Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, December 31, 2006

More on the Politics of Anti-Corruption in China

Edward Cody's article in the Washington Post supports the thesis proposed by Wu Zhong at Asia Times Online about structural obstacles to China's anti-corruption campaign. This reporting adds to the picture of the problem, the attempts at reducing corruption, and the difficulties of political and cultural change.

China's Crackdown on Corruption Still Largely Secret

"The Chinese government last week announced the disgrace of another senior Communist Party official accused of corruption. Du Shicheng, it said, was stripped of his posts as deputy party secretary of Shandong province and party secretary of Qingdao city because of a 'serious discipline violation.'

"Nothing was said about what misdeeds Du might have committed, but the announcement stated that his fall from power was 'another sign of the central government's tough stand against corruption.'...

"Du's firing -- the fourth of a major party figure this year -- was another chapter in President Hu Jintao's crackdown on the bribery and embezzlement... But it also illustrated the limits of Hu's anti-corruption drive. Despite repeated vows to weed out corrupt officials, the government's campaign remains a self-cleansing operation by the Communist Party's own bureaucracy, without monitoring by an independent judicial system or a free press...

"In one key step, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission has increased control over its counterparts at the provincial, municipal and county levels. By naming and dispatching investigators from Beijing... Hu has sought to reduce the ability of corrupt local officials to protect one another...

"But some Chinese experts have begun to question whether ... having the party investigate its own, and largely in secret -- can ever rid China of official malfeasance. The discipline commission operates under political supervision, they noted. Until China gets a justice system that has the power to investigate and prosecute in public without political guidance, they said, the party's instinct to preserve its position is likely to overwhelm its desire to reduce corruption...

"An illustration of how the system operates was provided by a recent announcement... that Nuctech, a company headed by Hu Haifeng, the president's son, had won a multimillion-dollar contract to supply Chinese airports with scanning equipment...

"Gossip buzzed about the deal in private, but nobody dared suggest in public that it had the appearance of impropriety because of Nuctech's connections. By the end of the month, however, unofficial corruption monitors were saying somebody high in government had intervened to stop the deal...

"Taiwan's recent experience has provided a telling contrast, the specialists noted. Prosecutors in Taipei, who are outside of political control, have put President Chen Shui-bian's wife on trial for embezzlement and jailed his son-in-law for insider trading, all under intense and detailed scrutiny in the media. Chen, while proclaiming his and his wife's innocence, has reaffirmed the prosecutor's right, even duty, to pursue the case...

"'In China, anti-corruption work is done entirely in a black box,' said Jiao Guobiao, a journalism professor at Peking University who was dismissed for criticizing China's strict censorship.

"'Outsiders never have a chance to learn the whole process,' he added. 'The fundamental reason, I think, is that the activities of those corrupted officials are too dirty and evil. If what they did was completely unveiled in public, the image of Communist Party members would be smeared, and ordinary citizens would be greatly shocked by how large a fortune they amassed and how shameless they were.'...

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chinese Ombudsman?

The question, it seems to me, is how credible the government's offer is. This report comes from Xinhua, 30 December.

Complain to the gov't on the web: new site opened

"A government website for receiving complaints about malpractices in various fields opened on Saturday.

"According to Qu Wanxiang, Vice-minister of Supervision, complaints typically involve schooling and medical treatment -- high costs and difficulty of access are often cited.

"Other complaints concern inadequate compensation in land requisition and house demolition cases, inadequate treatment of workers in corporate restructuring and bankruptcy cases, and wage arrears problems for construction teams and migrant laborers.

"'People are welcome to report problems through the website,' Qu said at the inauguration ceremony.

"Qu, who is also deputy director of the office of the State Council responsible for rectifying malpractices, said the the ministry and the office will investigate complaints posted on the website. They will also regularly analyse public opinion and social situations based on the complaints.

"The website www.mos.gov.cn/gjb will carry examples of complaints and remedies."

Friday, December 29, 2006

Big news in China

The Chinese news agency Xinhua picked its top 10 news stories for 2006. It's an interesting selection. At least 8 of the 10 are political.

You could ask your students to search for news stories from China for the past year and see if they can find things they think are more important than some of these.

Xinhua selects top 10 domestic news items of 2006

  1. Chinese President Hu Jintao, also the general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, raised the "socialist concept of honor and disgrace" on March 4, while meeting with members of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body.
    The concept, which underscores the values of patriotism, hard work and plain living, belief in science, consciousness of serving the people, solidarity, honesty and credibility, and observation of the law, aims to refresh China's values by amalgamating traditional Chinese values with modern virtues.

  2. The Fourth Session of the 10th National People's Congress passed the draft outline of the 11th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2006-2010)...

  3. A forum on economic and trade affairs across the Taiwan Strait was held on April 14 and 15, focusing on cross-Strait economic and trade exchanges and opening direct transport links...

  4. China on May 20 completed construction of the world's largest dam at the Three Gorges area...

  5. A grand rally to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was held on June 30. The CPC also summarized its educational campaign to maintain the vanguard character of CPC members, launched in January 2005, at the rally.

  6. On July 1, the world's most elevated railway, Qinghai-Tibet Railway, went into operation from Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, capital to Tibet Autonomous Region...

  7. The eighth Typhoon of the year, Saomai, landed on east China's Zhejiang Province on Aug. 10 and caused great loss to Zhejiang and Fujian provinces. It was the strongest typhoon to hit China in more than half century

  8. Chen Liangyu, secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee of the CPC, was sacked for his alleged involvement in a social security fund scandal by the CPC Central Committee...

  9. The 16th Central Committee of the CPC held its sixth plenary session from Oct. 8 to 11 and issued a communiqué highlighting the issue of social harmony...

  10. President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders attended a grand ceremony in Beijing on Oct. 22 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Long March...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

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Structural obstacles to China's anti-corruption efforts

It does help to look at the organization chart when analyzing policy making efforts. And that's what Wu Zhong did for this report from Asia Times Online. You might ask your students to do the same while explaining why reporter Wu thinks a free press would help in the campaign against corruption.

China's flawed fight against corruption

"Ahead of its 17th National Congress next autumn, the power center of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has begun to restructure its anti-graft system to strengthen its direct supervision of the behavior of regional officials in the hope of more effectively curbing rampant corruption...

"In China, almost all senior government officials are party members; hence the country's anti-graft campaign is pretty much a house-cleaning job of the CCP itself. Under the current system, there is the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) at the top of the party hierarchy that in fact also acts as the country's top anti-graft watchdog. Accordingly, there is a commission for disciplinary inspection under each regional party committee to act as local anti-graft watchdog.

"But the big drawback of this system is that the head of a local commission for disciplinary inspection (CDI) is practically appointed by the regional party committee and as such is under the command of, and has to report to, the local party chief. Under such a system, a regional party chief is virtually immune to supervision by the local watchdog and can hardly be checked if he or she becomes corrupt, unless the case is brought to the attention of the power center.

"Under the principle of 'upholding the party's absolute leadership', the party chief of a region is like a king with all officials subordinate to him. In such a system, to ask the head of the local anti-graft watchdog to supervise the party chief would be like asking someone to lift himself up in the air by pulling up his own hair with his own hands...

"[T]he power center of the CCP... has begun to appoint [anti-graft] officials directly from the power center...

