Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Neo-corporatism in the UK

Another question showed up in my mail.

What's all this about corporatism and neo-corporatism in the UK?

I had to scratch my head. In the UK?

The clue was that the questioner was using Patrick O'Neil's textbooks, Essentials of Comparative Politics and Cases in Comparative Politics. Corporatism is discussed there while distinctions are drawn between liberal and social democratic regimes.

I defined (p. 37) coporatism as a system in which groups (not individuals) within society are represented in a government in ways that may or may not be democratic.

What comes to my mind immediately when someone says, "corporatism" is Mussolini's Italy. The regime claimed to represent "corporate" groups in society: workers, peasants, land owners, religious communities, military leaders. etc. Of course, it carefully selected and organized those groups. Then there's the PRI corporatism, which organized groups of workers, peasants, etc. and made the groups part of the party. Corporatism.

The second thing I thought of were the arrangements in Germany and Japan to provide representation of peak groups in decision making. Unions in Germany legally have seats on corporate boards of directors. Neo-corporatism?

The UK? The pre-Blair Labour Party was sort of a corporatist party -- it represented the unionized working class. But it was also sort of an ideological party. And maybe the pre-WWII Tories were a class-based party. Did that make them corporatist?

Blair's "New Labour" really was a "catch-all" party aiming to win majority support, not just the working class or the democratic socialists.

The Conservative Party had begun that transition to a "catch-all" party during and after WWII (the collectivist consensus), as it sought to win votes from middle and working classes.

My next thought was, "Aha, quangos!" Quangos (quasi-nongovernmental orgainzations) have been around for awhile, but Thatcher really expanded their use. Here's neo-corporatism, perhaps.

The expanded use of quangos was, in part, one of Thatcher's methods for reducing the open conflict in British society. I think she also hoped to break the power of the TUC, by giving specific unions seats at decision-making tables on narrow issues involving them. In addition, Thatcher hoped that the use of quangos would reduce the size of government.

The Labour government prefers now to call these organizations, "non-departmental public bodies," which makes an unpronounceable acronym and much less fun to talk about. They are controversial and have not reduced the size of government (as Conservative critics will tell you), but they have made decision makers less accountable (as Labour critics will tell you).

A quango is intended to put the major "stakeholders" together on the same committee to actually make policy. However, since the government creates quangos, the make up of the represented interests can be manipulated to favor some policies over others.

O'Neil and his co-authors discuss corporatism and neo-corporatism as part of distinguishing between liberal regimes and social democracy. Most other textbooks do not. Corporatism is unavoidable when studying about Mexico, Japan, Germany and some other regimes, and that's where most authors include the topics.

Corporatism, neo-corporatism, liberal regime, and social democracy are all basic concepts students should be familiar with and be able to discuss. Like democratic centralism and patron-client systems. I'm an advocate for including basic ideas in the course where they make the most sense to you. I think you'll do a better job of teaching it in a context you understand.

I also think that students need to deal with ideas like these more than once.

So it's a matter of allocating classroom time and student reading time in ways that work best for you and your students in your institution. Discussing corporatism while learning about the UK can become a great preview of a study of Mexico and Calderón's attempts at reform and privatization.

Keep those questions coming in.

See also:

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A perspective on economic size

If you're looking for one way to offer students an expansion of their frames of reference, here's a good discussion starter.

The names on the states indicate nations which have a GDP about the same size as that state. (Click on the map to see a larger image.)

Commentary on the map is available at Strange Maps

That site found the map at The Big Picture, Macro Perspective on the Capital Markets, Economy, Geopolitics, Technoogy and Digital Media.

That site found the map at Carl Talk - Stormers Blog.

Carl found the map at The York Group, International Technology Partners. I couldn't find the map there.

To follow up, there's a rank list of national and US states' GDPs (from the IMF) at Wikipedia. California is listed as the 7th largest economy in the world.

A second follow up might be the second lesson in The Center for Learning's unit of lesson plans for AP Comparative Government and Politics. The "Economic Comparisons" part of the lesson points out that Wal-Mart's gross sales for 2004 were just below Saudi Arabia's GDP that year. And General Electric's gross sales were a bit higher than Nigera's GDP. The lesson asks, in part, students to distinguish between companies and nation-states.

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Difficulties of creating a rule of law

To follow up on the item from yesterday (Democracy by court order), here is another case from Nigeria that illustrates how difficult it must be for lawyers and judges to create a rule of law where precedents don't exist. (Think of the Marshall court in the early USA.)

The news report comes from This Day (Lagos).

Before you give up on the complexities of the case, here's what was at issue. Peter Obi [at right] appeared to have won the governor's race in the state of Anambra [dark red on the map above] back in 2003. However, challenges to the honesty of the vote prevented Obi from taking office until 2006. So he only served a year before the 2007 election to replace him.

In the 2007 election, Andy Uba [at right, below] was the victor. However, after a challenge from Obi, the Nigerian Supreme Court ruled that Obi should be allowed to serve his full 4-year term. Uba sued to challenge that ruling and the court has reaffirmed its earlier decision.

This would be a good case for a class discussion. What is the essence of the rule of law? Why should an elected official's term be cut short by legal proceedings when that official wins the case? Why should a term in office be extended, contravening legislation? Can it be legal to deny an elected office to someone who won a legal election (either Obi or Uba)?

Anambra - Again, Obi Floors Uba At S'court

"The Supreme Court yesterday refused to set aside its June 14, 2007 judgment which had restored Mr. Peter Obi to the office of Governor of Anambra State...

"Obi had won his election petition against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the 2003 governorship election in the state, but the prolonged court processes meant he had spent only one year out of a four-year tenure by the time he assumed office in March 2006.

"The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had gone ahead to conduct fresh elections in Anambra last April, returning Chief Andy Uba as governor, but the Supreme Court ruled last June that Obi's tenure should run its full course from the day he was sworn in.

"Uba's request for review had been viewed as a test of political cases already settled by the apex court which could have set a precedent for similar requests by those who lost at the court...

"Reacting to the judgment, Obi said there was clearly no winner or loser in the case.

In a statement by the governor shortly after the judgment, Obi said the decision by the Supreme Court 'underscores the general belief that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man'."

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The power of EU issues

If there is any doubt about the impact of the EU on politics in Europe, consider the irony that several far-right, ultra-"nationalist" parties have, for the second January in a row, tried to create a European "nationalist" political party. (See EU far-right groups to form party.)

The EU also affects British politics. It creates divisions within parties and causes elected political leaders to oppose a referendum on the new EU treaty.

Push-pull: Europe still divides all three main parties—against themselves

"ALTHOUGH most Britons prefer to ignore it, the European Union (EU) has played a momentous role in their country's recent past...

"The shadow cast by Brussels is lengthening over Gordon Brown's premiership... [The] House of Commons began... debate on the EU reform treaty... That Parliament is ratifying it rather than voters is itself controversial...

"Most voters want the promised plebiscite, as do some Labour backbenchers—18 of whom signed an amendment that is expected to be put to a Commons vote.

"The government, knowing that the treaty would almost certainly be thrown out were it put to the public, makes much of the fact that it amends rather than replaces previous treaties, and so need not be. Further enlargement of the EU... requires the institutional reforms contained in the treaty... Rejecting a document that other European nations regard as gallingly generous to Britain... could even force a showdown over British membership of the EU...

