Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Undermining yourself

Joseph S. Nye Jr., a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, offered some thoughts about soft power and about the Chinese attempts to use it.

China’s repression undoes its charm offensive
I was asked to lecture at Beijing University on soft power, the ability to use attraction and persuasion to get what you want without force or payment… The auditorium that day was packed, and I had been told that more than a thousand articles have been published in China on this topic. That may have something to do with the fact that in 2007, President Hu Jintao told the 17th Congress of the Communist Party that China needed to increase its soft power.

Over the past decade, China’s economic and military might have grown impressively. But that has frightened its neighbors into looking for allies to balance rising Chinese hard power…

The result of this regional wariness is that China is spending billions on a charm offensive to increase its soft power. Chinese aid programs to Africa and Latin America are not limited by the institutional or human rights concerns that constrain Western aid…

For all these efforts, however, China has had a limited return on its investment. A recent BBC poll found that opinions of China’s influence are positive in much of Africa and Latin America but predominantly negative in the United States, Europe, India, Japan and South Korea…

Great powers often try to use culture and narrative to create soft power that promotes their advantage, but it is not an easy sell when it is inconsistent with their domestic realities.

Shortly after the 2008 Olympics, China’s domestic crackdown in Tibet and Xianjiang and its resumed pressure on human rights activists undercut the very gains in soft power it had built up. The Shanghai Expo was a great success but was followed by the jailing of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. And for all the efforts to turn Xinhua and China Central Television into competitors of CNN and the BBC, there is little international audience for brittle propaganda. In the wake of the Middle East revolutions, China is tightening its controls on the Internet and arresting activists for fear that the Egyptian example might inspire similar protests…

After my lecture at Beijing University, a student asked how China could increase its soft power… I told the student that much of a country’s soft power is generated by its civil society and that China had to lighten up on its censorship and controls if it wished to succeed. But I also admitted that he would probably not find my answer very helpful.

See also: Stadium monument of China-Costa Rica friendship: president

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla on Friday said the newly built National Stadium donated by China will be a "permanent monument of friendship" between the two nations…

Chinese community pledges 120 houses for needy in Botswana

The Chinese community in Botswana promised on Friday to build 120 houses for the local needy, showing their support to Botswanan President Ian Khama's Housing Appeal for the Needy launched in 2009...

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Are all revolutions revolutionary?

Jason George who teaches at the Bryn Mawr School recommends a great op-ed from the New York Times by Simon Sebag Montefiore, a British historian. It's "Every Revolution Is Revolutionary in Its Own Way."

Jason also sent along a useful-looking set of questions he gave his students who read the article. I have to admit that I like the questions because Jason writes questions a lot like I do.

Check it out. I've added a link to the article in the "Russia" folder in the
"Links" section on the left of the Sharing Comparative group web page.

And I've added the questions (using the title "Every Revolution: questions") to the "File" section, also in the left margin of the group web page.

If you're teaching the AP course and don't have time now, try this topic after the exam: Revolutions Then and Now: Russia, Mexico, China, and Iran.
Evaluate Montefiore's thesis with all those examples as well as current events.

If you don't belong to the Sharing Comparative group, send a request to join from the group web page. PLEASE include your school name and a school e-mail or web site where we can confirm your status. We've made a concerted effort to limit membership to teachers.
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The fallout from legitimate elections

The Constituency for Africa (CFA) was founded in the USA to build organized support for Africa in the United States. CFA is a non-partisan organization and its Board of Directors is made up of prominent people involved in African affairs. One of its press releases was picked up and republished by All Africa. The group suggests some important reasons why transparent, free, and fair elections in Nigeria are important. Thanks to Albert Hannans, President of the Peace Corps Nigeria Alumni Foundation for pointing out this message.

'All Eyes Will be on Nigeria's April Elections'
Nigeria will have its legislative, presidential and gubernatorial elections in April 2011.

It will be important for Nigeria to hold credible elections that are not only transparent, but also elections where results that are deemed free and fair are respected by all parties involved in the contests.   Although Nigeria had one general election in the late 1990s that by many accounts was considered credible, it has not had the best track record on transparency or a fraud free process…

Successful elections will help Nigeria grow in line with the optimistic outlook it is currently enjoying on its economic growth as a result of the positive things that the country is doing on the macroeconomic front – setting the stage for future investment in key sectors such as power, housing, agriculture and telecommunications.

A credible election will also help set the stage to fight corruption more and improve development in such social sector issues such as education, potable water and health…

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Poll results from Nigeria

This Day (Lagos) co-sponsored a poll that predicts victory for incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan. The poll shows that people have faith in the electoral system and that policy differences between candidates don't matter as much as perceptions of the candidates themselves.

Another Survey Predicts Victory for Jonathan
TNS-RMS, the biggest research company in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, Monday released the results of its opinion poll ahead of the general election which predicted victory for President Goodluck Jonathan.

[T]he poll recently conducted for THISDAY by Ipsos, world's leading polling firm… gave Jonathan 60.3 per cent, Buhari 22.4 per cent, Shekarau 5.9 per cent and Ribadu 4.7 per cent.

[Mr. Adeola] Tejumola [CEO-West, East and Central Africa of RNS-RMS] said 15,124 respondents aged 18 years and above were interviewed nationally across all the states of the federation through a face-to-face quantitative approach…

"Nigerians claimed that the personality of the candidate is more important to them (85 per cent) than the political party (15 per cent) candidates belong to," he said…

On the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)… the opinion poll showed that 77 per cent of respondents rated INEC high on performance, with 76 per cent saying they have faith in INEC's ability to conduct free and fair elections…

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Peace Corps Nigeria Alumni Foundation

If you're looking for support and ideas for teaching about Nigeria and about global issues, the Peace Corps Nigeria Alumni Foundation (PCNAF) has some to offer.

Peace Corps Nigeria Alumni Foundation: Helping the people of Nigeria build a brighter future for themselves through education.

PCNAF president Albert Hannans told me that not only do they have links to many teaching materials on their web site (Resources for Teachers) but they are willing to help find materials and ideas for your classroom. This is especially helpful if you're near Washington, D. C. (arrange a guest speaker?).

I was especially excited to see a couple familiar names among those recommended on PCNAF web site. I met Bob Hanvey and David King when I used materials they created while teaching world studies and conflict resolution.

Check out the resources they've gathered. And contact them. E-mail them at info@pcnaf.org or write them at PCNAF, P.O. Box 18514, Washington, DC 20036-9998. Alternatively, you can call them at (703) 924-1474

If it's too late this year to make use of their resources and help, put this note in a prominent place so you'll see it next year when planning how to teach about Nigeria.