"The CCP power center has also made another move to make the function of a provincial CDI more independent of the provincial party committee... so he would be in a better position to carry out his mission... it is aimed at establishing a more independent mechanism for supervision.

"It is certainly an effective way to check rampant regional protectionism and nepotism for Beijing to send its own people to head the local anti-graft commissions. This is a check on the absolute power of the 'local kings'...

"If President Hu wants at least to minimize official corruption, he must consider letting the media play a role in this arduous fight. Greater freedom of the press would allow the public to participate in the supervision of officials by putting them under a microscope. But until now there is no sign that the CCP is ready to embrace freedom of the press..."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A new bit of civil society in Russia

What caught my attention was this December 18th news in the Moscow Times:

Nashi Activists Converge on City

"An estimated 70,000 Kremlin supporters donning Santa suits converged on the capital Sunday to celebrate a key World War II victory...

"While the massive celebrations actually missed the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Moscow... they did coincide perfectly with a nearby, decidedly anti-Kremlin rally for slain liberal journalists..."

70,000 in Santa suits? Kremlin supporters? anti-Kremlin rally? Nashi?

So I went looking for more information.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in March2005: Walking With Putin

"The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together announced on 1 March that it has created a new youth movement called Nashi (Ours). According to a press release... which quotes Walking Together founder Vasilii Yakemenko, the goal of the new 'anti-fascist" movement is to put an end to the "anti-Fatherland union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals.' Several Moscow-based newspapers reported the goal of the new group is actually a bit more specific: to eventually replace the party of power, Unified Russia...

"Moskovskii komsomolets on 24 February reported that it obtained documents outlining a 'grandiose plan for the creation of a new youth movement' whose goal is to save the motherland from colonization by the United States."

A couple weeks later, the Christian Science Monitor reported, New political force in Russia: youths

"Emerging youth groups protest Putin's 'managed democracy,' spurring pro-Kremlin groups to respond...

"Nashi, or 'Ours,' is an offshoot that promises to be more militant, more nationalistic - and more alert to protecting youths from 'fascists.' Dozens of Moving Together activists were on the streets of Moscow Monday, picketing what they called 'pornography' in a modern opera at the Bolshoi Theater..."

About the same time, the BBC reported that Pavel Dulman, in the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, wrote that, 'Political youth movements are playing an increasingly active role in Russia, compensating for the lack of a strong opposition in mainstream politics...'

Dulman continued, 'Non-party youth movements are also growing in prominence and many see a Russian equivalent of the Georgian and Ukrainian revolutionary youth movements emerging from this sector. The creation of the pro-Putin youth movement Nashi, which has by far the greatest membership of all these groups, seems to be a response to this development...

'The anti-fascist Nashi movement, youth Yabloko, the National Bolsheviks, Oborona [Defence], the Youth Union for the Motherland - in the past 12-18 months they have come to occupy their own area of the news agenda, often playing the role of PR engines for their senior comrades...'"

And Leonid Ragozin wrote for the BBC, Russian youth on political barricades

"After peaceful democratic revolutions swept away old regimes in Ukraine and Georgia, there has been much speculation about whether the same could happen in Russia.

"But the Kremlin is alert to these plans, and as a counter-measure, it has blessed the creation of the Nashi ('Ours') youth organisation, to enter the battle for hearts and minds.

"One liberal youth activist has alleged that Nashi is preparing brigades of thugs to deter young people from joining pro-democracy groups..."

In July of 2005, the Washington Post reported, Preempting Politics In Russia

"...the Kremlin seeks to preempt political activism. Not long ago it masterminded its own youth movement... known as Nashi [which] draws on the Kremlin for support and resources. Nashi's leader said in an interview this month that since 'everyone knows that the Kremlin supports Nashi,' any businessman will readily give the organization money. Indeed, he said that 'to turn down our request for financing would be to take an unpatriotic stand.'

"What Nashi is up to, though, is rather vague. Recently some 3,000 of its activists were brought together at a summer camp (travel, food, entertainment and sports equipment provided) where they worked out and heard lectures by Kremlin propagandists calling upon them to be tough against Russia's enemies. On the other hand, Nashi's proclaimed goal is to become Russia's next generation of 'nationally oriented' civil servants and government managers, which should make membership in the new organization a good start for young careerists. It's a rather weird outfit, with undertones of Hitler Youth and the Soviet Komsomol, but it does serve to clarify one important fact: The Kremlin today has huge advantages over the Russian public in political initiative, funds, organizational capacity and other resources..."

In October 2006, the Russian news agency Interfax reported,

"The Nashi (Ours) youth movement organized a rally in support ofthe Russian ruble and against the U.S. dollar...

"Over 20 Nashi activists wearing top hats decorated with the colors of the U.S. flag and  robes made from dollar bill photocopies gathered... under the motto 'Don't buy dollars! Our currency is the ruble!'"

And in December 2006, BBC reported, Russian youths 'hound UK envoy'

"The UK embassy in Moscow has complained to the Russian foreign ministry about harassment of Britain's ambassador by a youth group with links to the Kremlin...

"Members of Nashi, which supports President Vladimir Putin, objected to Ambassador Anthony Brenton's attendance at an opposition conference in July.

"'We are picketing the residence of the ambassador,' said Vladimir Katasonov, a Nashi spokesman...

"Nashi, which says it is working to combat fascism in Russia, was launched in April 2005. It claims to have thousands of followers.

"Another of its stated goals is to thwart any pro-Western mass movements of the kind which took power in Georgia and Ukraine in recent years..."

And that gets us back to the Santa suited demonstrators later in December.

  • Part of the explanation is the organizing of political parties.
  • Another part is to prevent a Russian version of the "Orange Revolution."
  • A further purpose of Nashi may well be, as its opponents suggest, to forcibly suppress protests against the Putin government.
  • That kind of group might subvert or control the organization of violent nationalistic groups associated with Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats.

In any case, it would be worth paying attention (or asking students to pay attention) to Nashi as the next presidential election approaches.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cultural diffusion and resistance

On one hand, I found an example of adapting a foreign influence to be "more Chinese." On another hand, I found evidence of resistance to the "foreign devils." And on a third hand, I found that China is capitalizing (no pun intended) on American Christmas demands. All hands represent real forces in China. Then, there is one image of Christmas in Nigeria. It is difficult to know what political effects these things might have.

ONE: Shanghai: new Christmas tradition

"Christmas is no longer the exotic western import it once was, and so one group of revelers is preparing to restore the lost luster of the season by reaching back to their childhoods.

"'We've always celebrated Christmas in a western style. We go to bars or clubs with friends to celebrate the season...' said Zhao Ye...

"Zhao's goal is to help people relive their childhoods that night by playing children's games like shuttlecocks, rubber-band dancing, hopscotch and roller skating.

"Zhao estimated that nearly 300 people would attend..."

TWO: PhD students say 'No' to Christmas

"As Christmas draws near, ten philosophy and education PhD students from China's top universities jointly publicized a petition on the Internet, calling on netizens, especially the young, to be less excited about the exotic holiday, Shanghai-based Xmnext.com reported December 21, 2006.

