Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, March 29, 2013

Change in China

Zhang Jun is a professor of economics at Fudan University in Shanghai and Gary H. Jefferson is a professor of economics at Brandeis University in Boston. They seem to be optimistic about democratization in China. This is an explication of how economic change and prosperity will promote democratization.

How do these changes compare with changes in Mexico and Russia? Are the arguments sound?

China’s Hidden Democratization
Since Xi Jinping was anointed as China’s new president, reports of official repression of dissent have hardly abated. But, while criticism of China’s human rights record clearly has merit, it is important not to lose sight of the extent of genuine political change in China.

Since 1978, China’s political system has overseen the transfer of a wide swath of economic power from the state to its people. As a result, Chinese may operate family farms, own homes and businesses, control their educational choices, patent inventions, and amass fortunes. It is precisely the exercise of these individual rights that has created the foundation for China’s ongoing economic transformation.

By creating the diverse and conflicting private economic interests that are typical of a capitalist society, China has had to create a set of institutions to clarify and mediate the exercise of these rights. These emerging institutional arrangements include contracts and commercial law, bankruptcy and labor codes, and courts to oversee their enforcement…

Another avenue through which Chinese residents advance their interests is public protest. Across the country, residents often protest wrongful eviction from their homes, frequently at the hands of corrupt local officials…

Such protests against public agencies, employers, and developers are now commonplace (though not always authorized)… Generally, provided that protesters seek mediation and redress for their economic rights and do not attempt to encroach on the CCP’s authority, Chinese residents can advocate for their interests.

Some observers see the outline of a democratic system emerging. China’s president and prime minister are both limited to two five-year terms. Legislative debates within the National People’s Congress, whose nearly 3,000 members are elected from a wide range of local and national organizations, can be quite spirited…

In short, though China’s political system functions in a manner that is far more centralized than outlined in the country’s constitution, it provides an increasingly meaningful set of avenues through which citizens can exercise influence over political life…

The Chinese leadership’s motivation in making such changes is not to embrace the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or to placate foreign demands. Bound by the goal of economic prosperity, China’s leaders let the genie of individual rights out of the bottle. These same leaders now must tolerate – even facilitate – the creation of institutions to mediate the conflicts over these rights that inevitably result.

So long as China continues to offer basic economic rights to its citizens, these incremental changes, though slow, will drive the country’s gradual democratization. Where rights are well established, progress in building a civil society will surely follow.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

More on change in Mexico

Nearly all of the things Shannon K. O'Neil mentions in her analysis have been mentioned in articles I've cited in this blog over the last year or so. But it's not just journalism this time.

O'Neil is is Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is adapted from her upcoming book, Road Ahead, which will be published by Oxford University Press.

Does this give the argument for successful change in Mexico more credibility? Does that help distinguish Mexico from other changing systems in Russia, China, and Nigeria?

Mexico Makes It: A Transformed Society, Economy, and Government
Hidden behind the troubling headlines, however, is another, more hopeful Mexico -- one undergoing rapid and widespread social, political, and economic transformation. Yes, Mexico continues to struggle with grave security threats, but it is also fostering a globally competitive marketplace, a growing middle class, and an increasingly influential pro-democracy voter base. In addition, Mexico's ties with the United States are changing. Common interests in energy, manufacturing, and security, as well as an overlapping community formed by millions of binational families, have made Mexico's path forward increasingly important to its northern neighbor…

Three decades ago, Mexico had an inward-looking, oil-dominated economy. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled the country for 71 years, maintained a stranglehold on the economy and the country as a whole… State-sponsored monopolies provided employment for almost one million Mexicans, as well as patronage to party officials and union leaders. But they also weighed down the economy with overpriced goods, inefficient policies, and corruption, triggering repeated booms and busts.

Today, Mexico has shaken off this volatile past to become one of the most open and globalized economies in the world…

from World Bank
Along with these economic reforms came significant social changes, especially the rise of Mexico's middle class. By the early 1980s, the country's middle class had grown to about a third of the population, thanks to the PRI's commitment to accessible education and the expansion of public-sector employment… Today's middle-class Mexicans are… much less dependent on the government than their parents were, as most work in the private sector.

As Mexico's economy and society have changed, so has its politics… Political change gained momentum after the 1994 economic crisis… The PRI's control suffered a further blow from a 1996 electoral reform that made voter fraud harder to commit. In the late 1990s, the growing middle class abandoned the PRI altogether…

In 2012, voters, concerned about waning economic growth and unrelenting drug violence, ushered the PRI back into the executive branch. Some worry that the party's return has sounded the death knell for Mexico's democracy… But Mexico's political system has changed since the PRI last held high office. Both the legislative and the judicial branches of government now provide checks and balances against presidential power. Congress was once filled with a permanent majority of PRI delegates who rarely questioned the edicts of their president. Today, the PRI holds a plurality, not a majority, in both houses, which means the party will have to negotiate with the opposition to pass legislation…

Since 2000, power has also become increasingly decentralized and regionalized…

Still, many problems hold Mexico back. In recent decades, Mexico City has done little to bust the monopolies and oligopolies that hobble the country's growth… Shoddy infrastructure further limits Mexico's progress… Mexico's educational system is also subpar. Children now stay in school longer, but they do not seem to be getting much for their time… Even more pressing, Mexico must deal with its crime problem…

If Mexico addresses these challenges, it will emerge as a powerful player on the international stage…

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another piece of the puzzle

Whether it's nationalistic bravado or self-defense, the attack on NGOs in Russia goes on. And it is another piece of the Putin politics puzzle.

