Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, June 30, 2006

Ask President Putin

Have a question for Russian President Putin? Here's your chance to ask if you ask quickly.

From the BBC

"Ask President Putin

"We will be putting your questions to President Putin in a special interactive webcast with the Russian website Yandex on Thursday, 6 July, 2006 at 1400BST. The webcast will be broadcast live on this site and on BBCRussian.com.

"Since becoming president in March 2000, Vladimir Putin has shown himself to be a strong leader, committed to restoring order at home and raising Russia’s influence abroad.

"But his firm handling of domestic affairs has sparked criticism that he is ‘rolling back democracy’, and he has been accused too of using energy to exert political pressure on neighbouring countries.

"In July, Russia will host the G8 summit for the first time and differences with western countries could overshadow the meeting of the world's top industrialised nations.

"What are the priorities for President Putin? Should Russia pursue a more independent role on the world stage? How stable is democracy at home? What would you like to ask him as a person?

"Send your question for President Putin NOW."

Go to http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/post!reply.jspa?threadID=2368&edition=2&ttl=20060630132912

to ask your question.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Potemkin "villages"

All five of these things may be trivia, but they were interesting to me. The examples come from the UK, Russia, and China. It is possible that some of these examples will be more than trivia and more substantial than "Potemkin" events in the future. Keep your eyes open for developments. (That's Grigory Potemkin to the right.)

1. Potemkin crisis (This one reminds me of the debate between Jefferson and Chief Justice John Marshall in which Jefferson insisted that Congress had the power to decide what the Constitution meant through its legislation. Read Marbury v. Madison to see how Marshall won the argument.)

Judges spark 'constitutional crisis'

"Judges have sparked a 'constitutional crisis' by their decision to quash the government's control orders, the chair of the home affairs select committee claimed today.

"A key plank of the government's anti-terror legislation is now in legal limbo after a high court judge ruled yesterday that orders confining suspects to their home and curtailing who they can meet breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Today John Denham, a former minister and highly respected backbencher, put the blame firmly at the door of the judges and demanded urgent talks between politicians and the judiciary to resolve the situation before it escalated any further...

"Mr Denham told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'There is a constitutional crisis emerging here, I think, about the way in which the judges and the courts are approaching these issues. When many of us, as I did, supported the Human Rights Act and indeed still support it, we thought that on great matters of state of this sort - if the elected parliament had taken a careful view of what was in the wider public interest - that would be given considerable weight by the courts.'"

2. Potemkin reform

China navy chief sacked for graft

"A top-level Chinese military official has been sacked for corruption after his mistress turned him in, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported...

"China's ruling Communist Party is worried that widespread official corruption is undermining its legitimacy, and has taken care to highlight a number of high-profile falls from grace.

"Earlier this month, in an unrelated case, a former deputy Beijing mayor, Liu Zhihua, was sacked over unspecified corruption charges."

3. Potemkin Square

On Red Square, a Czarist Ritual Revived

"Just before 2 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month from April to October, a dozen saber-bearing cavalry officers of the Kremlin Regiment, in tall hats and czarist military uniforms adorned with gold buttons, yellow tassels and epaulets, mount their horses and gallop through the Spassky Gates, past the impossibly colorful onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

"Their destination: the center of Red Square, near the podium where Communist Party bosses once stood and where thousands of tourists from around the world have gathered.

"The Presidential Orchestra's marching band, dressed in white and playing grand imperial marches, and infantry officers with saber rifles follow close behind the mounted officers. Taking their positions in the middle of the square, they launch into half an hour's worth of elaborate formations, graceful pirouettes and breathtaking saber tosses...

"The Kremlin commandant, Sergei Khlebnikov, and Grigori Antyufeyev, the chairman of Moscow's City Tourism Committee, introduced this recent recreation of a czarist cavalry and marching ceremony as Russia's answer to events like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace in London.

"'The main goal of the event is directed at the further forming of a positive image of Moscow as an international tourist center and the development of international and domestic tourism in Russia,' read a joint news release reflecting the very capitalist desire for tourist dollars, or euros, as the case may be, since the dollar continues to fall in Russia...

"Moscow's tourist development program is involved in other projects that look back in time, among them the restoration of prerevolutionary palaces and estates. In one case —Catherine the Great's unfinished Tsaritsyno Palace — Moscow has decided to finish what she never did. Other projects include a "retro train" around the city, meant to evoke the era of Czar Nicholas II; it will have a test run later this year..."

4. Potemkin Democracy

Russia: Bill Widening Definition of Extremism Moves Toward Approval

"Parliament's lower house gave preliminary approval to amendments that would expand the definition of extremism, a measure critics say is so broadly worded that it could allow the authorities to quash political and public protests.

"The amendments ... would label as extremist those who 'impede the activities of state bodies' or organize or take part in public disturbances... It would also apply to 'public slander' of state officials. The measures would allow the authorities to disqualify political parties or, in extreme cases, prosecute violators."

5. Potemkin reform (again)

House of Lords Creates New Speaker's Post

"LONDON (AP) -- The wig will be gone, but the cushy seat known as a Woolsack will still await the winner of an unprecedented election in the House of Lords. Their Lordships voted Wednesday to choose their first Lord Speaker, an innovation to replace the centuries-old office of Lord Chancellor. The winner will be announced July 4...

"The new Lord Speaker's post is one aspect of Prime Minister Tony Blair's unfinished project to remodel the House of Lords -- making it more democratic and ejecting many of those who had simply inherited their seats...

"The Lord Chancellor's role was changed amid concern that a single position had so many responsibilities in separate branches of power. Besides the role in the House of Lords, the job also came with a seat in the Cabinet and the post of head of the judiciary.

"Those responsibilities will now be split. The Lord Speaker will still preside over the House, but will be independent of the government. The newly restyled Lord Chancellor, who is appointed by the prime minister, will take the judicial role as well as the title of secretary of state for constitutional affairs...

"The Woolsack -- the Lord Speaker's seat in the chamber -- dates from the 14th century reign of King Edward III, when sacks of wool were placed in the chamber as a reminder of the source of national wealth.

"The Lord Speaker will wear a gown while presiding -- but he will not be sporting a wig."

In case you missed out on the references to things "Potemkin," here are the definition and some examples of Potemkin Village from Dictionary.com.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Political and property reform in China

Asia Times Online has published a two-part article on the politics of reform in China. It seems to me that they could be condensed, but there are some good ideas there to check out as events unfold between now and the next Party Congress (in just over a year).

The first article is Hu Jintao and the new China.

It begins, "With just one year left before the 17th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress in autumn 2007, Hu is shaping his grand strategy that will sail him through the congress, possibly with a new team of leaders all loyal to him. The moment is crucial because the party has to appoint one person or a group of persons to take the lead after Hu's retirement. The congress could also initiate new political mechanisms for the promotion of leaders..."

The article goes on to discuss the roles of Taiwan, religion, and the economy in the calculus of politics.

The second article is Hu Jintao's reform tightrope

It begins, "China seems to be moving in the direction of a new property law...

"The approval of such a law has been postponed for almost two years because of strong opposition and the great difficulty of setting in order the present chaos of all that could be defined as property in China. One sticking point is the definition of collective property, in which a village controls the local land..."

The article outlines the complexities of creating a property law in the rural communal society and the difficulties of dealing with the vast Party and government bureaucracies when promoting reform.

The articles are probably best for teacher background reading, but the portion of the second one about what issues surrounding communal property need to be dealt with would be illuminating for students too.

Check this one out

While reading an article this morning, I came across a wonderful resource for you and your students.

It's the Guardian's World News Guide

The editors describe it as, "...a country-by-country directory of news and government websites." That's it all right. I'd like to see students use some of these links as the basis for research assignments or activities.

This is an improvement on the links to government, political party, and media web sites on my book's web page because the directory includes many more countries and might be updated more frequently than my site.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Devolution that works

A great set of teaching materials in the morning papers.

The Washington Post and the New York Times reported on a law proposed by the Chinese government and sent to the Peoples Congress. (The law will probably be enacted by decree until the next Congress meets to approve it). After reading the two articles, I think the Times writer missed a significant point. (Maybe he should have studied more comparative government.) The proposed law would give local authorities the right to approve topics for reporting. And who better to protect their own reputations than the people charged with keeping the peace and quiet of the countryside?

Howard French's article in the New York Times about Dongzhou is an appropriate example to follow up on this topic. A village near Hong Kong where local officials, intent on economic development (and probably fat payoffs) use the power of the state to terrorize, prosecute, and persecute peasants who dared question official actions.