See also:

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Talk about a litigious system

Democracy by court order

"FOR most of Nigeria's post-independence history, its politicians were more wary of losing office by a coup or assassination than by an adverse vote in a free election. These days, it is the courts they are worried about. Election tribunals that were set up to investigate last April's flawed elections have so far ordered six governors, over a dozen senators and scores of local-government officials to leave office for various electoral shenanigans. On January 28th, President Umaru Yar'Adua is due to appear before his own tribunal—and even his ruling party cannot be certain of the outcome...

"The former military president, Muhammadu Buhari, and the former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, are leading the charge against Mr Yar'Adua—both lost to him in the presidential poll. They allege that the elections were a sham, that the country failed to produce a complete voters' register and that ballots lacked serial numbers (and were therefore impossible to track). Furthermore, Mr Abubakar says he was illegally excluded from the poll until the very last minute, preventing him from campaigning.

"Mr Yar'Adua's team dismiss the allegations, and anyway, they say, any irregularities would not have changed the outcome of the election...

"But the courts still offer hope to those candidates who feel they were cheated. The judiciary is stronger and more independent now than in the past...

"The good news is that the tribunals show that the rule of law is being taken seriously by Nigeria's institutions. But it is still a very roundabout way to democracy. The tribunal process has been expensive, for candidates and for the country. The National Assembly, where many of the members are preoccupied with fending off tribunal cases, has not passed a single law since it first met last June. And the various annulments so far have had little deterrent effect; local elections across Nigeria's states in the past several months have been violent and of dubious credibility.

"Regardless of the first verdict in Mr Yar'Adua's case, it will no doubt be referred up to the Supreme Court. Many wonder if the judges will want to go down in history as affirming an election that almost everyone considers a sham. As one Court of Appeal judge, Helen Moronkeji, put it in a recent election case, “Democracy is not an esoteric or fanciful concept too difficult to grasp.” In Nigeria, it is the judiciary, rather than the politicians, who seem to understand this."

See also The Library of Congress guide to the Nigerian legal system

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Presidential democracies

And yet another question that came to my computer.

The question was about the nature of presidential democracies.

A teacher noticed that one textbook said that the presidential system in the USA is very unusual. Another textbook described a fairly large number of of presidential democracies. Most textbooks repeat the generalization that most democratic regimes are parliamentary.

The question was: What is a presidential democracy?

I scratched my head and thought about the differences between parliamentary and presidential systems. I decided that the basic differences involved elections and separation or fusion of power.

In a presidential system, the head of government is elected separately from the legislature. And a president has powers independent of the legislature, although the legislature usually has some checks on the actions of the president (especially the "power of the purse" and the ability to approve major appointments).

In a parliamentary system, the head of government is chosen by the majority of the legislature. The powers of the executive and the legislature are fused. Instead of relying on a separation of power to preserve democracy, the parliamentary system relies on the response of the legislators to public opinion.

So, the USA is a presidential democracy and the UK is a parliamentary democracy.

Iran cannot be either, even though the president is elected separately from the legislature. There's the supreme leader, an unelected power with power over both the executive and the legislature.

Democratic centralism means that the Peoples Republic is not a republic.

So, is Nigeria a presidential democracy? Mexico? Both regimes have presidents elected by national constituencies. But, in practice, they function very differently from the US system. The legislatures in neither country exercises the kind of real power of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Under PRI domination, the Mexican regime was only marginally democratic. Since the election of Vicente Fox, the political system has functioned more like a presidential democracy, but the entrenched dinosaurios still run much of the system.

The Nigerian regime has a nationally-elected president, but political power is so disbursed among traditional leaders, state governors, legislators, the ethnic communities, the elite of the military, and the leaders of the parastatals, it's difficult to describe the actual functioning of the system.

And how about the Russian regime, which was modeled on the French Fifth Republic? The president, head of state, is separately and nationally elected. And there's a head of government chosen by the legislature. But, the Duma has so few checks on presidential power, that it's doesn't fit the textbook definition.

So, are there lots of presidential democracies or only a few?

Here's the answer that Wikipedia offered on 23 January 2008. (It might be different by now.) The map that is offered on Wikipedia comes without documentation or much explanation.

The map asserts that presidential systems are in blue. My interpretation is that parliamentary systems are in red. Hybrid presidential-parliamentary regimes are in yellow. Communist regimes are in brown. Monarchies are purple. Military regimes are in tan. Dependent territories are colored light purple. And gray seems to describe a category of "other."

One line in the Wikipedia article is worth remembering. Referring to presidential and parliamentary regimes, it said, "In reality, elements of both systems overlap."

Ambiguity raises its head again. It's only ugly if you insist inappropriately on right answers. If you want to insist on a right answer, direct your students to the definition in the textbook they are reading. But, remember, other people read other textbooks and other people write exam questions.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Democracy in Russia

Rebecca Small noted that Russia was once labeled as an "illiberal democracy" and asked whether Russia still deserves that description.

The latest news suggests that calling the system in Russia "democratic" is a stretch.

Russia Bars Opposition Candidate From March 2 Ballot

"The Russian government on Sunday denied an opposition leader’s application to appear on the March 2 presidential ballot, clearing a path for the Kremlin’s favorite candidate to run all but unchallenged.

"The Central Election Commission announced the decision denying registration of the opposition leader, former Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov, saying that more than 13 percent of the signatures that he had collected in support of his candidacy were invalid...

"Mr. Kasyanov, a former Kremlin insider who has become a critic of the centralization of power and official corruption under President Vladimir V. Putin, had not been expected to campaign on an even footing against Dmitri A. Medvedev, the Kremlin’s candidate...

"All three of Mr. Medvedev’s [other] opponents have been accused of running at the Kremlin’s direction, or at least with its approval, to create the appearance of a contest."

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Blogging for class

Marc Mayfield, who teaches at LaGrange High School in LaGrange, Georgia is making interesting use of blogs for his AP Comparative Government and Politics classes.

There's a primary blog, Mayfield's AP Comparative Government Class, where he offers information about the course, upcoming tests, as well as relevant and interesting ideas.

But teams of students in each of his classes are responsible for creating entries about each of the countries they are studying. That means there are 2 subsidiary blogs about each of the AP6 (China, Great Britain, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, and Russia). There's an assigned quota of entries for each team and Mayfield has published the rubric he uses for grading each entry. If students read each other's entries, this will be a great supplement to their other readings.

Links to the main blog and all 12 student-run blogs can be found at the User Profile page.

Marc wrote, "So far blogging has been a great success getting the students motivated and interested in learning about their assigned countries.

"The second week of current events blogging just ended. So as you can imagine there are still a few issues and problems that need to be addressed. The students have responded better than I had hoped. It gives them an opportunity to be creative, learn valuable research skills, become technologically savvy, and have fun learning.

"Luckily we have the access to the technology and can go tot the computer lab 2 or 3 times a week as needed."

This is inventive and I think will be very helpful to students at LaGrange HS. Most students could probably do this kind of blogging from home or the library if you don't have the lab facilities Marc's school offers. If you're familiar with blogging (or if you become familiar with the process), this would be easy to set up and not burdensome to monitor and evaluate.

