Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Politics and death in Iran

This headline caught my eye, "Iran: Cleric’s Death Opens Way for Rafsanjani".

The brief New York Times article reported the death of Ayatollah Ali Meshkini [at left], the 86-year-old chairman of the powerful Assembly of Experts.

It suggested that "His replacement is likely to be Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the more moderate former president who lost the presidential race to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005."

The Guardian (UK) expanded on that and offered much more speculation about the implications implied in the Times headline.

Senior cleric's death opens up power struggle in Iran

"The death of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Meshkini, chairman of the powerful experts' assembly... is likely to increase the influence of Hashemi Rafsanjani... conservative pragmatist and pillar of the Islamic regime [who] has emerged as favourite to succeed Mr Meshkini...

"Mr Rafsanjani is almost certain to be challenged by Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, a radical cleric who is seen as a religious mentor to Iran's Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Mr Rafsanjani was judged to have staged a successful political comeback from his 2005 presidential election defeat... Around three-quarters of the body's members are loyal to him, leaving him well placed to become its new chairman...

"Some analysts have suggested that Mr Rafsanjani could use leadership of the assembly as a springboard to the supreme leader's post. The position is the most powerful in Iranian politics, entitling its holder to the last word on all state matters. However, Mr Rafsanjani has told associates that he favours replacing the current one-man role with a collective leadership of several heavyweight figures."

See also:

"pruskin" added a comment pointing to the Los Angeles Times article about Meshkini's death. It is a good article, so I've added to this list.

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Renationalization in Russia

The consolidation in Russia goes on according to Anton Troianovski's report in the Washington Post. As the economic re-nationalization continues, the power in the Kremlin grows.

Kremlin-Friendly Tycoon Poised to Buy Energy Company

"The president of Russneft, one of Russia's last remaining energy companies operating largely outside the Kremlin's influence, resigned on Monday as officials signaled that a Kremlin-friendly tycoon was near a deal to purchase the enterprise...

"The new owner is set to be Oleg Deripaska, whose $23 billion holding company, Basic Element, has applied to Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service for permission to buy Russneft.

"The episode is the latest chapter in the effective renationalization of key industries in Russia in recent years. Under President Vladimir Putin, state-owned energy companies have taken over their private counterparts, often with the assistance of authorities. Several owners of private energy companies have ended up in exile or in jail...

"Deripaska [on the right with Putin, below]... is an unabashed Kremlin loyalist. 'I don't separate myself from the state,' he told the Financial Times newspaper this month, adding that he would sell his aluminum giant Rusal to the state if asked to do so...

"Many Russians view the so-called oligarchs as unsavory characters who bent the rules or committed outright crimes to take over their country's natural resources after the Soviet Union collapsed.

"Since he came to power, Putin has forced many of the oligarchs to demonstrate allegiance or face a dismantling of their empires -- as happened most famously in 2004 with former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now in prison in Siberia.

"Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday dismissed the notion that Putin's administration had any connection with the sale of Russneft. 'You know, these days it's fashionable to tie everything to the Kremlin," Peskov said, chuckling, in a brief telephone interview. "I'm sure that none of this has any basis in reality.'...

See also:

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Democracy in China and the Party Congress

Danwei (a blog about "Chinese media, advertising, and urban life") pointed me to an article by Jonathan Ansfield on China Digital Times, "The Party Congress Peg," which catalogs ways that media in China are discussing political ideas as coverage of the upcoming 17th Communist Party Congress.

Danwei writer Joel Martinsen, reminded us of the limitations of this reporting and "debate," "The CN feature looks at the various expressions of democracy in common people's lives - propery rights, low-level elections - but a good deal of the discussion is rather insubstantial. As the 17th Party Congress approaches, the effects of this discussion may be more symbolic than real."

Nonetheless, this article (and another from from The Washington Post) might be of value in getting students to consider the interface between economic and political reforms in China.

From China Digital Times:
"In a cover package last week tagged '2007: Democracy's new Meaning', China Newsweek magazine has recapped the touchstones of the current debate, from Hu-Wen think-tanker Yu Keping’s treatise 'Democracy is a Good Thing' to Hu Jintao’s keynote speech at the Central Party School in late June...

"...the magazine sits down with... retired Renmin University vice president Xie Tao... [who] professed that only 'democratic socialism' in the style of the welfare states of northern Europe could 'save China'. In May... the People’s Daily ran a long-awaited rebuttal, countering that only 'socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics' – the long-established model - would do the trick. Hu followed up on that in June with his new doctrine of the Four Steadfasts, in part an effort to circumscribe the mounting debate and put fresh ideological spin on the Party's reform agenda ahead of the congress..."

Last May, The Washington Post ran this article about the meaning of democracy in China. (How did I miss this one?)

China's Reform Debate Surfaces in 2 Essays

"China dropped another hint of internal debate over political reform Friday, publishing commentaries saying the country should shun European-style democratic socialism.

"The brief articles, by a pair of established Beijing academics, ran side-by-side in People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper. Both argued that China could borrow useful policies from democratic countries but should remain faithful to the 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' that has been official doctrine here since the 1980s...

"By contesting the idea that democracy would be good for China, the commentaries suggested that some party members are pushing for political reforms to match the dramatic economic loosening that has taken place over the last 25 years...

"But occasionally there is no mistaking the debate. Early this year, a pair of essays in party-sanctioned intellectual publications -- one by Xie Tao, a former Renmin University vice president, and another by Zhou Ruijun, a former People's Daily editor -- openly called for democratic reforms as the best way forward for China. Xie specifically referred to Northern Europe's democratic socialist systems as a source of inspiration.

"Both essays had particular weight because they were published in party-establishment journals and authored by respected former officials with long-standing party credentials. They were daring because both suggested that part of China's current problems stem from the Communist Party's refusal to relinquish its monopoly on power..."

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Details on the new Nigerian government and electricity

A few details on the new Nigerian government from The Economist. See also A cabinet in Nigeria

And these questions for your students: Privatization and structural adjustment was designed to promote more investment. Has this happened? What are the political ramifications? Is this a threat to the Nigerian regime? What of national planning? Or regional planning? What about nationalism?

A government, finally

"The Nigerian president, Umaru Yar'Adua, has finally named his new cabinet... The size of the 39-strong cabinet is hardly surprising, given the constitutional requirement that each of the country's 36 states provide at least one minister so as to guarantee fair representation. However, it is hardly an encouraging symbol for a country where bureaucracy is a major obstacle to doing business, and where one of the main stated aims of economic policy is to reduce the size of the federal government.

"Mr Yar'Adua is doubling up on one position, however, in that he will retain overall control of the energy portfolio (although he has named junior ministers in charge of petroleum and gas). This is a crucial ministry, both because hydrocarbons account for more than 90% of the country's export earnings, and because addressing the inadequacies of the electricity sector is probably the new administration's greatest challenge (and the greatest failing of its predecessor). Relatively quick progress on this front would not only make a visible difference to businesses and the everyday lives of individuals but would also give a huge boost to the overall reform effort. By identifying himself with the task so clearly, Mr Yar'Adua hopes to send a positive signal about his reformist intentions...