FIRST, excerpts from the Washington Post version of the story:
Chinese Media Law Would Require Consent to Report on Emergencies

BEIJING, June 26 -- The Chinese government has drafted legislation to fine newspapers up to $12,000 if they report on emergencies without first getting permission from local authorities, official media said Monday.
The new restrictions would apply to coverage of natural disasters, health crises and social unrest, such as the riots that have broken out across rural China in recent years. In effect, the draft law would make local governments the sole arbiters of information as they manage emergency situations...

The draft law, from Premier Wen Jiabao's cabinet, was designed to guide officials in handling ... emergencies. It would oblige local officials to immediately report to Beijing on accidents -- such as the oil spills and coal mine explosions that plague China regularly -- and swiftly organize an emergency response. The draft law goes on to stipulate that local governments should "release information in an accurate and timely way," but that they should "conduct management work over the media's related reports."

In practice, local governments routinely seek to conceal embarrassing information, such as protests, and order local publications not to report it...

Some journalists expressed hope that the National People's Congress, China's legislature, will reject the draft law's media provisions. In practice, however, the National People's Congress rarely, if ever, contests government decisions.

NOW an excerpt from the New York Times story:
China May Fine News Media to Limit Coverage

BEIJING, June 26 — Chinese media outlets will be fined if they report on "sudden events" without prior authorization from government officials, under a draft law being considered by the Communist Party-controlled legislature.

The law would give government officials a powerful new tool to restrict coverage of mass outbreaks of disease, riots, strikes, accidents and other events that the authorities prefer to keep secret. Officials in charge of propaganda already exercise considerable sway over the Chinese news media, but their power tends to be informal, not codified in law...

Journalists say local authorities are likely to interpret the law broadly, giving officials leeway to restrict coverage of any social and political disturbance they consider embarrassing, like demonstrations over land seizures, environmental pollution or corruption..."The way the draft law stands now it could give too much power to local officials to determine that someone has violated the law," said Yu Guoming, a professor of journalism at People's University in Beijing...

AND excerpts from Howard French's report on the cover up by local authorities in one province:
China Covers Up Violent Suppression of Village Protest

SHANWEI, China, June 20 — When the police raked a crowd of demonstrators with gunfire last December in the seaside village of Dongzhou, a few miles from this city, Chinese human rights advocates denounced the action as the bloodiest in the country since the killings at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in 1989.

Villagers said at the time that as many as 30 people had been killed, and that many others were missing. The authorities have said little or nothing about the episode, concentrating instead on preventing any accounts of it from circulating widely in the country. In the limited coverage that was allowed, officials blamed the unrest on the villagers.

Six months later, there has been no public investigation of the shootings. Instead, the government has quietly moved to close the matter, prosecuting 19 villagers earlier this month in a little-publicized trial. Seven were given long sentences after being convicted of disturbing the public order and of using explosives to attack the police. Nowhere in the verdict is there any mention of the loss of life...

In the last few years, China has seen the emergence of public-spirited lawyers who seek out civil rights cases in the countryside and volunteer their services to peasants in disputes over land or other matters.

In a growing number of such cases, including Dongzhou, the government has threatened the lawyers with hardball tactics, including the threat of suspending their law licenses, arrests and the implicit threat of violence.

"Local governments are very determined to prevent the involvement of outside lawyers, especially those from Beijing, because if they can control the local lawyers, keep them under their will, the trial will remain completely under their control," said one civil rights lawyers from Beijing, who was turned away from Dongzhou in December.

"The authorities publicly told the villagers they could hear all of their conversations and warned if you talk to outsiders you will be arrested," the lawyers said. "It was an open threat. The villagers were really scared, and the authorities controlled the entrance from the expressways and beat people who tried to enter."...

"This village has been pacified as if nothing ever happened here," said one man... [They've] made it clear: if you oppose the government, they'll show their true colors."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ideas for a first time comparative teacher

Wayne Berbert who teaches at Syosset HS on Long Island introduced himself on the "Teaching Comparative" online discussion site. He wrote, "Comparative Government will be a brand new course for the school and myself. I am quite nervous as I am not sure if I will be able to go to one of the week long classes and have no connections (besides the list-serve and this site) to materials, pedagody etc. Looking forward to sharing ideas and picking peoples brains to make this class as successful as can be."

If you are facing the same task, with similar aspirations and anxieties, get in touch with Wayne by commenting here or by posting a reply at the online discussion site.

If you prepared and taught the class for the first time last year, your experiences would probably be especially relevant, so you ought to get in touch as well.

Or, if you've taught Comparative several times and have suggestions, make them here or at the online discussion site.

I said, " I'm in favor of integrating comparative methods and theory with the study of individual countries as much as possible. Units on individual countries might be the backbone of the course, but comparative exercises, in my mind, ought to be included from day one. If you begin with the UK, you can ask your students to do comparisons with the US. And you can ask them what kind of comparisons they recognize and what kinds of difficulties they have in making the compaisons.

"The parliamentary system compared to the presidential/congressional system is a natural. Ask students what factors would make it difficult for either country to switch to the other's system. Then ask what factors would facilitate the switch."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Attitudes, attitudes

One of the things we have to confront when teaching about any country is the set of preconceptions we and our students hold. The greater the unfamiliarity with the subject, the more the preconceptions control our thinking. Then there are the preconceptions "the others" have about us.

The New York Times article on Friday, June 23 (and reports in other papers), illustrate the idea.

Poll Finds Discord Between the Muslim and Western Worlds

"Non-Muslim Westerners and Muslims around the world have widely different views of world events, and each group tends to view the other as violent, intolerant and lacking in respect for women, a new international survey of more than 14,000 people in 13 nations indicates.

"In what the survey ... called one of its most striking findings, majorities in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Turkey ... said, for example, that they did not believe that Arabs had carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States...

"This led majorities in the United States and in countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East to describe relations between Muslims and people in Western countries as generally bad, Pew found.

"Over all, Muslims in the survey, including the large Islamic populations in Britain, France, Germany and Spain, broadly blamed the West for the bad relations, while Westerners tended to blame Muslims...

"Pew found sharp divergences regarding respect for women: non-Muslims in the West view Muslims as lacking respect, the survey indicated, while Muslims outside Europe say the same of Westerners..."

Here's the BBC report, Survey highlights Islam-West rift

And here's the Guardian report Poll shows Muslims in Britain are the most anti-western in Europe

From the Washington Post: Survey Details 'Deep' Divide Between Muslims, Westerners

Wandering Through Cyberspace

While trolling on the Internet, I came across an old web page created by Dr. Iren Omo-Bare of Millsaps College in Jackson, MS.

It's dated 1997 (which makes it an antique on the web), but it might contain useful information for a comparative government and politics teacher.

The title of the page is "Lecture 1: Introduction: What is comparative Politics

There are other of Dr. Omo-Bare's pages on the Millsaps web site that might be useful. For instance, there's a list of questions for the Comprehensive Examination in Comparative/International Relations.

Web exploration can still be fun and enlightening if you have time for it.

And here's one more: If you go to the Wikipedia page on "Comparative Government," you'll find that there's not much there. Since anyone who registers can add to or edit a Widipedia page, you can. Or, even better, you can send your students to flesh out the bare bones of that page. Extra credit, anyone?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A potential tipping point

Here's a tidbit from a New York Times article to put in the back of your mind and think about when the election results come in. As the political analysts say, in a close race, many little things might be decisive.

Teacher Strike May Influence Mexican Vote

"What started as a teachers' strike here five weeks ago has grown into a major movement to oust the governor of Oaxaca State that could affect the presidential election on July 2 ... the teachers ... have been joined by dozens of community groups, Indian rights organizations, farmers' cooperatives and revolutionary parties. The teachers' initial demand for better pay has been drowned out by the general cry for Gov. Ulises Ruiz to resign...

"Mr. Ruiz is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the political machine that ruled Mexico, often through fraud and corruption, for seven decades, until its presidential candidate lost in 2000. The party is still strong in Oaxaca State, where leaders of the opposition party have been killed in recent elections...

"Now, politicians and voters worry that the spiraling political crisis will interfere with the presidential election in unpredictable ways.

"The teachers' union and its allies vow to disrupt the voting if the governor does not resign, and a fifth of the polling places are in schools. Yet the teachers are divided, with some saying they want to vote and some, including union leaders, calling for a protest vote against Mr. Ruiz's party and President Vicente Fox's National Action Party. That would benefit the leftist front-runner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, who has been challenging the former governing party's hold on the state ... any shift in votes toward the leftist could be significant, political analysts said..."