Russian Authorities Raid Amnesty International Office
Russian authorities on Monday raided the local headquarters of the human rights group Amnesty International, the latest in a continuing series of office searches aimed at putting pressure on nongovernmental groups.

The head of Amnesty International, Sergei Nikitin, said in a telephone interview that officials from the general prosecutor’s offices and from the tax police arrived Monday morning unannounced to conduct what they described as an “audit” and demanded a list of documents, most of which Mr. Nikitin said were already on file with the government…

Last week, the authorities conducted a similar raid at the offices of Memorial, an international historical society and human rights group that has operated in Russia and other post-Soviet states for more than two decades.

Pavel Chikov, a member of Russia’s presidential human rights council, has said that dozens of groups had been subjected to searches in the past month.

The Kremlin has taken a series of steps in recent months aimed at clamping down on nonprofit organizations, particularly those that receive financing and other support from abroad…

Depending on how they are financed, certain groups, for instance, are now required to register as “foreign agents.” And certain types of nonprofit groups, working in the political realm are barred from employing foreigners in leadership positions…

But Mr. Nikitin said the government’s actions were far more concerning. “All of this is a form of scaring us, it’s a way for them to show that they aren’t taking their eyes off of us,” he said. “You can call it a toughening of the government’s relationship to rights organizations, because in the past we have never faced these smear campaigns.”

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Comparative exercise

Because GDP per capita and GDP growth numbers are so easily accessible (CIA World Factbook, for example), it's tempting to rely on them to make comparisons between countries.

According to The Economist, the United Nations Development Programme suggests we look at more than just economics.

UNDP offers a good argument that the Human Development Index (HDI) does a better job of evaluating and allowing for comparisons.

See if the results your students get when comparing the GDP figures with the HDI figures support the UNDP contentions.

“Rise of South” transforming global power balance, says 2013 Human Development Report
The rise of the South is radically reshaping the world of the 21st century, with developing nations driving economic growth, lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty, and propelling billions more into a new global middle class, says the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2013 Human Development Report…

This phenomenon goes well beyond the so-called BRICs, middle income countries often represented by Brazil, Russia, India and China, the 2013 Report stresses. The Report shows that more than 40 developing countries have made greater human development gains in recent decades than would have been predicted. These achievements, it says, are largely attributable to sustained investment in education, health care and social programmes, and open engagement with an increasingly interconnected world…

The 2013 Report first identifies more than 40 developing countries with human development gains that significantly outpaced global norms in recent decades. It then looks in greater detail at 18 of those countries, ranging from the biggest high-achievers—beginning with China—to many smaller successful countries in the South, such as Chile, Ghana and Thailand.

While these countries differed greatly in their histories, political systems, economic profiles and development priorities, they share some key characteristics. Most were proactive “developmental states” that sought to take strategic advantage of opportunities offered by world trade. They also invested heavily in human capital through health and education programs and other essential social services…

The forecast suggests that faster educational progress also substantially reduces child mortality, the direct result of improvements in girls’ opportunities for continued education and the well-documented benefits for children of having a well-educated mother…

Educating women through adulthood is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” formula for accelerating human development, the Report’s research shows.

Severe poverty remains a major problem throughout much of the developing world, the Report stresses. An estimated 1.57 billion people, or more than 30 percent of the population of the 104 countries studied for the Report, live in what it terms “multidimensional” poverty…

The Report warns that nonresponsive political structures can prompt civil unrest, especially if economic opportunity does not keep pace with educational advancement… These social tensions are also acutely felt currently in many developed countries, the report notes, where austerity policies and declining growth impose hardships on millions…

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Agreed: Mexico's president is new, maybe

Journalists seem to agree that President Peña Nieto is not acting like previous presidents. Oh, except that maybe he's acting like previous PRI presidents.

How do your students evaluate this analysis? How does the Mexican political system (regime and politics), as described here, differ from the systems in the other countries your students are studying?

New Leader Taps Mexican Discontent to Press Agenda of Change
It is [a] well of popular frustration… that President Enrique Peña Nieto has tapped in a series of attention-getting moves that he promises will “transform Mexico” and accelerate growth in an economy that has expanded too slowly to lift the country out of the developing world.

He has promised to bring competition and more government oversight to the telecommunications market… Also in the president’s sights is the giant media company Televisa, which dominates broadcasting through four networks… And his government has jailed the boss of the teachers’ union, the largest in Latin America…

It remains to be seen how any of the changes will turn out; Mexico has a long tradition of bold, finely shaped laws that are ultimately watered down or simply not enforced. The telecommunications proposal passed one chamber of Congress late Thursday and is now headed to the Senate.

But it seems clear that Mr. Peña Nieto has banked substantial political capital and bolstered his popularity, which may add momentum to thornier changes he plans, including opening up the state oil monopoly, long a source of national pride, to private investment…

Those who remember the autocratic ways of Mr. Peña Nieto’s party, which governed Mexico for more than 70 years but was then ousted from power for 12, see a presidential power play that may yet deliver results, but with less space for those who disagree.

