing its leaders of rolling back the democratic reforms of the 1990s…

Asked how he thought the regime approached human rights, Gorbachev said: "There's a problem there. It's a sign of the state of our democracy." He was echoing statements made by Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, during a visit to Russia last week.

Gorbachev said United Russia, the ruling party founded with the sole goal of supporting Putin's leadership, was a throwback.

"United Russia reminds me of the worst copy of the Communist party," he said. "We have institutions but they don't work. We have laws but they must be enforced."

Its stranglehold over political life would eventually backfire. "The monopoly ends in rotting and hampers the development of democratic processes."…

See also: Democracy with Russian characteristics

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Democracy with Russian characteristics

Or perhaps we should discuss post-revolutionary Russia. It seems that the fear of populist revolution extends to Russia.

Medvedev sees `fires for decades' in Arab world
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday predicted decades of instability in the Arab world if protesters whom he called fanatics come to power, adding no such scenario will be permitted at home...

"These states are difficult, and it is quite probable that hard times are ahead, including the arrival at power of fanatics. This will mean fires for decades and the spread of extremism," Medvedev said in televised comments.

Any attempts to repeat the unrest in Russia would be quashed, he said…

In the past Medvedev also has warned domestic political opponents that they won't be permitted to "rock the boat," and he has continued the policy of his tough predecessor, Vladimir Putin, in sanctioning the violent dispersal of anti-government protests.

Opposition activists have been beaten and imprisoned under their rule. Putin, who wields greater power despite holding lower rank, warned demonstrators in a September newspaper interview that "you will be beaten upside the head with a truncheon. And that's it."

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Why not?

The way Vanguard's reporters, Clifford Ndujihe and Dapo Akinrefon, report this story, it's almost impossible to avoid thinking there's an ulterior motive for abandoning the computers used for voter registration. And the lame excuse reportedly offered by the first INEC spokesman just adds to the suspicion.

Anxiety Over Inec's Bid to Dump Data Machines
THE Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was on the hot spot, weekend, as fury raged among opposition political parties after the commission confirmed that it would discard the N40 billion Direct Data Capture, DDC, machines during the forthcoming election.

The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in a sharp reaction said the decision to use a manual register was to help the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, rig the election across the country.

The commission is, however, insistent in its course saying that there is no provision of the Electoral Law that compels it to use the DDC machines during the elections…

The INEC spent about N94.3 billion to register 65.2 million voters in the last voters' registration exercise amounting to $10 dollars or N1446.32 per voter…

Explaining how a manual register may be used by INEC, the party said if the electoral body failed to use the same DDC machines used to register voters at the various polling stations where they were used for the registration, it would be impossible to verify the fingerprints of each voter, hence he/she can vote as many times as possible…

Countering, Mr. Kayode Idowu, Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said the electoral commission did not say it would use the DDC machines and assured that what was in the manual register was a replica of what is in the DDC machines.

His words: "INEC never said it will use the DDC machines for election. The law does not allow INEC to use e-voting for now. There is nothing the commission can do about that. However, what is in the manual register is a replica of what we have in the DDC machine.

The fingerprint on the manual register is the same with the finger print in the DDC machine."…

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Women in Nigerian politics

Barriers to participation are not always visible -- especially to outsiders. (Are men outsiders by definition?)

Politics - the Many Barricades Against Nigerian Women
There has been a long standing cry for Nigerian women in politics to assume more active and participatory roles…

The Beijing conference of 1995 recommended 35% allocation for women in political positions, power and decision making but that has not been the case in Nigeria where women can barely boast of 5 percent. It is not as if the women are not trying or that they are not capable, but it is just that they are not able to fit into the political system practiced in Nigeria where violence, rigging and party politics do not encourage women to participate…

The patriarchal nature of Nigerian politics where men are always leading and women following has relegated the participation and success of the women to the background, preferring to acknowledge the woman as the backbone behind the success of the man rather than ascribe the success to a woman's' ability…

Women in the north where disenfranchised in 1957 by the Northern opposition on religious grounds, their franchise was re-imposed in 1976, but this setback shouldn't have retarded the progress of the women as it has done, as women have never been legally disenfranchised from holding high political offices, yet, women have made very limited political influence since the nation's independence and democratic rule…

In a paper delivered by… Joy Ngozi Ezeilo at the International Republican Institute (IRI), Women's Conference in Abuja, she said "women in the main are disillusioned with politics and are indifferent to the current trend of events going on around them. There is evidence that even educated women continue to have less interest in political matters and where the interest is shown, women mainly pursue different political goals"…

Community organizations such as, political parties, trade unions, military etcetera are all entities that have been created as sacrosanct for men…

Religious restraints have also been among the many retardations of women political participation in Nigeria…

Political godfatherism has also militated against the participation of women in politics…

Political gangsterism (thuggery, Kidnappings) has not much helped the female politicians, referring to the do or die method of Nigerian politics…

Ezeilo… advocated for political party quotas and other forms of affirmative action to mainstream women in the party structure and leadership, to eliminate violence and engage with traditional and religious institutions opposed to women leadership, enhance women's capacity and mentoring for female political aspirants.