Reality's 30-second delay

A Brit who lives and works in southern China, writes a blog about his life there, "Liuzhou Laowai, Random thoughts from the heart of Guangxi."

This entry serves to remind us of the extent to which policy and government action intrude on the daily lives of people in China. Examples like this are important for U.S. students because they haven't experienced government action on this scale (except perhaps at airport security) and becuase they've come to accept as normal the government policies and actions they live with every day as "residents" of those institutions we call schools, where things like 30-second delays are not unheard of.

Here's the account of living with Chinese censorship:

"I've just got off the phone. I was talking to [my wife] who is in England. She was watching the World Cup game between Japan and Croatia. I switched on my television to see what was happening and what she was talking about.

"For a few minutes total confusion reigned. Situation normal! Her English is near perfect, but she is female!

"'Are we watching the same game?'

"At first, I think, we are maybe just getting different camera feeds, but no. We are watching two different games.

"Well not quite. We are just watching the same game at different times. China Central Television's (CCTV) 'live' broadcast is exactly 30 seconds behind the BBC's.

"[My wife] suggests that it might be something to do with the distance from Berlin to Liuzhou! Nonsense! This is normal. Nothing is ever broadcast live in China! The censors have to have the opportunity to change reality.

"As I have mentioned before, the signal of the 1997 Hong Kong handover arrived in Mainland China form Hong Kong via England quicker than it did directly from Hong Kong. What were they expecting Prince Charles to do? Drop his pants and give the masses a sight they'd never forget?"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Those dinosaurs aren't extinct just yet.

John Jenkins points us to an article in the Christian Science Monitor about politics in Mexico with the advisory that "Those dinosaurs aren't extinct just yet." Considering the close presidential race between Obrador and Calderon, it might be easy to forget about the basic strength of PRI. Danna Harman's article is a good reminder. Thanks John.

Mexico's once-mighty party struggles

"MEXICO CITY – For most of the 20th century, power and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were one and the same in Mexico. All the mayors were PRI. All the congressmen. All the senators, governors, presidents...

"Now, the PRI is heading into the July 2 national elections with its presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo trailing in third place and its defectors numerous enough to fill Mexico City's Azteca Stadium twice over...

"Gabriel Guerra Castellanos, a respected political analyst for the daily Reforma newspaper [says] 'Despite all its shortcomings ... the PRI remains, arguably, the country's only real national party. And its resilience to the changing political landscape is actually remarkable...'

"At present, the PRI still has the largest bloc of deputies in Congress - 204 out of 500 - and holds 58 of 128 Senate seats. Seventeen of the country's 31 governors are PRI, including in the important state of Mexico, and 70 percent of the country's municipalities are headed by 'PRI-istas.'

"A poll released Wednesday by the Consulta Mitofsky polling firm, shows that while the PRI was expected to lose party seats, it would remain a powerful player...

"The future of the party, says [Genaro] Borrego [a 30-year PRI veteran and former party president, who endorsed Calderón last week and quit the party], will depend on how well it can reinvent itself. 'The day after elections, there will be a battle between the various factions: the pragmatists who want to restructure, the idealists who want a whole new party, and the nostalgics who want the old party,' he predicts.

"'What is needed is a fresh reformer to jump on the locomotive and steer it away from the old way of doing politics,' adds Guerra. 'But there will be a struggle before this can happen.'"

Minor revisions

The article I mentioned yesterday that touted a professor's guess about the popularity of the Iranian president got a new title on the Guardian web site today. Today's title is "A year on, Ahmadinejad's popularity is soaring."

No change in the content of the article, but the title is a bit more respectable. Is it any more news that it was yesterday?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Be careful out there

Why we must be cautious about using journalists as sources.

A professor's guess becomes a Guardian (UK) headline. A spokesman for an establishment think tank asserts, without evidence, that the president's honesty, not his nationalistic blustering, is responsible for his popularity.

After those bits of "astute reporting," is there anything in the article readers should take seriously? Well, maybe the bit about the president's regular "campaign" tours, the comments about his anti-Israel support for the Palestinians (omitted from this excerpt), and the caution about economic mismanagement. But is any of that news? Or did the editors say, "It's time for a story on Iranian politics?" Or did reporter "Simon Tisdall in Tehran" have coffee with the guessing professor and the think tank flack and recruit colleague Ewen MacAskill to meet this week's quota of articles? Not all that's fit to print is fit for the classroom.

Ahmadinejad 'has 70% approval rating'

"Ewen MacAskill and Simon Tisdall in Tehran
"Tuesday June 20, 2006

"The popularity of Iran's controversial leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is surging almost a year after he unexpectedly won closely contested presidential elections, Iranian officials and western diplomats said on Tuesday.

"Attributing his success to his populist style and fortnightly meet-the-people tours of the country, the sources said, as matters stand, Mr Ahmadinejad was the clear favourite to win a second term in 2009. The perception that the president was standing up to the US over the nuclear issue was also boosting his standing.

"'He's more popular now than a year ago. He's on the rise,' said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a professor of political science at Tehran University. 'I guess he has a 70% approval rating right now. He portrays himself as a simple man doing an honest job. He's comfortable communicating with ordinary people.'

"While there are no reliable national opinion polls in Iran, western diplomats acknowledged that support for Mr Ahmadinejad is growing, defying widespread predictions after last June's election that he would not last more than three months...

"Vahid Karimi, of the government-affiliated Institute for Political and International Studies, said: 'Certainly his popularity is increasing. People like what he says. It's not so much because he stands up to the west but because he's not corrupt. This is very important.' Independent Iranian sources said many people were surprised that Mr Ahmadinejad had not turned out to be as socially conservative as many expected. His attacks on the privileges enjoyed by some among Iran's ruling clerical elite and his recent unsuccessful attempt to allow women to attend football matches had made a big impact...

"US officials have described the Iranian president as a threat to world peace and claim that he faces a popular insurrection at home...

"Mohammad Atrianfar, founder of the leading reformist newspaper Shargh and an ally of Hashemi Rafsanjani, the president's rival, said Mr Ahmadinejad would not have it all his own way. 'The reform movement is alive, despite last year's defeat,' he said, although he added it would take some time to regroup. Meanwhile, the government was mishandling economic policy, and that could be its undoing...

"Mr Atrianfar said that windfall oil revenue was being squandered through state handouts to impoverished provinces and commodity subsidies. But there was insufficient investment in long-term projects and infrastructure, foreign investment was falling, and the country was suffering capital flight and a brain drain."

Monday, June 19, 2006

People may be sleeping through "xiaozu"

Once again, indirect evidence may be the only evidence that's available about what's happening politically in China. This report from The Economist (June 17, 2006 issue) sees to suggest that there are still loud arguments going on behind the walls of Zhongnanhai and that there may still be Maoists in the Party.

(Online, this is a premium article. If you're not a subscriber, you'll have to go to the library or the bookstore.)

Is anyone listening?

Chinese propaganda just isn't what it used to be

"CHINA'S Communist leaders still fight their battles the old way. A wordy article by a pseudonymous author on the second page of the party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, has just been used to deliver a message of defiance in the face of mounting public criticism of the country's economic reforms. The party's problem these days, though, is getting anyone to pay attention.

"The article in the June 5th edition, warning that “reform and opening up” was “the only road”, was dutifully reprinted by newspapers around the country. Party committees have, as is also traditional, been holding meetings to study it. In Shanghai this week, President Hu Jintao has repeated its call for “unwavering” commitment to reform. All this fuss suggests that the leadership is feeling under pressure. In the past couple of years, some university and think-tank academics have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of the negative consequences of economic reform, such as a widening gap between rich and poor, an increasingly dysfunctional health-care system and asset stripping by managers of state-owned firms.

"The appearance of the article, and a similar one early this month in a fortnightly party journal, suggests that strong pro-reform statements by Mr Hu and the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, in March have failed to quell the debate. So now the party's powerful Propaganda Department is lending its weight to the reformist camp...

"The Propaganda Department... wields great power over the country's media, culture and entertainment industries, deciding what can and cannot be reported, displayed, published, aired or performed.

"But it is not as fear-instilling as it used to be...

"Jiao Guobiao, who last year was dismissed from his post as a journalism lecturer at Peking University after issuing a lengthy diatribe against the Propaganda Department (comparing it to the Roman Catholic church in medieval Europe), sees a glimmer of hope that things might be changing. He has not (yet) been arrested..."