"This is the latest instance of public resistance to western culture and lifestyles in China. In the online petition, titled 'Out of Cultural Collective Unconsciousness, Strengthen Chinese Cultural Dominance' and dated with traditional Chinese Era Calendar, PhD students from China's most authoritative universities including Beida, Tsinghua and People's University hope to 'wake up the Chinese people to resist western cultural invasion'...

"It seems the petition will not receive much support, judging from the large number of critical responses on the Internet. And it's likely it will be drowned out in the mainstream, where Christmas and Valentine's Day are becoming more popular than the Spring Festival among youngsters..."

THREE: South China Supplies World With Christmas Items

"Shenzhen is now the world's largest manufacturing base and export center of Christmas-related products, with an annual export volume of over US$2 billion, according to an official with the city's Foreign Economic and Trade Bureau."

FOUR: Nigerian Christmas without 'evil' Santas

"There are no Christmas decorations, the radio stations are still playing hip-hop and rap and some children recoil at an image of Santa decrying it as evil.

"'His costume looks phoney and his face is strange,' says eight-year-old Ifunanya Chima when shown a picture of the benign bearded old man in his trademark red cloak with white fur trimmings.

"'We prefer masquerades,' he told me referring to the traditional colourful dancing which is a big part of the festive season here...

"Soon, the major cities will become ghost cities as most people return to their native villages to share the traditional Christmas rice...

"Christmas in Nigeria is a time for new clothes, long distance travels for family reunions, and lots of colourful masquerade dances in most villages.

"And for now, it does not matter that half of Nigeria's 130 million people are Muslims with a handful of pagans.

"At Christmas, most Nigerians forget their religious differences and just share their Christmas rice - a dish of boiled rice eaten with very spicy chicken stew...

"There are big retreats for Nigeria's fast-growing Pentecostal Christian sects, but these retreats sometimes look like bazaars as they throw up business opportunities for some enterprising people.

"Ironically, highway armed robberies are more common during the Christmas season in Nigeria..."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Teasing out the details of the Iranian state

The power elite in Iran is so personal and the relationships among those men, institutional and informal, are so complex, that sorting out politics is tedious and difficult.

A New York Times article discussing preliminary results from local and Assembly of Experts elections offers hints about how the system works now. How much could your students add to what's in their textbook from "the inexact science" of identifying personal alliances? (If you don't have access to the Times article, other news sources reported on these results in much the same way.)

Tally in Iran Vote Spells ‘Setback’ for President’s Hard Line

"...the tally so far indicated that candidates from the reformist and pragmatic conservative camps — the two main groups opposing the populist, hard-line president — emerged stronger from the vote...

"Two contenders in [the] 2005 presidential election could claim important victories this time around, both seen as setbacks for the president. One, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani... [Final results for the Assembly of Experts show that more than 65 candidates close to Mr. Rafsanjani won.] The other, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who succeeded Mr. Ahmadinejad as mayor of Tehran...

"Reformist politicians beat hard-liners in at least five important city councils...

"Reformists, who support constitutional change to dilute the power of the clerics, captured four of the 15 seats in Tehran. That led them to protest the possibility of tampering, because results are taking longer than expected and an Ahmadinejad ally is in charge of the count...

"In the inexact science of reading alliances within the competing circles of mullahs and military men, there have been signs that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not enchanted with the [president]... a protest against the president when he visited a Tehran university this month was shown on state television, which the supreme leader controls...

"The tension between the president and Tehran’s mayor creates an interesting dynamic because both were Revolutionary Guards.

"Mr. Ahmadinejad is more identified with the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary force drawn mostly from the working poor, whereas Mr. Qalibaf was the head of the air force and projects a more sophisticated image friendly to business executives...

[At that point I'd ask, to complicate matters, which executives? The bazaaris? The bonyad adminstrators? or others? -KW]

"'The significance of this election is that we now have a complete new alignment — the reformists, the Rafsanjani camp and the conservative bazaar elements,' said Abbas Milani, chairman of Iranian studies at Stanford University. 'That is a de facto coalition whose purpose is to stop Ahmadinejad from doing further damage, both domestically and internationally.'"

Friday, December 22, 2006

(Minor) Party Politics in Britain

Investigative reporting from the Guardian (UK) offers some insights into the strategy of the British National Party (BNP). A reporter joined the party and became a central London "organiser."

The reporter's conclusion was, "Some BNP leaders believe the party is close to a seat in parliament, a presence in towns halls across the country and a greater degree of political legitimacy than at any stage in its 24-year history. 'But first,' [said one leader], 'people must stop seeing us as ogres.'

Exclusive: inside the secret and sinister world of the BNP

"[Party]Activists are being encouraged to adopt false names when engaged on BNP business...

"The BNP has also been instructing its activists in the use of encryption software to conceal the content of their email messages, and to protect the party's secret membership lists...

"BNP activists are also now discouraged from using any racist or anti-semitic language in public, in order to avoid possible prosecution... activists often shun such words as "black" or "white", even when talking at party meetings...

"During seven months inside the BNP, the newspaper also discovered that the party is planning a recruitment drive in some of the most affluent areas of the capital, largely in an attempt to broaden its support base... and aims to organise [the new members] into a branch which it hopes to use in its attempts to dispel the widely held view that it remains a party of thuggish, working-class racists... Many of its activists have accepted the need, in [BNP leader Nick] Griffin's [pictured above] words, to 'clean up our act, put the boots away and put on suits'."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Chinese perspective on human rights

While we're looking at the Chinese version of things, here's Xinhua's account of the state of human rights in China and other places. I think this reporting once again offers a valuable lesson about how Chinese perspectives differ from American perspectives.

It's an important part of thinking comparatively to understand these differences. You could ask your students to evaluate the metaphor that is used to conclude the article.

Frictions over human rights mirror different emphasis

"In the face of constant criticism of its human rights record, the Chinese government has been eager to show the world how it claims to protect its citizens' rights and interests...

"'A tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that is growing,' said Giorgio Magistrelli, executive general manager of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, referring to China's conflicts with the West in the field of trade.

"The same is true of human rights. While cases of rights violations grab headlines, the government claims to have been making steady efforts to improve its human rights record, especially in terms of poverty alleviation, education, and health care and social security for the needy...

"The frictions between the West and China lie in the different concepts of human rights. While developed nations preach individual freedom and certain political and economic rights, China, with its vast rural economy, argues it must ensure its people enjoy the freedom from want...

"To ensure freedom from want, the government has embarked on a mission to build a harmonious society, by which it means narrowing wealth gap and providing more help to the poor....

"The article goes on to explain progress in meeting policy goals:

The article concludes with this description:

"'The value of human rights is universal, but the dynamic of its implementation varies in different countries,' said [DongYunhu, vice-chairman of the China Society for Human Rights Studies], explaining China's approach.

"He had his own metaphor for the frictions between China and the West. 'Human rights is abstract like the concept of fruit, which is the collective notion of apples, pears and bananas, among others. When a certain country wants to push its idea of human rights onto the whole world as the only standard, it's like saying only banana is fruit, the apple and pear are not.'"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chinese view on building a harmonious society

It's interesting to see Xinhua's account of income inequalities in China (since it's the official government news agency) -- at least as presented to an outside audience. Here are two examples that can be compared to Western media coverage of the same issues. The articles excerpted here were published on 12 December 2006.