Marc has put a post on his blog offering advice and answers to questions if you'd like to ask him about setting up a similar blogging system. He has also alerted his students that their work might be looked at by outsiders and seen as models for other blogging projects.


An Iranian name to remember

The mayor of Tehran showed up at the Davos economic summit. That seems out of character. But the name Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf is probably one we should remember.

In terms of political recruitment, what in his biography was crucial in getting him to a position of leadership?

Tehran’s Mayor Speaks of Making Iran Less Isolated

"DAVOS, Switzerland — The annual economic gathering here not only attracts those with power in business and politics but also offers a springboard for those who wish to wield it.

"Among the contenders in attendance this year is Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, the 46-year-old mayor of Tehran who is being urged by some to run for the presidency of Iran next year as an 'authoritarian modernizer.'

"Mr. Ghalibaf, who ran for president in 2005 and comes from the hard-line Islamic Revolution tradition, was once a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards. But he is also part of an emerging group of politicians who consider President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be harming the country’s economy through his acerbic anti-Western speeches and isolationist policies...

"According to his official biography, Mr. Ghalibaf fought in the Iran-Iraq war for eight years and became a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards. The biography also describes him as an airplane pilot, a former presidential contender and an academic. He denied in the interview that he was a 'military man.'..."

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Muslims and Christians in Nigeria

Sanford Silverburg, who teaches at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, wrote to recommend Murray Last's essay, Muslims and Christians in Nigeria: An economy of political panic.

It appears in The Round Table, The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Volume 96, Issue 392 October 2007.

Murray Last is an emeritus professor at University College London. He earned his PhD at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He's an expert on the history of Muslims in Nigeria.

The following abstract of the article appeared at the Informaworld web site: "This essay offers an alternative analysis of Muslim - Christian relations in Nigeria, rejecting a 'clash-of-civilizations' approach as both too generalized and politically self-serving. A more nuanced analysis might focus on the social variables in the different sites of conflict and on the underlying factors, both historical and current. It is argued that, for the most part, Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully alongside each other in Nigeria for a century now."


Finding this journal may not be easy. It's not online and neither of the college libraries here in Northfield has it.

Ibrahim Sheme, the editor of Leadership, a newspaper in Abuja, posted an interview with Murray Last on his blog, Bahaushe Mai Ban Haushi! (16 January 2008). It's an interesting profile of the scholar.

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Chaos in Commons

I got another question over the ethernet (i.e. Internet) about House of Commons in the UK.

During Prime Minister's Question Time, why are people always standing up and sitting down?

The short answer is that they want to be recognized by the Speaker so they can ask a question.

The long answer is a bit more complex. And I remember it because it was one of those things the BBC commentators felt they needed to explain on the first day that Prime Minister's Question Time was televised, and I was part of the excited audience in November of 1989. And I was taping that first session for my classes.

Here's what I remember. If I've misremembered something, please tell us.

Questions for the Prime Minister are submitted to the Speaker in advance. The Speaker's staff puts the questions in a random order and numbers them. The first question is always about the PM's schedule. After that, the next question comes from the opposition side of the house. However, if randomly-numbered question 2 was asked by a governing party MP, the Speaker must recognize someone on the opposition side. So people are standing up to be recognized.

That question followed by a question from the government side and then one from the opposition side, etc. Normally, the Speaker just calls out the number of the question. Anytime the randomly-numbered question does not come from the appropriate side of the house, the Speaker must recognize an MP by name.

Since MPs don't know which question is next, anyone who want to ask a question starts standing up as the PM is completing an answer. They're hoping that maybe they'll be recognized to ask the next question.

By the way, you don't have to wait for C-SPAN2 to broadcast sessions of Commons. Parliament has TV online and a 28 day archive of past broadcasts.

The House of Commons without the chaos of MPs

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Whips in Parliament

So, this question showed up in my electronic mail box

What is a three line whip?

I could be silly and say that it's the name of a 1995 CD by British pianist Georgie Fame (a.k.a. Clive Powell), but I didn't know that until I looked it up.

As usual, there's a short answer and a long one.

The short answer is that a "three-line whip" is an order from a British Parliamentary party leader to MPs that they must show up and vote properly on a certain measure. No exceptions.

The name comes from the fact that the name of the measure is underlined three times on the document given or sent to the MPs. (The messages are probably faxed and e-mailed these days.)

The British Parliament web site summarizes the long answer this way:

"Whips are MPs or Lords appointed by each party in Parliament to help organise their party's contribution to parliamentary business. One of their responsibilities is making sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants...

"Every week, whips send out a circular (called 'The Whip') to their MPs or Lords detailing upcoming parliamentary business. Special attention is paid to divisions (where members vote on debates), which are ranked in order of importance by the number of times they are underlined. Important divisions are underlined three times - a 'three-line whip' - and normally apply to major events like the second readings of significant Bills.

"Three-line whips

"Defying a three-line whip is very serious, and has occasionally resulted in the whip being withdrawn from an MP or Lord. This means that the Member is effectively expelled from their party (but keeps their seat) and must sit as an independent until the whip is restored..."

If an MP has had the "whip withdrawn," it's likely that the local constituency party committee will withdraw its endorsement at the next election, and independents rarely get elected. A dissenting MP will also be very unlikely to get one of the many public jobs offered by the government or to ever have a place in the cabinet.

The most recent resistance to a three-line whip was in 2003, when 121 Labour MPs voted against Blair's proposed cooperation with the invasion of Iraq.

I can also add that a two-line whip demands attendance and a proper vote from an MP, but excuses for absences can be granted by party leaders (called whips) and penalties are unlikely for unexcused absences or votes against the party policy. A one-line whip allows a member to claim conscience or public opinion in a local constituency as legitimate reasons for voting against the party.

Former Chief Labour Whip and now Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith.

N.B. #1: "The use of the word 'whip' within Parliament has its roots in the 18th century hunting terminology 'whipper-in'. It refers to a huntsman's assistant who drives straying hounds back to the main pack using a whip." -From the Parliament web site cited above

N.B. #2: The U.S. Senate web site offers this definition of Congressional whips: "whips - Assistants to the floor leaders who are also elected by their party conferences. The Majority and Minority Whips (and their assistants) are responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues. In the absence of a party floor leader, the whip often serves as acting floor leader."

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Power to the supreme leader

The development reported by Michael Slackman and Nazila Fathi in The New York Times appear to put the issue of who is allowed to run for the Iranian parliament directly in the hands of Ali Khamenei. His decisions could be very important for politics in Iran.

Most Reformists Appear Purged From Iran Ballot

"When voters go to the polls on March 14 to select members of Parliament, they may be able to choose only between conservative candidates and other conservative candidates, leaders of Iran’s main reform party said Wednesday.

"With more than 7,200 candidates registered to run for 290 seats in Parliament, officials with the party, the Islamic Participation Front, said it appeared that 70 percent of reformist candidates had been disqualified...

"The out-of-power reformists had hoped that the coming election would be a referendum on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s management of the state...

"But the president and his allies control the system of vetting candidates for access to the ballot. The first step is for local boards in each province, known as the Executive Councils, to approve a candidate for access to the ballot. The boards are appointed by regional governors who have been appointed by the president.