“His goal is to reshape the power of the presidency,” said Sergio Aguayo, a political analyst at the Colegio de México. “Not to the level it used to be, because that is impossible. But he is a true believer that Mexico needs a ‘presidentialist’ system.”…

Mexico president: Judge my anti-violence strategy in a year
President Enrique Peña Nieto, faced with a gruesome one-day toll of 29 suspected organized crime-related deaths in his country, told reporters Wednesday that Mexicans should give his anti-crime strategy about a year before judging whether it is working.

“In a year, we will be able to take stock, to take measure ... and I think that we will be able to see favorable results, a noticeable reduction,” said Peña Nieto...

Peña Nieto... inherited a bloody war against Mexican drug cartels that claimed at least 70,000 lives in the previous six-year administration... The new president has adjusted the strategy of his predecessor, promising to focus more on the crimes that affect ordinary people. He also plans to create a new “gendarmerie,” or paramilitary police force, to patrol the most dangerous parts of the country.

But that new force will not be operational for a number of months, at least, and the Mexican military remains deployed within its own borders in an effort to keep the peace and help the country’s often-hapless police forces combat the cartels...

The death toll Tuesday showed, once again, that the criminals will not wait...

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Required reading

There are many things necessary for adequately preparing to teach about Nigerian government and politics: getting a handle on regime structure; understanding the demographics and economics of the divisive cleavages and appreciating the underlying nationalism in the country; recognizing the extent of corruption and its cultural context; admitting that Nigeria's colonial experience (and contemporary relations with the West) was (is) informative and devastating… There's not space here to complete the list.

In many ways, I don't think any of us can do justice to Nigerian government and politics without reading some of Chinua Achebe's work.

Everyone mentions Things Fall Apart, his incredible portrayal of Nigeria in colonial times, and a great novel. I'd argue that Man of the People is even more appropriate for students of comparative politics as an image of grassroots politics in Nigeria. Anthills of the Savannah is an insightful investigation of friendship and the politics of military dictatorship. My students were assigned the last two novels (and most of them enjoyed reading them).

The classic essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ ” offers Westerners valuable lessons in racism and ethnocentrism. The essays in Home and Exile add to that African perspective.

If you don't have time for reading Achebe now, put his name on your summer reading list.

Bearing Witness, With Words
“If you don’t like someone’s story,” Chinua Achebe told The Paris Review in 1994, “write your own.”

In his first novel and masterpiece, “Things Fall Apart” (1958), Mr. Achebe, who died on Thursday at 82, did exactly that. In calm and exacting prose, he examined a tribal society fracturing under the abuses of colonialism…

What sticks with you about the novel is its sensitive investigation, often through folk tales, of how culture functions and what it means. Mr. Achebe… had plenty to say about notions of traditional masculinity, as well, not to mention his braided observations about nature, religion, myth, gender and history.

The novelist grabbed the subject of colonialism “so firmly and fairly,” John Updike wrote in The New Yorker in the 1970s, “that the book’s tragedy, like Greek tragedy, felt tonic; a space had been cleared, an understanding had been achieved, a new beginning was implied.”…
See also Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82

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Friday, March 22, 2013

To whom do you complain?

When you think reporters get it wrong, to whom do you complain? A letter to the editor? Is there such a thing for broadcast media?

It's in some people's interest to describe the plan in the UK as "regulation" of journalism. It seems to me to be a government-run system to deal with complaints about journalism. I'm reminded of the debates about civilian review of police activity. Those almost always result in vociferous complaints from all sides.

And, for those of us in the home of the First Amendment and less-than-sensational journalism, we must remember that most of print journalism in the UK resembles tabloid journalism and TMZ broadcasting. Most British newspapers do not resemble The New York Times, the Washington Post, or the majority of other big city newspapers in the USA.

Newspapers worried about new UK media regulation
Britain’s politicians have finally struck a deal to regulate their country’s press. Whether the press will allow itself to be regulated is another question.

Across Britain, newspaper front pages voiced disquiet at the establishment of an independent watchdog that would have the power to order prominent apologies and take complaints into arbitration — a move one newspaper described as overturning centuries of press freedom…

Although many in Britain acknowledge the need for reform of the country’s press following a damaging scandal over phone hacking, bribery, and other media misdeeds, newspaper groups are concerned that the new body agreed to by politicians will become a burdensome regulator, bogging down newspaper groups with endless and expensive complaints about coverage…

The watchdog being set up would replace the widely discredited Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body run by newspaper editors. Jean Seaton, who teaches media history at London’s University of Westminster, said the main difference was that the new body would have official recognition and be subject to periodic audits to make sure it was doing its job — and that it hadn’t been ‘‘captured’’ by the very editors it was meant to police…

Some British newspapers — the left-leaning Guardian and The Independent among them — have expressed guarded support for the watchdog. Others — including the Times and the Mail — have hinted at legal challenges. Britain’s Spectator Magazine has already announced plans to boycott the new regulator. If others could follow suit, the system could fall apart before it even begins…

Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday that he was convinced of the new watchdog’s merits.