"[P]rogress may be slower than in recent years. Many of the easier reforms have now been completed, and the next wave—such as resolving the electricity crisis, improving insecure property rights, and reforming the weak judicial and education systems—will be harder to implement and will in many cases yield only long-term gains. Moreover, progress will continue to be impeded by deeply entrenched vested interests, pressure to adopt more nationalistic economic policies, the weak civil service, and confusion caused by overlaps and contradictions between local, state and federal government actions. It may also be hampered by the speed at which a working relationship can be developed between the president and the National Assembly..."

To illustrate the severity of the electrical generation problem (referred to above), the New York Times published Michael Wines' assessment on Sunday, 29 July.

Toiling in the Dark: Africa’s Power Crisis

"Power blackouts... are hardly novel in sub-Saharan Africa, where many electricity grids remain chewing-gum-and-baling-wire affairs. Even so, this year is different. Perhaps 25 of the 44 sub-Saharan nations face crippling electricity shortages, a power crisis that some experts call unprecedented.

"The causes are manifold: strong economic growth in some places, economic collapse in others, war, poor planning, population booms, high oil prices and drought have combined to leave both industry and residents short of power when many need it most...

"The implications go beyond candlelight suppers and extra blankets on beds. The lack of reliable power has already begun to hamper the region’s development, clipping more than 2 percent off the annual growth rates of the worst-hit African economies, according to the World Bank...

"In Nigeria... virtually all businesses and many residents run private generators to supplement faltering public service, saddling economies with added costs and worsening pollution...

"The gravity of this year’s shortage is all the more apparent considering how little electricity sub-Saharan Africa has to begin with. Excluding South Africa, whose economy and power consumption dwarf other nations’, the region’s remaining 700 million citizens have access to roughly as much electricity as do the 38 million citizens of Poland...

"Moreover, some grids are so poorly maintained that electricity suppliers get paid for as little as 60 percent of the power they generate. The rest is either stolen or lost in ill-maintained networks.

"[S]ub-Saharan nations are adding about a thousand megawatts of generating capacity each year, World Bank experts say, but need up to twice that to keep pace with demand.

"Some governments privatized chunks of their power industry in the early 1990s when free-market solutions to public-sector problems were in vogue, leaving it unclear who is ultimately responsible for providing power...

"Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Only 19 of 79 power plants work, the government said in April. Daily electricity output has plunged 60 percent from its peak, and blackouts cost the economy $1 billion a year, the Council for Renewable Energy in Nigeria says...

"The World Bank says its financing of power projects in sub-Saharan Africa is ballooning, from $250 million five years ago to $660 million last year to $1 billion in 2007.

"But many plans remain just that. Issues like creditworthiness, lax regulation, domestic politics and the sheer difficulty of sending power over rundown grids to the customer make outside investments in power stations tougher than they appear, said Tore Horvei, the chief operating officer of CIC Energy Corporation, which is based in South Africa..."

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Thinking ahead leads to good things?

A referral to a referral to a referral to an article. It's how ideas get passed along.

Jim Lerch pointed me toward the blog, Marginal Revolution written by Tyler Cowen, an economist who teaches at George Mason University. His blog reminds me the Freakonomics blog, because he also applies economic analysis to a wide variety of situations.

The entry to which Jim directly referred me was, "Which countries have an eye on the future?"

In that entry, Cowen is referring to another blog, the Private Sector Development Blog at the World Bank.

Cowen's comment on the topic might help us understand the dissatisfaction and hope revealed in the public opinion poll in Nigeria that I cited here. Cowen wrote, "Having an orientation toward the future is also strongly correlated with both happiness and confidence."

A cautionary comment on that blog noted psychologist "Daniel Gilbert's findings that people with limited (or no) choices are comparatively happier," so maybe the correlation with an "orientation toward the future," is suspect.

Could your political science students find correlations between "an orientation to the future" with political characteristics? See the chart that accompanies the article below to see the rankings. Then set students the task of finding other factors (consecutive number of contested elections, protection of civil liberties, transparency of government) that produce similar rankings.

The primary article is in the Harvard Business Review and is titled, "Forward-Thinking Cultures" by Mansour Javidan.

"My colleagues and I discovered [that cultural orientation toward the future varies widely the world over]... By surveying over 17,000 middle managers in 61 societies, we have been able to discern clear differences in nine key areas. One of these is what we call “future orientation"...

"In our study, Singapore emerged as the most future oriented of cultures, followed by Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Malaysia. The least future oriented were Russia, Argentina, Poland, and Hungary. Squarely in the middle were Germany, Taiwan, Korea, and Ireland. Even more important, however, is our further finding that the greater a society’s future orientation, the higher its average GDP per capita and its levels of innovativeness, happiness, confidence, and (as the chart shows) competitiveness..."

[There's a nifty chart in the online article displaying these results.]

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

A cabinet in Nigeria

Can Yar'Adua legitimize his presidency after an illegitimate election with his cabinet choices?

Nigeria's leader to name cabinet

"President Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria is due to announce his long-awaited cabinet in the capital, Abuja, almost three months after he was elected.

"Thirty-two men and seven women will be sworn in as ministers at a ceremony...

"Political analyst Malam Mahmud Jega told the BBC the main tasks for the new ministers will be fighting corruption, improving security and efficiency.

Mr Jega, Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper editor, said that 'reforming the electoral system of the country so that we are guaranteed better elections next time' was also another challenge...

"The Nigerian constitution requires that at least one minister is appointed from each of the country's 36 states to ensure fair representation...

"Correspondents say that the list of nominees includes few high-profile supporters of the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, suggesting that his influence might already be on the decline...

"The list of ministers also includes some opposition figures, apparently backing up Mr Yar'Adua's promise to form a unity government.

"A key challenge for Mr Yar'Adua's government is fixing Nigeria's power sector to ensure constant supplies of electricity across the country...

"Already, the new president has been saying the right things about sorting it out.

"But critics point out that his predecessor started out in a similar fashion in 1999 - but failed to deliver during his eight years in power..."

See also: Yar’Adua Heads Energy Ministry from This Day (Lagos)

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Complexities of political culture

No wonder it's so difficult for outsiders to understand the civic and political culture of Nigeria. The latest Pew Global Attitudes survey finds nearly 90% of Nigerians dissatisfied with the status quo, but 69% expect things to be better for their children.

This report on the Pew survey was published in the New York Times.

Africans Are Wary but Hopeful, Poll Shows

"Despite a thicket of troubles, from deadly illnesses like AIDS and malaria to corrupt politicians and deep-seated poverty, a plurality of Africans say they are better off today than they were five years ago and are optimistic about their future and that of the next generation, according to a poll conducted in 10 sub-Saharan countries by The New York Times and the Pew Global Attitudes Project...

"The results showed that the struggle for democracy and good governing in Africa is more like a patchwork of gains and setbacks than a steady tide of progress across a continent that has suffered some of the worst instances of misrule. While all of the countries polled are nominally democracies, half of them have suffered serious rollbacks of multiparty representational government in recent years. A majority in each country said corrupt political leaders were a big problem...

"In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer, the poll results reflect frustration with the way elections are carried out — 67 percent of Nigerians said that their presidential election was not conducted fairly. Presidential and local elections in April were so badly marred by fraud and violence that the European Union called them not credible. Asked if they were generally satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things were going in their country, 87 percent of those interviewed for the survey said they were dissatisfied. Yet Nigerians were the most optimistic of all the nations surveyed -- 69 percent said they expected that children growing up in Nigeria would be better off than people today...