News of the Future

I know that editors and reporters look at the calendar of upcoming events and plan how they will spend their time. But judging from the BBC's The World This Week, the headlines and leads are already written for this week.

"A look at what could be dominating the headlines around the world this week - and some key background on those stories."

Want to read more about urbanization (a BBC series of reports)? Human rights? That's Monday. Darfur and the Red Cross are Tuesday's stories. There will be a story on Wednesday about Guantanamo and one Thursday about draining "Europe's wine lake." (Have to look for that one.)

Of course, you will be able to read about the World Cup all week.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Class politics in Mexico

I would guess that anyone teaching about Mexican politics is familiar with the news about Obrador and the tight race for the presidency. What may be worth noting in this New York Times article is the description of socio-economic cleavages in Mexico.

Mexico's Populist Tilts at a Privileged Elite

...With less than three weeks before the July 2 election, Mr. López Obrador, a leftist former Mexico City mayor, is locked in a dead heat with Felipe Calderón, the conservative candidate from President Vicente Fox's National Action Party... Mr. López Obrador... has vowed to end what he calls "the privileges" of a powerful oligarchy that has dominated politics here for centuries...

About half of Mexicans still live below the poverty line — earning less than $4 per family member each day — and one in five earns too little to buy enough food for a healthful diet, according to the World Bank. More than 45 percent of the nation's wealth is held by the elite 10 percent... The gap between rich and poor has closed only slightly since the free trade agreement with the United States took effect more than a decade ago.

Tax evasion is rampant. The last official study, conducted in 2002, estimated about 40 percent of businesses and 70 percent of professionals and small business owners either cheat on their taxes or pay none at all. The poor do not pay income tax, but are hit with a 15 percent sales tax every time they buy clothes or other durable goods...

Friday, June 16, 2006

A multi-national organization without the US?

Perhaps we should add the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the list of multi-national organizations that our comparative students should know about. After all, it appears as though half of the AP countries are or will soon be members, and only one of the AP 6 is a member of the EU.

Here's a report on the meeting of the SCO from the June 15 Guardian (UK):

China hosts summit to rival US

"China ramped up its role as a global player on Thursday by hosting a summit of states encompassing almost half the world's population and some of Washington's most prominent opponents...

"The growing power of China has prompted a rethink in Washington, where rightwing analysts now speak of the SCO as an embryonic rival to Nato. Their fears have been strengthened in the past two years by the inclusion in the SCO of Iran, Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Afghanistan as either observer or guest nations.

"But it is in the field of energy that the SCO appears to be most powerful. The countries gathered in Shanghai control almost a quarter of the world's oil supplies and are building a series of pipelines across the region. A pipeline is being planned from Iran to China that would cross Pakistan, whose president, Pervez Musharraf, yesterday requested to be admitted as a full member of the SCO...

"The SCO - one of the world's youngest international groupings - began life 10 years ago... [I]ts activities have expanded to cover anti-terrorism exercises, energy cooperation and banking in the five years since it became a formal institution... most western commentators have dismissed the SCO as a dictators' club that is long on style and short on substance.

"On Thursday the leaders signed a joint statement on information security, economic cooperation and cross-border military exercises. 'It remains the top priority of the organisation to combat the threats posed by terrorism, separatism and extremism as well as drug trafficking, which have not diminished but aggravated in scale and degree,' the statement noted. Human Rights Watch say the member countries use this as a pretext to crack down on legitimate and peaceful protests."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sobchack, Political Idol, Corruption, and Oil

A well-known NGO confirms what the media have been reporting about the state of democracy in Russia (and it's southern neighbors). Is this a detour in the democratization process? Is democratization a real trend? If a free response question asked your students about democratization in Russia, how would they respond?

Here's a link to the Freedom House press release about this report.

Nations in Transit, published annually by Freedom House, is a comprehensive, comparative, multidimensional study focusing on 29 countries and administrative areas from Central Europe to Eurasia.

The Nations in Transit 2006 report can be accessed as a set of .pdf documents (one for each country). Russia is the only AP country surveyed.

This might be best as background for teachers. Although, students could evalulate news stories about events and policy changes in Russia to determine whether the report's contentions seem accurate.

From the RFE/RL article:

Eurasia: Report Suggests Democracy In Decline

"PRAGUE, June 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. pro-democracy NGO Freedom House has issued a report saying that energy-rich countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as Russia, are declining in their democratic performance, even as their resources become strategically more important.

"The report, called "Nations In Transit 2006," focuses on Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Russia, countries that are growing economically based on energy resources.

"But the report argues that they are all plagued by weak institutions, deteriorating standards of governance, worsening media and judicial freedoms, and rising corruption...

"To measure the rise or decline of democratic standards in a given country, Freedom House has developed a technique for evaluating performance in specific areas, such as how free the media and judiciary are, and how free and fair elections are. On this scale, a score of one indicates a consolidated democracy, and a score of seven -- the lowest -- represents a consolidated authoritarian regime...

"Russian Democracy In Decline

"Turning to Russia, "Nations In Transit 2006" grants Russia... [a score of] 5.75 ... a significant drop (0.14 points) in one year, caused largely by President Vladimir Putin's centralization of control over political life, which runs counter to previous democratic developments in Russia.

"Ratings fell in a range of categories: national governance, the electoral process, corruption, and civil society. Evenson describes Russia as worrying.

"'We are quite concerned about Russia, in that what we are seeing of course is energy that is continuing to improve the economic situation, but the political institutions are becoming more and more fragile,' she said...

"The report says there has been an 'onslaught' against media freedoms, and the 'near obliteration' of nongovernmental organizations. There has also been harassment of the opposition and legal moves making it more difficult to monitor elections independently.

"Money Buys Happiness -- For Dictators

"So why are democratic standards declining at a time when the economic situation is improving in a number of regions?

"'The more money a government has, the easier for it to take on authoritarian tendencies and not have its people particularly complain,' Evenson says. 'And in Russia... you still have a standard of living which is growing, so expectations of the population have been met, at least for the short term.'

"But she cautions that if wealth is progressively concentrated into the hands of elites, then this social pact could come under pressure."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Russian (Political) Idol

Ah, reality TV - combined with politics. Now we're talking about real prizes: a seat in the legislature!

Who needs blonde celebrities like Ksenia Sobchak to kick start political participation when you can recruit future leaders on live TV. At the beach, no less.

Maybe MTV should do something like this rather than trying to replicate a League of Women Voters "get out the vote" campaign for GenX or GenY or Gen Z.

On a more serious note, there's more evidence here that United Russia is modeling itself on the CPSU. Does "Young Guard, the party's youth wing" sound as much like a modern version of Komsomol (Young Communist League) to you as it does to me?

One other note about Lipetsk television. In September 2001, The St. Petersburg Times reported that the government had taken over the independent broadcaster in Lipetsk.

(Regional TV Station Falls Victim to Takeover

MOSCOW - An NTV-style takeover has occurred at TVK, the oldest privately owned television station in Lipetsk, and a regular critic of the region's governor.

Security police last Wednesday locked out the 100 staff members and helped to install a new general director, Dmitry Kolbasko.

"We always offered our audience a point of view different from that of our governor's office," ousted TVK news editor Ilya Sakharov said Thursday by telephone. "Thus, local official agencies, like the Tax Police or fire departments, have been very persistent in their attempts to close us down in the past two years."

Lipetsk regional administration spokesperson Alexander Sarik did not conceal his satisfaction. "The company now belongs to predictable people whom the governor's office has known for a long time," Sarik said.

Kolbasko appointed his brother, Alexei, as TVK editor, Kommersant reported...)

While provoking a discussion about varieties of political recruitment is the obvious purpose of teaching with this article, discussing or writing about these last two serious notes are probably the real purposes of sharing articles like this one with students. It might sound a bit like bait and switch, but it's worth it.

Russian Party Asks Young: Who Wants to Be a Deputy?

"LIPETSK, Russia -- To the list of contest prizes that stoke fantasies worldwide -- riches, fame, a dream date, a new washer-dryer -- add another: a seat in parliament.

"Shunning pinstripes for shorts and bathing suits, a group of potential legislators was unveiled at a beach party here last weekend -- the first-round winners in a competition called Political Factory, modeled on the popular Russian television show Star Factory. Plucked from obscurity, a few of these aspiring lawmakers, or deputies, are due to join the Russian ruling class by October...

"In April, the Supreme Council of United Russia, the political party that supports President Vladimir Putin and controls legislatures at both the federal and regional levels, decided that 20 percent of all candidates on party lists in future elections must be between 21 and 28 years of age.