‘‘I'm confident that we've set up a system that is practical, that is workable,’’ he said. ‘‘It protects the freedom of the press, but it’s a good, strong self-regulatory system for victims, and I'm convinced it will work and it will endure.’’
British Newspapers Challenge New Press Rules
A day after British lawmakers agreed to ground rules for a new press code, an array of newspapers protested on Tuesday against the attempt to impose stricter curbs on this country’s scoop-driven dailies following the phone hacking scandal that convulsed Rupert Murdoch’s media empire and much of British public life.
In a statement, the newspaper society representing 1,100 newspapers said provisions for fines of up to $1.5 million on errant newspapers would impose a “crippling burden” on cash-strapped publications...
Newspaper proprietors and editors have not so far signed on to the agreement announced on Monday and say they were excluded from late-night cross-party talks on the new code...

The agreement announced Monday creates a system under which erring newspapers will face big fines and come up against a tougher press regulator with new powers to investigate abuses and order prominent corrections in publications that breach standards...
[V]ictims of hacking, the Labour opposition and the Liberal Democrats — the junior partners in the coalition — pointed to the failures of existing self-regulation and pressed for a “statutory underpinning” to enshrine the changes in law. That was in line with a central recommendation of a voluminous report published last November after months of exhaustive testimony into the behavior and culture of the British press at an inquiry by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson...
[N]ews groups that opt out of the new regulatory system [will be] subject to higher fines for defamation. Britain’s existing legislation already includes some of the world’s most stringent defamation laws, along with rules governing what may be published on matters relating to national security and judicial procedures...

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Pragmatic reform in an ideological state?

The Chinese do make pragmatic changes in the name of giving "Chinese characteristics" to things like socialism. Can the powers that be do something similar with the one child policy?

Thanks to Beverley Clinch, who teaches in Managua, Nicaragua, for directing me to this article.

Reforming the one-child policy
FOR more than three decades the bureaucrats who enforce China’s one-child policy have been among the most ubiquitous, and the most despised, in the country. They are now to lose much of their power, after a government reshuffle…

[T]he reorganisation… will merge the family-planning bureaucracy, created purely to control population growth, with the health ministry to form a new Health and Family Planning Commission. Officials have vowed that this does not mean the one-child policy is about to come to an end. But public scrutiny of the policy is growing, along with pressure to loosen or scrap it altogether.

A little prince
Chinese demographers say the… labour pool is shrinking (by 3.45m in 2012… the ratio of taxpayers to pensioners will decline from almost five to one to just over two to one by 2030… and there are fewer children to support their parents…

Some experts say that scrapping it would make little difference in practice… But political leaders still fear that such a reform would result in a sudden burst of population growth, and so far they have held fast, despite the pleas of demographers…

Meanwhile the emerging consequences of the one-child policy are openly discussed in state media. Reports about one social problem—elderly parents whose only child has died—recently featured on national television…

A once unassailable pillar of government control is suddenly looking fragile.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Successful simulation on Nigerian politics

Juliette Zener, who teaches in Massachusetts, posted this on the AP Comparative Facebook page. If you missed it, here is her message and recommendation.

Globalization and Nigerian Oil Simulation
I just ran this online simulated negotiation (Globalization and Nigerian Oil) from the University of Maryland's ICONS project with my students to close out our Nigeria unit… It is an 8-part negotiation that is run via the ICONS website. It was a real success.

We received a discount so, for my 8 students it cost $120 to run. I believe the folks at ICONS are really interested in getting Comp Gov't classes to participate so they are willing to come down on their standard pricing. The 8 roles are: Nigerian gov't; Nigerian military; Ogoni; coalition of women's groups; IMF; Greenpeace; Human Rights Watch. Participants receive general as well as confidential instructions. Truly a great resource!

From the ICONS Project description: "Students will take on the roles of eight parties involved in the political economy of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria -- ranging from the Nigerian military, to Shell Oil, to the IMF. A scenario is provided along with a private role sheet to give students additional information about their assigned role's positions and interests. This simulation includes an opportunity for students to develop, debate, and vote on specific proposal plans to address the issues in the scenario. Students build proposal plans using a series of pre-loaded options."

Other simulations, that might be wonderful for post-exam times include
  • Borders, Environment, and Trade in the Americas: Representing the national governments of countries in North America, South America, and the Caribbean, students in this simulation will debate strategies for addressing the region's security, economic, and environmental problems.
  • Confronting Globalization: Challenge students to examine the effects of globalization from a variety of perspectives as they portray six countries tasked with identifying a shared response to globalization among developed and developing nations. Students represent China, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and the UK
  • European Union: Cast as officials from EU member states, students in this simulation examine the overlapping issues of the economy, security and human rights in the European Union and work to develop shared solutions to some of the region's most pressing issues.
  • International System: This simulation focuses on military security, human security, and economic issues affecting the international community. Student teams portray various nations and negotiate online to develop solutions to important global problems.
  • Northern Ireland: Contested Ground: Set in a small town in Northern Ireland, students portray local residents on a committee tasked with determining the location for a new technology training center in town. This simulation challenges students to negotiate in a contentious environment and build community in a region with a long history of religious and political tension.

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Is this leadership new?

Richard Fausset, writing the Los Angeles Times, offers another analysis of President Peña Nieto and the new PRI. How does this compare to other assessments?

A traditionalist shines through Mexico's fresh new face
They elected a youthful president, a self-styled defender of democratic principles who promised to bring the country up to 21st century standards.