A richer China grapples with widening wealth gap

"Growing at a double-digit speed to become the world's fourth largest economy, the country has been grappling with the disparity between the haves and have-nots, which has widened dramatically over the past 20 years...

(See "Comparative Incomes and Politics" for a general discussion of this topic.)

"Since China launched its economic reforms and opening up in late 1970s, the incomes in cities have risen faster than in the countryside, which boasted a large population living on farming...

"From 1985 to the end of last year, more than 100 million Chinese emerged from poverty, leaving 23.65 million still below the poverty line, which is set at an annual per capita income of 85 U.S. dollars by the government...

"Meanwhile, the findings indicate the average real income of the poorest 10 percent of households declined by 2.4 percent from 2001to 2003...

"'In recent years, the cost of public services like education, medical care and social security have risen too fast for medium and low-income families to afford. That's one of the major causes for the widening wealth gap,' said Chi Fulin, vice director of the China Society of Economic Reform.

"'The government has expended most energy and money on developing the economy instead of social undertakings and public services,' said Ding Yuanzhu, researcher with the Academy of Macroeconomic Research of the State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC).

"The government should transform its function from merely pursuing economic growth to providing basic public services, and give full play to the market in economic development, said Chi.

"Government intervention in market operations are a major cause of the irregular procurement of resources, corruption and unjust distribution of income, said Chi...

"'What really matters is not the wealth gap, but a fair system and equal opportunities,' said Li Qiang, government adviser and dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tsinghua University..."

On the same day, in a possibly-related story, Xinhua reported that Students peg job hopes on social contacts

"More than half of China's university students believe good social contacts can help them find a good job, according to a survey released on Monday.

"In a poll of 1,000 students who will graduate next year in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Shenyang and Xi'an, 51.5 percent said they hoped to find a good job through good social contacts.

"The survey conducted by the China Youth Daily and Zhaopin.com showed 45 percent believed luck was also an important factor...

"Government posts continue to be much sought after..."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Causes of change in political culture

If you're interested in using the attempts at public shaming in Shenzhen as a case study, I just added another comment. This one is from one of the writers for China Law Blog.

Dan Harris wrote, in part, "Something like this has to have an impact, however small.  China's government is obviously not a democracy, yet it still both wants and needs its people to view it as legitimate... this incident ought to at least give the Chinese government a little more pause before trampling on the rights of its people."

The original entry and all the comments are at Anomaly or real change in political culture.

Force for change in China

New York Times reporter Howard French probably went to Shenzhen to report on the attempts by local police to use public shaming as a tool to fight prostitution. The attempt was not a resounding success. (See Anomaly or real change in political culture?) While there, he wrote this story which may be a harbinger for China's political culture. Maybe Marx was right about the bourgeoisie.

What characteristics of Shenzhen's new political culture would your students point to as significant? Would they guess that Shenzhen is so different from the rest of China that it's not a model for the rest of the country? Why? Can the Party maintain control in a place like Shenzhen? Why not?

In Chinese Boomtown, Middle Class Pushes Back

"Increasingly... Shenzhen looks like a preview, even a warning, of the limitations of the kind of growth-above-all approach that has gripped much of China.

Nothing in Shenzhen in more than 25 years old.

"Possibly the greatest force taking shape here is the quiet expansion of the middle class... This middle class is beginning to chafe under authoritarian rule, and over time, the quiet, well-organized challenges of the newly affluent may have the deepest impact on this country’s future.

"In newly rich Shenzhen, as in much of China, social change is being driven by economic transformation and, more than anything else, property ownership... property owners have poured their energy into everything from establishing co-op boards to spar with landlords, to organizing real estate market boycotts to force down prices.

"Others, meanwhile, have begun running for office in district-level elections, where they hope to make the city government more responsive to their needs...

"Shenzhen has also spawned a local research group known as Interhoo, an independent association of civic-minded professionals who discuss municipal policy issues, publish position papers and quietly lobby the government over development strategy and other issues...

"Even with all of this political activity, China is a long way from participatory democracy..."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Iranian complications

Mixed in with the news of local elections in Iran came reports last week of a student protest during a visit by President Ahmadinejad to a Tehran university. Now the Guardian (UK) is reporting more details and that some protesters are in hiding.

From the Boston Globe, 11 December 2006:
Students try to disrupt leader's talk

"Dozens of Iranian students burned pictures of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and threw firecrackers in an effort to disrupt his speech at a university yesterday, a presidential office spokesman said..."

The Iran Press Service reported:
"While the spokesman claimed '50 to 60 students were involved', eyewitnesses said hundreds of students chanted 'Death to the dictator' as basiji students and forces as well as units of presidential guards clashed with anti-Ahmadi Nezhad students at the Amir Kabir University in Tehran. At least two students had been wounded and taken to hospital, sources said..."

and UPI reported:
Iran students rebel over Holocaust denial

"Scores of students at Amirkabir University in Tehran marched Monday as Ahmadinejad opened a conference of Holocaust deniers for some 70 people. A Times of London correspondent said the students burned pictures of Ahmadinejad and called the conference 'shameful.'

"One unidentified student told the newspaper the gathering 'has brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world.'

"In response, Ahmadinejad called the protesters 'Americanized' and said he was 'prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice.'..."

From the Guardian 17 December 2006:
Iranian students hide in fear for lives after venting fury at Ahmadinejad

"· President's supporters vow revenge on protesters
"· Activists forecast harsher crackdown on dissent

"Iranian student activists who staged an angry protest against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week have gone into hiding in fear for their lives after his supporters threatened them with revenge... Vigilantes from the militant Ansar-e Hezbollah group have been searching for them...

"The disclosures came yesterday as early returns from Friday's council elections indicated that Mr Ahmadinejad's hardline supporters had failed in their attempt to take control of several key local authorities. Turnout was estimated at about 60% after reformers urged liberal-minded electors to vote in large numbers to protest against the government's policies...

"Students now fear an even fiercer crackdown. 'We believe [the authorities] will react much worse than before,' said Armin Salmasi, 26, a leading activist. 'We are already under constant surveillance. The student movement in Iran is going to be driven underground - just like it was before the revolution.'"

The Challenge for Calderon

Jorge Castañeda was Mexico's foreign minister from 2000-2003 and is now a professor of politics and Latin American studies at New York University. He wrote the editorial excerpted here for Project Syndicate.

I think it would be a good introduction to a study of how the Mexican state developed over the past 70 years. You could ask your students to identify the steps in the creation of the the three "pillars" Castañeda identifies. It could also be used as a conclusion to the study of Mexico, asking students to identify signs of change in thsoe "pillars." Or it could be used as the framework for a comparative exercise. Students could hypothesize about what institutions or situations in other countries are analogous to those "pillars" and, of course, asking them to defend their thinking.

Calderon’s Cauldron

"Under dramatically inauspicious circumstances, Mexico has finally got itself a new president...

"Most Mexican commentators believe that it should be relatively easy for Calderón to improve on the largely self-inflicted failure of outgoing President Vicente Fox’s term... If Calderón can strengthen law and order, and use his considerable political skills to reach agreement with the PRI on structural economic reforms, he will succeed...

"But the foundations of the old PRI-corporativist system created in the 1930’s remain untouched, and represent the main and most formidable obstacles to Mexico’s growth and success.