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UK protests

It's not just in the Arab world where citizens are protesting against governments. This was made in London. Be sure to preview this before using it in class. There is some language in the video that might not be appropriate in your classroom. (The video also includes a brief advert at the beginning.)

Hundreds of thousands rally at TUC protest march
More than a 250,000 people marched to Hyde Park to protest against government spending cuts. Watch the day unfold and hear marchers' reasons for being there.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Words to the adaptable

Many of the articles I refer to in blog entries here come from the New York Times. Beginning today, non-subscribers are limited to accessing 20 articles a month. If you want to read more articles, there is a fee.

When I checked last week, I had read 76 articles in March. I didn't count how many I had pointed to from the blog, but you should be aware that if you're not a subscriber, your access might be limited.

There are ways around that limit, for now (search for them and you'll find them). I'll bet the techies at the NYT will find ways of plugging those holes. If your library subscribes to the Times, you could ask librarians if you could use their access to the online articles. Or you could subscribe. Of course, that's the idea behind the limits.

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What's wrong with this picture?

This headline from Vanguard in Lagos is a vivid illustration (even if it's not a picture) of a serious problem that seems difficult for some outside observers to understand.

Nation Spends N201 Billion On Fuel Imports
THE Central Bank Monetary Policy Committee, yesterday, expressed concern that $1.34 billion was spent on importation of refined petroleum products between January and March 2011…

The total supply to the Whole Dutch Auction segment by the CBN amounted to $5.145 billion from January through March 16, 2011, while demand stood at $6.815 billion during the same period. Of the amount supplied, $1.34 billion was spent on importing refined petroleum products alone, which has adverse implications both for the reserves position and government finances as a result of the huge subsidy implications"…

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Distant early warning

Back when I was in high school and undergoing training to be an "Air Raid Warden" (little did we realize back then what that meant in the age of nuclear weapons; we still had images of wardens in London during WWII), there was a big deal about the DEW Line. The DEW Line was a string of radar stations across the northern part of Canada that would be our "distant early warning" if the Soviets launched their bombers toward the American heartland. I guess we had a lot of faith in our Nike missiles and a lot of naiveté.

Well, here's a not-so-distant early warning about a study aid for students who are preparing for the Advanced Placement exam in Comparative Politics and Government.


A new practice season of FRQs for Comparative Government and Politics.

I'll be posting three new sets of 8 questions (like those on THE exam) on the Studying Comparative blog. One a day until May 5.

You and your students can get a head start by looking at the practice questions from the past three years. (There's an archive on the left margin of the blog page.)

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Money and power in Russia

Joseph Schottland of Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California suggested this book review to teachers who subscribe to the College Board's AP Government and Politics electronic discussion group. Then Kevin James repeated the suggestion in his Albany High School Comparative Government blog. He described its potential value this way: "An article in the 16 December 2010 issue of The New York Review of Books examines the extent to which the Russian state is dominated by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and reveals the brutal conflict within the FSB for power and money." I second both recommendations, with some reservations.

The article is a book review. It's over a year old. And reviewer Amy Knight pretty quickly gets into tracing the details of individuals involved in the rivalries among the siloviki and away from the "big picture" issues of importance to AP students. The book being reviewed and the review are trying, with better sources than most of us have, to describe what's going on inside the black bag that is Russian politics.

The Concealed Battle to Run Russia
Despite their professed mutual respect, Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, and his prime minister, Vladimir Putin, apparently cannot agree on one question—which of them will be running for the Russian presidency in March 2012…

As it has in earlier contests over leadership, the country’s all-powerful Federal Security Service (FSB) is bound to have a crucial part in deciding who will be the next president…

Although Putin had the backing of powerful oligarchs like Boris Berezhovsky (who later became one of his fiercest enemies), his main power base was the FSB and he set about reversing the Yeltsin-era reforms that had weakened its authority…

Putin filled the ranks of the FSB leadership with Pitertsi—former colleagues from St. Petersburg. He also gave friends from the security services key positions in other law enforcement agencies, as well as in the Kremlin and in state corporations, thus creating a new power base of officials—commonly referred to as the siloviki (“strong men”), with loyalties to the security services and to Putin himself…

Not surprisingly, the siloviki see themselves as elite. As Russian economist Andrei Illarionov put it: “Their training instills in them a feeling of being superior to the rest of [the] populace, of being the rightful ‘bosses’ of everyone else.”…

[T]he FSB is in several ways more powerful and more of a threat to individual rights than the KGB was during the Soviet era. The KGB took its orders from the Communist Party, which always kept a close watch on its operations. In contrast, although both Putin and Medvedev have influence over the FSB, it is in many respects its own master…

Because its main concern is preserving the current political regime, the FSB focuses its efforts on protecting the Kremlin’s vast economic interests, suppressing legitimate political opposition, and ensuring the Kremlin’s control over the press and television through intimidation and violence…

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The guy with the red dispatch box

The guy with the red dispatch box in front of Number 11 Downing Street, is Chancellor George Osborne. He was setting off for Westminster to deliver the government's budget to Commons.

Osborne's Budget 'to fuel growth'
Chancellor George Osborne has cancelled next month's planned 4p rise in fuel duty in what he has billed his "Budget for growth".

A further 1p will be cut from pump prices immediately - all paid for by a £2bn tax on oil companies.

But he did not halt planned rises in alcohol and tobacco tax - 4p on a pint of beer and 15p on a bottle of wine.

The chancellor was forced to downgrade his growth forecasts - prompting mockery from Labour leader Ed Miliband.

"Every time he comes to this House growth is downgraded," said Mr Miliband to cheers from Labour MPs…

Mr Osborne set out a series of measures to boost enterprise - including a further cut to corporation tax, which will go down by 2% rather than 1% in April.

He also more than doubled the number of planned Enterprise Zones - from 10 to 21 - to bring discounted business rates to some of the most deprived parts of England.

[H]e had to balance any giveaways with tax raising measures - including a crackdown on tax avoidance - in what aides were calling a "steady-as-she-goes" package…

During his speech, which lasted just under an hour, he said Britain's record budget deficit was not shrinking faster than expected, as some had predicted…

Labour leader Ed Miliband mocked Mr Osborne's claim to have delivered a Budget for growth, saying the government's cuts were damaging the economic recovery.

He said: "One fact says it all and he couldn't bring himself to say it: Growth down last year, this year and next year.

"It's the same old Tories - it's hurting but it isn't working."…

Highlights of Osborne's speech from The Guardian

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Women in Nigerian politics

Rebecca Small, who teaches at Herndon High School in Virginia, sent along these recommendations that she found valuable.

Thanks, Rebecca. (You can send me links to things you find valuable in teaching your course, too. I'm only one person.)