"The next step is for the Guardian Council, a hard-line body of clerics close to the supreme leader, to approve or disqualify candidates. In past elections, the Guardian Council was where reform-minded candidates found themselves disqualified.

"This time, however, candidates and party officials said that the mass disqualifications began at the regional boards...

"[D]isqualified candidates can now appeal to regional supervisory boards and then to the Guardian Council. In past years, to ease the tensions caused by disqualification, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened, encouraging the reversal of some disqualifications..."

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Saying and doing

I thought about the difference between good intentions and the ability of the state to carry out those intentions when I read this report about the Nigerian Minister of Justice's reform plans. The article comes from This Day (Lagos).

If you asked your students to define the principles which form the basis for the reforms, what would they say? And how would they describe the "six key reform areas?"

Proposed Justice System People-Oriented

"The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, has said that the proposed justice system for Nigeria would be people-oriented and focused on development...

"Aondoakaa identified six key reform areas that would form the basis of all interventions in the justice ministry...

"He stated that the administration of Justice Reform in Nigeria is based on government's commitment to the rule of law, due process, zero tolerance for corruption and respect for fundamental human rights. These designated reform areas , according to the Minister, cover Institutional Reforms; Administration of Criminal Justice Reform; Administration of Civil Justice Reforms; Law Reform/Legislative Advocacy; Special Initiatives, and Monitoring & Evaluation of Reforms..."

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Different perspectives

If you're interested in alternative visions about teaching comparative politics and government to the one you get here, check these out:

Kevin James teaches comparative government and politics at Albany High School in Albany, California. He maintains a blog very much like this one for his students. It's called AHS Comparative Government.

But, he looks at different sources than I do and notes different things. That's the wonder of multiple perspectives. I heartily recommend Kevin James' blog. Take a look and/or subscribe. You'll get more and different ideas to help you teach this complicated course.

AHS Comparative Government

Another blog that has valuable content for teaching comparative is Daniel Lazar's teaching blog. He teaches at the John F. Kennedy School in Berlin.

He posts things about several courses he teaches, but the January archive is almost exclusively about China and Russia. there is a very helpful categorized list of entries on the blog's front page that makes it easy to link to the gems Daniel Lazar has found.

Take a look at this blog too. You might want to subscribe to both.

Daniel Lazar's blog


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More on Iranian politics

This is politics within the power elite. Nazila Fathi reported for The New York Times about another split between the president and the "supreme leader." There's no need to refer to left-wing opposition. (See: Politics of inaction)

Iran Leader Backs Parliament in a Dispute With Ahmadinejad

"The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened after Mr. Ahmadinejad had refused to carry out a measure that required his government to supply gas to remote villages during this year’s exceptionally cold winter.

"The government provides natural gas to the state-run gas company for a fee, and the gas is then sold to customers...

"The speaker of Parliament, Gholamali Hadad Adel, said that Mr. Ahmadinejad had complained to him in the past months about some of the measures passed by Parliament. But Mr. Hadad Adel said he was surprised by a recent letter from Mr. Ahmadinejad in which he said that the natural gas law was unconstitutional.

"'I was surprised by the president writing to Parliament to say a bill was against the Constitution,' he was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Mehr news agency. 'This is unprecedented.' He added that it was the job of the Guardian Council, which is appointed by the supreme leader, to decide if a law passed by Parliament was unconstitutional..."

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The political left in Iran

This report by Nazila Fathi in The New York Times might help students remember that Iranian politics, even under repressive regimes, has long had a strong Communist element.

Radical Left, Iran’s Last Legal Dissidents, Until Now

"Political protest has been harshly suppressed under the current Iranian government, especially dissent linked to the West. But the radical left, despite its antireligious and antigovernment message, has been permitted relative freedom. This may be, analysts say, because, like the government, it rejects the liberal reform movement and attacks the West...

"In recent weeks, the leaders of the Marxist student movement have been arrested, suggesting that the government is worrying about the size of the demonstrations and the growing attraction of an ideology that is deeply antithetical to its own...

"Even some of those who object to President Ahmadinejad say permitting the growth of Marxist student movements is dangerous.

"For example, former President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate by Iranian standards, recently raised concern over the growth of leftists at universities...

"Much of the literature written since then is closely interwoven with leftist notions. However, Marxists never gained power here. They played an important role in the success of the 1979 revolution but they were soon marginalized by the Islamists and their members were forced into exile. Many were executed in 1988..."

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.

On a day the US has set aside to commemorate the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., we can also remind ourselves that non-violence is not confined to King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference or Gandhi's India.

A November 2007 article in The Tide News (Port Harcourt) reminds us that the ideals of non-violence are still around in Nigeria.

Foundation plans non violence centres in Nigeria

"Against the background of the need to sustain the current impact of non violence Education programme in Nigeria a non governmental organisation in the country, Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN) has planned to establish community centres for non violence in the 36 states of the federation..."

We should also remind ourselves about Ken Saro Wiwa

There's an Iranian Center for Applied Nonviolence in Dubai.

"About 200,000 Iranians live in Dubai... Iranians in Dubai have been attracted here in large part because of the city's openness and freewheeling business climate. The emirate is an important transshipment point for goods and products headed to Iran. And Iranians can use its banks and financial institutions to do business with other countries, which is harder to do in Iran thanks to trade sanctions and U.S. pressure not to do business with Iran.

"Among the nongovernmental groups seizing on those links [between Iran and the UAE] is the Iranian Center for Applied Nonviolence, which invites Iranians to workshops here to teach them how peaceful revolts in Georgia, the Philippines and elsewhere were set off. The center, led by Ramin Ahmadi, an Iranian-American opposition figure, says he holds the training sessions every three months or so on civil disobedience..."

The first reference that comes to mind for most people when thinking about non-violence in China is 1989. The protests in Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989 were dramatic demonstrations of the power of non-violence. The government's violent suppression of those demonstrations was a dramatic demonstration of the limits of the power of non-violence.

The Dalai Lama in his 1996 book, Beyond Dogma: The Challenge of the Modern World, reminded people of his insistence on nonviolence, even in dealing with China. In response to a question, he replied, "Yes, I absolutely refuse the use of violence. For several years now I have been asked on several occasions what I would do if the despair of certain Tibetans drove them to violence, and I have always replied that if that were to happen I would give up and step back...

"In our case, what is most important is the fact that we Tibetans and our Chinese brothers and sisters have always been neighbours and must remain so. The only alternative for the future is to learn to get along and live in harmony with our neighbours. We must seek a solution between the Chinese and the Tibetans that will offer mutual benefits. Because of our nonviolent attitude, Chinese people both within China and abroad have already expressed sympathy and concern for our cause; some have even said they greatly appreciate our nonviolent attitude."

Somehow, non-violence is not part of my stereotype of Russian political culture. The images of police and "hooligans" beating up non-violent political demonstrators in the run-up to the recent Duma elections stick in my mind.