"The first pillar of this system is the public and private economic monopolies that dominate the country...

"The second pillar is formed by the unions that have controlled the Mexican labor movement since the 1930’s...

"The third pillar of the system is political monopoly...

"So Mexico’s challenges boil down to liberating the labor movement, breaking up the private monopolies and opening the public monopolies to competition, and lowering entry barriers that restrict access to the political arena..."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nigeria's presidential candidates

The BBC reported that President Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party has picked its candidate for April's election.

Nigeria party picks its candidate

"Nigeria's governing People's Democratic Party (PDP) has chosen its candidate in next April's presidential election.

"Katsina state Governor Umaru Yar'Adua [at right] - whose nomination was supported by President Olusegun Obasanjo - won the primary comfortably.

"The vote followed bitter in-fighting in PDP ranks for the nomination, and the atmosphere among delegates was downcast, correspondents say..."

The BBC also offered a profile of the candidate.

Profile: Umaru Yar'Adua

"Until a few weeks ago, very little had been heard of Umaru Yar'Adua outside of Nigeria.

"And outside of his own state of Katsina in the north of the country, few Nigerians had heard of him either.

"The reclusive governor sprang to prominence when it became known that he had the support of President Olusegun Obasanjo...

"A former college lecturer, Mr Yar'Adua is one of the few governors not currently under investigation for corruption...

"Described by his critics as taciturn and not known for his tolerance of opposition, Mr Yar'Adua has sometimes been underestimated.

"As one commentator put it, 'because he's quiet, people mistake him for a weakling. But he's someone who knows his own mind.'

"His prudent management of the state's finances is believed to have been important in winning the president's support..."

Vanguard (Lagos) published an account of the PDP Convention.

Vanguard also reported on one way Obasanjo is likely to remain a powerful figure in Nigeria after he is no longer in office.

Nigeria: PDP Endorses Strong Role for Obasanjo After Office

"THE reported move to position President Olusegun Obasanjo in political reckoning after he steps down from office next year received endorsement at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) convention yesterday. The national convention amended provisions of the party constitution that would make the president take over the chairmanship of the party's Board of Trustees whose powers have also been strengthened..."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Social policy in China

The BBC report excerpted here is about a policy initiative from Beijing that is part of a larger plan to fight rural poverty.

I'd ask my students to address these questions:
  1. What problems are being addressed by the new policy?
  2. How is the new policy supposed to resolve or alleviate the problems?
  3. What are the causes of the problems?
  4. Why should we be skeptical about the likelihood that these policies will be sucessful?
  5. Can you find any evidence of similar efforts in other countries?

China ends school fees for 150m

"China is to abolish tuition and other fees for 150 million rural students, in a bid to narrow the gap between wealthy coastal provinces and poorer regions...

"The move to end fees follows increasing concern at a growing gap between the rich coastal provinces and poor interior, and at unrest in the countryside.

"The authorities have promised more money and fresh policies to ease the problems, as part of what is officially billed as building a 'harmonious society'.

"But many people in rural areas are still living on less than a dollar a day, and rural schooling is seen to lag well behind.

"Rural unrest, often blamed on illegal land grabs, is also a growing problem..."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Complicating analysis of Nigerian politics

I'd guess that Linda Polgreen, the New York Times reporter who wrote the piece excerpted here, studied comparative politics. Who else would use "cleavage" the way she did in the article. With all the emphasis on the geographic-ethnic-religious divisions in the Nigerian populace, it's probably good to be reminded of the economic and social class cleavages.

In a Dream City, a Nightmare for the Common Man

"The license plates here supposedly say it all: Abuja is 'the Center of Unity.'

"A massive mosque, golden dome glinting amid four minarets, sits on one side of town, representing Nigeria’s population of 65 million Muslims. An equally vast nondenominational church, with copper-plated flying buttresses soaring skyward, sits less than a mile away, representing a roughly equal number of Christians...

"But these days the deepest cleavage in Nigerian society yawns wider here than it does almost anywhere else — the chasm between the tiny, rich and powerful elite and the vast, impoverished majority of the nation’s 130 million people...

"In the interest of cultivating an image as a world-class city, comparable to London, Paris, New York or Hong Kong, the government has been razing unauthorized and unsightly slums, clearing out street hawkers and banishing popular and cheap motorcycle taxis, all in the name of spiffing up the city...

"Abuja’s vast interstate cloverleafs, nestled in the moss-covered rock monoliths, would not look out of place in an American suburb, but only the lucky few can afford cars.

"The streets are often empty, crowded only occasionally by cordons of luxury sedans and sport utility vehicles, the entourages of government ministers.

"For visitors, black London cabs cruise the topiary-lined boulevards. Their fares run about $8, far beyond the reach of most Nigerians.

"The master plan’s housing estates unfurl with the orderliness of a planned subdivision: town houses and apartments for the well heeled, tract homes and villas for the even better heeled. But there is little provision for the army of civil servants, whose low wages place the graceful homes of Abuja out of reach.

"As for the maids, drivers, security guards and laborers without whom this city would cease to function... there is no place for them at all..."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Recruiting leaders in Russia

The poisoning of former Russian spy Litvinenko has drawn attention to the role of Russia's security forces inside and outside of Russia. The Gazprom takeover of a major Shell Oil project near Sakhalin island might attract more attention to those FSB-related officials. Journalists now have more things to write about that appear to be undemocratic and conspiracy-like.

Political scientists have been aware of the role of the "security forces" in Putin's government for a long time. The Washington Post article excerpted here provides some details to flesh out what your textbook says on the topic.

In Russia, A Secretive Force Widens - Putin Led Regrouping Of Security Services

"On Nov. 15, the Russian Interiaor Ministry and Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, announced three new senior appointments...

"All three men had something important in common beyond the timing of their promotions: backgrounds as KGB officers and experience working directly with President Vladimir Putin when he was a KGB operative...

"Russia's intertwined political and business elites are increasingly populated with people like them, former intelligence agents who have personally proved themselves to the president. At the same time, Putin has spearheaded the regrouping and strengthening of the country's security services, which had splintered into a host of agencies after the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991.

"In particular, the Federal Security Service, known by its Russian initials FSB, has emerged as one of the country's most powerful and secretive forces, with an increasingly international mission...

"Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Moscow-based Center for the Study of Elites... recently analyzed the official biographies of 1,016 leading political figures... She found that 26 percent had reported serving in the KGB or its successor agencies.

"A more microscopic look at the biographies, she said -- examining unexplained gaps in résumés, unlikely career paths or service in organizations affiliated with the KGB -- suggests the startling figure of 78 percent...

"The FSB's multiple briefs include intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, economic crime, electronic espionage, border control, social monitoring and, some observers claim, responsibility for the country's computerized election system.

"Many outsiders have also asserted that the agency plays a key role in crafting some of the legislation the government submits to parliament on a broad range of subjects...

"The FSB's budget continues to grow rapidly...

"'There are more and more issues which you cannot decide without the resolution of the FSB,' said Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow director of the World Security Institute, a research organization..."

More on the Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (FSB) from Global Security.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Anomaly or real change in political culture?