She also recommended constitutional and legal reforms, launching of a women political support fund…

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Plurality and majority elections

If you'd like a reading to lead into a discussion of plurality and majority electoral systems, this one from The Wall Street Journal is good. It was written by Joshua Tucker, an Associate Professor of Politics at New York University and one of The Monkey Cage bloggers. Applying the concepts to other countries (including the USA) should not be difficult. Add in some information about the proposed "Alternative Vote" in the UK and about proportional representation, used in the Russian DUMA, and you have a good little unit. (See: Q&A: Alternative Vote referendum and State Duma adopting proportional vote)

Why Egypt Needs a Two-Round Presidential Election
In the coming months, it appears Egypt will be rewriting its constitutional laws, which will include rules for conducting elections.  If Egypt retains a presidential system of government, then the rules for electing the Egyptian president will be of paramount importance.  Outside of the United States—which uses a convoluted indirect system of electing its president—most countries with presidential systems employ one of the following two direct ways of electing their president:
  • In a plurality election, a single round of voting is held, and the candidate with the most votes at the end of that round is declared the winner of the election.
  • In a majoritarian election, a first round of voting is held.  If a candidate passes a pre-arranged threshold (we’ll call this X% of the vote) in the first round, then he or she is declared the winner of the election.  If no candidate gets more than X% of the vote, then a second round of voting is held at a later date.  However, participation in this second round is limited to only the candidates that performed the best in the first round. The exact number of candidates allowed to advance to the second round is set by law. As majoritarian elections often feature two rounds, they are commonly referred to as “two-round presidential elections.”...
[I]f it turns out that… the Muslim Brotherhood has the largest support of any political force in the country but a majority of the country does not want a Muslim Brotherhood president—then a one-round presidential election will not ultimately reflect the preferences of the Egyptian people. A two-round election, however, would.

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China is not Egypt

Jeremiah Jenne is an American grad student doing research and teaching in Beijing. A Chinese guest poster on his blog Jottings from the Granite Studio offers these ideas about China in an age of populist revolutions in the Muslim world.

A Chinese Perspective on the “Jasmine Revolution” (Another guest post by Yajun)
On Saturday, an anonymous letter circulated online calling for Chinese people to follow after the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and launch a “Jasmine Revolution” in 13 different cities in China. The McDonald’s at Wangfujing in Beijing was one of the locations.

(I have to say that this choice of the location is beyond my understanding. First, since Wangfujing is one of the most populated shopping center in town, how do you tell who is protesting and who is shopping? Second, McDonald’s? Really? The revolution may or may not be televised, but apparently that didn’t stop us from soliciting corporate sponsors.  Too bad Groupon blew their ad budget on the Super Bowl.)

In the end, there were a lot of police and a handful of foreign correspondents.  Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell the protesters, because they didn’t show…

Did anyone really think a couple of posts on Boxun was was going to start a revolution?  Let’s make this clear: China is not Egypt.

First of all, not all that many Chinese people actually care about Egypt or Tunisia…

Yes, China has many social problems, including corruption, unemployment and inflation, some of which may be even more severe than is the case in Egypt, but I still argue that the chances of a “Jasmine Revolution” – never mind anything on the scale of the 1989 Tian’anmen Square protests – are quite small at least for the foreseeable future.  The main reason being that discontent towards the government in China hasn’t translated into meaningful opposition.


China today is different from 1989. Over the last twenty years, rapid economic growth has raised the standard of living to an unprecedentedly high level… Few urban Chinese seem eager to trade their chance at prosperity for dreams of revolution…

[T]he majority of Chinese do believe that this government can lead them to a better life…

The Tian’anmen generation – some of whom starved themselves in order to see a better future for their country — is long gone. This generation, actually my generation, keeps ourselves very busy with trying to make our lives better, and frankly…there is nothing wrong with that. This is a phase many countries and societies go through. Mao’s been dead for 35 years, is it okay if we don’t have to think about revolution every day and night?

All that said, there is a growing demand among many in China for better protection of personal property and personal interests, and this is what the government should be concerned about…

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Censorship in Mexico?

If media avoid censorship by self control, what happens when someone gets out of control? Are there other countries where this would likely happen? Are there countries where it would not happen?

Mexican media's balancing act
Carmen Aristegui [is] one of Mexico's most easily recognisable journalists. Famed for her investigative reporting and all-star interview shows, Aristegui held a prime time slot with radio station MVS, where multitudes of Mexicans listened to her on their way to work.
All this changed... when Aristegui addressed an issue long-discussed on the Mexico City social media rumour mill: President Felipe Calderon's supposed problem with alcohol…

By the next Monday, Aristegui was clearing her desk, fired by MVS who said that she had broken their code of conduct by "broadcasting rumour as news".

The Mexican presidency has denied that it had anything to do with the sacking of Aristegui, but the resulting maelstrom has caused many to question the close relationship between government and the media in Mexico.

Aristegui herself claimed that the Mexican government pressured the radio station for her head…

Top Mexican political analyst Sergio Aguayo says that government censorship of media is still widely practised in Mexico, but strong arm methods have been abandoned for a more subtle approach.

Something as fundamental as the right to broadcast for a TV or radio station can be a bargaining chip used by the state…

As well as power over licences, advertising revenue from the federal government makes up a large part of the income of many major Mexican media outlets, according to Ricardo Gonzalez of Article 19, a London-based freedom of expression group. In some cases media outlets rely so heavily on these advertising contracts that they risk bankruptcy if the government decides to withdraw them…

Mexico radio host rehired after alcohol flap
Radio anchor Carmen Aristegui, one of the best-known news personalities in Mexico, has been rehired by the broadcaster that dropped her after she called on President Felipe Calderon to answer unsubstantiated rumors about his drinking.

Aristegui and MVS Communications issued a joint announcement... saying she would be back on her morning news show next week.

"The recent days have been instructive," the joint statement said. It said the station would establish an ombudsman's position to represent listeners and evaluate the ethical behavior of its employees.