However, the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response lists
a number of groups dedicated to non-violence:

The Global Non-violence Network lists five other groups dedicated to non-violence:
  • Research and Education Centre for the Ethics of Nonviolence in Moscow
  • Golubka Ul Garibaldi, also in Moscow
  • Nonviolent Direct Action Initiatives Centre in Kaliningrad
  • the St Petersburg Peace Group
  • Mothers Against Violence in Moscow

In 2002, anthropologist Arturo Ortega Vela wrote a paper, Peace is not the silence of cemeteries, for a conference in Seoul, Korea. In it he wrote, "In Mexico, my country, there is a culture of inequality and injustice...

"I want to make special mention of the year 1968, because it was the culmination of one period where society began to question the antidemocratic forms of the régime. The protests carried out by the young students were non-violent in form. Students took to the streets, they organized acts of civil disobedience and strikes, and demanded sweeping reforms of the Mexican political system. Within this context the Non-Violent Movement was born...

"The Mexican indigenous movement and their struggle for their rights gained worldwide attention due to the uprising of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) on January 1st of 1994. What many people outside of Mexico don't know is that the indigenous movement has a long history, one linked to non-violence. This was the case in the state of Chiapas before, and after, the appearance of the EZLN..."

And what of non-violence in the UK?

The political culture in some ways is non-violent. That, of course, does not extend to the maintenance and use of military power, but even India is a nuclear power.

Civil society groups advocating and teaching about non-violence are common. The Global Nonviolence Network lists a dozen British groups.

And the shock of the 2005 subway bombings is another illustration of the prevalence of nonviolence in British culture.


Critique of neo-colonialism

Is western-style democracy the wave of the future in Africa? In Danladi Ndayebo's account of former Ghanian president Jerry Rawlings' speech, the answer is no. How would your students respond to Rawlings' ideas? This report was in Leadership (Abuja).

Nigeria Must Evolve a Working Democracy - Rawlings

"Former Ghanaian president, Flt. Lt Jerry Rawlings (rtd.) [at right], yesterday punctured the argument that African nations must submit to orders from the West to actualise their quest for good governance, saying Nigeria does not need any country to help it enthrone a viable democratic practice.

"Rawlings was the guest speaker at the 5th Annual Trust Dialogue...

"He faulted claims that democratic governance was alien to Africa.

"He argued that majority of the pre-colonial systems of traditional governance in Africa had democratic elements.

"The former Ghanaian leader said it was wrong for the developing countries to conclude that democracy could only be defined by Western standards.

"He said developed nations were under the notion that African countries depended solely on them to solve socio-political and economic problems.

"'In my view, this is a rather arrogant and erroneous claim, which seeks to deny the African originality or any organisational ability in the matter of governance,' he said..."

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Statistical analysis

The CIA World Factbook is a treasure trove of statistics that can be used in comparative politics case studies. You know that.

But, the lack of specified exercises analyzing statistical data was one of the main reasons course syllabi required revisions in the AP course audit.

Here is a set of data that could be used.

Present these numbers to your students and ask them if they can find correlations between these statistics and something political (the number of parties, the number of democratic elections, etc.) or a socio-economic characteristic of these countries.

Students should be able to explain either the correlation or the absence of one. The sophistication of the explanation will, of course depend upon their preparation and experience.

Labor Force by occupation (%)

  • China (2005 est.)
    • agriculture: 45%
    • industry: 24%
    • services: 31%

  • Iran (2001 est.)
    • agriculture: 30%
    • industry: 25%
    • services: 45%

  • Mexico (2003)
    • agriculture: 18%
    • industry: 24%
    • services: 58%

  • Nigeria (1999 est.)
    • agriculture: 70%
    • industry: 10%
    • services: 20%

  • Russia (2005 est.)
    • agriculture: 10.8%
    • industry: 29.1%
    • services: 60.1%

  • United Kingdom (2006 est.)
    • agriculture: 1.4%
    • industry: 18.2%
    • services: 80.4%

  • United States (2006)
    • farming, forestry, and fishing 0.7%,
    • manufacturing, extraction, transportation, and crafts 22.9%
    • managerial, professional, and technical 34.9%
    • sales and office 25%
    • other services 16.5%

      note: figures exclude the unemployed

Stats from the Field Listing - Labor force - by occupation in the CIA World Factbook.

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Cost of Living and Best Quality of Life

Mercer Human Resources Consulting offers rankings of cities around the world. (See the web sites for details on the ranking criteria.)

Could your students find correlations between cost of living, quality of life, and politics? They would have to gather some information about politics and governance.

And then they would have to categorize and organize that information so it was comparable. That wouldn't be a terrible thing to ask them to do as a comparative course begins.

The efforts might be stumbling and simplistic, but it could be a great beginning to recognizing the need for theory and comparative methodology.

Cost of Living Survey - Worldwide Ranking 2007 (from the top 50)
Base City: New York, USA (=100)

Rankings Cost of Living index

March 2007 City March 2007

1 MOSCOW 134.4
2 LONDON 126.3
3 SEOUL 122.4
4 TOKYO 122.1
5 HONG KONG 119.4
7 GENEVA 109.8
8 OSAKA 108.4
9 ZURICH 107.6
10 OSLO 105.8...
12 ST. PETERSBURG 103.0...
20 BEIJING 95.9...
36 GLASGOW 88.1
37 LAGOS 88.0...
41 BIRMINGHAM (UK) 87.2...

Worldwide Quality of Living Survey 2007
Base City: New York, USA (=100)

Rankings Cost of Living index

2007 City March 2007

1 ZURICH 108.1
2 GENEVA 108.0
3 VIENNA 107.7
5 AUCKLAND 107.3
8 MUNICH 106.9
9 BERN 106.5
9 SYDNEY 106.5...
39 LONDON 101.2...

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Political change and constitutions

Monte Reel, wrote in The Washington Post about political change in Latin America. The article might promote a good discussion about constitutionalism and the purposes of a constitution.

South America's Constitutional Battles

"Movements to rewrite national constitutions are dramatically changing the political paths of several South American countries, triggering bitter debates over whether new charters will benefit future generations or simply serve the political ambitions of current presidents.

"In three Andean countries... political leaders recently have pursued constitutional rewrites that would make it more difficult for future administrations to reverse the policies they instituted while in office. But in recent weeks, the proposals have reenergized opposition movements, which complain that their governments are tilting toward authoritarianism...

"'Large-scale constitutional reforms are extremely popular with citizens," said Jonathan Hartlyn, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina who has studied constitutional politics throughout Latin America. "They're particularly popular in a context of perceived economic and social exclusion, and in places where political parties and politicians are both weak and extremely unpopular and are blamed for the crisis.'...

"'When drafting a lasting constitution, you need to take specific policy off the table and focus on principles," said David King, associate director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics and a native of Bolivia. "It can be helpful to focus on abstractions and not particulars.'..."

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Policy in Nigeria

When your classes seem too big and the budgets are tight, think of your colleagues in Kano, Nigeria. Then think of the public officials who are charged with dealing with the situation there. What policies will help? How will they be implemented? Is this a good example of a weak state?

This report came from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks.

Classroom Shortages Threaten Primary Education Targets

"The success of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme which aims to provide free education to every child in Nigeria caused the number of primary school leavers to more than double in 2007, creating a backlog that the secondary education system is struggling to cope with.