The role of women in politics is an issue to discuss in all political systems. Of the six AP countries, women have the best opportunities in the UK. The Labour Party has rules to guarantee women positions on the ballot to ensure the election of a good number of women to Commons. There are four women in the coalition government's cabinet.

The role of women in the politics and government of the other five nations is pretty invisible. While there are many women delegates to the National People's Congress in China, none of them are in the top ranks. There's one woman in Putin's cabinet, two in Ahmadinejad's, two in Calderon's, and two in Jonathan's.

These articles offer the beginnings of a discussion about the roles of women in Nigerian politics.

Nigeria: Women for Change Initiative
If you walk into any of the meetings of Women for Change Initiative (W4CI) and find the crème-de-la-crème of the Nigerian society sitting side-by-side the commoners, conversing, don’t be surprised…

It started on July 16, 2010, when about 2,000 Nigerian women turned up… at the International Conference Centre, Abuja to declare: Yes We Can, at the launch
of Nigeria’s Women For Change Initiative, the pet project of the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.

Fifteen years after Beijing pronouncement of 35 per cent affirmative action for women, the women have realised that no threats can move the men to support them, hence the First Lady has changed tactics. Rather than demand, she is now appealing…

The Women For Change Initiative is a Nigerian gender focused movement for mobilising women to take active interest in affirmation action, which is promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality in the society. Its broad objective is commitment to the creation of a movement that will engender the mass awareness of women, at all levels, to their human rights and obligations as citizens of Nigeria.
The NGO specifically wants to advance strategies for gender equality, equity and promotion of Affirmative Action principles;  and mechanisms for effective resource management and accountability; develop a mechanism which could enhance the legislative processes in Nigeria, including domesticating international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory...

Sarah Jubril - the Last Woman Standing
CALL her the last woman standing and you will not be wrong. She is the only woman challenging President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in today's quest for the presidential flag of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

And across the 63 political parties, she is the only woman of substance still fighting to occupy the Aso Rock seat of power…

A veteran presidential aspirant of sorts and in her early 60s, Jubril's presidential ambition dates back to 1992. She was an aspirant in the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP in the botched Third Republic. She also aspired in 1998 on the platform of the PDP and lost the presidential ticket to Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who went on to win the polls…

Nigeria: Lip Service to Women Participation in Politics?
The PDP Presidential primaries have come and gone, leaving a question on the lips of many Nigerians if the participation of Nigerian women in politics is just mere lip service.

Ruth Tene Natsa wonders if the women are only paying lip service to the idea that women should be involved in politics. Excerpts:

How else can one describe the singular vote cast (which was by the way self-voted),at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential convention where not a single vote was allotted to the only female candidate, Sarah Jubril , by both men and women delegates alike…

This show of lack of faith in the Nigerian woman has made me realise that imbued in the Nigerian woman is a strength and determination never to give up in spite of the many challenges facing us. Sarah Jubril has shown severally, that she is not one to give up, despite the many disappointments that have dogged her political foray and for that I doff my hat to a great woman…

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Who? What? Where?

Trivia Quiz

Who is this man? Where is he? What's that red thing he's holding?

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Democratic supervision

Two phrases leapt out at me when I read this news release: "building of a moderately prosperous society in all aspects" and "democratic supervision." The first phrase strikes me as boiler plate Party goal setting (that ensures success). The second seems oxymoronic to my American perspective. (Isn't supervision axiomatically anti-democratic?)

I wonder what these phrases were in the original Chinese? What would they be if translated by someone who wasn't a Party propaganda official?

China's top political advisory body concludes annual session,vowing to step up democratic supervision
China's top political advisory body will press ahead with democratic supervision to contribute to the building of a moderately prosperous society in all aspects, says a political resolution approved at the advisory body's annual session.

The political resolution of the Fourth Session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body, was approved at the closing meeting of the 11-day annual session of the CPPCC National Committee…

The political development path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the only correct road for China's development and progress as proved by practice, according to the political resolution.

"(We should) neither deviate nor waver from the path at any time, under any circumstances," it said…

The CPPCC will carry out democratic supervision and pool its wisdom and strength in accomplishing targets and tasks set forth in the 12th Five-Year Plan, the resolution said…

The CPPCC National Committee currently has 2,260 members, and 2,129 of them attended the closing meeting of the annual session.

The CPPCC is a patriotic united front organization of the Chinese people, serving as a key mechanism for multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, and a major manifestation of socialist democracy.

Members of the CPPCC are representatives of the CPC and non-Communist parties, personages without party affiliation, and representatives of people's organizations, ethnic minorities and various social strata.

The CPPCC also has the representation of compatriots of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, returned overseas Chinese, and specially invited people.

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Top Communist Party of China (CPC) and state leaders Hu Jintao (4th L, front), Wu Bangguo (4th R, front), Wen Jiabao (3rd L, front), Li Changchun (3rd R, front), Xi Jinping (2nd L, front), Li Keqiang (2nd R, front), He Guoqiang (1st L, front) and Zhou Yongkang (1st R, front) are present at the closing ceremony of the Fourth Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 13, 2011. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

COBRA and the Cabinet Secretary

Alan Carter in Oxford passed on information about a BBC documentary series (part one was seen on BBC Four last week), The Secret World of Whitehall. I can't find access to it in the US, but the promotional materials might be good teaching resources. Or you could assign students to research the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary and No. 70 Whitehall Street and the COBRA Committee.

The first of the series focuses on the role of the the Cabinet Secretary and the Cabinet Office, the tip of the civil service iceberg that, it is said, makes government work in the UK. The Speaker of the House of Commons might be more interesting to watch in action, but if you want to follow power in the system, it would be better to pay attention to the Cabinet Secretary.

Like the US President's Chief of Staff, the Cabinet Secretary is described as the power behind the executive. Indeed, Sir Gus O'Donnell, the current Cabinet Secretary, is described as the man who tells the government what it may do.

Along the way, the BBC refers to Sir Humphrey, the Cabinet Secretary in the mid-1980s popular comedy, Yes, Prime Minister (said to be Lady Thatcher's favorite television program).

[If the existence of the Cabinet Secretary is news to you, don't feel left out. It was news to me. None of the textbooks I consulted mentions the position or the Cabinet Secretary. Charles Hauss, in Comparative Politics, Domestic Responses to Global Challenges, does mention Yes, Prime Minister in describing the real life experiences a member of PM Harold Wilson's cabinet.]

Cabinet secretary 'pulls government's invisible strings'
What goes on in the Cobra [Cabinet Office Briefing Room] committee behind the Cabinet Office's doors?