MVS said last week that it had fired Aristegui for violating its ethics code, but did not elaborate...

Calderon administration officials denied any role in Aristegui's firing. There was no immediate administration reaction to word she was being reinstated to her weekday slot.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Facilitating learning

Jakob Nielsen has long been an expert on Web site design. He is an expert because he does research and pays attention to research other people do. I read one of his books when I first began designing Web sites. I still refer to it. He collaborates Donald Norman, a designer whose book The Design of Everyday Things was a favorite of mine several years ago. Norman was also a consultant to Apple Computer.

Nielsen and Norman emphasize "usability" in everything from web pages, to product design, to learning materials and processes. It should be no surprise, then, to find the following article on Nielsen's web site about enhancing learning on the Web.

If you use Web pages or blogs or even handouts, this bit of research is probably worth the time it takes to read it (at least once).

Nielsen's advice fits with what I told my students (to their seemingly endless amusement) about reading chapters in their textbooks three times. I guess my advice was a little bit short of the mark.

Test-Taking Enhances Learning
I have long worried that the Web is unsuited for real learning. The basic problem is users' superficial "surfing" of information: as countless studies have shown since 1997, people tend to scan text on websites instead of reading it closely…

[T]here are cases in which users really do need to learn something rather than get only the highlights. Educational sites obviously fall in this category, whether targeted at teens or college students

145% More Info Retained after Taking Tests

How can we help users learn more from our website content? A recent research study comes to the rescue here.

Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt from Purdue University published a paper in Science this month that measured the amount of information people could remember a week after reading a scientific text.

Students who completed an elaborate test after reading the text remembered 145% more content after a week than students who simply read the text and didn't do anything else…

The test-taking condition was a retrieval practice test, which is much more elaborate than traditional tests. The full procedure was:
  1. Read the text.
  2. Recall as much of the information as you can on a free-recall test.
  3. Read the text again.
  4. Complete another free-recall test.
It's no big surprise that people remember more after this elaborate procedure, which involves working with the information 4 times. However, the researchers also studied a condition where people simply read the text 4 times. These readers also remembered more a week later than people who had read the text a single time, but only 64% more… the point is to get users to exercise their memory after reading your content, and then offer them a chance to revisit the material after they've seen how little they remember…

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Sounds democratic

The headline sounds promising. But the article raises more questions than it answers: How many ordinary people? (We can tell there were at least 4 to represent China's billion+.) How were they chosen? Was this a focus group or a meeting with the premier? Did they get free rides home or did they fear going to prison if they misspoke?

Chinese premier invites ordinary people to advise on government work
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has invited a group of ordinary people from all walks of life to seek their opinions on drafts of a government work report and the country's economic and social development blueprint for the next five years.

The representatives, including a farmer, a migrant worker, a rural doctor and a community worker, were invited to Zhongnanhai, the central leadership compound in downtown Beijing, on Jan. 25. Some details of the meeting were made public on Sunday [Feb. 13].

At the meeting, Wen said, "Ordinary people are in the best place to evaluate government's work, and listening to public opinion will allow us to know how government policies are carried out at grass-roots level, and what difficulties people are facing."…

The drafts of the 12th five-year program, or the national development plan for 2011 to 2015, and the government work report will be delivered for review early next month at a plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature.

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High speed payoffs

Even without details, we can assume that when such a high-level official in China loses his job, the corruption was massive. The Party continues to publicize cases like this and its campaign against corruption, but the corruption is still commonplace: over 146,000 officials punished last year.

China’s Railway Minister Loses Post in Corruption Inquiry
The railway minister of China, Liu Zhijun, has been removed from the top post in the ministry because he is being investigated for corruption… Mr. Liu is the most senior Chinese official to come under such investigation in years.

Mr. Liu, 58, is being investigated for “severe violation of discipline,”… The report did not give details on the exact infractions.

Mr. Liu’s family has been dogged by charges of abuse of power. In April 2006, Mr. Liu’s younger brother, Liu Zhixiang, was given a suspended death sentence by a court in Hubei Province for hiring people to kill a man who had revealed that he was a corrupt official...
See also: China's railway minister under investigation over "disciplinary violation"
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Big Society

In the USA, Huey Long proposed to make "Every Man a King;" Roosevelt promoted the "New Deal" in the 1930s. Kennedy and Johnson strove toward a "New Frontier" and a "Great Society" in the '60s. Mao Zedong wanted a "Great Leap Forward" in the '50s and a "Cultural Revoluiton" in the '60s. Ronald Reagan wanted to recognize "Morning Again in America." Tony Blair proposed "New Labour," while Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping pushed for "Four Modernizations." Hu Jintao has been campaigning to create a "Harmonious Society."

And now David Cameron wants to reform Britain into a "Big Society." New, great, revolution, modernization and harmonious are pretty clear. But what's a "big" society and how is it different from what the British have? Critics call it "Do it yourself government."

The web site for PM Cameron's No. 10 Downing Street said the aim is "to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will 'take power away from politicians and give it to the people.'" (Pardon my skepticism, but I think that means take power and money away from Labourite bureaucrats and government programs. I don't think the PM wants to relinquish any of the power he's so recently won.)

The details are controversial and are being criticized from inside and outside of the Conservative Party. Pay attention to future developments in the program for a "Big Society" and the ramifications for politics in the UK.

Platoons under siege
David Cameron's… inclusive motto—"We’re all in this together"—is being drowned out by accusations that its grand project is a cynical cover for public-sector cuts: the “Big Con”, as one Labour MP puts it.