Sometimes events appear to have significance, but time proves they were just anomalies. Like yesterday's (11 December) protest in Tehran by students when President Ahmadinejad spoke. Is that a portent for the future? Was a sophomoric stunt? Or did a group of undergrads just put their names on a Basiji enemies list?

Rule of law may be coming to China from the grassroots up. Then again, could this be a reporter's misinterpretation? Or an isolated exception to the rule? Perhaps it's only Shenzhen's proximity to Hong Kong that's the cause. We'll have to wait and see.

Here are excerpts from a Washington Post account of the reaction to recent law enforcement activities in Shenzhen, one of the first Special Economic Zones (next to Hong Kong).

Public Shaming of Prostitutes Misfires in China

"To local officials combating Shenzhen's reputation as a den of vice, it seemed like a good idea, the perfect way to dissuade provincial girls from turning to prostitution in the big city and frighten away the men who patronize their brothels.

Yellow Club in Shenzhen, photo by Christine

"So after raiding the karaoke bars, saunas and barbershops where prostitutes often ply their trade, police officers in the southern Chinese boomtown paraded about 100 women and their alleged johns in the street, using loudspeakers to read out their names and the misdeeds they were accused of committing.

"News photographers snapped away while thousands of residents lined up to take in the show... it recalled the Great Cultural Revolution... when Chinese accused of being intellectuals or reactionaries were routinely paraded in front of jeering crowds that found entertainment in ridiculing them, insulting them and sometimes beating them.

"But times have changed... the Futian police came under a hail of criticism for violating the right to privacy of those who were paraded about in public.

"The swift outcry, in newspaper interviews and on the Internet, provided a dramatic illustration of the distance this vast country has traveled since the Cultural Revolution, when many people embraced such tactics and even those who opposed them were afraid to speak up for fear of retribution...

"Xu Desen, the Futian district Communist Party secretary, endorsed the parade as a good way to discourage prostitution. Speaking to local reporters, he praised police for the crackdown and said it would continue...

"But many Chinese citizens thought the police went too far this time. Over the past week, they have spoken out -- with relative anonymity -- on the Internet...

"'Even while carrying out the law, police should well respect human rights,' one commentator said. 'Is there any article in Chinese law saying that police can parade people in front of the public? If there isn't, then who empowered you to do that?'...

"Focusing on the law, another contributor noted that prostitution is usually considered a violation of the social order and is punished by administrative detention rather than a criminal conviction and formal prison time. 'These are legal citizens, enjoying dignity endowed by the constitution,' the writer said, 'so it is unlawful for the police to parade them in front of the public.'"

Monday, December 11, 2006

AP Comparative Gov and Politics FRQs

While I'm on the subject of AP exams, let me add one more thing.

The key to "doing what you're asked to do" in the AP FRQs is to pay attention to the verbs. I think it's the natural tendency when we're confronted with exam questions to focus on the nouns, i.e. what the question is about. But doing what you're asked to do with those topics is vital for success.

On pages 19-21 of my book (The AP Comparative Government and Politics Examination: What You Need to Know), I list the most commonly used verbs and describe what 16 of them are asking students to do. If you go to AP Central's guide to taking the AP Comparative exam, you'll find definitions of 11 verbs used in questions and the official AP word on what behavior each is intended to elicit.

In the AP course description, the sample FRQs use the verbs "how are" (in context, it seems like "describe"), "define" (five times), "explain" (three times), and "describe." So in the course of 8 questions, students are asked to do 10 things.

In last spring's exam, the verbs used were "define" (three times), "identify" (twice), and "describe" (twelve times). In 8 questions, students were asked 17 things. None of the things students were asked to do ranked very high on Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive learning objectives.

A web page for curriculum revision project at Portland State University (OR) classifies all the AP verbs except "describe" as part of Bloom's "knowledge" category.

According to a list of "useful verbs" at the Teachers on the Web page of the Aussie Schoolhouse, "describe" only rises to the level of "understanding" if asked certain ways.

So the key to "doing what you're asked to do" on the AP Comparative exam seems to be "know the facts," and the first corollary is "know the context of the facts." The second corollary is "do what you're asked to do."

The test has not asked students to "interpret," "relate," or "classify" (Bloom's "application"). Nor has it asked students to "analyze," "contrast," "compare," or "distinguish" (Bloom's "analysis"). The exam has not asked students to "hypothesize" or "support" (Bloom's "synthesis") or "evaluate," "defend," or "criticize" (Bloom's "evaluation").

Standardized tests require standardized answers. Classifications, comparisons, hypotheses, and evaluations are very difficult to standardize.

But, the current version of the exam is still new. As the AP course development committee, the Educational Testing Service, and post-secondary political science departments evaluate the exam and the results, things could change. Stay in touch with the official word from the Advanced Placement program.

If you have comments or more questions, please use the "Comment" link below.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Advanced Placement exams

If you're teaching Advanced Placement Comparative Government and Politics, you might have the same question that Martha Kerekes posed last week. The curriculum and the exam changed last year, and she asked about the real meaning of the exam changes.

AP students and teachers have to pay attention to such high stakes tests, especially when things change and past success is no longer a precedent for the future.

Since the early '90s, the written part of the AP exam has been called the "Free Response" (or FRQ, for Free Response Questions) section, not the essay section. Nonetheless, many teachers and students have continued to use "essay" when discussing the written half of the exam. It was only two or three years ago that the AP exam stopped using the word "essay" in its test instructions.

With those changes still reverberating, AP changed the FRQ section of Comparative exam last year with the announced purpose of focusing more on concepts and comparisons.

What's teacher to teach about taking the exam?

My advice to students in the face of changes remains the same. "Do what you're asked to do in the question." And "Answer the question that's asked."

Former chief reader for AP Government, Dr. Joe Stewart of Clemson University (quoted on p. 23 of my book) and Alberta provincial standardized test assessors both note that students often try to answer questions they expect rather than the questions they confront. That's never a good idea.

Students can do more than they're asked to do -- like write formal essays -- but they will only be graded on the specifics to which they are asked to respond. Readers (those wonderful people who devote an eight-day week each June to grading the FRQs) are looking for relevant and accurate responses. Students do not earn points for anything else.

Tomorrow, more on "doing what you're asked to do."

If you have comments or more questions, please use the "Comment" link below.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Multi-lingual communication

Languages pose a difficulty that comes with multi-national communication. (This is even true within a country like Nigeria.)

How do people adjust their institutions and procedures to accommodate the nationalism and the politics of multi-national government? You might ask your students to compare what the EU is doing with what Nigeria does.

The EU now has 20 official languages. The New York Times reported recently that 3 more languages are about to become official.

Soon, Europe Will Speak in 23 Tongues

"At the European Union's daily news conference recently, the names of the 20 languages into which questions and answers would be translated shone in red lights on an elevated board, like the departure information for flights to exotic places. At the top, the mundane English, French and German; at the bottom, Lithuanian, Hungarian and Slovenian.

"As the union has grown, so, too, has the number of its official languages. One side effect is that English is emerging increasingly as the union’s lingua franca, much to the chagrin of the French, once the guardians of the group’s foremost tongue...

"The French are not taking the spread of English lying down. For one thing, they obtained a commitment several years ago that all European Union officials in Brussels must be fluent in at least two languages other than their mother tongue, on the assumption, usually correct, that the first will be English and the second French. They have also begun offering a program of free French classes for union officials in Brussels and for more senior bureaucrats at Avignon, in the sunny south of France...