"But more resource wealth has not necessarily led to broad prosperity. Of the respondents in Nigeria, 82 percent said average people were not benefiting from the country’s oil wealth..."

See also:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Gordon Brown show

In the UK, the new PM impresses at least one journalist at a press conference.

Brown Shows Range, and Patience, in First Downing Street Briefing

"Fresh from inspecting floods in the English countryside, Prime Minister Gordon Brown emphasized his desire Monday to respond to the 'rising aspirations' of the British people. But in his first news conference at Downing Street, he stressed that he knew a few things about foreign affairs, too.

"He entertained questions from correspondents from India, China and Poland, and did not forget the reporter from the local newspaper in Gloucestershire, where the prime minister had just seen thousands of people marooned in waterlogged homes...

"Based on the positive soundings so far, a British reporter inquired if he would be like Mr. Blair and stick around for a decade.
A flicker of the down-to-earth Scotsman: 'I’m just here to do the job,' Mr. Brown said. 'Let’s see how we do.'"

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Public theft in Nigeria

Simon Kolawole's op-ed piece in This Day (Lagos), offers an explanation for the corruption in Nigerian politics that expands on prebendalism. What causes could your students identify? How do those causes affect the operation of representative government? What solutions would they propose?

Nigeria: Why Do Nigerian Politicians Steal?

"Why is there a mad rush for public office in Nigeria? Let's toy with a few guesses. One, the desire to serve 'my people'... Two, the desire to 'make a difference'... Three, 'it is our turn'. The other village has had it, the other ethnic group has had it, the other senatorial district has had it. It is now 'our turn'. Four, and most interesting: it was 'my people' that asked them to run...

"How do you now actualise your ambition, having decided to run for office?... If you have a mighty godfather, you don't need to start from the scratch. He will do all the spending and handle all the logistics. The bill is usually in billions of naira, and you are expected to pay back as soon as you enter government, and then pay 'compound interest' for as long as you are in office...

"And then you are sworn in as, say, governor... The first item on the priority list will be to build a new government house... You also need the latest bullet-proof cars, preferably imported from Germany . You may not need another wife, but it is becoming glaring that your wife can no longer handle your libido so you look for several 'helpmates'...

"[Y]ou sit down and prepare a budget for education, health, electrification, ecology, security... Prepare a very good budget. Send it to the legislature for appropriation. Meanwhile, you must pay "appropriation allowance" to the lawmakers, if not the budget will not see the moon of the night. Or the light of the day.

"All contracts must be awarded by you and through you. If you budget N3 billion for health, make sure you take half of it and transfer it to some personal accounts...

"Having built up significant funds ahead of your election, you can now begin to spend more time abroad. You visit South Africa ... buy one or two houses there, so that when you run into some harsh climate at home, you can escape for fresh air, even if only for one week... Who likes stress? You come from a country where the roads are rough, the hospitals are horrible, the electricity is erratic (to use a mild word), and education is empty. So why not send your children to school abroad?...

"After serving 'my people' for two terms, you can now relax and enjoy the rest of your life. On your way from the parade ground after handing over to your successor, please close your eyes. Don't see the potholes that have become deeper and broader after your eight years in office. Do not look at the children hawking on the streets to keep their families alive. Do not give a damn in the world about the schools that remain dilapidated after eight years of budgeting and appropriation. Do not bother yourself about dozens of communities without water, access roads and electricity-eight years after you decided to answer the call of 'my people'. Find better things to do than to start worrying about the fact that the billions of naira you 'made' while in government could have turned your state into the 'mini-London' you so much admire and nearly bought up. Please, there are more important things to worry about in life."

[Simon Kolawole is the Editor of THISDAY newspaper. He holds a B.Sc. in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos and a Master's degree in Governance and Development from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom.

His predecessor, Olusegun Adeniyi was appointed a Special Adviser in President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's cabinet.

See "Simon Kolawole in, Segun Adeniyi Steps Aside," This Day, 14 June 2007.]

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Monday, July 23, 2007

China on the world stage

I found this Christian Science Monitor article on my own with the help of boingboing, a mega-blog that mostly "reprints" things from other blogs.

Danna Harman's article describes China's involvement in Africa, from its UN peacekeepers, to its Peace Corps-like volunteers, to its economic aid. There are also good questions about China's motives to consider.

The article offers a bit of insight into policy making among the Politburo elite.

China takes up civic work in Africa

"China is the most self-conscious rising power in history and is desperate to be seen as a benign force as well as to learn from the mistakes of the existing major powers and previous rising powers," says Andrew Small, a Brussels-based China expert at the German Marshall Fund, a public policy think tank. "It sees its modern national story as anticolonial – about surpassing the "century of humiliation" at the hands of the colonial powers – and still thinks of itself, in many ways, as a part of the developing world..."

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Energy saving wardrobe

President Hu spoke at a symposium on the 100th birth anniversary of Yang Shangkun, Chinese president from 1988 - 1993.

Xinhua yesteday published a photograph of President Hu Jintao wearing a white shirt without a tie or a jacket.

The government has been urging men to dispense with ties and jackets at work in order to save energy used for air conditioning.

The fact that attention has been focused on men's attire is probably a sign of how few women work in air conditioned offices.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shaping political culture in Russia

Teaching patriotism has always been one of the reasons for requiring students to take social studies classes -- even when many people in the USA argue that critical thinking and independent analysis are the height of patriotism.

As Putin's coterie tightens it control over state power, it also seeks to teach patriotism or to act, as Joseph Stalin said the Communist Party should, as the transmission belt of society.

Is indoctrination in U.S. social studies classes as pervasive as that described below? Is it invisible to us because we don't indoctrinate? Or because it has worked so well? Or because it's so difficult to see ourselves objectively? Or all of those things and more?

As we work with our students to do comparative politics, we need to include questions like those in our analyses.

Peter Finn reported in the Washington Post:

New Manuals Push A Putin's-Eye View In Russian Schools

"With two new manuals for high school history and social studies teachers, written in part by Kremlin political consultants, Russian authorities are attempting to imbue classroom debate with a nationalist outlook...

"Both books reflect the themes dominating official political discourse here: that Putin restored Russian strength and built what the Kremlin calls a "sovereign democracy" despite American efforts to isolate the country...

"'Sovereign Democracy' is the title of one of the history manual's chapters. The term was coined by Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov [at left], who attended the launch of the two books at a teachers' conference in Moscow last month. Supporters of the president use the phrase to describe the centralization of power under Putin as essential to the building of a stable Russian state, free from outside interference.

"But critics say the term is a self-serving veil for unchecked executive power, which has led to the disempowerment of parliament, the judiciary and many media voices in Putin's Russia. That viewpoint finds no place in the manuals...

"The social studies manual, Social Studies: The Global World in the 21st Century, observes that 'from the beginning of the 1990s, the U.S. tried to realize a global empire. The basic political principle underpinning any empire is divide and rule. Therefore one of the U.S. strategies was to isolate Russia from all the other former Soviet republics.'

"But the United States may be near 'final collapse,' according to the manual, because 'America can no longer integrate into a single unit or unite into a nation of 'whites,' 'blacks,' (they are called African-Americans in the language of political correctness) 'Latinos' (Latin Americans) and others.'...

