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New Pi Sigma Alpha Inductees

April 19, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the highlights of the academic year is welcoming new students to University of the Pacific‘s chapter (Alpha Delta Zeta) of Pi Sigma Alpha. the national political science academic honorary society. To be eligible for membership in Pi Sigma Alpha, a student must have excelled in their work in a number of challenging political science courses. Recently Faith James (International Relations, 2014) and Yeni Gutierrez (Political Science, 2015) became members of Pi Sigma Alpha.

Professors Dari Sylvester and Brian E. Klunk welcome Faith James and Yeni Gutierrez to Pi Sigma Alpha.

Professors Dari Sylvester and Brian E. Klunk welcome Faith James and Yeni Gutierrez to Pi Sigma Alpha.

What Do Pacific Political Science Students Do?

April 19, 2013 Leave a comment

University of the Pacific junior Kyle Sasai, center, has August School eighth-graders write down his email address Wednesday during a visit to the east Stockton school. Sasai founded the HopeStreet Backpack Outreach program, which mentors Stockton middle school students as they make the transition to high school and encourages them to consider college.

Sometimes they help at risk students see the possibility of a successful future:

On Wednesday, Sasai, along with 11 other Pacific students, went to August School in east Stockton to start mentorships with soon-to-be high schoolers as part of his HopeStreet Backpack Outreach, a program Sasai founded in 2011.

The middle school students received backpacks for starters. But the most valuable gift is perhaps the mentors themselves.

They’ll be responsible for giving the August students advice throughout their upcoming high school careers about peer pressure, homework and even how to ask a girl to prom.

“Don’t ask a girl to prom over text,” Sasai said, and giggles followed. “It makes it awkward.”

Sasai offered the younger students Pacific campus tours when they’re ready and provided his contact information. “I want you guys to ask me anything,” he said.

The ongoing contact is a much appreciated resource at August, which has a largely disadvantaged student population, said Principal Lori Risso. All of the children receive free or reduced-price lunches.

“A lot of the kids think they can’t afford to go to college,” Risso said. The Pacific volunteers, she said, can relate to the kids and encourage them to seek scholarships and other financial aid.

“It makes the vision of going to high school and college possible.”

Kyle who excels in the classroom as a political science major and a member of the Pacific Legal Scholars program, has proven that academic excellence can go together seemlessly with community leadership.

Sasai . . . founded the program his first year of college. Since then, he has gathered volunteers to fill backpacks, write the kids letters and train for the continuing interaction.

Pacific mentors are each assigned about five students to befriend and help guide.

With the students they reached this year, they have connected with 500 middle school students since 2011.

 

Farewell, Dave Brubeck

December 5, 2012 Leave a comment

We interrupt the usual commentary about politics and political science featured in this blog to mark the passing of one of Pacific’s greatest sons, the monumental and ever joyful Dave Brubeck.

Pacific Political Scientist on the “Manchurian Candidate” Meme

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment

‘Manchurian Candidate’ relevance as strong as ever | Recordnet.com.

Pacific Political Science Professor Brian E. Klunk is quoted at length about the recurrence of the the “Manchurian Candidate” theme in pop culture and political discourse. It’s the 50th anniversary of the John Frankenheimer classic, featuring Angela Lansbury playing one of film history’s iconic villains.

Here’s a bit of what Klunk had to say:

In the ‘Homeland’ television series right now, there’s a Manchurian candidate kind of character,” Klunk said. “He was a prisoner in Iraq and now is back to carry out terrorist actions on behalf of some enemies.”

The most recent installment of “Battlestar Gallactica” also had a Manchurian candidate, Klunk said, but the notion of an individual in a position of power acting on suggestions because he’s been brainwashed isn’t limited to fiction.

“Over the last two presidential cycles,” Klunk said, “some of the nastier blogs accused John McCain, who’d been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, of being a potential Manchurian candidate. This year, a PAC supporting Ron Paul did the same thing with John Huntsman, who was the ambassador to China and speaks Mandarin. And, it’s all over the place in reaction to President Obama. In more respectable outlets, the use of Manchurian candidate ideas is he’s not really an American, he’s a hidden Muslim and he wants to

Cover of "The Manchurian Candidate (Speci...

Cover via Amazon

impose European social policies that will change forever the character of the country.

Get Off My Island! Conflicting Claims in the East China Sea

September 17, 2012 26 comments
Senkaku Islands

Senkaku Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

History
Last fall, I blogged about China’s rise as it relates to its broad claims to islands in the South China Sea, also claimed by a number of South East Asian states. Since that post, China has become significantly more aggressive in both actions and words regarding these disputes. It is worth noting that the Obama administration has been fairly aggressive in its response, with Secretary Clinton particularly active in making clear U.S. interests in the region.