"The French emphasis on the right to one’s own language echoes throughout the European Union, and it does not make life easy..."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Selecting a candidate in Nigeria

How does one become president of Nigeria these days? It's a question that has to be answered without the benefit of precedent. Over the next few months, we and our students will have the opportunity to witness the process.

Here are some articles to help us begin the watching.

The first is a BBC, report followed by a news article, and an op-ed piece from Vanguard (Lagos). Then there's an article from The Namibian (Windhoek). And finally one from This Day (Lagos) on the military's role in the process.

The candidates to be Nigeria's leader

"The BBC's News website's Senan Murray in Nigeria profiles the strongest of the more than 40 contenders hoping to win the April 2007 presidential elections. Many are campaigning to be the ruling party's candidate - with a decision due later this month.

"Vice President Atiku Abubakar - A founding member of the ruling People's Democratic Party, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was suspended from the party after he was accused of diverting $125m to personal businesses...

"Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) - Former military ruler, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, or IBB as he is known among his admirers, is a well-known Nigerian power-broker...

"Mohammed Aliyu Gusau - Little is known about this shadowy character who was replaced as Nigeria's spymaster in May...

"Peter Odili - Sitting governor of Nigeria's oil-rich Rivers State, Peter Odili, known as the "oil sheik" is also a member of the PDP...

"Donald Duke [below] - The governor of Nigeria's Cross River State, Donald Duke, "Mr Clean", is the youngest governor in the country and would become the youngest ever president, but first he has to win...

"Muhammadu Buhari - The main opposition party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) is in disarray, which means that Muhammadu Buhari's influence is also on the wane...

"Ahmed Sani Yerima - Ahmed Sani Yerima's name is synonymous with Sharia in Nigeria...

"Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - A reformed warlord, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu led the failed Biafra secession move that plunged Nigeria into a three-year civil war."

Babangida Unfolds Programmes Dec 13

"IN what is billed to be of strategic timing importance, former military president Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida will unfold his presidential declarative intention.

"The declaration, which is expected to hold in an atmosphere of pomp, sources have disclosed, is meant to address the possible backlash of moves by the hierarchy of PDP to scheme him out of the contest.

"Babangida, Vanguard has been reliably informed, has deliberately fixed his World Press Conference on his interest in next year's presidential election in Nigeria, just 72 hours to the PDP primaries..."

Nigeria: They Want our Job, but Who Decides Who Gets It

"It is possible that by the time you read this, the number of aspirants who want to succeed President Obasanjo could have reached 40. As I was writing this, the number stood at 23. And all of these are from one party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The chairman of the party was reported to have agonized that aspirants were getting too many!...

"These aspirants are actually asking Nigerians for the job at Aso Rock Villa [Nigeria's White House]. They want us to give them our mandate to be exercised on our behalf, and probably for our good. We are actually supposed to be their employers, their masters and, they, our servants. The big but is that we are not likely to be the ones that decide who among them will get the job. That decision is not going to be in the hands of Nigerians, but in the control of a tiny few, what I call a cartel. The primary system of all the parties makes such responsibility that of an electoral college of easily purchasable political merchandises.

"The system that produces the candidates is not open even to all the party members. Many are shut out by those who have the financial muscles to do so. Such racketeers are aided by the party chieftains who themselves are in season for easy kill. That is why there are killings, hues and cries everywhere about the primaries. The situation is not even different in the parties that have been criticizing the ruling PDP. And once that choice of who becomes a candidate in a party is removed from the ordinary members of the party, the choice of leadership for the rest of us is already short-circuited..."

Fear over democracy in Nigeria as polls near

"Taiwo Raji is doing his bit to ensure elections go ahead as planned in Nigeria in five months: he's cooling the electronic voter registration unit he operates in the heart of Lagos using ice he bought from a corner shop.

"Raji's machine in the Surulere district is one of only 13 available to cover an area with half a million residents - less than a tenth of the number of units needed.

"And the machine stops working after a few hours in the tropical heat.

"Voter registration across Nigeria has been hindered by a lack of machines and technical hitches in one of a myriad problems endangering next April's polls in Africa's most populous nation.

"Raji, like many Nigerians, has misgivings.

"'There is no good reason why there are not enough machines. I think they are following a script,' he said as people in the queue grumbled about the wait while the device cooled down.

"'This could cause a postponement to the elections and the president might decide to elongate his tenure,' he said.

"The registration problems are stoking suspicions among Nigerians who three times in the last half century were promised democratic transitions only to see manipulation and army coups.

"President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose election in 1999 marked a return to democracy after three decades of almost continuous military rule, has promised free and fair elections.

"But sceptics fear that history may repeat itself…"

Presidency: Can the Military Factor Swing It?

"At the last count, no fewer than seven retired red-neck officers have indicated their intentions to contest the presidential primaries of their respective parties in their drive to succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo in office next year. But can the military establisment factor, which partly facilitated the election of Obasanjo in the firts term, swing the presidency in favour of another retired General?..."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Comparative Incomes and Politics

The recent report on the global distribution of wealth from the World Institute for Development Economics made news like the report in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:
1% owns 40% of world wealth, U.N. says -- Poorest are in Africa, India, part of Asia, study finds

"One percent of the world's adults owns 40 percent of all global assets, according to a United Nations report that describes a growing gap between rich and poor.

"That chunk of the world's wealth is held by the 37 million people with a net worth of $500,000..."

Later today (Dec. 7), the World Bank will release a report on world poverty. These facts, along with those about income distribution, have obvious economic implications and perhaps less-obvious political implications. And this offers the opportunity for comparative studies.

Income distribution in a country is usually described using the GINI index. According to the Wikipedia article, Gini coefficient, "The Gini coefficient is often used to measure income inequality. Here, 0 corresponds to perfect income equality (i.e. everyone has the same income) and 1 corresponds to perfect income inequality (i.e. one person has all the income, while everyone else has zero income)."

Human Development Reports describes the GINI Index this way:
"The Gini index measures the extent to which the distribution of income (or consumption) among individuals or households within a country deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. A Lorenz curve plots the cumulative percentages of total income received against the cumulative number of recipients, starting with the poorest individual or household. The Gini index measures the area between the Lorenz curve and a hypothetical line of absolute equality, expressed as a percentage of the maximum area under the line. A value of 0 represents perfect equality, a value of 100 perfect inequality."

A more thorough explanation of the mathematics behind GINI index (and there will probably be some of your students who will want and can understand this) can be found at the web site of the Japan Seaology Promotion Organization.

If you're as hazy in your understanding of the math as I am, you might want to offer this information to the math wizards in your class before you discuss or assign something about this topic and recruit them to help you explain the numbers behind the measurement.

This map from Wikipedia illustrates the GINI indicies for countries around the globe.

So, what does are the political implications of income distribution? Giovanni Cornia and Julius Court write in Policy Brief No. 4: Inequality, Growth and Poverty in the Era of Liberalization and Globalization for the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) at The United Nations University:

"High inequality has been shown to limit progress in education and accumulation of human capital. It also reduces progress in fertility control. There may also be implications through political channels leading to policy choices that are sub-optimal. Inequality in a democracy can lead to populist measures with negative implications for economic efficiency, macroeconomic stability and growth.