"The manuals, which run to several hundred pages each, will serve as guides for the drafting of new textbooks to be introduced in September 2008...

"'The scariest thing, and the fact that makes me really sad, is that these manuals and any new textbooks will be seen not as a recommendation or a choice for teachers, but as an order,' said Galina Klokova, who specializes in the teaching of history at the Russian Academy of Education.

"The author of the 'Sovereign Democracy' chapter in the history guide said as much when he responded on his blog to criticism from teachers that parts of the book were little more than crude Kremlin propaganda.

"'You will teach children in line with the books you are given and in the way Russia needs,' wrote Pavel Danilin, a 30-year-old editor at the Effective Policy Foundation, a consulting firm that works for the Kremlin and is headed by Kremlin loyalist Gleb Pavlovsky. 'To let some Russophobe [expletive], or just an amoral type, teach Russian history is impossible. It is necessary to clear the filth and if it doesn't work then clear it by force.'..."

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Challenges to a regime's authority

Parallel legal systems can create difficulties for for a regime. Competitions for the legitimate use of power within a state are not unusual, but there are not often legitimate challenges to a government's judicial powers.

How would your students analyze the impact of Hisbah in Nigeria or the Basij in Iran?

Cracking down on Nigeria's 'pleasure island'

"The Sharia police, or Hisbah, say they will soon commence raids in an enclave in northern Nigeria's ancient Muslim city of Kano - dubbed by locals as 'pleasure island'.

"The Hisbah have given themselves the task of enforcing morals and Islamic law in the city, but so far have largely left Sabon Gari, or New Town, alone, complete with its bars, brothels and night-clubs...

"Sabon Gari has always been a district populated by "settlers" or non-Muslim southern traders and professionals who have settled and worked in Kano...

"Sabon Gari also happens to be one of Kano's biggest ghettos, with blocked sewers, gullied streets and piles of rubbish on almost every street corner...

"Kano is among a dozen states in northern Nigeria practising Sharia law, despite initial strong opposition from the federal government, Christians and human rights groups...

"The BBC News website learnt that some Muslims often cross the religious divide - under the cover of darkness - from the Sharia part of Kano to Sabon Gari for dancing, alcohol and sex.

"I often bring many of them here at night to drink," says Mohammed, a taxi driver in the city.

"It's an open secret, my brother. The code is thou shall not be caught," he says with a knowing smile...

"[Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, who is in charge of operations at the Hisbah] says other societies may tolerate sex workers, but his green-uniformed Hisbah will not allow Kano to become the modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.

"However, there is yet another district where Mr Abdulkarim and his band of Hisbah volunteers will not go, even if they rid Sabon Gari of its 'sinful' night life - the army and police barracks.

"These also boast small "mammy markets", where alcohol is freely sold and sex-workers operate unhindered.

"It is unlikely that Mr Abdulkarim's unarmed patrol teams could venture into these enclaves, suggesting Kano will continue to implement Sharia in patches for a long time to come."

See also:

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Honoring a hero in a game and a new NGO

Football match for Mandela's 89th

"Some of the world's best ever football players are to take part in a match for Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday later...

"Fifa is also due to confer honorary membership on the Makana FA - set up by prisoners on Robben Island [where] Mr Mandela spent 27 years in prison...

[Robben Island soccer goal, at right below.]

"'During the dark years of our incarceration, the association drew together all the prisoners on the island around the beautiful game of soccer,' Mr Mandela said on Tuesday. 'In this way it helped uphold the values of tolerance, of inclusiveness and reconciliation, and of non-racialism and peace that are still dear to all of us today.'

"Former US President Jimmy Carter and UN chief Kofi Annan are also due to join the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner to launch a council of global "elders" to try to find solutions to "some of the world's toughest problems" such as poverty and conflict..."

Former Leaders Create Freelance Global Diplomatic Team

"Melding serious statesmanship and a dose of audacity, the former South African president, Nelson R. Mandela, and a clutch of world-famous figures plan to announce on Wednesday a private alliance to launch diplomatic assaults on the globe’s most intractable problems.

"The alliance, to be unveiled during events marking Mr. Mandela’s 89th birthday, is to be called the Elders. Among others, it includes the retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu; former President Jimmy Carter; the former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan; and the human-rights activist and former Irish president Mary Robinson...

"Mr. Mandela, in remarks prepared for Wednesday, said that since members no longer held public office, they could work solely for the common good, not for outside interests.

"'This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,' he wrote. 'Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.'...

"The remaining announced members of the group are Graça Machel, Mr. Mandela’s wife and a noted Mozambican human-rights activist; Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in extending loans to impoverished borrowers; Ela Bhatt, a women’s trade union leader in India; and Li Zhaoxing, who was China’s foreign minister until this year..."


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Law enforcement in China

Just a reminder that Dan Harris, writer of China Law Blog was quoted here about a week ago, that implementation of law in China is more important than the letter of the law.

This report comes from Howard French of the New York Times.

Beijing’s Lack of Penalties in Labor Cases Stirs Outrage

"China’s efforts to bring a quick end to an embarrassing labor scandal over slavelike conditions for hundreds of workers at brick kilns in Shanxi Province has provoked anger among victims and widespread criticism.

"The provincial government said Monday that dozens of officials were being punished in the scandal, but that only six low-level figures in the Communist Party or the local government would be prosecuted...

"Contradicting the accounts of many people who were freed from the kilns, including numerous children, [Yang Senlin, a senior provincial Communist Party disciplinary official] said there was no evidence of collusion or corruption among local officials.

"Chinese journalists say government propaganda officials have urged the news media to limit coverage of the scandal...

"News media reports have suggested that the Shanxi police were receiving protection payments. In the first reported trial related to the scandal, Wang Bingbing, a kiln operator accused of illegal detention, said he should be treated leniently because he had given money to the police. The trial is believed to have concluded, but no verdict has been announced..."

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Chinua Achebe

I have been an admirer of Chinua Achebe's novels since I first read Things Fall Apart more than 40 years ago.

I assigned his novels Man of the People and Anthills of the Savannah when teaching comparative politics. I recommend his book of essays, Home and Exile to everyone who asks about a non-Western perspective on relations between Nigeria and the "first world."

Several of my students and I did get to hear him speak once after reading and discussing Man of the People. Rarely have students responded so enthusiastically to being prodded to travel across the city on a Thursday evening. It was an inspirational experience for all of us.

Ed Pilkington of The Guardian (UK) interviewed Achebe recently in his home along the Hudson River in New York. If you only know his books, this is a great introduction to the man. If you don't yet know his books, accept this introduction as an invitation to read some of them.

A long way from home

"By rights I should be talking to Chinua Achebe in Ogidi, his home town in Nigeria. He should be telling me about his efforts as chairman of the village council to build schools, improve the water and bring health to the people. We should be talking about whether and when the rains will come, and how the yam harvest is doing this year.

"Instead, we are sitting in a bungalow on the banks of the Hudson, upriver from New York, surrounded by clapboard houses, rolling green hills and cows chewing the cud. The nearest restaurants have names such as Rose's Kitchen, Pat's Place and Hickory. As I arrive, Achebe is sitting at his desk at the window overlooking a gravel front drive.

"It seems a strange place to find the writer credited above all others with inventing the modern African novel...

"Published in 1958, Things Fall Apart turned the west's perception of Africa on its head...