"The move is part of efforts to broaden the party's membership beyond the stolid bureaucrats and businessmen who currently stuff its ranks -- many of them inspired not by ideological fervor but by the party's almost complete electoral dominance.

"Lipetsk's regional governor, Oleg Korolyov, joined United Russia last October, part of a wave of political grandees switching sides. But how to recruit at the entry level? Young Guard, the party's youth wing, hatched the idea of a reality contest and opened it up to all comers. The competition was launched in May in nine regions, including Lipetsk, that are scheduled to hold local parliamentary elections in the fall.

"It's the first time in Russian history that a party has made a decision to share real power . . . on every level from local to federal," said Ivan Demidov, a Young Guard leader and well-known television personality. "It's the first actual step toward renewing the elite."...

Critics call this approach a desperate gimmick. "Demidov is a showman," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama research institute in Moscow. "The president asked him to propagandize among young people and he had to come up with something new to generate some interest. But I don't believe they'll give away parliamentary seats. There are too many of the party's adults who want them."

One young person who embraced the idea was [21-year-old Svetlana] Kondakova. "You look at politicians, and all you see are middle-aged men -- and how are they going to solve the questions of young people?" she said, speaking on the beach of an artificial lake outside Lipetsk. "This competition is a real surprise and a chance for young people to actually do things."...

Over the next month, the winners have to gather the signatures of 500 people who pledge to support them in the fall elections. They also have to organize some local events to show their political smarts. The contest will end with a debate among the 20 aspirants before the judging panel makes its final decision.

On June 27, five final winners will be chosen in Lipetsk and added to the party list. Three of those will almost certainly end up in parliament.

"We're looking for energetic, thinking patriots," said Alexei Demikhov, head of Young Guard in Lipetsk. "And our main task is to choose those we won't feel ashamed of when they become deputies."

Monday, June 12, 2006

Democracy in Iran

In the latest issue of The Economist, editors critique a new book about Iranian politics, Democracy in Iran : History and the Quest for Liberty by Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr.

Politics in Iran
Shadows of uncertainty

"IF EVER policymakers in Washington, DC, needed a slim, thoughtful account of Iran's experiments with pluralism and democracy, now surely is the time. Ali Gheissari, a historian at the University of San Diego, and Vali Nasr, who teaches political science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, set out to challenge the assumption that modern Iranian history is essentially about the conflict between Iranian regimes and their citizens...

"The authors argue that ever since 1906, when a coalition of clerical grandees, progressive intellectuals and bazaar traders forced the shah of the time to promulgate Iran's first constitution and establish a parliament, Iranians have been struggling to accommodate the competing attractions of liberty and the rule of law, on one hand, and stability—often imposed with an iron fist—on the other.

"The authors find that true democrats, in the Western sense, were strongest before and immediately after the [1979] revolution; they were swiftly overwhelmed by the supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"The Islamic Republic that followed—a 'pragmatic authoritarian regime' that has held no fewer than 37 national elections—has further muddied the picture. The authors find that democratic instincts have flourished to a surprising degree in this most ideological and centralised of political systems...

“'A century after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906', Messrs Gheissari and Nasr conclude, 'Iran is still grappling with how to achieve a democratic state.' The ability of outsiders to nudge the country in a hopeful direction remains limited..."

Power vacuum in Mexico

This New York Times article on June 12, makes the Federal Eelction Institute sound powerful enough to attract the attention of Mexico's power-seekers. Does that mean we will have to learn more about who runs the Institute, how they get to their positions, who supports them, and who benefits from their decisions.

Mexico's Enforcers Take On Election-Year Mudslingers "MEXICO CITY, June 10 — On the surface, Mexico's presidential election looks a lot like modern campaigns in the United States, a battle of image makers wielding television advertisements, sound bites and, at times, attack ads with less truth than venom.

"But in one crucial respect it is different: Mexico's referee, the powerful Federal Election Institute, has waded into the fray involving the three candidates, ruling that some television spots are too false to be on the air and others simply too rude...

"Courts here have recently interpreted the broad language of the electoral law to give the institute the authority to ban any speech that besmirches a candidate's reputation or could cause a public disturbance.

"A result has been the creation of an electoral referee with enormous power...

"Congress formed the institute in October 1990, passing a new electoral law intended to eliminate the fraud that had marred past elections. Lawmakers strengthened the institute's power several times in the 1990's, making it entirely independent of the executive branch in 1996. Those reforms enabled opposition parties to make strong gains in Congress that year and helped the first opposition-party president, Mr. Fox, win in 2000, ending seven decades of one-party rule.

"Until this year, the institute had been occupied mostly with registering voters, establishing clean balloting practices and preventing fraud. The no-holds-barred campaign, however, has led to court rulings ordering the institute to start policing the debate.

"Its rulings have ignited a furious debate here about how free is free speech, and when does the government have a right to curb certain electoral practices, like mudslinging.

"The debate also underscores that Mexico's transition from a one-party state six years ago to a modern, multiparty democracy has a peculiarly Mexican flavor, influenced by its history, experts here say.

"Mexicans are used to a high level of decorum from their elected officials, a vestige of a paternalistic state that ruled here for most of the 20th century. By and large, they also chafe at any hint that the president is grooming a successor, since that is precisely what happened every six years under the one-party system.

"'We have a work in progress in terms of what our democracy is, and the Federal Election Institute is one of the constructors,' said Rosanna Fuentes-Berain, the editor of the Spanish edition of Foreign Affairs.

"'We are not used to very strong and open public debate — this is a country that for 70-odd years was basically debating things internally without witnesses,' Ms. Fuentes-Berain said. 'For some Mexicans it's better to keep your manners and not be too blatant about what you think of a person.'

"But for many, the institute has gone too far. 'My position has been completely against the institute transforming itself into censors,' said Sergio Sarmiento, a columnist and radio commentator..."

Political culture and public opinion in Russia

The RFE/RL report on the media's effects on public opinion in Russia is not breathtaking. We all know that media help shape public opinion. But it is helpful to have examples, like those in this article, to illustrate the generalizations we want our students to learn.

Russia: Media Create Friends, Foes

"A recent poll has shown that many Russians have a low opinion of some of their neighbors and the United States. According to a May poll conducted by the national Levada Center, 37 percent of Russians regard the United States as an unfriendly state, compared with 23 percent last year. Forty-six percent of Russians consider Latvia to be unfriendly, 44 percent think the same of Georgia, and 42 percent about Lithuania...

"The poll was conducted among 1,600 respondents in all regions of Russia...

"Growing public animosity toward the Baltic states and GUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) comes as little surprise. The Russian media frequently portrays the Baltic countries in a negative light and officials, taking their lead from President Vladimir Putin and the Duma, regularly chastise these countries for their Euro-Atlantic orientation.

"The Russian press has already dubbed the countries stretched from the Baltic to the Black seas as the "belt of un-chastity." Print, broadcast, and online media routinely accuse Latvian officials of having Nazi sympathies. Circulating the Internet this year was a cartoon of Latvia's president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, wearing an SS uniform...

"Russian media is also significant in helping create an image of Russia's "friends." According to the Levada poll, the country held in the highest regard is Belarus, which is considered to be a friendly state by 47 percent of respondents (46 percent in 2005). In second place is Germany with 23 percent, followed by Kazakhstan with 20 percent, India with 16 percent, and China with 12 percent..."

Seemingly innocuous pictures, like this TASS photo from Latvia, may remind Russians of Latvia's cultural links to Germany.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Solemn reminder

If the photograph is an accurate protrait, Wiley Miller and I look enough alike that people might think we were brothers. We're not. We've never even met.

He's a cartoonist who writes and draws Non Sequitur. He says it's a "wry look at the absurdities of everyday life." It's often very good and sometimes great.

The cartoon for Sunday, June 11 is great. See for yourself (at http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/ if that link doesn't work for you).

It illustrates one of the reasons we're teachers.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fleeting democracy

One of the most intriguing, and perhaps most democratic, features of an electoral system that required majorities for victory seems headed for the trash heap. There have been times when I would have used that option if it had been available.

Russia: Lower House Backs Bill to Bar 'Against All' Vote

"Parliament's lower house took a preliminary step to remove from election ballots the option of voting 'against all' candidates. Critics have called the proposal the latest in a series of measures intended to bolster the pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, and diminish political competition.

"In place since the early 1990's, the 'against all' option has served as a sort of protest vote. In a handful of cases, including in the last parliamentary elections in 2003, it has even won, effectively annulling the outcome in those races.