Peña Nieto
But many Mexicans suspected that an old-fashioned dinosaur heart was beating beneath Enrique Peña Nieto's smartly tailored suits, an inheritance from his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose top-down, quasi-authoritarian rule defined much of Mexico's 20th century history.

[A]fter 100 days of living under Peña Nieto's rule, the Mexican people… [are] discovering that Peña Nieto may be a kind of hybrid political creature, intent on effecting change while hewing to some of his party's older ways…

[A]s he promises to modernize, Peña Nieto's moves to centralize power and co-opt opposition forces are causing jitters among those who remember when the PRI ran Mexico as an essentially one-party system…

Those plans are ambitious: Peña Nieto's team has already orchestrated passage of a nationwide education reform law, which required a change in the federal constitution. When the powerful leader of the national teacher's union, Elba Esther Gordillo, opposed the reform, she was arrested on suspicion of embezzling tens of millions of dollars from union coffers.

The day after the arrest, Peña Nieto went on television and spoke as if heralding a new day for his notoriously corrupt country, announcing that "no one is above the law." But the arrest was widely interpreted here as a classic PRI power play, one that removed a rival who was an impediment to the party's broader goals.

The education reform and the general outlines of the other key changes were contained in a blueprint for the country's immediate political future called the "Pact for Mexico." It was signed by the leaders of the PRI and the two major opposition parties — both of which had emerged from the presidential campaign weakened and in disarray — in a declaration of unity unprecedented in recent Mexican politics…

It remains to be seen whether Peña Nieto can pass the remaining major reforms. Changes to the tax code and the oil industry, in particular, could still face major hurdles from populists, nationalists, leftists and special interest groups.

If he succeeds, and the economy roars, the new jobs and boosted incomes may help solve the long-term security problem…

Sacred cows no more

DURING Enrique Peña Nieto’s successful run for Mexico’s presidency last year, political observers took his promises of structural reform with a large pinch of salt... he owed much of his rise to prominence to Televisa, a television network that has 70% of Mexico’s national free-to-air market. The company broadcast soap operas starring his future wife and gave him fawning coverage in the campaign. The common view held that Mr Peña would impose no more than cosmetic reforms on Televisa—or on any of the other interest groups that have hamstrung Mexico’s economy.

In the space of just two weeks, however, Mr Peña has revealed the extent of his ambition. Now that the PRI has retaken the presidency, he seems intent on clearing out the monopolistic blockages to Mexico’s growth...

[O]n March 11th Mr Peña turned on Televisa itself... by announcing a reform that could at last open up some of Mexico’s least competitive industries.

Mr Peña’s proposal, which his finance minister says would increase Mexico’s annual economic growth rate by one percentage point, would... set up a new, autonomous telecoms institute with the power to impose stiff penalties on firms that control over half their markets, or even break them up...

Mr Peña’s proposal is good news in economic terms. For the opposition, however, it is potentially double-edged. After generations of hegemonic rule, the centrist PRI is still the country’s strongest party. If Mr Peña succeeds, it will be able to argue that it is the only lot that can get anything done. Mexican consumers may see more competition under Mr Peña. The opposition will have to work hard to ensure that Mexican voters do not see less.

See also:

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A little late for international women's day

Guy Kawasaki, entrepreneur and publicist, posted this link on his Google+ account.

It has great potential for teaching about political roles of women around the world. It's a Gapminder-like interactive graphic with a 20th century timeline and a world map displaying data for women's suffrage, the right of women to run for public office, and the election of women.

Political rights around the world mapped

The graphic was created by Lizzie Malcolm for LUSTlab.

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Another woman like Thatcher in the UK?

According to a Wikipedia article, about a quarter of the world's countries have had female heads of government. Amelia Gentleman, writing in The New York Times, doesn't think it's likely that another woman will lead Britain any time soon. Do your students agree with her assessment? What about the other countries they are studying?

Weak Odds for Women in Britain
Theresa May
Could the next British prime minister be a woman? A surge of rumors in Parliament means it looks marginally more plausible this week than it did last week. Theresa May, the home secretary, has come under the spotlight for apparently harboring leadership ambitions, and supporters have described her as “Britain’s answer to Angela Merkel,” the German chancellor…

[A]s the attention of political correspondents drifts to different intrigues, the broader backdrop of British politics suggests the likelihood of having a woman lead Britain again anytime soon is remarkably slim.

Lady Thatcher
“Britain is a country ruled largely by men,” the Center for Women and Democracy, a nonprofit group based in Leeds, England, said in a new report on the representation of women in politics and public decision-making in Britain. The conclusion is no great surprise.

The detailed breakdown of the gender divide in positions of power set out in the report, called “Sex and Power 2013,” makes sobering reading for anyone hopeful that some kind of parity might soon be within reach. Each statistic points to a new area where extensive work is required: About 14 percent of university vice chancellors are women, as are less than 16 percent of high court judges.

These figures reflect what many Britons broadly know about the predominance of men in high-powered positions, but they still have the capacity to startle when set down so baldly.

Less than 23 percent of all members of Parliament and 17.4 percent of the cabinet are women. The proportion of female members of Parliament has increased 3.9 percent since 2000, while the percentage of women in the cabinet has decreased 4.3 percent.