"Over 49,000 children in the northern Nigeria city of Kano who completed primary school in 2006 and wish to attend secondary school may not be admitted due to a severe shortage of trained teachers and classrooms, Kano government officials told IRIN...

(The photo to the right is a Nigerian classroom, but probably not one in Kano. Can your students figure out why it's probably not in Kano?)

"'We can accommodate only 60 percent of the pupils who are waiting to be admitted to junior secondary school, due to the shortage of classrooms we are facing in this state,' said Musa Salihu, education commissioner for Kano State. 'We are looking into the problem to see how we can overcome it.'

"Those children who do not gain admission may face missing a year, while those who do are certain to face overcrowded classrooms with up to 150 children per class, according to retired teacher Ibrahim Adamu. This goes against a Ministry of Education 2001 policy limiting class sizes to 40 students...

"However, despite increasing numbers, still only 60 percent of Nigerian children attend primary school, according to UNICEF's 2007 State of the World's Children report, making the country off-track to meet these targets..."

From Motherland Nigeria

"In Nigeria, the school year currently runs from January to December...

"[T]he first level of schooling that is attended is Primary School (Primary 1 through 6)... after that, students take the Common Entrance Examination to be admitted into Secondary School, which is the equivalent of 'high school' in some other countries...

"[A]round 1990 what was once known as 'secondary school' was split into 2 sections, and had a year added. So now, there is Junior Secondary School (JSS), which lasts 3 years, and then students have to take the Junior West African Examination Council (WAEC) exam or the JSSE (Junior Secondary School Exam) to move up to Senior Secondary School (SSS), which also lasts 3 years, after which you take the [Common Entrance Examination] exams to leave and go to college...

"Because college lasts for about 4 years, you'll sometimes hear this education system called the 6-3-3-4 system.

"Before a person can start working in Nigeria (of course, if they start their own company, this does not apply) they need to have one year of National Youth Service Corp. (NYSC), and most Nigerians go through this right after school..."

If your students want to make contact with students in Nigeria, the Nigerian Schools Directory lists addresses for some secondary schools.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mexican politics and personalities

One minister is replaced. How many people in the ministry will be moving?

[The Washington Post web site seems to have substituted "¿" for the accented vowels in this article. Doesn't speak well for the global awareness of the web editor. Then again, the Reuters report on this story just eliminates all accent marks completely.]

In any case, it looks like movement in the political arena that could lead to a break in the gridlock that has existed since Vicente Fox's election.

Mexico's Calderón Replaces Interior Minister Who Riled Opposition

"President Felipe Calderón replaced Mexico's interior minister on Wednesday, a move political experts say is designed to build better relations with opponents in Congress who stymied efforts to alter the country's economy and judicial system.

"Juan Camilo Mouriño Terrazo [at left], Calderón's chief of staff, ascended to Mexico's second most powerful post after the ouster of Interior Minister Francisco Ramírez Acuña, who had clashed with the political opposition. After being introduced Wednesday, Mouriño Terrazo promised to reach out to all political parties in an effort to reenergize Calderón's stalled agenda..."

Further details from a CNN report in November of 2006, indicate that the appointment of Ramírez was controversial from the beginning.

Ramírez Selection Called 'Grave Error'

"A controversial appointment for interior secretary... headlined President- elect Felipe Calderón´s latest round of Cabinet selections, which were unveiled on Tuesday.

"Calderón... tapped long-time ally and former Jalisco Gov. Francisco Javier Ramírez Acuña to head the Secretariat of the Interior, the agency in charge of Mexico´s domestic politics and policy.

"Ramírez Acuña, known for a 'firm hand' on security issues but also accused of human rights violations.."

The new Interior Minister sounds like a US-style politician as well as a member of an "old-fashioned" (European) elite in an article from the Los Angeles Times.

New Mexican interior minister named

"At 36, Spanish-born Juan Camilo Mouriño was already the quiet power behind the throne in Mexico...

"His rise to power, achieved in little more than a decade in politics, is an unlikely story in a country where Spaniards are still linked with empire and conquest...

"Mouriño tied his fortunes to Calderon. He managed the campaign for the 2006 PAN presidential nomination in which Calderon defeated President Vicente Fox's choice as successor, then-Interior Secretary Santiago Creel...

"In the 2006 presidential election, Mouriño ran Calderon's campaign "war room" and was one of the architects of the candidate's stunning come-from-behind victory against leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

"Even before Calderon took office in December 2006, Mouriño headed his transition team...

"Like the American political advisor Dick Morris, Mouriño used data from frequent polling to shape policy decisions. 'The Calderon people measure things, obsessively,' Daniel Lizarraga wrote in a profile of Mouriño in the magazine Proceso this month.

"In Calderon's inner circle, people celebrate Mouriño's 'cleverness, his political instincts and his ability to solve problems,' Lizarraga wrote. 'Those who are not his friends call him authoritarian, Machiavellian, and say he controls a vast network of influence that includes legislators, affluent businessmen, media moguls, party leaders and governors.'

"Some speculate that Calderon is grooming Mouriño to be president..."

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Not only peasant protesters

Remember the shopping center sign that I posted here Monday? ("One Dream, One Shopping Paradise")

The events described below may be better signs of how economic change fosters political change.

Well-heeled protests hit Shanghai

"Rarely have protests in China been so well organised, or the protesters so well-dressed.

"The residents of Pingyang district, in the south of the city, say their health is at risk and their homes will become worthless if a planned extension to Shanghai's futuristic maglev railway goes ahead.

"But local residents along the route - including those in Pingyang - say the electro-magnetic field is dangerous and that their homes are now impossible to sell...

"China is a country with little patience for dissent. But in a little over a week, Pingyang residents and their neighbours have marched through the city, chanting and waving slogans.

"At the weekend many hundreds of them took their complaints to Shanghai's city hall - the seat of communist power.

"The largely middle class protesters are keen to downplay any political aspect of their defiance. They insist on calling their well-organised marches 'going for a walk' events...

"On Saturday, dozens of demonstrators were detained by police. The next day others were dragged and shoved when they took their protest to a busy shopping street.

"Residents in the areas affected by the planned extension complain that local officials and police are trying to intimidate them, and that the government has set up video cameras to monitor activities in their neighbourhood..."

See also Land reform in China

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Inflation in Mexico

Here's an intriguing example of the politics of economics.

On January 9th, this AP story appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Mexico 2007 inflation one of the lowest on record

"Inflation in Mexico reached one of its lowest levels in history in 2007, the Bank of Mexico announced Wednesday.

"The National Consumer Price Index rose 0.41 percent in December, bringing inflation for the year to 3.76 percent, from 4.05 percent in 2006, the bank said.

"The rate is the second-lowest since the central bank began tracking inflation in 1973..."

The first chart comes from the Latin Focus web site. The blue line is the Consumer Price Index. The second from The Economist magazine.

Note: Annual variation of the Consumer Price Index. (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI, INPP ex oil and services).
Source: Banco de Mexico and LatinFocus calculations.

The first chart shows the good news that the government officials and the leadership of the governing party would want to publicize. The second chart measures something else and shows a less-favorable trend. Is that an explanation for the next article?