"If ultimately approved, as expected, the option would be barred before parliamentary elections in 2007 and the presidential election in 2008, when Vladimir V. Putin is required to step down."

Friday, June 09, 2006

Decisions, decisions

Linda Dean asked, "I agree that the Economist is a great resource. My problem is there are SO MANY great articles I don't know which ones to give to my students. Any suggestions/ advice?"

Great question. I haven't given it a lot of conscious thought recently.

Linda's question was a response to my posting of three Economist articles that have teaching potential. I don't know how or whether I'd use all three. I know I don't use all the articles that have potential. How do I choose?

A couple years ago, I was asked to write a little essay for AP Central about using current events to teach U.S. Government and Politics. It's still posted as a Feature Article under "Teaching Skills" on both of the Government and Politics home pages.

What I said was that I wanted to use "journalistic accounts that supplement a concept or a theme from the students' text readings." I also wrote that I wanted "to closely tie the consideration of current events to an essential part of the course." The other suggestion I made was that a good article "...offers ways to apply and test the contentions of textbook authors and to engage the interest of students naturally concerned about the way government is actually run and politics are actually played. Both will help students learn."

My criteria for choosing which articles to use?

  • Can I figure out a way to use it in a teaching/learning experience?
  • Is it relevant to important elements of the course?
  • Is the illustration clear (or clear enough that I can help students see it)?
  • Is it relevant to what I'm teaching now?
  • Will it interest students or can I make it interesting?

Another thing I wrote in that AP Central essay was, "It's not always possible to find all the articles I want to use at the time I'm teaching a specific topic, so I collect news stories year-round. I file them by topics on my course outline. And when I go through the file to choose good examples, I throw out the older materials." I do recommend keeping files of articles -- paper files and digital files. Good examples can be several years old. (I once had an Economist article about the first Black woman elected to Parliament that was so good in describing the Old Boys Club of Commons that I used it for nearly a decade.)

The first article I recommended the other day was "The Conservative Party: Paleos versus posers" about how parties in the UK select Parliamentary candidates. It's an illustration of how recruitment and party politics work and it describes details that are probably not in a textbook. The details may not be vital, but talking or writing about these will help students remember things about the hierarchical nature of parties and that representation is not tied to residency in the UK. The article also offers opportunities for comparison. Mexico will have an election soon. There's already talk about Nigerian and Russian elections. How will those candidates be selected? How do party functions in those countries compare with the UK?

Should YOU use this article? Do you want to add some depth on the topic to what your textbook offers? If you're teaching about the UK at the very beginning of the course, this could be the basis for a comparative exercise by comparing the UK and the USA. Do you want to use it as the takeoff point for a mini-research project? (Assign students the task of finding out how candidates are recruited and chosen in the other 5 AP countries.)

The second article was about minority ethnic groups in Iran, "Uppity minorities: Unrest in the provinces is rattling the government at the centre." This article may not offer enough new information to supplement your textbook. On the other hand it does a good job of describing how the Farsi-speaking majority acts to maintain its power. Deciding whether to use it in class or just treat it as teacher background reading can only be done within the context of your course.

The third article I recommended, "Atomised: Beijing no longer commands instant obedience from China's local authorities," illustrates what is often just a one sentence description of exceptions to the unitary model in China. But this article explains some of the political forces that give autonomy to local elites in their "dance" with the Beijing government. Those details help students understand (not just know) how a system as centralized as China's can allow local authorities latitude in some policy areas.

Should you use it?

  • How much time do you have?
  • How much reading are your students doing?
  • Is the concept of a centralized unitary system one your students are having a difficult time grasping?
  • Do you want to use it in class for discussion or assign it as a writing prompt for homework or do you want to use it as the basis for a free response question?
  • Can you build a comparative exercise on this idea by comparing those local Chinese authorities with local councils in the UK? or with the regional authorities in Russia? or Nigerian governors?

More than anything else, trust yourself.

If you learn something from an article, share at least your learning experience with your students. Share the article if you can. Ask your students to talk about it or write about it. Ask your students to compare what's in the article with things similar and/or different in other countries.

Not enough harping?

The House of Representatives passed a telecommunications bill yesterday and rejected the ideas of net neutrality and local control.

BBC News reported,
"The amendment [guaranteeing net neutrality] was defeated by 269 votes to 152 and the Cope Act was passed by 321-101 votes.

"The debate over the issue now moves to the US Senate where the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will vote on its version of the act in late June. The debate in that chamber is also likely to centre on issues of net neutrality."

Now's the time to contact your Senators and maybe your Representative about her or his vote.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Non-transparency in China

If there's an award for lack of transparency in a regime, Putin's Russia has strong competition from Hu's China. The "guessers" about Russia have been called Kremlinologists. The "guessers" about China are called China Watchers (probably because Zhongnanhaiologists has too many vowels and too many syllables). (Satellite images of Zhongnanhai.)

I'd have my students read this article from the Washington Post, catalog the speculated reasons for Huang's absence, and catalog the sources that China Watchers used as a basis for their speculations. Then I'd ask them to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of such a non-transparent system, hypothesize about why there is such pressure for more transparency, and where the pressure comes from.

Chinese Official Reappears, but Mystery Persists

"Long-Absent Vice Premier Has Key Roles

"BEIJING, June 7 -- Suddenly Huang Ju was back... sitting alongside other members of the Chinese Communist Party's supreme policymaking body, the Politburo's nine-member Standing Committee.

"Huang's return, which was broadcast on official television Monday evening and reported prominently in the next day's People's Daily, came after five months during which he had dropped from sight, generating a swirl of rumors, reports and more or less informed speculation about what had happened to one of China's most powerful men.

"Huang's reemergence settled nothing about his status... But it dramatically illustrated the secrecy behind which China's leaders work, a dark cloak that hides even the most mundane details about how they rule the world's most populous nation...

"The curiosity surrounding Huang was more than idle. For one thing, Huang, a vice premier, has been the party's overseer of economic reforms, vital to foreign investors and further modernization. Moreover, his seat on the Standing Committee, Chinese and foreign analysts pointed out, is key to President Hu Jintao's attempts to solidify his party leadership before the 17th party congress scheduled for October 2007.

"Huang, they noted, belongs to the so-called Shanghai Faction left behind by former president and party leader Jiang Zemin. Hu took over from Jiang as party leader in 2002 and as president the following year, but he has yet to push out all of Jiang's proteges and replace them with his own favorites. A recent attempt by Hu to appoint a loyalist as Shanghai's party secretary fell through, suggesting that Jiang's faction retains a measure of power, a veteran Western diplomat said.

"So when Huang dropped out of sight in January without explanation, people started asking questions. They got no authoritative answers, however, because that is not the way China's government works...

"The official media reported in April, and again in May, that Huang had sent messages to conferences that he normally would have attended. But nothing came down on his personal situation...

"Without information, Beijing buzzed with rumors. Journalists talked about Huang's absence over lunch. Officials confided their theories to one another. An elderly couple said their friends were even discussing it during early morning exercises in the courtyard of their Beijing apartment block.

"The most believable rumor said Huang, 67, had received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and was undergoing therapy. This version received added credibility when a spokesman for the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference said March 2 that 'Comrade Huang Ju was hospitalized for treatment because he was unwell. He is currently recovering.'

"But other versions circulated as well. One said that Huang's wife, Yu Huiwen, was in police custody being investigated for financial irregularities and that Huang had been asked to step aside pending the investigation. Other reports said that Huang himself was under suspicion and that police were interrogating him as well as Yu.

"More recently, a mid-level official said he was told, in great detail, that Huang was indirectly involved in a security leak to Taiwan and was being extensively interrogated by national security officials at a government facility in the Beijing suburbs.

"Huang's daughter, the official said, had a long-standing relationship with a Taiwanese businessman whose father has ties to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. Suspicions were aroused that the relationship might have become a conduit for state secrets through carelessness or espionage, he said. Hu and his lieutenants were particularly concerned, the official said he was told, because Chinese intelligence learned that the content of a Standing Committee meeting on Taiwan policy was passed to Chen within days of its being held.

"Sorting out the reports was impossible, even for relatively well-informed Chinese. Many informed people bought into the cancer theory, particularly after the spokesman's comment in March, but they were far from sure and did not know how authoritative it was...

"Huang appeared pale but steady during his brief appearance on China Central Television. He was shown attending a conference of scientists and engineers, sitting alongside other Standing Committee members...