More recently, conflicting Chinese and Japanese claims to islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have heated up and made headlines. It is, therefore, worth analyzing why China would risk violent confrontation over eight uninhabited islands with a total square footage of less than five miles and whose Chinese name means “fishing islands.” What does international relations theory suggest as to why China would choose the present to begin more strongly pressing its claims?

As with all problems in international relations, history, domestic politics and relative power in the international system all play a role. The history that most strongly informs Sino-Japanese relations today is Japans’ making what had been the Chinese province of Taiwan a colony after winning the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895; losing one big island for more than a century makes a state a bit touchy about little ones. China’s tributary relationship with the Ryuku Kingdom, including today’s Okinawa, was also ended by the Treaty of Shimonoseki, with which that first war concluded. It is further in 1895 that Japan made its first official claim to Senkaku, placing the islands administratively into what is today Okinawa prefecture. The Treaty of San Francisco, formally ending World War II in 1952, specifically rules out Japanese claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, those in the South China Sea about which I posted last year. More important here, the treaty gave the United States trusteeship of the Nansei Shoto islands, including Senkaku.

It does not ease Chinese concerns that the end of World War II saw the United States controlling Okinawa until 1972 (whereby the United States also ceded control of Senkaku back to Japan) and setting up what is still the largest air base in the region there. It is also the United States that has stood between China and what it considers to be its province of Taiwan, first with multiple military bases and nuclear weapons on the island and then, following the switch of diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) in 1979, its policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which leaves unstated whether the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of Chinese moves to retake it. Complicating the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is the fact that Taiwan’s government also claims the islands. Of course, China’s government has less concern over Taiwan’s claim, as in its view any territory under Taiwanese administration is Chinese territory. In fact, it is Taiwanese administration of the islands that China claims predates Japanese claims.

While it is often argued that the Taiwanese and Chinese governments did not begin objecting to Japanese control of the islands until natural gas was discovered in the area at the end of the 20th century, documents released by the U.S. National Security Archives show that the Taiwan (ROC) government, then the government recognized by the United States as “China,” specifically requested “the United States to exclude the Senkaku Islands from the reversion of Okinawa to Japan” in March 1971. Nevertheless, a 1968 UN survey had shown potential oil and gas resources in the region, so it is possible that this has motivated Chinese/Taiwanese claims.

The legitimacy of each side’s historical claims in the East China Sea is less important than the historical animosity between the two states, their governments, and their citizens. From the Chinese perspective, Japan humiliated it by taking its biggest island and than using it to expand its reach over much of Asia, including much of China, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which became part of World War II. Japanese occupation of of mainland Chinese territory was particularly brutal.

In a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2012/0905/China-territorial-disputes-a-warning-in-the-history-of-Imperial-Japan) , Joseph Bosco, who worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in East Asian security affairs and retired Lietenant General Wallace Gregson, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, somewhat ironically suggest that China’s current aggressive behavior regarding maritime claims is similar to that of a rising Japan in the first half of the 20th century. They argue that China today resembles a pre-WWII Japan, stinging from humiliation by Western powers, who had forced trade relations on it in the previous century. Like Japan in that period, China’s growing economic strength has led to a concomitant expansion of military power, which these authors claim enhances Chinese ambitions to expand its territorial control beyond its current borders, much as Japan did as it sought control over resources in much of Asia in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The authors’ analogy breaks down, however, when they compare Chinese ambitions to Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, which saw the Japanese gain physical control of China’s industrial and business centers as well as nearly all of Southeast Asia, if only briefly. Comparing Chinese claims to rocks and islands which are nearly all uninhabited, to Japan’s physical control of the Philippines, Indonesia, the Malay peninsula, Indochina and other territories that had been controlled by Western colonial powers is absurd.

IR Theory
Bosco and Gregson quote Secretary Clinton during a recent Beijing press conference: “Our two nations are trying to do something that has never been done in history, which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.” What Clinton is referring to is Organski’s power transition theory, which like all realist theory, views the anarchic international system and relative capabilities of states as the key determinants of international relations.* The key hypothesis of the theory is that major wars occur when a rising power challenges a declining power, just as John Mearsheimer’s “offensive realism” predicts coming conflict between the United States and China. An obvious counter-example to the argument of Clinton and Mearheimer, is the case of the United States, which unlike a rising Germany, did anything but challenge the United Kingdom at the point the two countries reached military or economic parity. Power transition theory explains away this anomaly by adding relative satisfaction with the current system as a key determinant of whether a rising power engages in conflict. Whereas offensive realism predicts inevitable conflict as China rises and (relatively) the United States falls, power transition theory suggests that war is likely only if China is dissatisfied with the current system. It is often assumed that China is. However, it is important to ponder why a China that has gained so much from the current system would be so quick to change it.