The Big Society evolved in opposition as the Conservatives sought to slough off their reputation as a heartless bunch, fixated only on economic outcomes. Besides reminding the Tory party to sound nice… the concept had ideological roots. Mr Cameron and his allies are keen on pushing power away from central government. They want to encourage pluralism and competition in the delivery of services—and to dilute the British tendency to think that the public purse should be the first and only port of call for everything from libraries to children’s centres.

In its first year, the coalition government has begun to deliver policies that reflect those beliefs… A first, smallish wave of “free schools” [charter schools] are being set up. There are to be more directly elected mayors in major cities and new, elected local police commissioners. The welfare system is being overhauled to let private firms and charities compete for more contracts.

But the Big Society has come up against the rough business of cuts: to shrink Britain’s gaping fiscal deficit, the government is implementing drastic reductions in public spending. Protests about the impending closure of libraries and messy plans to remove woodland from public ownership have put ministers on the defensive. Even some of the Big Society’s devotees in Number 10 admit that the upbeat message of mutual reliance has got lost in the rows over deficit reduction, and the consequences for charities and others that depend on local councils for money…
Britain’s do-it-yourself government
A few times a week, Kirsten Dhanda takes her family and her dog to Grenfell Park, her local green space in the affluent London commuter suburb of Maidenhead, and picks up discarded beer cans.

If you ask her, she's just doing what any civilized person would do to keep her neighbourhood tidy for everyone to use. Ms. Dhanda does not think of herself as a tiny cog in the most radical, sweeping experiment that Britain has embarked on in the postwar years…

And yet that is exactly what she is: one of Prime Minister David Cameron's foot soldiers, marching toward the new Jerusalem that he calls the Big Society.

Ms. Dhanda was just doing her bit to clean up after the can-tossing louts who pollute her kids' playground when she was asked if she wanted to sign up to one of the fledgling Big Society programs run by her local government authority, Maidenhead and Windsor Council. She was given an official stick and a bag…

Some of her neighbours watched skeptically from their houses: Didn't they already pay taxes to the council so it would pick up the garbage?…

Long before… May [of] last year, Mr. Cameron talked incessantly – monotonously, some of his colleagues thought – of his “great passion” to devolve power away from bureaucrats in London to ordinary individuals.

“The biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power, from elites in Whitehall,” he said in a speech last summer, “to the man and woman in the street.”…

In a year's time, if all goes well, the Big Society Bank that Mr. Cameron has created will be doling out £200-million ($320-million) to voluntary groups... A host of “bureaucracy busters,” 5,000 civilian volunteers and an army of 16-year-olds will be recruited to help deliver social services.

In the Conservative idyll, the inexpert but enthusiastic will take over libraries, run unprofitable bus services, scour public ledgers for irregularities…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Links at Sharing Comparative

Finding lots of YouTube videos made by Comparative Politics students, reminded me that there's a fine list of links at the "Sharing Comparative" group site.

If you belong to the "Sharing Comparative" Yahoo group, you'll find links to the following teaching materials related to the UK. (There are folders of links for the other countries in the AP curriculum as well.)

And when you find a good online link, you can add it so the rest of us can use it too.

If you don't belong, go to the "Sharing Comparative" site and request to join.

Links to teaching materials at the Sharing Comparative group site

  • BBC Guide to UK Parliament
    History and an interactive diagram
  • BBC Guide to UK political parties
    Thumbnail sketches of parties
  • BBC Guide to the UK cabinet
    Brief bios of cabinet members
  • Constitutional Reform Act of 2005
    The law creating a supreme court for the UK
  • David Cameron's first speech as PM
    Government goals
  • Election Night
    Satire of British election night coverage
  • Electoral Geography: United Kingdom
    Maps of election results
  • How a bill becomes a law (US version)
    Schoolhouse Rocks classic (for comparision)
  • Interview with Lord Vance
    A Law Lord explains the constitutional changes
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown (1)
    from the BBC
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown (2)
    from The Times of London
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown (3)
    BBC summary of others' comments
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown (4)
    from The Independent
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown 5
    from The New Statesman (left)
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown 6
    David Cameron "shreds" Brown during PM Questions
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown 7
    Details on the bank collapse
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown 8
    Brown responds to his "bigotted" woman comment
  • Legacy of Gordon Brown 9
    Review of Brown's memoir
  • Making Laws: How a law is made
    A British version of how a bill becomes a law
  • PM Brown's campaign speech, Sept 09
    PM's speech at the Labour Party conference
  • Radical Britain
    Why reform in Britain might be easy (Aug 2010)
  • The GOP and the Tories
    Comparison of US Republicans and UK Conservatives
  • The House of Lords: What's it all about?
    Lords explain their role in Parliament
  • The Role of an MP
    MPs explain their roles as Parliamentarians
  • UK Supreme Court
    A new appellate court in London
  • UK maps and photographs
    Copyright free images from Wikimedia Commons

The Fourth Edition of What You Need to Know is available at Amazon.com or from the publisher (where shipping is always free).


Voter registration in Nigeria

SolomonSydelle, in the Nigerian Curiosity blog, writes about the voter registration process.

After almost three weeks of fits and starts, Nigeria's election commission, INEC completed a voter registration exercise. The commission sought to register 70 million citizens and managed to register almost 64 million…

INEC and all other contributing parties must be commended for getting so many Nigerians to register. The reality is that conditions for the exercise were far from ideal in several parts of the country…

INEC has announced that citizens will have between February 14th and the 18th to verify their information on the register. That gives only four days for this to be accomplished. That is a short amount of time for even half of the 64 million voters to check the register.