"The People's Daily, the party organ, mentioned Huang on page one in his order of seniority with the other Standing Committee members. But the only photo showed Hu, prominent against a bright orange background under a bold headline saying he had delivered "an important speech" to the gathered scientists."


No Tolls on The Internet
By Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney
Washington Post
Thursday, June 8, 2006; Page A23

(Lawrence Lessig is a law professor at Stanford University and founder of the Center for Internet and Society. Robert W. McChesney is a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-founder of the media reform group Free Press.)

Congress is about to cast a historic vote on the future of the Internet. It will decide whether the Internet remains a free and open technology fostering innovation, economic growth and democratic communication, or instead becomes the property of cable and phone companies that can put toll booths at every on-ramp and exit on the information superhighway.

At the center of the debate is the most important public policy you've probably never heard of: "network neutrality." Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet's wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant "end-to-end" design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good: All of the intelligence and control is held by producers and users, not the networks that connect them.

The protections that guaranteed network neutrality have been law since the birth of the Internet -- right up until last year, when the Federal Communications Commission eliminated the rules that kept cable and phone companies from discriminating against content providers. This triggered a wave of announcements from phone company chief executives that they plan to do exactly that.

Now Congress faces a legislative decision. Will we reinstate net neutrality and keep the Internet free? Or will we let it die at the hands of network owners itching to become content gatekeepers? The implications of permanently losing network neutrality could not be more serious...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

THE Reading

A week from now, 500-600 of our colleagues (and some of you) will be in Ft. Collins, CO busily reading the words written by our students last May.

If you haven't been a reader, I highly recommend the experience. Nothing helped me be a better AP teacher. And I'm sure the benefits spilled over into my other classes as well.

Witnessing and participating in the process of grading hundreds of thousands of "Free Responses," also reaffirmed my confidence in the validity of the scores our students earn.

Readers are organized by question and by table. A table is usually 6 readers and a table leader. My table leader in 2003 was Bill Babcock (The Bolles School, Jacksonville, FL). The other readers at our short-handed table were Rebecca Small (Herndon HS, Virginia), Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo (Wells College, Aurora, NY), Eduardo Mugalhaes (Simpson College, Indianola, IA), Matt Krain (The College of Wooster, Ohio), and me.

Much of the first day of the reading is spent learning how to apply the rubric. (Rubrics are being polished this week in Ft. Collins by question leaders and table leaders.) Readers "grade" and discuss responses that were graded by the leaders. Then they pass responses around the table, everyone "grades" them, and people discusses how and why the rubric was applied. When the group is in agreement about how to apply the rubric (getting to that agreement is a special duty of table leaders, especially in U.S. where many tables read responses to the same question), readers begin reading and grading.

But, they still often consult their table mates and their table leaders about the perplexing things students sometimes write. And, they exchange random responses with other readers to ensure they are still applying the rubric in the agreed-upon manner. And all week long, table leaders and question leaders are reading already graded random responses to ensure consistency. In the back room, ETS statisticians are compiling average scores and average scores per question and average scores per table and average scores per reader, watching for anomalies.

The word is that Government and Politics readers will be gathering in Florida next year. Get your application in if you can take 8 days in June to support your colleagues and your students.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Media Bias

I noticed this bit of self-promotion this morning, and it led to something more substantial.

Guardian targets American audience

"The Guardian plans to expand its print and online presence in America as part of its ambition to become the biggest liberal voice in world media...

"News of the Guardian's plans came after the Times said it will start printing an American newsprint edition in New York on presses used by parent company News Corporation to print the New York Post."

The Times is online at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/global/

And today it offered this article:

"China's secret row bursts into the open"

"A FIERCE internal debate in China between economic reformers and new leftists opposed to the rush to embrace capitalism finally burst into the public eye yesterday.

"The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party that has ruled China since 1949, ran a commentary that left no room for questions over the direction of 28-year-old market reforms. 'Unwaveringly keep to the path of reform,' read the headline...

"Tens of millions of Chinese, including farmers in rural areas, blue-collar workers in cities and the jobless, have become disaffected with reforms that have made millions rich. Nostalgia is widespread for the days of Chairman Mao Zedong when everyone was equally poor...

"The commentary may not, however, completely silence leftist dissenters, who range from those who feel that the party’s grip may be weakening to moderates concerned at corruption and the inequities created by a free-market economy...

"But the People’s Daily message was unambivalent. 'The urgency and complexity of reform calls for absolute determination to advance the reform. A balance should be realised between reform, development and social stability. Reform should be the driving force, development the goal, and stability the prerequisite.'”

This offers a fine opportunity to ask students to explore differences in reporting. At the Teaching Comparative Government and Politics Web site, there are several articles about this topic in the China forum: Look in the "Political context of reform" (March '06) and the "Continuing debate about the future" (November '05) topics.

Does The Times reporting appear conservative compared to the New York Times, Asia Times, and International Herald Tribune reporting in the other other articles? If so, how is it more conservative? Do the articles from the other publications appear more liberal? What's the evidence?

Of course considering a single topic is not sufficient to attach labels, but this is an exercise to be repeated several times. Articles about China and Russia are probably easier to do use because old Cold War divisions are deep and persistent. However, you might find examples in reporting on Mexico's presidential race or Iranian economic policies.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Using the Economist

The Economist is one of the vital resources to have access to if you're going to teach Comparative. Almost every issue has articles that are relevant either as background or as readings for students. The June 3, 2006 edition is no exception.

The first article could be used all by itself as a comparative lesson if your students are familiar with the US primary and caucus systems for choosing candidates. The process of selecting candidates in the UK is controversial now because of Cameron's announced intent to move the Conservative Party toward the center of political spectrum. (Well, it might require that you explain some things, but that's a good role for a teacher.)

1. The first article to pay attention to is

The Conservative Party: Paleos versus posers (This is a premium article. Access requires subscription.)

"...Back in December, Mr Cameron announced that Conservative associations would be expected to select [candidates] from a short 'priority' list, filled with women and ethnic-minority candidates... A handful of good male candidates, brushed off with the tale that they lacked campaigning experience, are convinced the real reason for their rejection is that they are too white or too posh...

"Some heat will be taken out of the row when new names are added to the A-list at the end of July. If the party is sensible, it will find room for some of those white males it spurned this time around. The leadership has already backtracked a little, saying that constituency associations will not be forced to select from the A-list..."

2. The second article has to do with Iranian social cleavages. An article like this adds depth and current data to what a textbook would let students know about civil society in Iran.

Uppity minorities: Unrest in the provinces is rattling the government at the centre
(This is also a premium story.)

"THE Islamic Republic's culture minister is under the cosh for reacting tardily to last month's publication of a cartoon, showing a cockroach speaking Azeri Turkish, which sparked rioting across Iran's Azeri-dominated north-west... Members of the Majlis, Iran's parliament, have threatened to impeach Mustafa Pourmohammadi, the interior minister, for failing to stem lawlessness in the part-Baluch south-east. Cast an eye over western Iran's troubled Kurdish and Arab regions and you may concur with Rahim Shahbazi, an Azeri nationalist based in America, who calls ethnic strife a 'nuclear bomb that will blow away the Iranian regime'...

"Amid daily boasts of captures, deaths and brilliant punitive operations, Iranian officials never admit the role of chronic unemployment and poverty, not to mention Iran's institutionalised distrust of minorities, in stoking the unrest. In Sanandaj, for instance, university graduates may find themselves choosing between manual labour and a life in the hills with PJAK. 'Is it surprising', the academic asks, 'that some choose the latter?' It certainly deters would-be investors. Rio Tinto, an Anglo-Australian mining company, recently said it was withdrawing from a gold-mining project in Kurdistan...

"Several days of protests by Iranian Azeris peaked on May 25th, when four demonstrators were killed in the part-Azeri town of Naghadeh. Many Azeris, the biggest minority in a country dominated by ethnic Persians, had not been placated by the banning of the government-owned newspaper in which the offending cartoon appeared, nor by the arrest of the cartoonist and an editor. The killings were only fleetingly acknowledged by the authorities. An official account was hastily withdrawn from the newswire where it was posted...

"In a fractious discussion among Iranian exiles last winter at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think-tank in Washington, it was plain that Iran's mainstream opposition groups are as hostile to minority irredentism as the Islamic Republic is. For all the unrest around its edges, Iran's heartland remains strong, centralised, and unsympathetic to uppity minorities. Iran's nuclear bomb, if it comes, is unlikely to be aimed inwards."