In Parliament, 32 percent of the Labour members are women, as are 16 percent of Conservatives and 12 percent of Liberal Democrats. Britain is lagging behind most of the rest of Europe and is dropping down the global league table in terms of the proportion of female legislators, currently 60th of 190 countries, falling from 33rd in May 2001…

The full-time and part-time gender pay gap stands around 20 percent, and a National Management Salary Survey, conducted by the Chartered Management Institute, revealed a lifetime pay gap of more than £420,000, or $625,000, between female and male executives.

Even recent attempts to celebrate the achievements of British women have caused profound feminist gloom in some quarters. The BBC Radio 4’s daily Woman’s Hour broadcast — a long-running national institution — last month compiled a list of the 100 most powerful women in Britain, and caused dismay by listing the Queen in first place, and two other women who have broadly inherited power from their fathers — Ana Botín, chief executive of Santander, the Spanish bank, at No. 3 and the media mogul Elisabeth Murdoch at No. 5 — in the top five…

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

China's military budget

Beverley Clinch has uncovered another gem of a teaching tool.

China's military budget

It comes from the Chinese government news agency, so we have to assume it presents things as the government wishes them presented.

Here is the CNN report on the military budget in China.

 The Defense Industry Daily is a bit more skeptical about the reports on military spending.

 And just for comparison, here is the PBS report on how US military spending compares to other countries' spending.

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Iran's Internet censorship system

Thanks to John Unruh-Friesen, who teaches at Hopkins HS in Minnesota, for pointing this out. I had to go to the source and choose to enlarge the chart in order to read it, but it offers a good way to understand the regime organization. It also illustrates the complexity of the process of censoring the Internet.

Iran’s Web censors vs. Google Reader
Google’s much-dreaded announcement on the coming demise of Google Reader has alarmed users in Iran — and drawn attention to the scale and complexity of online censorship there. As Quartz’s Zach Seward explained in a great post yesterday, Google Reader is one of the few ways Iranians can access Web sites blocked in Iran.

"Many RSS readers, including Google’s, serve as anti-censorship tools for people living under oppressive regimes. That’s because it’s actually Google’s servers, located in the U.S. or another country with uncensored internet, that accesses each feed. So a web user in Iran just needs access to google.com/reader in order to read websites that would otherwise be blocked."…

How Iran censors so much of the Web, and who actually does the dirty work, is not entirely clear. According to Reporters Without Borders and the University of Pennsylvania’s Iran Media Program, the Iranian Internet is watched by a number of overlapping regulatory bodies, some of which ultimately report to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The state’s largest Internet service provider, Data Communication Company of Iran, is directly overseen by the Revolutionary Guard, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). All Internet Service Providers (ISPs), whether they’re publicly or privately owned, must buy bandwidth from the Data Communications Company of Iran — which requires that the ISPs filter for blacklists, keywords, URLs and IP addresses, as well as any content that “disrupts national unity,” “stirs pessimism” or undermines religious leaders.

Both the Iranian police and the Revolutionary Guard monitor the Internet for dissent, as well. RSF reports that 46 journalists and “netizens” are currently in jail.

At the very top of the food chain, the Supreme Council on Cyberspace sets the country’s cyber policies, while the Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content sets the list of sites to block…

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China's multi-party system

Many textbooks don't even bother to mention the parties that aren't The Communist Party in China. Can your students figure out why?

Non-Communist Parties Lend China an Air of Pluralism, Without the Mess
Largely invisible much of the year, China’s non-Communist parties are thrust to the fore each March for a display of what the official news media calls China’s system of “multiparty cooperation and political consultation.”

Delegates leaving the Great Hall of the People
[A] news conference, held in a gilded meeting room in the Great Hall of the People, is an Orwellian affair, with party leaders referring to the wonders of “democratic centralization,” heaping praise on the Communist Party and then answering fawning questions from the state media.

The parties, some created by Communist strategists during the civil war of the 1940s, bear little resemblance to political organizations elsewhere. For example, they cannot field candidates for public office. Their activities, which include banquets, conventions and the occasional overseas state visit, are wholly financed by the Communist Party.

“They are fake parties, just a mirage created for the benefit of ordinary people, although most people are not fooled,” said Jin Zhong, editor in chief of Open Magazine, a Hong Kong political journal. “People who join them have a fantasy that they can influence the Communist Party.”…

The parties are not entirely empty shells. They raise money for college scholarships, study social problems and issue detailed reports that are submitted to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the advisory body that meets alongside the National People’s Congress…

Managed and financed by the Communist Party, the alternative parties are in some ways an ingenious attempt to neutralize would-be opponents among the educated urban elite while parrying critics who describe China as a single-party dictatorship. Like China’s state-run trade unions and officially sanctioned religious organizations, the parties are the handiwork of the United Front Work Department, the party apparatus that seeks to co-opt segments of society that could one day congeal into an organized opposition. Just to be safe, the Communist Party “lends” some of its members to the eight democratic parties. In recent years, those daring to try to establish truly independent political parties were promptly jailed on charges of subversion…

Joining one of the democratic parties is not easy. Prospective members must be recommended by at least two current party members, but more important they must hail from the so-called intelligentsia — academics, scientists and artists — or China’s growing entrepreneurial class.
In addition to providing the Communist Party with a vehicle for assimilating would-be adversaries, the parties give their members an ego boost, opportunities for career advancement and perhaps a chance to hobnob at the annual consultative congress in Beijing, said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong. “For a segment of the political elite that does not want to join the Communist Party, it can be an attractive way to get ahead,” he said…

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Monday, March 18, 2013

China's political future

One of The Economist's editors explains why he (she?) thinks political change is coming to China. How do your students evaluate the arguments?