An article from Reuters, in the same newspaper a day later, suggested that things are not so rosy. Did opposition parties suggest to other reporters that inflation was not a conquered dragon? Or is this perhaps a sign of an economy where the middle and upper classes are doing well, but the poor are not? (It is basic household goods that are targeted with the reported price reductions.) And what are the political implications of all this?

Mexico retailers cut prices to fight inflation

"Mexico's leading retailers have agreed to cut prices on 300 household goods from Thursday through the end of March as part of a government-backed plan to fight inflation...

"Mexican inflation came in at 3.76 percent in 2007, within the central bank's target range and one of the lowest in recent years. But global demand for food commodities and increased amounts of grains being diverted for use in biofuels are expected to push prices higher this year...

"Members of ANTAD, the National Association of Retailers, include leading retailer Wal-Mart de Mexico Soriana and Comercial Mexicana . Retailers, which had a rough ride in 2007 due to weak consumption and a slowing economy, expect to lure more customers with the discounts...

"According to preliminary ANTAD data released last week, its members' same-store sales may have risen only 1.1 percent in 2007, compared with 4.3 percent in 2006."

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Can democracy be far behind?

Americans are pretty sure that free market economic reforms in China will lead to democratizing political reforms. Is this evidence to support that belief?

Jeremy Goldkorn (on the blog Danwei) posted this photo of the slogan displayed above Beijing's famous and infamous Silk Street market, purveyors of real and fake dodgy clothing and handbags etc.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Comparative government and politics "mall"

If you're a student who wants a textbook for comparative...


If you're teaching a comparative course and looking for supplemental materials...

Check out the "mall" for comparative with quick links to Amazon purchases of textbooks, supplemental readings, and videos.

(If you have suggestions to add to the list, pass them on.)

On the other hand, if you're looking for links to publishers' web sites (for sales and support) related to many major comparative politics textbooks, check the "Textbooks Web Sites" page.


Politics of inaction

In a less than transparent political system, the absence of words is interpreted as thoroughly as the results of actions. Nazila Fathi wrote this bit of interpretation for the New York Times.

A President’s Defender Keeps His Distance

"A rift is emerging between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suggesting that the president no longer enjoys the ayatollah’s full backing...

"In the past, when Mr. Ahmadinejad was attacked by his political opponents, criticisms were usually silenced by Ayatollah Khamenei... But that public support has been conspicuously absent in recent months...

"The Iranian presidency is a largely ceremonial post. But Mr. Ahmadinejad had used the office as a bully pulpit, espousing an economic populism that... made him a political force to be reckoned with. That popularity won him the strong backing of the supreme leader.

"But the relationship began to sour... A person close to Ayatollah Khamenei... said the ayatollah was especially disappointed with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic performance, which has led to steep inflation in the cost of basic necessities, from food to rents to property values...

"In the face of rising criticism, Mr. Ahmadinejad has for the first time admitted that Iran was suffering from rising prices. Previously, he had called inflation a fiction invented by his political enemies..."

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Should we send cards?

CPC Party school holds ceremony for graduates

"A total of 760 officials of the Communist Party of China (CPC) graduated from the Party School of the CPC Central Committee on Friday.

"Xi Jinping, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Party School president, attended the ceremony and awarded the graduates with certificates.

"In his speech, Li Jingtian, Party School executive vice president, called on graduates to conduct deep and thorough study on socialist theories with Chinese characteristics and enhance leadership capabilities to keep the vanguard nature of the CPC."

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Friday, January 11, 2008

It's the law

The dynamics of population growth mean that even if China's one child policy were strictly enforced, the population will continue to grow for some time to come. That growth could threaten economic growth. At least one group of regional leaders has chosen to make an issue of violations.

500 Chinese Officials Expelled for Violating 'One-Child' Policy

"Officials in central Hubei province have expelled 500 people from the Communist Party for violating China's "one-child" family planning policy, state media reports said Monday.

"Out of 93,084 people who had more children than allowed last year, 1,678 were officials or Party members, the New China News Agency reported. Among the violators were seven national or local legislators or political advisors, who were punished by being stripped of their political status. Another 395 offenders lost their jobs...

"Now, as increasingly wealthy Chinese choose to simply pay fines for having too many children, government agencies are teaming together to figure out how to better enforce the rules...

"Professor Wang Yukai, with China's National School of Administration, said the new measures were part of a gradual change to family planning policy that would take years to complete. Those changes also would have to include a social security system for the rural residents who make up most of China's 1.3 billion population..."

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Beginning with a frame of reference

If you're about to start a comparative course with students in the US, here's a reading that offers some comparative perspectives about the electoral year just begun in the US.

A very long and winding road

"Why does the United States, champion of democracy, have a drawn-out presidential electoral system that is a far cry from the 'one vote for all' principle?...

"And I didn't say that the American people will elect their president, because collectively they do no such thing... a presidential contender can actually lose the popular vote across the whole nation, but can still win the Electoral College, as George Bush himself did in 2000...

"The US may have good reason to pride itself on being the world's oldest continually functioning democracy... But it's certainly not a democracy in the sense that most of us would understand that term...

"Kennedy [in 1961] neglected to mention something that may have been self-evident on his side of the Atlantic, but which wasn't at all obvious here: that the inauguration of a new president is more akin to the British coronation of a new head of state than to a general election which may result in a new prime minister...

"So, to put it in Bagehot's terms, while our monarch is expected to be dignified, and our prime minister is supposed to be efficient, American presidents are required to be both dignified and efficient at the same time..."

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New power to an old interest group in Mexico

Mexican Drug Cartels Threaten Elections

"Drug cartels are trying to influence the outcomes of major elections in Mexico by kidnapping and threatening candidates, according to Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora...

"The problem is most severe, Medina Mora [at right] said, in the border states of Baja California and Tamaulipas, and in Michoacan, the home state of Mexican President Felipe Calderon...

"Besides trying to influence state elections, drug cartels have penetrated deeply at the municipal level, he said...

"'I've heard politicians deny that the narcos are involved in elections, but it's what most people who follow Mexican politics believe is happening,' George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary, said in a telephone interview..."

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Slogans as policy

Sounds like a line from The Little Red Book with references to the Long March. The model counties and cities also seems like a reference to the model workers, peasants, and communes of the Cultural Revolution.

Premier Wen calls for closer relations between army, gov't, people

" Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday called for greater efforts to be made in the area of unity between the army and the government and between the army and the people.

"He issued the call at a national meeting to honor 355 Chinese counties and cities as models in the work of "Shuangyong."

"'Shuangyong' is a word used to convey the concept of mutual support, namely that 'the government and the people support the military and give preferential treatment to the families of servicemen and martyrs, and the military supports the government and cherishes the people.'...

"It is an irrefutable truth that 'so long as the army and people are united as one, they can defeat any enemy,' the premier said.

"Wen asked Party organizations and governments at all levels to put this work high on their agenda, strengthen guidance at grassroots levels, and incorporate the concept of "putting people first" into practice."

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Transparency in Nigerian government

This could be a big step toward fighting corruption in Nigeria.

This article came from This Day in Lagos.

Yar'Adua Orders Full Disclosure of Accounts

"Following reports yesterday that the passage of the 2008 Appropriations Bill might be further delayed because of the non-provision of information, including details of previously undisclosed 'special accounts', President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has ordered full disclosure of all Federal Government accounts.