"Finally, high levels of income inequality... can also create political instability and social problems and affect very negatively growth over both the short and long term... Previous... research suggests that high horizontal inequality [between groups within a society] increases the risk of social tensions and conflict..."

Cornia and Court's thesis is illustrated by this chart:

Teaching ideas:
Ask your students to make a couple hypotheses about income distribution, on one hand, and education, human capital [productive skills and abilities], political and/or social stability, or social tensions and conflict on the other. Then ask them what evidence (for the countries they are studying) they would look for to support or contradict their hypotheses. Then "send them out" to find data.

You could give them two assignments
  1. find data to support their own hypotheses
  2. find data to contradict someone else's hypothesis

Human Development Reports has a list of countries and their GINI Index ratings as does the CIA World Factbook

And you probably know of other good sources which you can point your students to.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Complications of policy making

The starting point for cooperation is agreement.

Nearly everyone agrees that non-theraputic drug use is a bad thing. But, the perceptions of causes, the beliefs about deterrents, and the context within which policies are made can complicate the process of cooperation.

Bill Samli writes on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty web site that those complications are exactly what Iran is facing in its fight against illegal drug use, production, and transport.

Ask your students to identify the problems in policy making outlined in this article. (The whole article has many more details than this excerpt.) Then ask them to compare this policy making arena with the policy making environment in another country: most similar, perhaps China; most different, probably the UK.

Iran: UN Helps Combat Drug Problem, But Bureaucracy Could Hinder Effort

"Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), announced a $22 million contribution to Iran during his November 7-9 visit to that country...

"For more than two decades, the Iranian government concentrated on interdiction as the preferred way to deal with drug abuse. Tehran insisted it was a supply-driven problem. Despite mounting anecdotal evidence, it dismissed suggestions that unemployment and a lack of constructive social outlets might be behind the demand for drugs.

"It was only in the final years of President Mohammad Khatami's administration (1997-2005) that a greater proportion of the drug-fighting budget was earmarked for demand reduction.

"The creation of new addiction-treatment camps suggests that the Ahmadinejad administration -- after some deliberation -- has decided to continue on that path.

"This emphasis on the demand side could help curb Iran's drug problem, as might the United Nations' recently announced financial contribution.

"But competition within the Iranian counternarcotics community could hinder success. A deputy national police chief, Colonel Seyyed Hassan Batouli, said recently that 13 organizations are involved in the drug fight, Mardom Salari [a reformist newspaper] reported on October 5. The state prosecutor-general, Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, noted that each province is conducting its own campaign, Hemayat reported on October 2.

"Resolving those bureaucratic issues could be as important as any funding from the United Nations. But it is unclear whether UNODC chief Costa addressed these problems during his recent trip to Iran."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Does "rule of law" exist in Russia?

Here's a thesis to ask your students to evaluate -- once they know what rule of law is. It comes from an op-ed piece in the Financial Times (London)

The Kremlin is killing Russia's rule of law

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

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

"Many more people died in early post-Soviet Russia, murdered in gang wars and battles over state assets. But then Russia verged on chaos. Today Mr Putin claims to have restored order.

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

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

Legislative salaries

So how do MPs' salaries compare with other legislators' salaries?

British MPs want $78,000 raises

"LONDON, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- British members of Parliament say they earn less than doctors and are seeking a $78,000 raise for an annual salary of $197,000, The Independent reported.

"The lawmakers now earn $119,000 per year and a Conservative committee has filed a submission to the Senior Salaries Review Board suggesting a raise to at least $148,000, the newspaper said.

"Conservative Member of Parliament John Butterfill said the committee's research showed parliamentarians were 12-15 percent behind the salaries of comparable public and private sector workers."

Policy making in Iran

When a political culture is based, in part, on absolute truth mediated by people, there are disagreements. Accepted truth is based on which people have power in the system. This article from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty describes an Iranian example. Another example can be found in the arguments of "left wing" critics of China's government. It's more difficult to find examples in political cultures that don't claim to be based on absolutes, but a case study comparing Iran and China could be useful in describing how politics works in those cultures that do.

The questions raised by this description of the Iranian policy questions include
  • What practical considerations have to be accommodated?
  • What compromises with absolute segregation are the conservatives willing to consider?
  • What is the source of the political power of the opponents of public segregation?
  • How can those opponents exercise their power?

Iran: Debate Sharpens Over Gender Segregation

"Conservative elements in Iran are pushing to increase the segregation of men and women in public...

"The separation of men and women has arguably been part of Iranian culture for longer than its Islamic-based government. But gender-based segregation in public life was institutionalized following the establishment of the Islamic republic in 1979.

"Some fundamentalists consider it a solution to prevent social interaction that they regard as a potential source of evil...

"Former reformist legislator Fatemeh Rakei tells RFE/RL that she thinks the new push for segregation is unlikely to succeed.

"'In the early years of the revolution, some people wanted to do the same in the universities and, as far as I know, the late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] opposed it,' Rakei says. 'But currently there are some strange radical views, which also exist in the Islamic world -- unfortunately -- but I don't think they can implement these views.'

"Despite such criticism, advocates of segregation appear determined to enforce gender segregation in public arenas...

"[Azadeh Kian, a lecturer in political science and an Iran researcher at France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)] says the new measures will meet resistance from women who now compose about two-thirds of new university students.

"'These attempts will fail, because today women in Iran have a very high level of knowledge,' Kian says. 'They are very active in public spheres, and they can't -- through public segregation -- force women to return and stay in their homes.'"

Friday, December 01, 2006

Traditions. Traditions.

Traditions are a big part of political culture, even when there's been a revolution or two along the way. A China Daily article reprinted by Stone Pages Archaeo News (an online news source about archaeological activity) makes it seem that the corruption seen in China today is decidedly not new. Is this relevant to studying China today?

Corruption alive in China 2800 years ago

"Much has been made of the corruption that has tarnished the image of Chinese local government officials but it seems bribery among the country's authoritative ranks was in full swing more than 2,800 years ago. The inscriptions on two bronze urns unearthed recently in northwest China's Shaanxi province tell the story of how, in 873 BCE, a noble man managed to bribe the judiciary in order to dodge charges of appropriating farmland and slaves.

"The inscriptions on each urn contain 111 ancient Chinese characters, which detail the story, narrated in the first person by Zhou Sheng, who was taken to court by disgruntled civilians... A legal investigator named Shao Bohu was sent to Zhou's manor but Zhou managed to bribe Shao's mother with a bronze pot and Shao's father with a large jade instrument. Zhou received no punishment and in return for Shao's 'kindness', Zhou presented him with a jade Gui, an elongated pointed tablet which was held by ancient rulers on ceremonial occasions...

"The urns were among the 27 relics discovered by six peasants on November 9 in their fields in Fufeng town in Baoji City...

"Professor Ding Li, with the Law Department of Sun Yat-sen University, does not subscribe to the view that Zhou's actions constituted bribery in its modern-day form. 'According to China's current criminal law, Shao would have been convicted of judicial corruption. But Zhou Sheng and Shao Bohu were probably innocent at that time as laws for nobles during the Zhou Dynasty were much more lenient,' Professor Ding said."