If the register can be verified using the Internet, that will make it easy for those with Internet access to check that their information on the register is correct. For the majority of Nigerians who do not have access to the Internet, they will be forced to endure lines and possibly ineffective procedures. Still, for those truly committed to participating in the upcoming polls, that will be but a small price to pay. Yet it would be foolhardy for election officials to not make the process as smooth as possible…

This leaves INEC very little time to ensure free and fair elections. One can only hope that the commission will achieve it's mandate. After the hiccups of the last few weeks and given the realities of the country, anything can happen. Still, all hands must be on deck to help create a good ending. Hopefully, it will not include any extension or postponement of the elections.

See also: Official: More than 63M Nigerians register to vote

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The revolution evolves

What would Mao say? Now the power elite is playing the game of authoritarians everywhere: suppressing the poor and powerless and protecting the urban elite. Remind me again, which characteristics are Chinese?

Protecting the middle class
IN THE southern boomtown of Shenzhen, normally docile legislators have been complaining with unusual vigour. Their worries, aired in the local media, are about the introduction on January 28th of the country’s first home-ownership tax…

In recent months fast-rising property prices in China have put the Communist Party in a quandary. Avowedly socialist leanings mean that the party cannot easily ignore the complaints of the urban poor… But most registered urban residents… own their own property. Few want to see prices drop. For them, the main concern is avoiding a crash.

Keeping the middle class happy is also the party’s concern. Over the past decade, despite a rhetorical shift to the left, the party has tailored policies to avoid antagonising such a politically crucial group. It has been adept at isolating and containing protests by angry farmers or the urban underclass, using a mixture of intimidation and pay-offs. But it is less sure that it could deal so adroitly with grievances shared by swathes of the middle class…

Some officials have touted the new property tax as another market-dampening measure. But it is unlikely to have much impact on prices in the two cities. The tax rates are low and they affect only a small proportion of homeowners…

One aim of the property tax is to provide local governments with a steady new income that will help wean them off their dependence on one-off land deals. Jia Kang, a government researcher who helped devise the tax, says it should result in fewer evictions and protests [of poor people]. It could, he says, even help promote local democracy, since taxpayers will expect a bigger say in how their governments are run. Another reason, perhaps, for not expecting property taxes to play too big a part.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Foreign policy for 27 countries?

The growing pains for the new EU foreign policy are obvious. Especially in times of turmoil, making, publicizing, and implementing policy in one nation can be difficult. What if you're working with 27 nations? And, do you know why she's competing with the European Commission?

Europe’s Foreign Policy Chief, Struggling for Mandate, Faces Criticism on Uprisings
After President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt refused to step down… the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a sharp statement saying that “the time for change is now” and that Mr. Mubarak “has not yet opened the way to faster and deeper reforms.”

Her rapid response was a marked change from the past few weeks, when she has been increasingly criticized as being painfully slow to respond to the crisis in Egypt and elsewhere…

It has been very difficult for Ms. Ashton, whose job was created in December 2009 by the Lisbon Treaty, to get ahead of the curve.

She must maneuver among the 27 member states — all with their own foreign ministers — as well as the European Union bureaucracy and the European Commission, run by José Manuel Barroso, who has foreign policy aspirations of his own…

On Jan. 29, to her embarrassment, the leaders of the most influential nations in the European Union — Germany, France and Britain — issued a statement calling for free and fair elections in Egypt in advance of a European foreign ministers’ meeting set for two days later, at which Ms. Ashton was scheduled to try to find a European consensus…

A senior aide to Ms. Ashton said that a clear European mandate was hard to achieve, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy “saying Mubarak is great, France saying you can’t talk of free and fair elections now, and others saying you can’t tell Egyptians what to do.”…

“They want her to be Hillary Clinton, and that’s what she tries to be and wants to be,” the aide said. “But the states have to give her the tools and the mandate. If they want her to be the Hillary Clinton of Europe, give her the power.”

Part of Ms. Ashton’s problem is exactly that: the member states do not want to give her the power. They do not really want a European foreign minister…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Fending off the PRI and the PRD

Does winning with a candidate recently recruited from an opposing party count as a win for your party?

Strange bedfellows in Mexico's election season
In another case of topsy-turvy political allegiances in Mexico, the conservative party of President Felipe Calderon... appeared to have won the governorship of the state of Baja California Sur with a candidate who once was a former foe from the main leftist party.

Marcos Covarrubias, who defected from the leftist party and ran as a candidate of the right-wing National Action Party, or PAN, won by six percentage points over his nearest competitor, according to preliminary results...

It is the first time the PAN has won in Baja California Sur, home of the Los Cabos tourist zone. The state has been in the hands of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, since 1999, but the party has been weakened by infighting and poor performances by some incumbents…

Despite the philosophical differences, the PAN was happy to accommodate Covarrubias to defeat the PRD and, more importantly, Mexico's former ruling party, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI…

Covarrubias' defection was the latest case of party-jumping and incongruous alliances as Mexico kicks off a year of statewide votes that will segue into a bigger contest: the 2012 presidential election.

The PAN and PRD, though political opposites, are eager to trip up the PRI, which hopes to retake the presidency after a string of wins in gubernatorial and congressional races since 2006.

The PRI, which ruled for 71 years until it was toppled by the PAN in 2000, leads early polls for president behind Enrique Pena Nieto, the photogenic governor of the central state of Mexico…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Teaching materials

Just a reminder to teachers that these files are available to members of the "Sharing Comparative" Yahoo Group. Ask to join at

OR submit things you've found that might help others.