The Secrets of Whitehall reveals it is the cabinet secretary who holds the real power in government…

The Cabinet Office is the secret powerhouse of British politics. With the key task of keeping the government show on the road, it likes to do its work out of the limelight…

Working from one of the grandest offices in Whitehall, the cabinet secretary is the most powerful unelected member of the government… and he pulls the invisible strings across the whole of government…
Profile of Gus O'Donnel, current Cabinet Secretary
A fictional example of how a cabinet secretary wields power, from Yes, Prime Minister

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Monday, March 21, 2011

One take on Chinese successes

The theme of The Economist's analysis is "China is often held up as an object lesson in state-directed capitalism. Yet its economic dynamism owes much to those outside the government’s embrace." That matches the magazine's editorial point of view, but that doesn't make it right or wrong. It is a thesis that is supported by plenty of examples.

BTW, do your students know what the title refers to?

Let a million flowers bloom
[W]ealth is created quietly in… places that not long ago were wretchedly poor. None of the people interviewed for this story wanted to be named. Their companies tend to be small and privately owned. They make ordinary (but increasingly good) products under their own names, or sophisticated ones under the strictest anonymity for well-known foreign companies which demand silence as a condition of doing business…

The right of China’s private companies to exist is by no means clear. Private companies with more than eight employees… were not officially sanctioned until 1988… and China has a brutal history of ideological retreats. Today’s entrepreneur can become tomorrow’s convict. Best, therefore, to avoid too much attention…

The government owns the biggest companies: as the economy grows at double-digit rates year after year, vast state-owned enterprises are climbing the world’s league tables in every industry from oil to banking. Yet alongside the mighty state engine myriad smaller ones are whirring—and probably more efficiently…

According to China Macro Finance, a research firm in New York, the number of registered private businesses grew by more than 30% a year between 2000 and 2009…

Like any growing venture, China’s private businesses need capital, and in much bigger amounts than 30 yuan for a job agent or 360 yuan for a couple of noodle machines. Its sources are a bit of a mystery… a huge gap, which has been filled by an unofficial system that is discerning, vibrant and… even illegal…

This freedom from financial bureaucracy should not be underestimated. Transactions can unfold at breathtaking speed… Businesses can be created or liquidated overnight. Rather than pay taxes, he adds, many companies make nominal payments to the local government…

Nevertheless, this form of business has inherent limits. To the extent that firms operate outside the law, they are vulnerable to shakedowns from local officials and mood-swings in Beijing. Although success brings praise, too much of it can invite envy and scrutiny…

It is often said in China that a new economic era has recently begun, described as guo jin min tui: state advances, private retreats. The government has reasons for such a change: it is tightening laws, building infrastructure and providing strategic guidance it considers necessary for the country’s next steps. Many in the West applaud the expansion of the government’s sway, believing in the wisdom of the state in pushing China’s economy forward. But behind China’s remarkable success has been an odd and often unappreciated experiment in laissez-faire capitalism.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Election update

Most of the Nigerian press gives the impression that there's only one election and only one likely winner in this spring's election season. Reporters for The Economist offer more details and an important first paragraph reminder.

Can your students trace the roots of the three parties mentioned in the article?

A three-way contest
IN LESS than a month Nigeria will hold elections that may be the most unpredictable since military rule ended in 1999. Voting for president, parliament and state governors will take place on three successive Saturdays, starting on April 2nd. Personality and the power of patronage, rather than policies, will decide the winners.

In normal circumstances Goodluck Jonathan, the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would be expected to win easily. The PDP has won every presidential poll since the army bowed out. Nigerian elections favour the incumbent, who has access to the state’s vast oil revenues and can dish out cash, contracts and appointments. Mr Jonathan, a former vice-president who took over last May when Umaru Yar’Adua died, also won the financial backing last month of some big bankers and telecoms tycoons.

But Mr Jonathan, an unassuming zoologist who hails from the oil-rich southern delta, owes his rise more to luck than design. Moreover, he has flouted the PDP’s so-called zoning pact, whereby the candidacy for president rotates every two terms between the largely Christian south and the mostly Muslim north. The PDP now faces a struggle to woo the northern electorate, which makes up over half of the country’s 73.5m registered voters. Opposition candidates are thus gearing up for what they see as their first chance in a proper race. Two frugal northerners present a contrast—and hope to pose a threat—to the president.

Mr Jonathan’s main challenger is Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, who is running with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC)…

The former dictator says he is a convert to democracy. “I don’t believe [anything else] is acceptable any more to ordinary people,” he says… He has chosen Tunde Bakare, a southern Pentecostal pastor and pro-democracy activist, as his running mate. General Buhari’s tough stance on graft is winning him support, especially among poor northerners…

Mr Jonathan’s other rival is Nuhu Ribadu, a northerner who used to run the country’s anti-graft agency. He is running with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which controls Lagos, the vibrant commercial capital. Mr Ribadu, the youngest of the three main candidates, and his running mate, Fola Adeola, a southern banker and philanthropist, are the progressive choice… Their main support is among Nigeria’s small middle class.

Since the PDP is so dominant, Mr Jonathan is still the favourite to win. Some predict a run-off against General Buhari. But the ruling party faces a tougher battle to keep control of the 27 states it runs out of Nigeria’s total of 36… Indeed, he may find it easier to win than to rule.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Anecdotes about democracy in China

Dr. Timothy C. Lim, who teaches at Cal State, LA, posted 5 minutes of excerpts from Ted Koppel's People's Republic of Capitalism to illustrate a common attitude about democracy and governing in China. (One of the two Chinese interviewed is definitely not "middle class.")

‪China's "middle class" and democracy‬

Excerpts from the Ted Koppel series, The People's Republic of Capitalism. These two scenes are designed to illustrate the attitude of China's upper and middle classes to the prospects of political change, especially democracy, in China. The key point is obvious: the middle and upper classes prefer authoritarianism to democracy and will continue to support the Chinese Communist Party as long as their economic interests are protected.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Slow road to a Big Society

As David Cameron's Big Society is implemented, everyone finds cutting back to a "Big Society" difficult.

Liverpool Declines Role in Government Overhaul by Britain
When he became prime minister last year, David Cameron announced that the days of big government were over. In its place he proposed to build something called the Big Society, a new model in which public-private partnerships, charities and community groups would take over as the state pulled back…

[I]n one poll, 63 percent of respondents said they did not understand what Mr. Cameron was talking about. But it still sounded promising to Liverpool, which volunteered to be one of four so-called vanguard members of the new program.

That is, until a city already braced for cuts learned exactly how much money Mr. Cameron’s government planned to remove from its budget…

Just as hastily as it had signed itself up to the Big Society, Liverpool signed itself out…

Liverpool’s concerns are being echoed up and down the country, as local governments face the consequences of the central government’s four-year, $131 billion cost-cutting program and wonder how it squares with the goals of Mr. Cameron’s Big Society. Many localities depend on the central government for the bulk of their revenues — in Liverpool’s case, 80 percent of the total — and the central government is cutting those payments by an average of 28 percent.