"Things Fall Apart has sold more than 10m copies and has been translated into 50 languages. More importantly, it spawned a whole generation of African writers who emulated its linguistic ingenuity and political vision...

"In A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987) he tears into the greed, egomania, lust and laziness of post-independence African rulers, giving us a chronicle of Nigeria's descent into the autocratic rule under which it still labours today. In those books, and in a stream of non-fiction essays, he has been a consistent irritant to the powerful..."

At the end of the article are links to web pages about his recent Man Booker International prize, a blog entry by Helon Habila titled "Getting to Know Chinua Achebe," and a blog entry by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled, "The exemplary chronicler of an African tragedy."

See also:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Technology, economics, and politics

We've read about examples of how mobile (cell) phones have had dramatic effects on political cultures in countries that were slow to build telephone infrastructure in the last 60 years. (See: Cell phones and civil society, for example.)

Grameen bank-type micro-credit schemes haven't made waves as big in the AP6 as they have in some other countries, but there are micro-credit schemes in all six. The effects have been economic, social, and political, especially for women.

What if the mobile phones and small-scale banking were merged? New York Times reporter Chris Nicholson offers some ideas to evaluate.

In Poorer Nations, Cellphones Help Open Up Microfinancing

"In many developing countries, where bank branches and A.T.M.’s are few or nonexistent in rural areas, cellphones may finally make financial services practical such places, fitting in the palm of one’s hand.

"Mobile devices have the potential to take financial markets outside urban areas, allowing banks to provide services like loans and savings accounts in rural regions...

"The value of mobile technologies has benefited microlenders, too. Jamii Bora, the largest microfinance institution in Kenya, has more than 150,000 borrowers. The organization, whose name means 'good families' in Swahili, began to experiment last year with mobile point-of-sale devices, magnetic-stripe cards and fingerprint authentication to take its remote branches online...

"The system that Jamii Bora uses allows clients in the countryside to make loan repayments, receive disbursements and do other business electronically. Once clients log in with a fingertip, authenticating their identity, they are connected to a central database in Nairobi.

"In a system similar to the one Vodafone has set up, cash is paid and received through loan officers or sales agents in gas stations or shops, which settle their accounts with Jamii Bora...

"The technology has allowed Jamii Bora to centralize operations and introduce a transparent accounting system to administer the loans and other services it provides, like health insurance. In doing so, the company said, it has increased efficiency and reduced the risk of fraud. If that means reducing its operating costs, making the organization more sustainable, Jamii Bora said it could lower the size of its average loan and still break even..."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Democratization in China

The New York Times web site offers access to reports from the Council on Foreign Relations.

This report offers some insight into political changes in China.

Backgrounder: China's Slow Road to Democracy

"Has there been democratic reform in China?

"Village elections... Nomination of local Community Party officials... Public hearings on legislation...

"Joseph Fewsmith, an expert in Chinese domestic politics at Boston University, says the above 'innovations' often serve to solidify the Communist Party’s central authority. 'I see them delaying democracy as much as promoting it,' says Fewsmith, who believes seemingly democratic processes check the power of local agents and improve governance without actually instituting Western-style democracy.

"What is the role of social protest in China?...

"What is the role of petitioning in Chinese society?...

"What is the role of civil society in China?...

"What are prospects for democratic reforms?...

"What are the chances for a democratic future in China?

"In the July/August 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs, Azar Gat argues authoritarian capitalist powers such as China and Russia 'may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about the liberal democracy’s ultimate victory—or future dominance.' In June, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, who predicted the evolution of all states toward Western-style democracies in the 1989 essay The End of History, told the International Herald Tribune the time frame for China turning democratic 'has to be a lot longer.' In the next few decades, he said, '[T]he authoritarian system will keep getting stronger and stronger.'"

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CPAs (or Chartered Accountants) for political change

Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University, reviewed a new book by economist Paul Collier that suggests that setting up transparent accounting as an international standard might bring about democratization.

Is the idea realistic? Or is the economist's view of politics (and economics) holplessly naive? How would your students evaluate the proposal?

A Way for Resource-Rich Countries to Audit Their Way Out of Corruption

"It is unfortunate that economists have to debate whether natural resources are a blessing or a curse for a developing nation. Minerals, diamonds or oil may appear to represent automatic wealth but resource-rich countries usually become mired in corruption. High oil revenues, for instance, allow a government to maintain power and reward political supporters without doing much for its people. The government of Nigeria has taken in billions from high oil prices, yet the average person was probably better off 40 years ago...

"The solution is to make these governments more accountable... but how can that be done? Paul Collier, an economics professor at Oxford University, has a new and potentially powerful idea. In his recently published book, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, Professor Collier favors an international charter — some widely publicized guidelines that countries can voluntarily adopt — to give transparency in spending wealth from natural resources. A country would pledge to have formal audits of its revenues and their disposition...

"Professor Collier’s proposal at first glance seems toothless; a truly corrupt country probably wouldn’t follow the provisions of the charter, which, after all, is voluntary. Yet citizens could pressure their government to follow such a charter, and the idea of the charter would create a focus for political opposition and signify international support for concrete reform.

"Foreign corporations would bring further pressures to heed the charter. Multinational companies that are active in corrupt countries might receive bad domestic publicity...

"Revenue audits would limit politicians’ ability to rake off funds for personal use or take bribes to give foreign companies a sweetheart deal. As it stands now, citizens of poor countries usually have no idea how much natural resource wealth is being generated or where that money is going...

"Even more promising is that Nigeria, one of the most corrupt countries, enacted a revenue transparency provision into law, as of May 28. The new Nigerian law relies too heavily on the federal government to monitor revenues, thereby reminding us of the old adage about the fox and the henhouse. Nonetheless, state governors opposed the measure strongly, which is a sign it may prove to have teeth. Furthermore, Nigeria did allow an audit by a private company in 2006, and it allowed the significant discrepancies to be publicized. The country may or may not turn the corner, but there are pressures building for greater rule of law...

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Who is enforcing this law?

Another situation in China, reported by The Guardian (UK), raises more questions about the rule of law there. Note the last quoted paragraph.

China bans influential NGO newsletter

"Chinese authorities have shut down an influential publication at the heart of the country's budding civic society movement, raising fresh concerns about media freedoms in the run up to the Olympic Games.

"China Development Brief has been ordered to cease publication pending the results of an investigation into its activities.

"Beijing officials told Nick Young, the British founder of the organisation, that he was suspected of conducting "unauthorised surveys"...

"The 13-year-old publication is in a unique position in China. It is the only newsletter specialising in the work of foreign and domestic nongovernmental organisations in the world's most populous country...

"The publication's role as a bridge between NGOs in China and the outside world may have raised the suspicions of the communist government, which clamps down hard on any group that is in a position to link independent voices..."

"[Mr. Young] was accused of violating the 1983 Statistics Law, which requires advance permission for any survey not conducted by the government and authorised agencies.

"None of the Beijing government agencies he named said they knew anything about the case..." [Emphasis added]

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Executions in the news

Patrick O'Neil, on the Teaching Comparative Politics group page at facebook, offered this observation on the report of the execution of a former official in China:

"What this always reminds me of is that in China, in the absence of the rule of law, the state relies on sporadic crackdowns and executions as a way to enforce compliance. It's evidence more of a weak state than a strong one--a state that needs to shoot people to maintain order is not very powerful."