3. The thrid story in the current Economist is a comparative companion to the one about Iran's minorities in the way it offers exceptions to the common assumption that China's system and political culture are unitary. And it offers an interesting comparison to the story about how Cameron's Conservative Party is choosing candidates.

Atomised: Beijing no longer commands instant obedience from China's local authorities (This article is not a premium article.)

"THE Chinese Communist Party is a highly centralised beast, with a power structure little changed from the days of Mao Zedong. Over the next year or so it will be engaged in what official reports describe as one of the biggest shuffles of leaders at every level, with hundreds of thousands due to change their jobs. Nominally, appointments are made by local party committees. In practice top appointments in the provinces have always been made by leaders in Beijing. But that does not mean that Beijing is in complete control.

"A good career in the party still depends on following, or at least appearing to follow, the centre's orders. But local leaders calculate that as long as their areas achieve rapid economic growth with minimal unrest, then they have considerable leeway to do as they will. The party no longer really frets about the ideological purity of its leaders. And since the days of Mao each new generation of leaders in Beijing has been increasingly less able to command instant obedience across the country.

"To be sure, China is not heading towards a break-up, anarchy or the warlordism of the pre-communist era...

"The problem today is more a profusion of township, county and prefectural leaderships whose efforts to propel growth in their regions produce impressive statistics, but often at a heavy social, environmental or macroeconomic cost. In the last two years the government has been worrying that the economy might overheat and has been trying to curb investment in industries whose capacity has been growing too quickly. But local officials have often simply ignored these measures...

"Local leaders rarely incur heavy political penalties for failing to carry out the central government's economic directives. Officials in Beijing frequently order clampdowns on the makers of pirated goods. Offending factories are sometimes closed. But local officials who condone such operations as a way of boosting their local economies are seldom punished. Nor are officials who turn a blind eye to polluting industries, unless they cause big accidents or trigger unrest..."

Visual Comparisons

I was struck by a couple of the pictures in a photo essay that accompanied this Washington Post, article on Monday.

Natives Feel Left Out of China's New West

"...Before the highway arrived last year, threading a strip of black pavement across a moonscape of pale sand, this town in central Xinjiang province was among the lonelier places on earth...

"More than twice the size of Texas, Xinjiang has long occupied the fringes of Chinese domain, its inhospitable deserts once navigated by traders crossing the Silk Road from Europe to Asia. Today, a trip across the province reveals how the benefits of development are being spread unequally, even inside Xinjiang itself..."

"The great build-out of highways and the expansion of energy production encouraged by Beijing's largesse have attracted millions of Han, who have come in a Gold Rush-like frenzy to capture some of the spoils of China's modern-day frontier. The Han are now a slim majority among Xinjiang's 19 million people. That has exacerbated tensions with the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, who have long regarded the Han as invaders..."

The link to the photo essay is next to the article. One of the photos that attracted my attention showed three Tajik women crossing the shoulder of a paved road while carrying buckets of water to their homes. In the background, an electical power line shows that it is not a lack of electricity that prevents these people from having a more convenient water supply. That's a matter of public policy -- especially in China.

The second photo that I particularly noticed showed a road construction crew. It wasn't just that men were doing a job that in the US would be done by a large machine that made me take note. The men were wearing bright orange safety vests just as if they had been working along the shoulder of an Interstate highway. In addition, a solid white line marked the right edge of the traffic lane even though that section of the road wasn't paved. Finally, the outer edge of the right of way was marked with slim poles. Like high altitude roads in the US, these are probably to help vehicles stay on the road when it's covered with snow. How many examples of public policy are in that photo?

What if you asked students to look at a variety of photos from a place like Xinjiang for signs of public policy? And then asked them to hypothesize about how the policies were made and then asked them to compare the evidence of policies from Xinjiang with similar evidence from Ardabil, the Iranian province on the border with Azerbaijan?

I did Google Image searches for Urumqi and Tabriz, the major cities in those two provinces. I looked at the results in the first 10 pages of images for both. These are safe searches to send students on. Except for the fact that half the images from Tabriz are of "Persian carpets," there is a lot of material with which to work. There are pictures of Tianchi (which looks a lot like Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald) and Iranian public buildings which could be bureaucratic anywhere.

Exploring the political meaning of photographs and making comparisons from them is unorthodox, but useful. Like reading a novel by Chinua Achebe about a "Nigerian" military regime, looking at photographs offers another perspective. And if your students have access to a computer lab, can be an "in-school field trip."

And there's always the chance to run into cross-cultural marvels like this.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ahmadinejad, the populist

Looking for a comparison between Ahmadinejad's executive behavior and that of Blair or Fox or Obasanjo? Here's an interesting perspective from Washington Post reporter Karl Vick's June 3 article:

A Man of the People's Needs and Wants

"Ahmadinejad Praised in Iran as a Caring Leader

"ARAK, Iran -- The ordinary Iranians who poured into the local soccer stadium to hear President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad one day last month arrived carrying high hopes and handwritten letters. They left with just the hopes. The letters were collected in oversize cardboard boxes, then hoisted into the postal van Ahmadinejad has taken to parking prominently when he barnstorms the provinces, in an audacious campaign to make every Iranian's wish come true...

"If his image in the West is that of a banty radical dangerously out of touch with reality -- 'a psychopath of the worst kind,' in the words of Israel's prime minister -- the prevailing impression in Iran is precisely the opposite.

"Here, ordinary people marvel at how their president comes across as someone in touch, as populist candidate turned caring incumbent. In speeches, 17-hour workdays and biweekly trips like the one that brought him here to Central Province, Ahmadinejad showcases a relentless preoccupation with the health, housing and, most of all, money problems that may barely register on the global agenda but represent the most clear and present danger for most in this nation of 70 million...

"For a politician, the consequences of disappointing such achingly personal hopes could be catastrophic. But Ahmadinejad's government has been cushioned by the flood of revenue from oil exports at $70 a barrel.."

Imagine Paris Hilton's political party

According to the Guardian (UK), we should pay attention to Ksenia Sobchak, not for her play girl antics, but for her politics. Given the emphemeral nature of political groups in Russia, this may be more attention than she deserves, but with her connections, who knows? File away her name and see if it comes up again.

Besides The Guardian, this news was reported in several other Western publications and in the St. Petersburg Times.

In May, Sobchak made the Kommersant business news by hanging out with Boris Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Yumasheva. That's another sign of her high level connections. What does all this say about political recruitment in Russia? It sounds like things there aren't so different from the UK or China.

Here are excerpts from The Guardian article. (As usual, the title is a link to the whole article.)

She has a TV show and a Porsche. Now Moscow's Paris Hilton wants a party too

"· Reality TV presenter plans youth movement
"· Daughter of politician denies she is Putin stooge

"Ksenia Sobchak, Moscow's answer to Paris Hilton and Russia's chief 'it' girl, turns away from the make-up artists and giggles. 'Maybe I was a naughty girl but I am not one now,' she says...

"But now Sobchak is trying to use her image to political advantage: she has formed a youth movement aimed at encouraging young people to assert their rights. She announced the creation of 'All Free' last Thursday, an attempt to turn her feisty image into people power...

"Sobchak is all the same the daughter of a very well connected man, Anatoly Sobchak, an academic who was one of the earliest advocates of free market reforms as the Soviet Union crumbled. He became mayor of St Petersburg and was Vladimir Putin' s mentor, giving the future president his first job in government...

"Why then is she starting a youth movement, the sort of group used in Ukraine and Georgia to unseat the authoritarian governments allied to the Putin administration? Lilya Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment thinktank, suggests the idea may not have been her own. 'Anything connected to the Sobchak family should be connected to the Kremlin's initiative, or inside their control, taking into account who her father was,' she says, adding that it is probably to do with 'political cloning', whereby the Kremlin makes its own versions of traditionally opposition ideas.

"What Sobchak's movement, 'All Free', stands for is not completely clear. Sobchak only announced its creation nine days ago and will not or cannot say how many members she has before her first congress in a fortnight's time.

"But her rhetoric chimes nicely with the managed democracy of Putin's Russia. She advocates freedom of the press and of association, and respect for minorities, all hot topics in a country where state control and xenophobia are on the rise. Young people should become more aware of their rights, she says, adding they should name and shame university professors who demand bribes for places.

"Yet 'freedom should always be restricted', she says, adding that otherwise you have anarchy. 'If we stay within the law [young people] can decide what's right for themselves.'. She says she is financing the group and its headquarters in central Moscow from her own pocket, but hopes businessmen will come to her aid..."