Struggling to keep their essential services afloat, places like Liverpool are cutting services like libraries, reading programs, community swimming pools, after-school activities for troubled teenagers, homeless shelters, care for the disabled, help for the elderly, children’s centers and the like. Many such programs are run as charities but are financed in part through public money…

The cuts, he said, are disproportionately affecting the poorer parts of the country — the ones that depend more on central government money — which, as it happens, mostly tend to be run by the opposition Labour Party.

Mr. Cameron says that the budget cuts he has outlined are based on necessity, not philosophy. And he says the localities are making cuts intended to embarrass the government. Instead of canceling charity programs, they should reduce their own “salaries, bureaucracies and allowances,” as he said recently…

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

But the winners are...

The results of the elections in Russia pretty much matched the predictions

Russia’s Ruling Party Stumbles in Some Regional Elections
Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, won less than half of the popular vote in the weekend’s regional elections, the last electoral test before momentous coming races for Parliament and president, according to results released Monday.

The party still won easily in all 12 regional contests, which its chairman, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, called “more than satisfactory.”…

It was notable that support for United Russia was below 50 percent in seven of the regions and below 40 percent in two, and some analysts said it was a sign that rising prices and unemployment were strengthening the hand of the opposition….

“The question is, what happens now,” said Stanislav A. Belkovsky, a prominent political analyst. “Can the systemic opposition join forces so that they can form a parliamentary majority? If they can, then we could talk about real political change. If they can’t, then everything will stay the way it is, regardless of the results of the elections.”…

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And the losers are...

Regional elections were held in Russia. Are the elections and accusations of fraud just rehearsals for national elections next year? Or are they more like reruns of Soviet elections?

Ruling Party Is Accused of Fraud in Russian Vote
Voters in Russia went to the polls… in regional elections amid complaints by the opposition of ballot-stuffing and other violations by the governing party, United Russia.

The vote is being watched as an indicator of public support for United Russia ahead of parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections in 2012. Polling by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center showed that support for United Russia slipped below 50 percent during the first months of the year, its lowest point since 2007…

Communist Party officials in the southern city of Saratov said Sunday that they had documented numerous violations, including unsanctioned rallies by pro-Kremlin groups, crude measures to block election observers’ views of ballot boxes and attempts to stuff as many as 1,000 ballots for United Russia…

A top United Russia official on Sunday acknowledged that ballot-stuffing on the party’s behalf had been captured on video and that voters had received phone calls pressuring them to vote for the party, but he said the incidents had been staged by the opposition to frame United Russia…

Disenchantment with United Russia may suppress turnout, but does not necessarily drive Russian voters to support the opposition. The strongest competitor, the Communist Party, is polling at a steady 8 percent, followed by the Liberal Democratic Party at 7 percent and A Just Russia at 5 percent, according to the Public Opinion Research Center’s most recent poll.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Diversity in China

Yajun, guest blogging at Jottings from the Granite Studio, ponders diversity in China. Politically and culturally, we have to ask what these features of Chinese culture and politics imply for China as a member of a global society. Recently, nearly 40,000 Chinese workers were evacuated from Lybia. What experiences did they bring back to China? What affects will those experiences (and those of other returnees) have on China?

Diversity When?
I was born in a country where 90% of the people share a single ethnicity, where we have no national religion, but where we do have the stomachs to eat any living creature on earth.  So it came as a shock to me, later than it probably should have, that some people may not eat certain things out of choice or because of their religion. Sure, China has Hui people who are Muslim and who eat Qingzhen (Halal) food, but prior to university I’d only met a handful of Chinese Muslims in my life…

China is not a country that celebrates true ethnic and culture diversity. Officially, we are 55 ethnic groups making up one China, but the Han are definitely the dominant and normative culture. Other than the fact that minorities are happy while dancing on stage during gala shows, very little information about them is presented in the mainstream media. Since the media is under the government’s control, minority voices and their cultural and historical perspectives are nowhere to be heard.  China lacks social awareness of what diversity truly means.

Furthermore, a sense of individualism is also often suppressed in China. Many Chinese, like me, are taught since they were children that it is not okay to be different. We are not individuals, but a member of a group, a group which defines our identity. Everyone has to use the right hand to write or to eat. We have to find the one correct answer to the questions in exam. If a child’s creativity and imagination fails to match the content of text books, he or she is labeled as a bad student. Same thing with food. If somebody doesn’t eat a certain kind of food, that’s being picky and is sure to draw the parent’s ire…

I am amazed by the social awareness and understanding in the US. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the US is a nation founded in large part by immigrants. The other important reason, I believe, is that different — sometimes even completely contradictory — voices can be heard in the US. Dr. Martin Luther King called for the rights for African-Americans 50 years ago. Today Amy Chua teaches Americans how to be a successful Chinese mother. Public information and communication turns ignorance to acceptance and, finally, to a point where difference is no longer seen as different, just part of the greater whole.

Certainly, some people choose fear rather than acceptance…   But these are problems which are openly discussed and debated in the US media and society, sometimes painfully and divisively…

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Whose reform?

During its annual conference, the Liberal Democratic Party faithful told their leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, that Conservative plans for reform of the National Health Service were not okay. The politics of coalition government, it seems, are messier than "normal" politics.

BTW, do your students know the people and the policies associated with them identified by Clegg as the ancestors of the Liberal Democrats?

Nick Clegg suffers defeat as Liberal Democrats reject health reforms

Nick Clegg [above] suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own party as Liberal Democrat activists voted overwhelmingly against coalition plans for a radical overhaul of the NHS.

Delegates rejected the "damaging and unjustified market-based approach" being championed by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley [Conservative Party], as anger over the Tory-led NHS agenda boiled over at the party's spring conference in Sheffield…

After the crushing defeat, Clegg immediately faced demands from former education secretary Shirley Williams that he take the message back to the cabinet and demand that Lansley change the NHS bill to conform with Lib Dem demands.

In an interview with the Observer, Williams, a ringleader behind the revolt, said: "It means that Nick Clegg has to go back to Lansley with the other Lib Dem members of the cabinet and say, 'I can't get this through my party. We will have to make amendments'."…

Nick Clegg tells Lib Dems they belong in 'radical centre' of British politics
Nick Clegg has told Liberal Democrat delegates they are now the party of the "radical centre", hours after the party voted to commit itself to the traditions and beliefs of social democracy…

Clegg said: "We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics. Our politics is the politics of the radical centre. We are governing from the middle, for the middle…

"We are not the heirs to Thatcher. We are not the heirs to Blair. We are the heirs to Mill, Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge, Grimond. We are the true radicals of British politics."…

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

What, no NATO

While the European Union is the most visible of the organizations linking countries on the continent, there are many others. This Venn diagram offers a look at the overlapping and exclusions of many of the economic groups. What's missing are things like NATO, the OSCE, and Interpol.