The same probably applies to Iran, where an execution made news and someone in the government promised more.

Would your students be able to explain the logic behind those assertions?

Melody Dickison referred me to this article from the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

China to focus on small food producers

"China's food and drug agency announced stricter rules Wednesday for approving new drugs, a day after its former head was executed for accepting bribes to approve untested medicine...

"China is struggling to salvage its reputation as a safe exporter...

"China also told small-scale producers to renovate their operations to meet hygiene standards or be shut down... China's small-scale food producers have been accused of unsanitary production conditions, using tainted or substandard ingredients and failing to register with authorities...

"China did not specify how it defines a small-scale producer, or give other details...

"Amid such concerns, the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, who headed the State Food and Drug Administration from 1997 to 2005, was the strongest indication yet of Beijing's determination to improve product safety..."

And the New York Times reported that, "Executions Are Under Way in Iran for Adultery and Other Violations."

"The Iranian government confirmed Tuesday that a man was executed by stoning last week for committing adultery, and said that 20 more men would be executed in the coming days on morality violations.

"The police arrested about 1,000 people in May during a so-called morality crackdown. [A judiciary spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi] said 15 more men were being tried on similar charges and could receive death sentences..."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to achieve a harmonious society?

The New York Times reported on a new labor law in China.

If the law gives more power to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to negotiate, does that mean good things for workers or more jobs for Vietnam and Indonesia? Or both?

What forces are pushing these changes?

China Passes a Sweeping Labor Law

"China’s legislature passed a sweeping new labor law today that strengthens protections for workers across its booming economy...

"The new labor contract law, enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, requires employers to provide written contracts to their workers, restricts the use of temporary laborers and makes it harder to lay off employees.

"The law, which is to take effect in 2008, also enhances the role of the Communist Party’s monopoly union and allows collective bargaining for wages and benefits...

"The law is the latest step... to increase worker protections in a society that, despite its nominal socialist ideology, has emphasized rapid, capitalist-style economic growth over enforcing labor laws or ensuring an equitable distribution of wealth...

"But it may fall short of improving working conditions for the tens of millions of low-wage workers who need the most help unless it is enforced more rigorously than existing laws, which already offer protections that on paper are similar to those in developed economies.

"Passage of the measure came shortly after officials and state media unearthed the widespread use of slave labor in as many as 8,000 brick kilns and small coal mines in Shanxi and Henan provinces...

"It also moves China closer to European-style labor regulations that emphasize fixed- and open-term employment contracts enforceable by law...

"Moreover, the law empowers company-based branches of the state-run union or employee representative committees to bargain with employers over salaries, bonuses, training and other work-related benefits and duties.

"In the past, workers have had to negotiate wages with their employers individually..."

Dan Harris, writing on China Law Blog, suggests that laws are one topic and that implementation is another.

China's New Labor Law: Enforcement Is The Key

"The Christian Science Monitor just quoted me in a very fine article written by Jude Blanchette on China's newly enacted labor law, entitled, Key issue for China's new labor law: enforcement:

"'As is always the case with China's laws, the real questions will be in whether the new laws are enforced, how they are enforced, and against whom they are enforced, says Dan Harris, an expert at the law firm Harris & Moure.

"'But, he adds, "there is a feeling the new labor law is more likely to be enforced than the old and, in particular, will be enforced against foreign companies.'..."

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Research tool for UK foreign policy

Sanford Silverburg who teaches comparative politics at Catawba College in Salisbury, NC offers this gem for researching British foreign policy.

It's from the Journal of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.

The UK Foreign Policy Research Guide is by Toby Green, and it offers links to data from the
  • Prime Minister's office
  • several cabinet departments
  • Parliament
  • topics involving the EU
  • think tanks
  • academic resources and
  • Middle East lobbies

If you go to the MERIA web site's collection of research guides, you'll find them for more than a dozen topics. The UK guide is the only one directly related to the AP6, but perhaps your students are taking other course or pursuing research projects for which resources like this would prove very valuable.

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Comparative politics sharing

Patrick O'Neil (left) of the University of Puget Sound, was teaching at an AP workshop in Bellevue, Washington at the same time I was teaching one at Carleton College's Summer Teaching Institute. After that experience, he created the Teaching Comparative Politics group on facebook.

He is interested in creating more dialogue between and among comparative politics teachers at secondary and post-secondary levels.

That is something I believe is valuable and important.

Nearly ten years ago, Chip Hauss and I wrote a paper for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association titled "Across the Great Divide: Cooperation between high school and college faculty." (The cooperation suffered when my doctor told me I shouldn't be flying around the country so soon after surgery. Chip had to present the paper without me.)

Two years ago I created an online discussion site for teachers of AP comparative politics. It fell victim to its audience's hectic schedules (see the paper mentioned above) and insecure software.

Patrick O'Neil thinks that facebook is a flexible tool that has the potential to facilitate discussion and sharing of ideas and documents. I know little to nothing yet about networking software like facebook, but I do hope it works.

Here's what you need to do to join the group:
  1. Go to facebook
  2. Create an account or sign in if you already have an account. Please note that facebook asks for lots of information, including asking for permission to harvest the contents of your e-mail directory. (Personally, that's something I would never allow, no matter what I was assured about privacy and security.) You don't have to give facebook anything more than an e-mail address and a password to use on that site. You have to be the judge of what you want to share with the facebook world.
  3. Go to the Teaching Comparative Politics group at facebook, see who else has joined the group, start a conversation, make an announcement, or ask a question.
  4. Expect good things.

"See" you there.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

A new Red Guard?

Nashi made the New York Times again. It caught the attention of reporter Steven Lee Myers, who offers some comparative observations in the process of describing this version of a government-sponsored youth group/political party/vigilante posse. It also might be key to a recreation of the Soviet nomenklatura system.

Can your students identify the comparative theories that are the basis for Myers' comparisons?

Can they find parts of other political cultures to compare with Nashi?

Youth Groups Created by Kremlin Serve Putin’s Cause

"Yulia Kuliyeva, only 19 and already a commissar... [she] is a leader in the Ideological Department of Nashi, the largest of a handful of youth movements created by Mr. Putin’s Kremlin to fight for the hearts and minds of Russia’s young people in schools, on the airwaves and, if necessary, on the streets.

"Nashi, which translates as “ours,” has since its creation two years ago become a disciplined and lavishly funded instrument of Mr. Putin’s campaign for political control before parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election next March.

"It has organized mass marches in support of Mr. Putin — most recently gathering tens of thousands of young people in Moscow to send the president text messages — and staged rowdy demonstrations over foreign policy issues that resulted in the physical harassment of the British and Estonian ambassadors here.

"Its main role, though, is the ideological cultivation — some say indoctrination — of today’s youth, the first generation to come of age in post-Soviet Russia...

"Nashi emerged in the wake of youth-led protests that toppled sclerotic governments in other post-Soviet republics, especially in Ukraine in 2004. It was joined by similar groups, like the Youth Guard, which belongs to the pro-Putin party United Russia; Locals, a group created by the Moscow region government that recently launched an anti-immigrant campaign; and the Grigorevtsy, affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church.

"The groups, organizers and critics say, are part of an effort to build a following of loyal, patriotic young people...