Thank you, Beverley Clinch (who teaches at the American Nicaraguan School in Managua), for suggesting this article. It should be good for some free response questions.

The old regime and the revolution
FOR some of China’s more than 500m internet users the big news story of the week has not been the long-scheduled one that their country has a new president… Rather it was the unscheduled, unwelcome and unexplained arrival down a river into Shanghai of the putrescent carcasses of thousands of dead pigs, apparently dumped there by farmers upstream. The latest in an endless series of public-health, pollution and corruption scandals, it is hard to think of a more potent (and disgusting) symbol of the view, common among internet users, that, for all its astonishing economic advance, there is something rotten in the state of China, and that change will have to come.

Many think it will. According to Andrew Nathan, an American scholar, “the consensus is stronger than at any time since the 1989 Tiananmen crisis that the resilience of the authoritarian regime in…China is approaching its limits.”…

Ever since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, foreigners have been predicting the demise of one-party rule. Surely a political system designed for a centrally planned economy with virtually no private sector cannot indefinitely survive more or less intact in the vibrant, open new China. In 1989 China went to the brink of revolution… But the party proved far more durable—and popular—than seemed possible in 1989. And as China’s economy soared and the Western democracies floundered, authoritarianism proved more resilient than ever…

But the evolution of Chinese society is eroding some of the bases of party rule. Fear may be diminishing…

“Mass incidents”—protests and demonstrations—proliferate…. The second generation of workers staffing the world’s workshop in eastern China are more ambitious and less docile than their parents. And the urban middle class is growing fast… And much of China’s middle-class seems discontented, furious at the corruption and inequality the party has allowed to flourish, and fed up with poison in their food, asphyxiating filth in their air and dead pigs in their water-supply.

The internet and mobile telephony provide tools for spreading news and anger nationally. The party has to work hard to make sure that they do not also help unite all these atomised grievances into a concerted movement…

Reform, however, does not mean tampering with one-party rule. Rather, as Fu Ying, spokeswoman for the NPC, put it: political reform is “the self-improvement and development of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics”. Put another way, it is about strengthening party rule, not diluting it…

There is a vogue in Chinese intellectual circles for reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1856 book on the French Revolution, “The Old Regime and the Revolution”. The argument that most resonates in China is that old regimes fall to revolutions not when they resist change, but when they attempt reform yet dash the raised expectations they have evoked. If de Tocqueville was right, Mr Xi faces an impossible dilemma: to survive, the party needs to reform; but reform itself may be the biggest danger. Perhaps he will see more fundamental political change as the solution. But then pigs will no longer rot in rivers. They will fly.

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Putin's in trouble

According to Will Englund, writing in the Washington Post and republished in The Guardian, Putin's troubles extend beyond some street demonstrations and a punk band in a cathedral. His responses seem to indicate that he really doesn't know what to do next.

Nervous Russian elite wary as Putin transforms his political edifice
President Vladimir Putin's steady and seemingly solid political structure, under pressure from within and without, is undergoing a renovation that could remake the whole edifice, if it doesn't crack open first. Few seem to understand how this will turn out, or what their places will be in it when it's done.

Ever since street protests broke out in December 2011, rattling the ruling United Russia party just as Putin was preparing to retake the presidency, there have been widespread expectations that the system here would have to change. Now it's happening, most obviously with almost daily public exposures of corruption, which for years was ignored…

The highly publicised investigations may be mostly for show, but they have left the political top rung nervously trying to discern the message. Coupled with this is a sharp turn inward, away from the west… [that] suggests risks for Putin, as well – depending on how the people around him eventually make those choices.

Broadly speaking, the Kremlin appears to be dropping the most egregious offenders over the side, like so much excess ballast. An Olympic official whose own construction company was over budget by 900% on building a ski jump, and way behind schedule, was exposed by Putin himself on national television. A member of the state Duma, Vladimir Pekhtin, was let go when he couldn't come up with a satisfactory explanation for the undeclared Miami properties in his name…

In November, a criminal investigation that involved the defence minister – unpopular with the generals but a longtime close associate of Putin's – suddenly burst into the open. Putin let the probe evolve – and the minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, lost his job – and then it bogged down. Serdyukov had powerful opponents inside the Kremlin, among the siloviki, or those with a background in the security services. Putin may be keeping Serdyukov free from indictment, Pavlovsky said, so as to be sure that the siloviki don't entirely surround him.

Serdyukov, implicated along with his mistress, has been called in for repeated questioning, but dangles without charges. This doesn't entirely reassure those at a similar level…

This sums up one of the main challenges facing Putin. His grip is not absolute. Factions within the Kremlin vie for supremacy, while Russia's vast bureaucracy looks out, primarily, for itself. He has his own minefields to deal with…

Plenty of people who prospered under the previous set-up won't be eager to follow Putin into new territory, with its fundamentalism and xenophobia...

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Friday, March 15, 2013

With power and with limitations

China's new leaders offer examples of the power of the office and the limits of situations.