Students could learn a good deal while trying to sort out the various organizations, their goals, and powers and while hypothesizing about how those military and police organizations fit into the plan. There is a good explanation that accompanies the diagram.

United Diagrams of Europe
Does this image qualify as a map? Strictly speaking, no. The relationships between the objects in this diagram are logical, not spatial. But then again, all the objects shown here are of a geographical nature. That makes this diagram some kind of map, if not a proper one, then at least a strange one. And that’s exactly how this blog likes them.

This diagram is a particularly instructive map, too: it neatly visualises the gaps and overlaps between all kinds of supranational institutions in Europe – differences which for the most part are too subtle for any but the most attentive observer.

All will be aware of the ‘Europe’ that is a less than homogenous conglomerate of nation states, with an unwieldy Brussels bureaucracy at its centre. This European Union, which consists of 27 member states, is merely the most visible of several European unions, all committed to different versions of the same goal: European integration…

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It's okay. There is civilian control of the military.

The Chinese president outlined the responsibilities of the country's military. It sounds quite different from what those of us who live in Western democracies expect. Can your students point out the differences?

Chinese President urges army to provide security guarantee for building well-off society

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is also General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivers an important speech while attending a plenary meeting of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) deputies to the Fourth Session of the 11th National People's Congress in Beijing, China, March 12, 2011.

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday urged the armed forces to provide solid security guarantee for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects…

The armed forces should speed up their efforts in pushing forward the modernization of national defense and the army, so as to resolutely safeguard state sovereignty, security and development interests, said Hu.

The armed forces should unswervingly obey the Party's command, said Hu, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

In the meantime, Hu urged the armed forces to actively participate in economic, social and ecological construction, support the transformation of economic development pattern, and shoulder emergency response tasks such as disaster relief…

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Courtroom telenovela?

A noted and controversial film about justice in Mexico has brought shortcomings of the old judicial system (inquisitorial) into the public eye. A potential presidential candidate proposes videotaping trials to ensure more fairness. And then there's the gradual change underway to more adversarial criminal trials, which began with constitutional amendments passed two years ago.

Hit documentary in Mexico spurs promise of more open court trials
Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard says he will videotape court trials to prevent the kind of lapses revealed by a hit documentary film on Mexico’s dysfunctional justice system.

Ebrard said videotaping court proceedings would make them more transparent as Mexico City and the rest of the country ease toward a planned system of U.S.-style trials, where cases are argued in open court.

Ebrard, a probable candidate for president in 2012, said it would cost nearly $1 billion to outfit courtrooms with cameras and train judges, prosecutors and other personnel for so-called oral trials…

Flaws in Mexico’s opaque legal system, where cases are decided behind closed doors through time-consuming exchanges of piles of documents, have long been apparent.

Public disgust surged in recent weeks after Presumed Guilty, began showing to packed movie theaters. The documentary tracks the case of a young defendant in Mexico City who is convicted — twice — and sentenced to prison for a fatal shooting he did not commit…

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Disaster averted (or delayed)

The Nigerian presidential campaign is heating up. Tensions around Jos remain high. Was this potential truck bomb connected to either?

Explosives-Laden Truck Seized in Nigeria
Security forces in the central Nigerian city of Jos seized a truck laden with bomb-making equipment on Friday, less than three months after explosions tore through Christmas Eve celebrations.

Sectarian violence in the region, where the mostly Muslim north meets the largely Christian south, has killed at least 200 people since the attacks in late December…

Charles Ekeocha, a spokesman for a joint military and police task force, said the truck was carrying fuses, detonators and a large amount of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used to make improvised explosive devices…

The tensions around Jos are rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, and settlers from the Muslim north who have been competing with them for control of fertile farmland and economic and political power…

There have also been fire bomb attacks on opposition party offices and campaign rallies in Bayelsa State in the southern oil-producing Niger Delta…

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Friday, March 11, 2011

No thanks, we're Chinese

New meeting in a new year. Same message.

Democratic Reforms Risk Plunge Into ‘Abyss,’ Leader Says
The leader of China’s quasi-legislature said Thursday that China would never embrace Western political tenets like multiparty democracy or the separation of governmental powers because loosening the Communist Party’s hold on power risked plunging the nation into “the abyss of internal disorder.”

The statement by the chairman of the National People’s Congress, Wu Bangguo, echoed his statements at the legislature’s last annual meeting in March 2010, when he said that a China without absolute Communist Party control would be paralyzed by internal divisions. Mr, Wu, the party’s second-ranking official, made the remarks during a speech in which he said the government last year had completed a “socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics based on the situation and realities in China.”

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Socialized medicine, Chinese style

The bragging seems to be about the percentage of urban residents covered by health care and the expenditures for rural residents. No mention of the percentage of rural residents covered. Are they better off than they were with the barefoot "doctors?"

Eight mln more Chinese to be covered by health insurance in 2011
Eight million more Chinese will be covered by urban basic health insurance in 2011, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said Wednesday.

That will bring the total number of urban residents covered by health insurance to 440 million, or 90 percent of urban residents…

Regarding rural cooperative health insurance, Chen Zhu, China's health minister, said at the press conference that this year the reimbursement cap for farmers would be raised from 30,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan (7,600 U.S.dollars), almost ten times that of farmers' average per capita net annual income…

This year, government subsidies for the new rural cooperative medical care system and medical insurance for non-working urban residents will be increased to 200 yuan per person…

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Report to the NPC

Keep the organizations straight in your mind. That will help you make sense of the events.

China's top legislator delivers NPC Standing Committee work report

Chinese top legislator Wu Bangguo is delivering a work report of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), or the parliament, at a plenary meeting of the NPC's ongoing annual session Thursday.

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Regime change

Journalists (and others) toss out the phrase "regime change" and expect that everyone knows what it means. Judging from the multiple ways it's used, obviously not all journalists know what it means. You know that it doesn't mean a change in government, but it's not clear how many people understand the difference. Here's a comparison that helps explain the difference (even if the phrase in question doesn't appear). BTW, I'm not sure the headline writer knows what a "country" is in this example.

How to Lose a Country Gracefully
As a reporter, I covered two of the greatest losers of the last century. The superlative “greatest” applies both to the scale of the loss — Mikhail Gorbachev lost Russia and all of its colonies, F. W. de Klerk [right] lost the richest country in Africa — and to the manner in which they lost it.
Our hearts understandably thrill to the courage of those who stand up to power — from Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square and all the streets that now teem with the young and freedom-hungry. But there is another heroism, scarce and undervalued, that accrues to those who know how to stand down.