"Russia’s youth, like their parents, remain largely apolitical, seeing what passes for politics here as something remote from their daily lives. Nashi’s goal is to change that, spurring youthful activism, although within the careful limits of the Kremlin’s sanction.

"Nashi’s ideology is contained in a manifesto, based on the writings of Vladislav Y. Surkov, Mr. Putin’s chief political adviser, who has been called the Karl Rove of the Kremlin...

"Nashi’s platform is defined by its unwavering devotion to Mr. Putin and by the intensity of its hostility toward his critics...

"Nashi’s ideology extends beyond the purely political. It promotes ethnic tolerance and opposition to skinheads; participation in the Army, whose draft is widely evaded; support for orphans and pensioners, and respect for veterans of World War II. On social issues, it campaigns against drinking and smoking and advocates a conservative view on issues like abortion and birth control, warning against the use of condoms, for example...

"Nashi also laces its campaigns and literature with an undercurrent of hostility to Europe and the United States...

"Nashi and the others owe their financing and political support to their status as creations of Mr. Putin’s administration. They are allowed to hold marches, while demonstrations by the opposition are prohibited or curtailed. Their activities are covered favorably on state television, while the opposition’s are disparaged or ignored...

"Nashi’s opponents, in fact, deride the organization as a modern manifestation of Komsomol, the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The colors and symbols are similar; members carry red books to record their participation in rallies and lectures. And, like the Komsomol, membership in Nashi is viewed as a stepping stone to jobs in government and state corporations.

"More ominously, opponents say, Nashi has conducted paramilitary training in preparation for challenging those who take to the streets to protest the Kremlin...

"[Ilya Yashin, the leader of the youth wing of Yabloko (see BBC on Yabloko)], said the Kremlin ran a risk of unleashing a wave of activism that could spread beyond its control... 'Today they are loyal, but tomorrow they may become the opposition,' he added. 'And this may not be the young Red Guard’s Cultural Revolution, like in China, but something much more serious.'"

See also:

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Finding reality in Iran

Frances Harrison (left), the BBC bureau chief in Tehran, is moving to a new assignment. Her reflections on three years in Iran offer some valuable insights into the political environment, and add to the effort begun here some time ago to, Define a moderate in Iranian politics.

Her thoughts also bring up questions about how accurately journalists can portray situations and events in an environment where the reporter is shunned and must be suspicious of informants who come forward. As your students read news and analysis from Iran, China, Russia, Nigeria, and even Mexico and the UK, those are good questions to ask.

Farewell to a changed, subtle Iran

"When I first came to Iran the reformists were still in power, not the ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"But to me as a newcomer, the government then did not seem particularly liberal...

"Reform, I soon found out, was not a euphemism for regime change - it just meant more respect for the rule of law and human rights, in order to preserve the Islamic system of government, not overthrow it...

"The contrast between then and now is huge...

"The atmosphere is now one where Iranians are afraid to mix with foreigners for fear of being accused of spying...

"It gets to a point where you find yourself questioning the motives of anyone brave enough to speak out.

"Either it is a trap or perhaps they are really naive - in which case why are we interviewing them?...

"On the surface, Tehran is a place where you see women swathed in black and there are ugly grimy modern buildings housing rude officials.

"The Islamic system of government has deliberately erased much of what was Persian culture..."

See also Frances Harrison's 2006 description of the BBC journalists' working conditions in Iran, Being 'the enemy within'.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Calderón's first year

The Economist has published a good analysis of Calderón's first year in office. It is probably worth saving until you teach about Mexico. There might be something better by then, but maybe not.

Mexico a year later: What Felipe Calderón has achieved

"A year after hotly contested elections and seven months into his term of office, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón has achieved more, and is more popular, than might have seemed possible after he beat off a heated challenge to his narrow electoral win. He has assertively launched an anti-crime offensive, forged a working relationship with the opposition and secured a least one important legislative victory thus far. He has also seen the prowess of his main political nemesis ebb in recent months. However, he still faces considerable challenges in advancing his agenda, and, if his latest fiscal reform plan is any indication, will have to make compromises to make his goals politically feasible...

"It could be much tougher for Mr Calderón to build support for another contentious plan: to modernise, even open up, the energy sector. This will become increasingly urgent in the next several years, as the oil-dependent public finances are expected to suffer from the impact of declining prices and falling oil output. And the state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), is in desperate need of investment and technical know-how for new exploration and production.

"Reforms to the labour market, to competition policy and enforcement, and to regulatory policy would also help raise the size of the formal economy and therefore broaden the non-oil tax base. But there is probably only a relatively small window of opportunity to achieve tangible advances in these areas before lawmakers’ attention turns to the mid-term elections due in 2009. Further, on all these fronts reforms will be complicated by powerful vested interests and, although the government has expressed a desire to tackle the issues, progress remains uncertain..."

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Political culture and foreign policy

Dominique Moisi, a founder and Senior Advisor at the French Institute for International Relations, is currently a Professor at the College of Europe in Natolin, Warsaw. He offers an interesting analysis of how the political cultures in Russia and China appear to influence foreign policy making.

Would your students find evidence to support or contradict Moisi's arguments?

China and Russia in the New World Disorder

"Can Kosovo achieve independence without the tacit consent of Russia, and can there be a humanitarian and political solution to the tragedy in Darfur without the active goodwill of China? The two crises have nothing in common, but their resolution will depend in large part on whether these two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council use their veto power...

"Superficially, Russia and China may give the impression that they are pursuing the same path when they both proclaim with pride that they are “back” on the world stage. But this boast means different things for each country.

"For China, a deeply self-confident country, to be “back” simply means regaining the country’s historical centrality in the world after an absence of more than two centuries...

"By contrast, the Russians remain insecure about their status in the world... Because they know they are less potent, particularly in demographic and economic terms, Russians feel they have to do 'more.' For them, to say 'Russia is back' means that the humiliating Yeltsin years are over, and that they now must be treated as equals, particularly by the United States..."

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cell phones and civil society

In 2002, the Miss World contest was driven out of Abuja by protesters organized by text message. The method is spreading. From the Washington Post.

Text Messages Giving Voice to Chinese: Opponents of Chemical Factory Found Way Around Censors

"XIAMEN, China -- By the hundreds of thousands, the urgent text messages ricocheted around cellphones in Xiamen, warning of a catastrophe that would spoil the city's beautiful seaside environment and foul its sweet-smelling tropical breezes.

"By promoting the construction of a giant chemical factory among the suburban palm trees, the local government was 'setting off an atomic bomb in all of Xiamen,' the massive message sprays charged, predicting that the plant would cause 'leukemia and deformed babies' among the 2 million-plus residents of this city on China's southern rim, just opposite Taiwan.

"Mobilized by cellphone, thousands marched in Xiamen against a new chemical plant. Authorities have halted the project.

"The environmental activists behind the messages might have exaggerated the danger with their florid language, experts said. But their passionate opposition to the chemical plant generated an explosion of public anger that forced a halt in construction, pending further environmental impact studies by authorities in Beijing, and produced large demonstrations June 1 and 2, drawing national publicity.

"The delay marked a rare instance of public opinion in China rising from the streets and compelling a change of policy by Communist Party bureaucrats. It was a dramatic illustration of the potential of technology -- particularly cellphones and the Internet -- to challenge the rigorous censorship and political controls through which the party maintains its monopoly on power..."