China’s New Prime Minister Faces Test in Bolstering Economy
China’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang, entered the job on Friday inheriting a wobbling economy that could distract his government from its bold vows to clean up pollution and harness expanding towns and cities as an engine for growth…

Mr. Li, 57, has already laid out a vision of economic uplift driven by urbanization. He gained a doctorate in economics from the Peking University, where he wrote about narrowing the urban-rural gulf…

Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping
Yet Mr. Li inherits economic hazards that could preoccupy his government and deter bold policy gambits. The hazards include an overheated property market that has defied government measures intended to tame price increases and make housing more affordable, worries about debts run up by local governments, and cautious lower-income consumers who remain reluctant to spend at the level many economists say is needed for healthy growth over the long term…

China’s New President Nods to Public Concerns, but Defends Power at Top
Xi Jinping, the new leader of the Communist Party, assumed the presidency of China on Thursday…

The new president faces conflicting expectations of how he will apply the power in his hands — expectations that he kindled himself. Since he succeeded Hu Jintao as party leader in November, he has used meetings, speeches and visits to a frenetic coastal city and a dirt-poor village to signal that he wants some economic liberalization, more room for citizens to criticize the government, and a crackdown on the official corruption that has infuriated Chinese citizens.

Yet Mr. Xi has also rejected any turn to Western-inspired political liberalization, and has demanded utter loyalty from officials and the military…

[A]nalysts and former officials say Mr. Xi and his comrades face other, no less forbidding, obstacles to their vows of change: the array of powerful political families, state-owned conglomerates and ordinary urban residents who fear that change could threaten their interests…

Parliament offered signs of the obstacles that any ambitious change will face. A reorganization of government ministries and agencies approved by delegates turned out to be much less thorough than what political insiders and analysts said was proposed several months ago. The powers of the National Development and Reform Commission, which many pro-market economists see as a hurdle to real reform, remained untouched…

In comments to officials that have not been openly published, Mr. Xi has warned against confusing his idea of reform with Western-inspired democratization.

“Some people define reform as reforming in the direction of Western universal values and a Western political system, otherwise it’s not reform,” Mr. Xi said in a copy of his comments that has circulated among officials. “This is stealthily switching one idea for another, and it distorts what reform is for us.”

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Trying to keep the barn door open

I keep thinking there are appropriate clichés for introducing this topic, but I can't put my finger on any of them. This story sounds like a case of struggling to keep the barn door open when the horse is back in the stall and fast asleep.

You probably have to be a really old guy like me and those in charge of The Communist Party's propaganda section to remember Lei Feng. Even though Chairman Mao urged everyone to "learn from Lei Feng."

Lei Feng was a mythical character who became a hero during the Cultural Revolution years after he'd died. Well, years after he was said to have died. It's hard to believe he ever really lived.

Lei Feng was said to have been a PLA private who never did anything spectacular. But when Mao told people to learn from him, hundreds of photographs of him showed up in the Chinese media.

Fifty years down the road, China's changed. Anyone who acted like Lei Feng today would be even more ridiculed than Lei Feng was in the 1960s.

Lei Feng teaches reading
This was the guy who helped old ladies across the street, who gave his savings to the Party, who volunteered on his day off to work on a construction project that was behind schedule, who rebuilt truck parts rather than requisition new ones, and who volunteered to teach grade schoolers patriotic behavior.

What's the purpose of role models like this? (Like George Washington in the mythical cherry tree episode? Like Abe Lincoln in the mythical rail spiltting?) Why would anyone want to keep promoting a role model that is so out of character with "socialism with Chinese characteristics?" Is this a sign of the rulers' inertia as opposed to the cultural change in China?

In China, Cinematic Flops Suggest Fading of an Icon
It has been five decades since Mao Zedong decreed that the altruistic, loyal soldier Lei Feng should be a shining star in the Communist Party’s constellation of propaganda heroes. But last week, on the 50th anniversary of that proclamation, came unmistakable signs that despite the Chinese government’s best efforts, Lei Feng’s glow is fading.

National celebrations of “Learn From Lei Feng Day,” which was observed last Tuesday, turned into something of a public relations debacle after the party icon’s celluloid resurrection in not one but three films about his life was thwarted by a distinctly capitalist weapon: the box office bomb…

As the Communist Party formally orchestrates a transfer of power to a new generation of leaders, the nation has been fixated on what many say is society’s declining morality, highlighted by a seemingly incessant flood of government corruption scandals replete with bribes and mistresses…

The evolving cult of Lei Feng — from the man to the myth — opens a window into how the Communist Party has sought to adapt ideologically while remaining firmly in control of a rapidly changing society. While Mao used him as a tool for inspiring absolute political obedience, propaganda officials have been struggling to rebrand Lei Feng and make him relevant…

At a time when China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, has begun a highly publicized campaign against corruption that cynics say is largely cosmetic, many wonder whether Lei Feng the saint should be buried once and for all. For them, the box office disaster of the Lei Feng-themed films is the nail in the coffin…

The government is instead resorting to old-school tactics to fill theaters. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has ordered film studios and cinemas to better promote the films and has exhorted party cadres to organize group viewings, particularly by rural audiences.

But the tattered hagiography has lost more than just its cinematic appeal. At the “Forever Lei Feng” exhibition in Beijing on Friday, almost all visitors were government workers or schoolchildren…
See also:

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