Gorbachev [below, right] and de Klerk… each relinquished the power of an abusive elite without subjecting his country to a civil bloodbath. Afterward, they did not flee to the comfort of Swiss bank accounts. On the contrary, they managed a feat that is almost unthinkable in most of today’s erupting autocracies: after succumbing to democracy, they contributed to its legitimacy by becoming candidates for high office — and losing, fair and square…
Both Gorbachev and de Klerk began as reformers…

Those regimes along the Mediterranean rim that are trying to hold back an angry tide by shuffling the cabinet or promising so-called reforms — Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia — may buy themselves some time, but revolutions have a way of overrunning reformers…

Watching how the seep of information stirred ordinary Russians from a paralyzing fear was one of the true joys of covering Moscow’s spring. The Cold War voice of Radio Liberty, the underground copies of Solzhenitsyn and especially Gorbachev’s own attempts to deputize the Russian press by letting it expose corruption and incompetence — they all chipped away at the invincibility of the Soviet Union. Today it is Al Jazeera; WikiLeaked cables about the extravagant lifestyles of the ruling elites; and social media that are the fuel of popular insurgency. This is how the unhappy learn that their complaints are justified and that they have company. And with their vast reach and immediacy, Facebook and Twitter are not only sources of information but also organizing tools — samizdat on steroids.

Gorbachev freed Andrei Sakharov from exile; de Klerk released Nelson Mandela. Both leaders then enlisted their liberated adversaries as negotiating partners, buying some credibility at home and abroad. These partnerships inevitably fell victim to mistrust, but they helped assure that the end of the old order was managed rather than catastrophic…

It is not a coincidence that the surge points of the current political unrest tend to be funerals, as they were in South Africa and several restive Soviet republics. From the massacre in Sharpeville to the protesters crushed under the tank treads of a rogue army unit in Soviet Lithuania, from the persecuted fruit vendor who immolated himself in Tunisia to the crowds strafed in Libya, the dead live on as evidence of a regime’s cruelty…

Today, Russia and South Africa are disillusioned democracies. Wretched poverty, crime and bad governance bedevil South Africa. Russia is corrupt and intolerant of political dissent, sometimes brutally so. Yet each country has grown bigger middle classes, expanded individual liberties and mostly kept its armies at peace. And if the Russians or South Africans run out of patience with their imperfect leaders, they have some hope of remedies other than the streets.

Gorbachev turned 80 earlier this month, and de Klerk will be 75 soon. Happy birthday to both, and here’s to those who make history by gracefully getting out of its way.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Federalism fad

How is federalism a solution to some problems and the cause of others? Is there an inherent conflict between federalism and democracy? Is the price of federal "unity" worth the cost of some democracy? (Discuss among yourselves.)

The fashion to be federal
WHAT short rallying-cry sums up the hopes of people who risk their lives—anywhere from Tunis to Cairo to Rangoon—because they believe in free, universal suffrage? In years past, it was “one man, one vote”. That slogan was heard in apartheid South Africa, and in the 1960s in Northern Ireland, where Catholics said a property-based vote for local councils favoured Protestants.

The formula has since been corrected to “one person one vote” (OPOV, as wonks call it)—and the ideal itself has been challenged. Among campaigners for political change, it is agreed that universal suffrage is not enough to give power to the people. Other things, like the rule of law, are needed too. And less obviously, most federal systems violate the OPOV principle by giving some votes more weight than others. That is important because over a third of humanity lives in countries that aspire to be both democratic and federal…

According to Rupak Chattopadhyay, a Canadian scholar, federations (and the constitutional anomalies that go with them) are desirable in countries that are large or ethnically mixed or both…

Why is the tie between federalism and democracy so awkward? In most federations the units have formally equal status, regardless of population, so voters in small units fare better. Thus the 544,270 residents of Wyoming have two senators—the same as the 37m people of California…

As research at Queen’s University Belfast has shown, large deviations from OPOV are the norm in newly democratic federations, including ex-war zones where outsiders have designed systems to hold divided societies together. These systems are often very contentious. Iraq’s constitution is decentralising enough to please Shia and Kurdish voters, but anathema to the once-dominant Sunni Muslims…

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ambiguity and confidence

One of the reasons I believe in the importance of studying comparative politics is that it offers tremendous lessons in dealing with ambiguity. For students accustomed to dealing with answers that are either right or wrong, the discipline of comparative politics (and things like Constitutional law) repeatedly demands consideration of "It depends."

Fabrizio Gilardi, writing in the blog PoliSciZurich, posted a link to Zach Weiner's cartoon offering his opinion on the connection between knowledge and confidence in one's own opinions. I think it illustrates why the more you learn about political systems, the more you have account for "It depends."

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National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference

There are so many representative organizations in China that, perhaps, their number compensates for the limited representative-ness and limited authority any of them has. This is the group that has the first shot at reviewing the new 5-year plan.

Where in the government or Party hierarchy is "China's top political advisor?"

Top political advisor vows to push forward democratic oversight, contribute to China's economic development
China's top political advisor Jia Qinglin on Thursday vowed to "actively yet prudently" carry forward democratic oversight, and contribute to the transformation of the country's economic development pattern.

Jia made the remarks in a report delivered at the opening meeting of the Fourth Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body, which opened in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Thursday…

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Monday, March 07, 2011

China's new 5-year plan

Dan Harris and Steve Dickinson write for China Law Blog as an adjunct to their international law practice. Steve Dickinson has been speaking of late at various embassies and chambers of commerce in Beijing regarding China's Twelfth Five Year Plan. The following is the outline of his presentation.

It offers a shortcut for students to a summary of the plan. How does the plan appear different from the plans presented by politicians in other nation states?

China's 12th Five Year Plan: A Preliminary Look
This plan will be adopted during the March meetings of the National People’s Congress and the CPC…

I. China’s Ten Major Challenges
  1. Resource constraints: energy and raw materials.
  2. Mismatch in investment and imbalance in consumption.
  3. Income disparity.
  4. Weakness in capacity for domestic innovation.
  5. Production structure is not rational: too much heavy industry, not enough service.
  6. Agriculture foundation is thin and weak.
  7. Urban/rural development is not coordinated.
  8. Employment system is imbalanced.
  9. Social contradictions are progressively more apparent.
  10. Obstacles to scientific development continue to exist and are difficult to remove.
II. The Theoretical Solution
  1. The Main Theme: Scientific Development
  2. The Main Line: “China must rapidly engage in a complete transformation of its form of economic development.”
III. Ten Point Outline of the 12th Five Year Plan
  1. Expand domestic consumption while maintaining stable economic development.
  2. Modernize agriculture to create the new socialist rural village
  3. Develop a modern, balanced industrial and trade structure
  4. Advance the integration between regions and encourage stable urbanization
  5. Promote energy saving and environmental protection
  6. Create an innovation driven society by encouraging education and training of the workforce
  7. Establish a comprehensive public social welfare system
  8. Encourage cultural production in order to increase China’s “soft power”
  9. Increase the pace of reform of the economy
  10. Continue with liberalization and “opening-up” to the outside, but on a new track

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Comparative Neo-Feudalism

Awhile back, an op-ed piece I pointed to compared neo-liberal regimes. This one, by Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, a professor at the Moscow School of Economics, compares "neo-Feudalistic" regimes. Are they different from the neo-liberal ones? How? How are they similar? What does it predict about Russia's future?