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Wonder what we're missing about China's government and politics?

After watching the documentary about the development of China's court system on PBS last night, I read the following written by the historian who writes the Jottings from the Granite Studio blog. This entry was titled The Declaration of Independence in Chinese.

It made me wonder about which parts of Chinese government and politics are poorly translated into English and into American political science and philosophy. I would suspect there are things Chinese that I'll never really understand.

"[The Declaration of Independence] was a bold document, but does its boldness translate linguistically or philosophically?

"A decent article on the process of translating the Declaration into Chinese was published in 1999 by Frank Li of CASS for a roundtable edition of the Journal of American History.

"According to the article, the first full formal translation appeared in the Guomin Bao (国民报), a journal published by Chinese students in Tokyo.

"Originally published as the 独立檄文 (duli xiwen) or 'Call to Arms for Independence,' the flowery writing and powerful rhetoric was not easily translated using the forms and available vocabulary of Classical Chinese. Li's research cites numerous points where the linguistic and philosophic gaps needed to be bridged--tenuously at times. (A similar problem befell Buddhist sutras a millennium earlier.)

"Just to give a few of the many examples provided by Li in his article: The translation of 'pursuit of happiness' was rendered as 'pursuit of benefit' (利益 liyi). The word 幸福 xingfu, used in the current translation, was an early 20th-century neologism not in widespread use at the time of the first translation. One could argue that despite different concepts of religion and the divine, replacing 'endowed by their Creator' with 'bestowed by Heaven,' (天赋 tianfu) makes a certain amount of sense. Interestingly, 'All men...' is translated as 'countrymen/people' (国人 guoren), a point worth mentioning when one considers the debate between paticularism and universalism in Chinese historiography of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Li also sketches a brief history of the document in China. Following the 1901 publication in the Guomin Bao, the language and ideas of the Declaration influenced a number of people, notably the anti-Manchu revolutionary Zou Rong. Zou referenced the Declaration in his Revolutionary Army published in 1903. The language and ideas of the Declaration were also used by Sun Yat-sen in his 1904 English-language book/fund-raising brochure: An Appeal to the People of the United States. A more modern translation of the Declaration was completed by Hong Kong University Professor Yang Zonghan in the early 1960s based on Carl Becker's book The Declaration of Independence.

"In his article, Li does argue that part of the problem in translating the Declaration is that Chinese culture lacks the concept of 'natural rights.' It's an interesting question to be sure. Perhaps I give way to my Western biases in believing that all people, regardless of where they are born or in what circumstances, are endowed with certain fundamental human rights. How best to define what those are or how they are to be protected forms the core of the debate between China and the U.S. over human rights and civil liberties.

"The following translation is from the U.S. Embassy in China's website which has the complete text online. It's not the most beautifully written Chinese ever, but I think it gets the point across. (Sinologists out there are welcome to get nit-picky with the translation as they see fit.) The website also contains other documents from U.S. history translated into Chinese. In the interest of (relative) brevity, I've only posted what is, for me, the best part.


"And in case anyone was sleeping or passing notes during fourth grade Social Studies class, the original:

"'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.'

"I personally believe that the sentiments in these words, as in the preamble to our Constitution, in which it is proclaimed that 'We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union...' are promises as yet unfulfilled. But it is the striving after those promises, the desire to secure freedom and equality for all people who seek it, that makes the United States what it is. We have come a long way since July, er, 2nd, 1776, but we have a long way to go. It is my wish this day that we never stop trying.

"Happy Fourth of July."

Is there a 4th of July in England?

Of course. They just don't celebrate the US Declaration of Independence that day.

Countries' national days are good times to look for special features in the media about those countries. The celebrations can offer clues about the political cultures that you can ask students to identify.

When are the national days?

  • March 1, Wales
  • April 1, Iran
  • April 23, England
  • June 12, Russia
  • September 16, Mexico
  • October 1, China and Nigeria
  • Novermber 30, Scotland

Celebrate and investigate.

Another "celebration," I'd intended to mention was that I'd made 500 entries in this blog. But I missed the occasion. Well, today's entry is number 506.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mexico's presidential politics

Well, I guess I might have to rely on Al Jazeera for news about politics in Mexico since the Miami Herald closed their Mexico edition on June 1. Here is the first report I've seen on last Sunday's massive rally:

Mexico poll loser rallies followers

"The losing candidate in Mexico's closest presidential election has rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters in Mexico City's main square, aiming to re-ignite a flagging movement that could split the left.

"Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who still insists he won the election a year ago, threatened to rouse the masses if the government tried to privatise the country's state-owned oil industry...

"His movement, which draws support from about one-quarter of the population, is keeping alive an undercurrent of scepticism and discontent, though it rarely makes headlines anymore..."

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Another balancing act in news broadcasting

The New York Times reports that another version of "fair and balanced" news is about to take to the airwaves. It's web site wasn't working this morning.

Iran Expands Role in Media, via Satellite and in English

"Iran on Monday put into operation a 24-hour English-language satellite television channel to extend its global reach during a period of growing pressure from the United States.

"'Press TV was born out of the need to break the global media stranglehold of Western outlets,' the channel's Web site says.

"The channel aims to compete with other 24-hour English-language satellite channels like BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera International, which is based in Qatar.

"Press TV officials said last month that the station would present news every half hour and focus on developments in the Middle East and the United States.

"'Press TV plans to present a new perspective to its viewers around the world,' said Muhammad Sarafraz, the deputy director for international affairs, the Mehr News Agency reported..."

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Constitutional change in the UK

Watch for more changes in governance in the UK. The Guardian (UK) reported on expected proposals by new PM Gordon Brown. PM Questions on Wednesday (4 July) should be interesting.

Brown to set out plans to cede powers to parliament

"Gordon Brown will today spell out his plans for reform of the House of Commons as he seeks to restore public trust in the political process...

"Mr Brown is expected to relinquish royal prerogatives traditionally exercised by the prime minister - such as the power to declare war without parliamentary approval - and to give MPs more powers.

"Under the proposals, MPs would be able to recall parliament in an emergency and scrutinise appointments to important public posts through US-style confirmation hearings.

"Mr Brown is also said to favour a basic bill of rights for UK citizens, making clear their entitlements, and could also propose measures to give more power to the public, possibly through the creation of citizens' forums to express views on key local issues..."

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Alert! (China's legal system on TV)

The PBS documentary series Wide Angle tonight (July 3) broadcasts The People's Court about attempts to create a new legal system and a rule of law in China. (Check your local schedule.)

Bringing the Rule of Law to China at Breakneck Speed

"The Western legal system, in its purest form, fulfills an elaborate and even awesome fantasy. There are profound grievances redressed, melodramas of good and evil and pots of gold that change hands, often in unexpected ways (sometimes even from rich to poor).

"The existential thrill of the rule of law — something we hear about infrequently, if ever, in the West — is on display tonight on “The People’s Court,” on PBS. The nation discovering the law’s maddening charms, as if for the first time, is China, which has been compelled to develop a new legal framework in tandem with its breakneck economy. In the last 25 years the country has opened nearly 400 law schools, in which the brand-new individual-rights-based law is taught, and hundreds of thousands of judges and lawyers have hastily been trained..."