After the Exam
post-exam current events project  

Answering FRQs
Hints to students about how to succeed

A model for a review exercise  

A few lesson ideas for this unit  

China Dr Kate Zhou speaks
U of Hawaii professor on Chinese politics (video)  

China Jeopardy review
A PowerPoint based review game    

Commanding Heights
PBS video series  

Comparative constitutions
A web site with constitution texts

Comparative Exercise
A movie-based exercise to compare systems

Comparative Leadership
Were contemporaries influenced by the same things?  

Concepts Review
An idea for periodic review of basic concepts

Course structure
Ideas about course structure and teaching the UK  

Critical Thinking
Articles to compare  

Dealing with old textbooks
How do you compensate for out of date texts?

EU Mini-Research
Questions to get students to look up basic information  

EU, teaching about
Thoughts about teaching about the EU and other non-nation states    

Evaluation of Liberty
A reading and a response essay assignment

Exam Review Activities
Worksheets to help students organize information

Film recommendations
Three films to help teach comparative  

Final Review
45 questions for course review

Iran from PBS Newshour
Dec 09 coverage on Newshour

Iran Lessons
Ideas for teaching about Iran

Iran Revolution
Sources about the revolution

Legitimacy Essay
Review essay on legitimacy and participation  

Mexico 1968
Massacre of students in Mexico City

MontyPython Dennis and Arthur
teaching with a scene from Monty Python

A reading for teaching a concept  

National Happiness
Can it be measured and compared?  

Nigeria Prebendalism
A characteristic of Nigerian politics

Political Parties Inquiry
Student research on recent elections & parties

Post Exam Project 2
A second post exam project  

Post Exam Project 3
Another framework for post exam research

Post-Exam Project 1
An idea for a post-exam research project  

Queen's Speech
Resources for studying the Queen's Speech 2008  

Regime Change
How do we figure out what "regime change" means?

Russia Change in Russia
short radio reports for analysis  

Russia Putin Cult
Videos of I want a man like Putin, etc.

Russia Using the Profile
A useful web site for teaching about Russia  

Seminar model
A course organization plan  

The State Research Paper
from the University of Richmond

Theory and Method
How to and why of comparative politics

UK Coalition Govt
Alan Carter's collection of analyses  

China Collaborative Political History Timeline.doc
Collaborative Chinese Timeline

The Fourth Edition of What You Need to Know is available at Amazon.com or from the publisher (where shipping is always free).


More on weather and politics

It's not just China where the capacity of the state to deal with weather-related problems is being tested. Mexico might face its own challenges.

Cold snap hits Mexico maize crop
A spell of unusually cold weather in northern Mexico has severely damaged the maize crop in the state of Sinaloa.

Officials estimate the losses could amount to four million tonnes of corn - 16% of Mexico's annual harvest…

At a meeting with Sinaloa farmers and state officials, President Calderon [said]… "It is not an ordinary catastrophe or the simple loss of a harvest, but an emergency situation that demands a clear and forceful response from the authorities, a response that is not lost in bureaucratic delays"...

Tortilla prices have already been rising in line with a spike in grain prices on global markets.

In 2007 high tortilla prices provoked widespread protests in Mexico…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Weather and politics

Food shortages have been related to politics in China for centuries. If there is a food shortage, will Chinese leaders survive because of the country's relative wealth?

UN: Drought Endangers Chinese Winter Wheat Harvest
A U.N. food agency said Tuesday that China's winter wheat harvest was at risk because of a drought that also has led to shortages of drinking water for people and livestock.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said the North China Plain drought is already putting pressure on wheat prices in China, with average flour prices rising more than 8 percent in January compared to the previous two months.

The region produces most of China's winter wheat, which is harvested in June. Low precipitation has meant there hasn't been enough snowfall to protect dormant plants from frost, and has affected soil moisture needed for the growing season…

FAO said the drought had also affected some 2.6 million people and 2.8 million livestock "due to the shortages of drinking water."

China bids to ease drought with $1bn emergency water aid
China has announced a billion dollars in emergency water aid to ease its most severe drought in 60 years, as the United Nations warned of a threat to the harvest of the world's biggest wheat producer.

Beijing has also promised to use its grain reserves to reduce the pressure on global food prices, which have surged in the past year to record highs due to the floods in Australia and a protracted dry spell in Russia…

Local newspapers have been filled with stories of the drought's impact on the "wheat basket" provinces of Henan, Anhui and Hunan. About 2.6 million people and 2.8 million livestock are affected. To induce precipitation, the army and metereological officials have fired cloud-seeding chemicals into the sky…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

A discussion to follow

A political science blog is raising some basic questions about power, authority, participation, and protest. Students can follow the discussion and consider some of comparative politics basic concepts.

Why Do Protests Ever Bring Down Governments?
[W]hy [do] governments ever fall simply because there are protesters in the street? After all, couldn't governments simply go about their business of governing and wait for the protesters to go home? More generally, as political scientists do we have a good model of what factors actually determine whether protests succeed in removing governments from office?...

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

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Unhappy MPs

A year ago, in the run up to elections, the scandal in the UK was over reimbursing legislators for dodgy expenses (feeding koi in an estate's pool?). In response Parliament set up an independent agency to monitor and approve expense payments to MPs. Now the agency is under fire for not not supporting the work of legislators and spending too much money itself (corruption might be cheaper?).

And here's a trivia question for your students: What is meant by identifying Sir George Young as "the leader of the House of Commons?"

Commons leader attacks MPs' expenses watchdog as latest claims are published
Sir George Young, the leader of the house of Commons, today delivered a devastating critique of the expenses watchdog as it published the latest tranche of claims, naming and shaming 125 MPs who had claims rejected…

Overall, the rejected claims amounted to just £15,352 out of the total £3.64m expenses bill for September and October.