Neo-Feudalism Explained
Many Western experts today portray Russia as a country spiraling down into totalitarianism… following the path of the Soviet Union, whose authoritarian regime crumbled under growing pressure from an emerging civil society. Prevailing opinion attributes this authoritarian U-turn to the nature of the contemporary Russian political elite. Members of this elite… are recruited disproportionately from the so-called siloviye structury, that is, the law-enforcement bodies and security services, which trace their roots to the Soviet-era military and secret services…

Unfortunately, all of these assumptions are wrong. Contemporary Russia is not a candidate to become a Soviet Union 2.0. It is a country in which citizens have unrestricted access to information, own property, leave and return to the country freely, and develop private businesses of all kinds. Of course, severe restrictions in the political sphere remain in place, and the country, as President Dmitry Medvedev himself recently said, “only to a certain extent, not fully”, meets the standards of democracy.

Clearly, this arrangement—economic freedom coupled with political constraint—does not please everyone. To the standard American mind it suggests that something has got to give. This, too, is wrong. Some Russians do give voice to dissatisfaction with the current regime and the widespread abuse of power by police authorities, local officials and oligarchs closely connected with the ruling bureaucracy. Yet the system seems fundamentally solid and durable. Its strength emanates from a basic principle: It is much easier for subjects to solve their problems individually than to challenge national institutions collectively. This is because what Westerners would call corruption is not a scourge of the system but the basic principle of its normal functioning. Corruption in Russia is a form of transactional grease in the absence of any generally accepted and legally codified alternative. Taken together, these transactions well describe a form of neo-feudalism…

The system works, too, in its own way. Built under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s “power vertical” provides a mechanism for the relatively simple conversion of power into money, and vice versa. At every level of the hierarchy a certain degree of bribery and clientalist parochialism is not only tolerated but presupposed in exchange for unconditional loyalty and a part of the take for one’s superiors…

All of this leads to two related conclusions. On the one hand, Russia has built a system in which the execution of state powers has become a monopolistic business. It is controlled mainly by friends and colleagues of the system’s creator, Vladimir Putin, and faithfully operated by the most dutiful and least talented newcomers…

At the same time, a huge social group wants to join this system, not oppose it (in contrast to the final years of the Soviet Union)…

The Russian elite has essentially “piratized” and privatized one of the world’s richest countries. It is so grateful for this privilege that it may insist on Mr. Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012 for 12 more dismal years. By then the young liberal cohorts on whom so many Western analysts pinned their hopes for change will have grown up. The mediocre among them will be part of the system. Most of the best of them, no doubt, will no longer reside in Russia.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Monarchy or republic?

The question of the role of a monarch in a democratic regime shows up in textbooks and classrooms more often than it does in UK politics. A couple dozen republicans did show up in front of Windsor Palace in London recently. Why?

Royal wedding: diehard republicans battle on despite Britain's love affair with the monarchy
Hugh Ashton's face was a portrait of thwarted ambition as he watched from a discreet distance the anti-monarchist protest in front of Buckingham Palace… "It's a bit disappointing. I was expecting more people than this. It's made me wonder, if this is the strongest number they can get out…"

Graham Smith… campaign manager of the organisation Republic believes… "The monarchy is not a luxury; it's an imposition and an obstacle to serious political reform."…

Whether or not you agree, it is a good illustration of why Smith describes the status quo as "the politicians' monarchy – it serves their interests and not ours. The monarchy corrupts the culture of politics because the politicians end up seeing themselves as part of a state apparatus rather than the people's servants."…

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Study on Facebook


There's a Facebook page for Comparative Government and Politics where anyone can ask a question or for an explanation.

It's at "AP Comparative Government and Politics: What You Need to Know"

There's a page-long list of discussion topics (countries and basic theory and methodology) as well. It's at Discussions. Last year's discussions are still posted and you might find what you're looking for there.

Jeff Silva-Brown has an AP Comparative Government hashtag on Twitter: #apcompgov You're welcome to follow those discussions, too.

Check all of them out.
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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Revolution without Chinese characteristics

The populist revolutions in the Middle East are prompting reactions in China. The reactions illustrate the fears of the authoritarians in China.

Well-Oiled Security Apparatus in China Stifles Calls for Change
Two months of upheaval in the Mideast have cast doubt on the staying power of all authoritarian governments. But in China calls for change are so far being met with political controls wielded by authorities who, even during a period of rising prosperity and national pride, have not taken their staying power for granted.

The nearly instantaneous deployment of the police to prevent even notional gatherings in big cities the past two weeks is just one example of what Chinese officials call “stability maintenance.” This refers to a raft of policies and practices refined after “color revolutions” abroad and, at home, tens of thousands of demonstrations by workers and peasants, ethnic unrest, and the spread of mobile communications and broadband networking.

Chinese officials charged with ensuring security, lavishly financed and permitted to operate above the law, have remained perpetually on edge, employing state-of-the-art surveillance, technologically sophisticated censorship, new crime-fighting tools, as well as proactive efforts to resolve labor and land disputes, all to prevent any organized or sustained resistance to single-party rule...

Chinese Move to Stop Reporting on Protests
Chinese police, citing newly enacted restrictions on journalists, have moved to forcefully prevent foreign reporters from covering public protests that have been largely nonexistent, establishing “no reporting” zones in Shanghai and Beijing and, in one case, beating a videographer and injuring two other reporters…

Why China Is Nervous About the Arab Uprisings
As protests swept the Arab world, toppling two regimes, the Chinese government has strengthened its elaborate security apparatus with crackdowns on human rights lawyers and activists.

On the Chinese Internet, anonymous calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" -- modeled after the pro-democracy demonstrations in the Middle East -- have been squelched by authorities. Words like "Egypt" and "Tunisia" have been blocked on some Web searches and social networking sites have been made inaccessible.

Unlike Arab countries with deteriorating economies, China has experienced rapid economic growth in the past decade. Is that keeping a lid on broad discontent in China? If that is the case, why is the Chinese government so nervous? Could popular protests of a similar scale sweep China in the near future?…

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