"... the President said in keeping with his total commitment to upholding the principles of openness, transparency and full accountability in the management of public funds, he has not approved the operation of any 'special accounts' or the withholding of details of such accounts from the National Assembly and the public..."

See also:

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Chinese lists

China's government and party bureaucrats are as good as David Letterman's writers at making lists. Here's the latest one. The problem with lists of "no-nos" like this is (as any parent or teacher will tell you) that there's no way for rule makers to be as inventive as the people tempted to do something sketchy for their own benefit.

CPC lists "10 taboos" for local officials in leadership reshuffles

"The Communist Party of China (CPC) has warned government officials against the "10 taboos" ahead of the upcoming local leadership reshuffles...

"The "10 taboos" include:

"-- using various ways to win support during the reshuffle, including making phone calls, conducting visits, holding banquets and giving gifts;

"-- lobbying officials of higher rank to achieve promotion;

"-- handing out pamphlets or giving souvenirs without authorization...

"China will go through nationwide leadership elections and reshuffles of legislatures, governments and political advisory bodies at the provincial level in January this year as many officials had finished their five-year term...

"Local media organizations were required to inform the public of the telephone number and mailing address of the inspection group to help them to report any malpractice and corrupt candidates during the local leadership reshuffle...

"Organization departments of all levels have investigated about 25,000 complaints since the reshuffle started in 2006 and found 1,844 cases of malpractice..."

A more ambitious list reminds me of the 10,000 tree forests, the 10,000 mu (667 hectare or 1,647 acre) farm fields, and the 10,000 li (5,760km or 3,580 mile) roads of the Cultural Revolution.

Does anyone know if the number 10,000 (萬/万) has a special significance in Chinese culture? The article "10000 (number)" at Wikipedia says, "It is often used to mean an indefinite very large number." The article also says that in China, Japan, and Korea, the "phrase live for ten thousand years was used to bless emperors..." (And we all know how trustworthy those Wikipedia articles are.)

China to frame 10,000 national standards in 2008

"China will shape up 10,000 national standards... in 2008...

"Li Changjiang, head of the [General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ)] [wants] to ensure that all food and consumer goods would live up to national standards..."

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Weather in Iran

This is just a bit of trivia from Al Arabiya to add to your mental image of life in Iran.

Eight freeze to death in record Iran snowfalls

"At least eight people froze to death in the heaviest snowfalls to have hit Iran in years, with some areas brought to a virtual standstill and 40,000 stranded on roads on the first night, officials said on Tuesday.

"The snowfalls, said to be the worst in some 40 years, forced all schools and government offices to close in Tehran and other regions in northern Iran over the past two days...

"The lowest temperature overnight was minus 24 degrees Celsius (minus 11 Fahrenheit) in Shahre Kord in Western Iran, while the capital Tehran registered minus 7 degrees Celsius (19 F), the television said...

"Tehran and several other cities in the north and centre of Iran lie at altitudes of more than 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level and are regularly hit by heavy falls of snow in winter..."


Starting a new course?

My favorite opening activity for a comparative course has long been one form or another of pretest. Nearly all of my students appeared in class blithely naive about political systems beyond the borders of the USA. (Some of them were blithely naive about the political system in the USA.)

My favorite pretest asked students to provide the official name of the countries we were going to study, the names of the head of state and head of government (those two questions always caused consternation and learning), and then to rank the countries in a number of geographic, economic, and demographic categories. The conclusion was to ask students to hypothesize what relevance those statistics have for politics and government.

For the ranking questions, I enjoyed displaying the questions and having the class as a whole publicly try to construct the rankings. I thought the exercise was valuable enough that I made it the first teaching plan in the book of lesson plans for AP Comparative that I wrote for The Center for Learning.

Rebecca Small wrote from Virginia that she added another dimension to the plan.

She set her students to work looking up the data to complete the rankings of the countries, and then she asked them to take the first steps in a comparative analysis.

She asked them to choose two sets of data that they thought were related to one another and look at the rankings for the countries in those sets of data. Then came the analytical questions.

She asked them if they thought the two sets of rankings were correlations or causations? And of course she asked students to explain their reasoning.

In other words if the UK ranked first in both per capita GDP and population density (to choose one possible pair of rankings), did those rankings display correlation or causation? And why or why not?

I suggested that she might want to follow up with a further venture into comparative thinking.

The 7th teaching plan in the Center for Learning book (p. 29) asks students to identify independent variables, dependent variables, and constants in a hypothetical comparison of political and economic changes in Russia and China. The lesson then asks students to describe evidence that would support and what evidence would contradict the hypothesis described.

Finally, the last question, which is really more for discussion than anything else, asks students to identify ways this political science comparison is more and/or less scientific than an experiment in a chemistry or physics lab. Discussions I had with students on that topic were almost always interesting. (Of course, students often wanted to know what the "right answer" was and I had no "right answer.")

Rebecca Small said the lessons went well. If you have questions, add them here as comments.


Monday, January 07, 2008

While I have your attention

Here's the official announcement that the 3rd edition of my book, The AP Comparative Government and Politics Examination: What You Need to Know, copyright 2008, is now available.

You can order it at the book's web site (http://apcomparativegov.com/ordering.html)

or from Amazon.com.

Social Studies School Service will have it in their inventory in the near future.

The price is $18.99. That includes USPS Priority Rate shipping if you order at the book's web site.

A few remaining copies of the 2nd edition are available for $9.99.

If you have questions, send them to me. (Ken@apcomparativegov.com)


Introductory questions

What is a constitution? What is socialism? What do political scientists call those "divisions along racial, economic and geographical lines?" What does it mean to "centralise" power? This report is full of references to basic ideas in comparative politics.

Basic questions for beginners in comparative politics to consider.

How many basic concepts would your students identify in this report from Al Jazeera?

Cracking constitutional change

"Latin America moved towards socialism in 2005 and 2006. Towards the end of 2007 the next move seems to involve constitutional change...

"It is the greatest number of Latin American countries to attempt such reform simultaneously since the continent's independence from Spain more than 170 years ago.

"However, the moves are not taking place smoothly...

"But a simple majority is not enough to provide the consensus needed for such a fundamental issue as a constitution. And without consensus, the only thing that is guaranteed is more division and instability in the new year."

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

In re: anti-corruption in Nigeria

Two Nigerian newspapers reported on 6 January, that the head of the anti-corruption agency, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, will only be on leave from his position while he attends a training class. And, President Yar'Adua promised to have his appointment approved by the Senate, which had not yet done so.

Aftermath of Parley with Yar'Adua; Lamorde Takes Over EFCC

"MALLAM Nuhu Ribadu may not quit the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, afterall as indications emerged weekend, that he will only be on leave of absence during his nine-month course at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies..."

Ribadu Remains EFCC Chairman - Presidency

"At last, the presidency has put to rest the controversy that greeted the redeployment of the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, from the anti-graft agency...

"[special adviser to the president on communication, Mr. Segun ] Adeniyi also cleared the air on the controversy generated by the decision of the police authorities to send the EFCC boss on a one-year training programme at NIPSS. Mallam Ribadu, the presidential spokesman stated, 'remains the EFCC chairman' despite the fact that he would be proceeding on a course..."

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