The number of MPs rejected has fallen substantially compared with the first four months of the new scheme, which was introduced to clean up the expenses system after the scandal that rocked parliament in 2009…

Young published his official response to a consultation on the future of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) moments before the latest tranche of expenses was revealed.

In it, he accused Ipsa of "failing" to support MPs in their work, and said it had "unsatisfactory features" which are "at best distracting, and at worst impeding".

He called for widespread reforms, but insisted Ipsa should remain independent of the House of Commons…

The paper will curry favour with backbenchers who are furious about the bureaucracy and higher costs of the new expenses system. Some are calling for it to be entirely scrapped and replaced with a daily allowance for MPs to end the publication of receipts and a perceived "witch hunt" against them…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.
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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Health insurance in Mexico

Mexico's program of health care insurance illustrates the capacity of the state and its limits.

Mexico’s Universal Health Care Is Work in Progress
A decade ago, half of all Mexicans had no health insurance at all. Then the country’s Congress passed a bill to ensure health care for every Mexican without access to it. The goal was explicit: universal coverage.

By September, the government expects to have enrolled about 51 million people in the insurance plan it created six years ago — effectively reaching the target, at least on paper.

The big question, critics contend, is whether all those people actually get the health care the government has promised…

Even critics who argue that the government is failing to live up to the promise of universal health coverage acknowledge that Mexico’s program saves lives and protects families from falling into poverty in many cases of catastrophic illness.

But the task of covering so many people’s care, with a budget of about $12 billion this year, is enormous…

This month, Mexico’s health minister, José Ángel Córdova, acknowledged... gaps, noting that 8 percent of the country’s municipalities still lacked any kind of health facility. “There is still first-, second- and third-class medicine,” he said in a speech.

While the undertaking is relatively young, the Health Ministry’s own statistics show that it is behind its own targets in reducing infant and maternal mortality — key health indicators — in the poorest states…

The money goes from the federal government to state governments, depending on how many people each state enrolls. From there, it is up to state governments to spend the money properly so that patients get the promised care.

That, critics say, is the plan’s biggest weakness. State governments have every incentive to register large numbers, but they do not face any accountability for how they spend the money…

The result is that how Mexicans are treated is very much a function of where they live…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.
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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Power diminishes as term ends?

When a former student comes up with a trenchant observation, how can I resist passing it on? Adam Minter lives and works in China. His observations on his blog, Shanghai Scrap, shed light on the sources of political power in China.

A Brief Note on Chinese Lame Ducks
The other… [day] New York Times’  diplomatic correspondent Mark Landler suggested that Hu Jintao had entered the “lame duck” period of his Presidency. I was on the show with Landler… and I respectfully corrected his use of the term…

So, just to be clear: the use of lame duck, by Landler in regard to Hu, and to politicians in other circumstances, typically suggests that the politician’s influence is on the wane due to an imminent succession or election. In Democratic countries, it’s a genuine phenomenon… But it’s a tenuous concept, at best, when applied to authoritarian systems, and especially relationship-based systems such as China’s. In China, unlike in a democratic country, power tends to accrue to leaders over the course of their tenure, in large part because they are developing, and deepening, the relationships that keep them in power… Unlike prior Chinese Presidents and CCP secretaries, Hu assumed power in 2002 without the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission; he would have to wait until 2004 before he could muster enough institutional pressure to wrest that from Predecessor Jiang…

But I think it’s indisputable that the man has more power – and a wider power base in the party – in 2011 than he did when he assumed national leadership in 2002. The notion of a lame duck – that power declines upon election – just doesn’t apply here…

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Undignified and inefficient?

Nearly 150 years ago, Walter Bagehot (in his book The English Constitution) drew a distinction between the dignified and efficient parts of the British regime. The dignified part represented the nation and "excited" the loyalty of the people. The efficient part of the regime did the "work of government."

The monarchy obviously was "dignified." Commons was "efficient," even if it got bogged down in political wrangling sometimes.

In the last 150 years, the House of Lords became more and more an element of the dignified part of the UK regime. However, its ability to "excite" the loyalty of the people has been questionable. Questionable to the point that there are suggestions floating about to abolish the Lords or to make it an elected body.

Recently the debate about alternative voting in the UK has dragged the House of Lords directly into the political fray. Observers like the New York Times' Sarah Lyall wonder whether Lords is dignified or efficient. How dignified can it be when peers drag out cots for naps during all-night debates like common state legislators in the US? And how efficient can they be when legislation is stalled by what amounts to a filibuster?

Election Bill Erodes Decorum in House of Lords
It was nearly midnight on Day 12 of the most grueling debate in recent House of Lords memory, and not all the Lords present were, strictly speaking, awake. But the Right Honorable Lord Davies of Oldham was warming to the question of the hour: a proposal to change “may” to “should” on Page 10, Line 7, of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill…

Give him points for enthusiasm, at least. With the coalition government and the Labour opposition both refusing to compromise on a measure that has severely divided them, the debate had already ground on for 98 hours across several weeks. The peers are not the youngest group of people ever to populate a legislature, and on Monday, after several all-nighters, some Lords were reaching the outer limits of coherence, patience and stamina…

The bill would trigger a referendum May 5 on whether to change the way election votes are calculated, and it would redraw Britain’s parliamentary boundaries, reducing the number of seats in the House of Commons to 600, from 650. The coalition government wants it, because it would fulfill the Liberal Democrats’ pledge to enact voting reform, and because the Conservatives would benefit from the boundary changes.

Labour is resisting because, while it supports voting reform, it vehemently opposes the redistricting proposal. The measure must become law by Feb. 16 in order for the May 5 referendum to proceed, and Labour is determined to delay the bill so that it misses the deadline.

Normally, opposition parties adopt a spirit of compromise and bonhomie in the House of Lords. Not this time. The government seems unwilling to budge, and Labour has resorted to virtually unprecedented delaying tactics.

These include proposing picayune amendments — more than 270 so far — discussing them for hours, and then, because they have no chance of passage, withdrawing them…

At one point during last Monday’s all-night session, Baron Trefgarne, a Conservative, drew gasps from other Lords when, saying he was fed up with the “abuse of the procedures of this house,” set in motion a procedural tool to bring an end to debate on the amendment in question — the first time such a tool has been used in 40 years, and only the sixth or seventh time since 1900...

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Friday, February 04, 2011

China with Chinese characteristics

This press release makes my head spin. I'd like to request a second translation. I suppose there's a certain democratic centralism logic to these statements, but I am baffled. What did Wu Bangguo say?

China will stick to socialism as required by law: top legislator
China will stick to socialism as it is required by the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics, top legislator Wu Bangguo has said…

Wu said China has established a comprehensive socialist legal system that governs all sectors of social life and provides a legal basis for the nation's economic and social construction.

The establishment of the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics is of great importance, since the system is the legal basis for the nature of socialism of Chinese characteristics, he said.

The system ensures, legally and institutionally, that the Communist Party of China (CPC) will always be at the core of the leadership of the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, with state power in the hands of the people.

The system also guarantees national independence, state sovereignty, territorial integrity, national unity, social stability, the unity of ethnic groups, an independent foreign policy of peace, and adherence to a peaceful development path.

It makes sure China will always march on the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, Wu said…

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Civil society in Nigeria

The distance from the USA to Nigeria often makes it difficult for students to recognize how active civil society organizations are in Nigeria. The textbooks describe government institutions and political parties. The news is full of stories about corruption and violence. This report, however, suggests that civic groups are numerous and active. How many groups are mentioned? How much of society do they represent? Who is not represented?

Civil Society Groups Score INEC High on Registration
In spite of hitches in the on-going voter registration in the country, Project 2011 Swift Count, a group of civil society, has scored the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, performance so far above 90%.

The independent monitoring group, however, added that the process had, in part, been marred by the malfunctioning of some Direct Data Capture, DDC, machines and shortages, as well as the inadequacy of essential materials in some areas…

Project 2011 Swift Count is a joint initiative of the Federation of Muslim Women's Associations in Nigeria, FOMWAN, Justice, Development and Peace/ Caritas Nigeria, JDPC, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, to promote free, fair, peaceful, credible and legitimate elections for all Nigerians…

The group said reports from its observers in all local governments across the country by the end of second week showed that 93 percent of registration centres were opened by noon; 86 percent had two registration officials present, while 82 percent had complete DDC systems…

See also:

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Free market government services

Margaret Thatcher promoted the privatization of public services, but public resistance was powerful. Perhaps Cameron and Clegg will be more successful.

Where Thatcher feared to tread
Across much of the public sector—from health and education to local authorities and prisoner rehabilitation—the provision of public services is increasingly being farmed out to private suppliers. The political risks are equally stark…

Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, are accelerating and deepening Tony Blair’s drive to increase choice and competition in the public services…

If sensitivity to market-based reform is particularly acute when it comes to the health service, in some other areas it has gradually become a fact of life. Local councils of all political colours now contract-out important services…

But there is potential for strife in areas besides the NHS. In education, the government wants to go farther than Mr Blair in challenging the dominance of comprehensive schools…

[A]dverse side-effects might well dominate the political debate before the benefits are felt, let alone appreciated by the public. The first symptoms of change will not be positive: the health reform and others will contribute to the imminent wave of redundancies in the public sector…

Market reforms involve stronger institutions taking over weaker ones. Yet even when some state schools are performing poorly, local parents often campaign against them being taken over, because they prize convenience and continuity over performance…

The history of reform since the 1980s shows that the public and professionals are often more flexible than instant cries of outrage suggest. The early rows over “contracting out” in the 1980s have subsided: the benefits of competition in areas from telecoms to utilities are now widely accepted...

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A sage's soft power

The promotion of Chinese studies is a classic example of the concept of soft power. However, it might cause confusion in China.

Rectification of statues
A WEEK before President Hu Jintao’s visit to America... the appearance of a giant bronze statue of Confucius on the east side of Tiananmen Square caused a stir in the Chinese capital. He is the first non-revolutionary to be commemorated on the hallowed ground of Chinese communism. The party, having once vilified the ancient sage, now depends on him in its attempts at global rebranding…

In 2004 China began setting up language schools abroad to extend its cultural reach. They were called Confucius Institutes, apparently to boost their appeal by disguising any links with communism…

During his trip to America, Mr Hu… [visited] a high school in Chicago that is home to a Confucius Institute. Of about 320 such institutes worldwide, over one-fifth are in America. The United States is also home to more than 200 offshoot “Confucius Classrooms”…

China has been careful not to encourage these language centres to act as overt purveyors of the party’s political viewpoints, and little suggests they are doing so. But officials do say that an important goal is to give the world a “correct” understanding of China…

Promoting Confucianism is not part of their remit. Party officials use Confucius as a Father-Christmas-like symbol of avuncular Chineseness rather than as the proponent of a philosophical outlook…

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