The weakness in realist theory is in its singular focus on the international system, at the expense of domestic determinants, to explain international politics. The history-minded Chinese leadership is undoubtedly aware that Germany and Japan failed in their challenges to the global order, and, therefore, that China should not press its claims too hard while still relatively weak. Thus it is necessary to consider domestic political reasons for China’s more aggressive posture regarding its maritime claims. First, and most self-evident, securing China’s sovereignty brings the Communist Party greater legitimacy. However, that does not explain the recent shift in Chinese assertiveness, unless the Party believes its legitimacy is threatened. This would be a more tenable hypothesis if the Party were facing eminent economic decline, as rapid development has provided the Party legitimacy in the post-Mao era.

What does possibly explain China’s more assertive maritime policies is the increasing influence of the military in Chinese politics and the rise of nationalism and, more important, its use in the factional struggle preceding this year’s scheduled leadership transition. Vice President Xi Jinping, who only recently reappeared on the scene after a mysterious brief disappearance, is by all accounts scheduled to succeed Hu Jintao as president at the 18th Party Congress, which appears to have been delayed from its originally scheduled October dates. A number of reports suggest that China’s outgoing leadership is attempting to ratchet up tensions with Japan so that Hu can retain his position as chairman of the Central Military Commission after Xi becomes president, just as Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin delayed Hu’s appointment to this post as commander in chief for two years after Hu’s elevation to the presidency.

Xi’s disappearance, changing dates for the Party Congress, and rising tensions with Japan are all likely related to factional struggles taking place prior to China’s decennial leadership transition. Even in authoritarian regimes, or perhaps especially in authoritarian regimes, there is bargaining over political positions, with each faction trying to balance its power relative to others. Xi is part of the “princelings” faction, the sons and daughters of the first generation of PRC leaders, while Hu is part of the “Youth League Clique,” former members of the Communist Party Youth League. The military is also part of this bargaining, as one of the many factions seeking representation on the ruling Politburo.

All of this palace intrigue, not to mention the recent soap opera-like downfall of Bo Xilai, another princeling, is likely influencing Chinese policies in the East and South China Seas. Due to the opaque nature of the political system however, it is difficult to gauge the extent that China’s leadership is promoting the anti-Japanese ultra-nationalism in China or responding to it. China’s leaders need to be careful playing the nationalism card. As the cases of Japan and Germany indicate, extremist nationalism, once out of the bag, takes on a life of its own. China’s leaders may find themselves being wagged rather than doing the wagging, in other words, having their actions determined or constrained by nationalism, rather than simply encouraging nationalism to enhance their legitimacy.

China’s recent guiding principle with regards to its territorial disputes has been to put these contentious issues aside for the sake of developing economic relations, and the government still claims this is what it wishes to do (although actions by its own and foreign nationals may make this impossible). Waiting, of course, is in China’s interest, as in all likelihood its power will only continue to rise, particularly relative to a Japan confronted by economic stagnation and the demographic nightmare of a declining population.

Epi(b)log
As if on cue, between the initial draft of this article last week and today, anti-Japanese protests have broken out in many major Chinese cities

*It should be noted that power transition theorists view the international system as hierarchical rather than anarchic and were arguing against the traditional realist balance-of-power school, but, practically speaking neorealism also relies on hierarchy; both theories, or branches of realism, claim that it is relative capabilities that bring order to the international system.

We Have A Winner

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The College of the Pacific has announced that Pacific Political Science Professor Cynthia Ostberg is the 2012 Faye and Alex Spanos Distinguished Teaching Award honoree. The Spanos Award recognizes a career of excellence as a teacher, advisor, and mentor. It is the greatest honor the College can bestow on a faculty member.

As the 2012 Spanos honoree, Professor Ostberg will be the keynote speaker at the College of the Pacific’s upcoming Faculty Recognition Dinner. Check back for an update on her address in a few weeks.

League of Women Voter’s Candidate Forums

August 30, 2012 1 comment
University of the Pacific (United States)

University of the Pacific (United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am pleased to announce that, working with the League of Women Voters, the University of the Pacific will host two candidate forums on October 15. The first will be for the two candidates contesting Assembly District 13: K. “Jeffrey” Jafri (R) and Susan Eggman (D). The second will be for the two candidates contesting Congressional District 9: Ricky Gill (R) and Jerry McNerney (D).

The event will will be open to the public. Watch this space for more information.

When Jordan Met Mitt

April 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Pacific Political Science student Jordan Schreiber recently attended a fundraiser for GOP frontrunner MItt Romney. Here’s Jordan’s account of the event.

While I would say on most issues I tend to land on the Democratic side of the political spectrum, first and foremost I consider myself an American political junkie. It was this longstanding addiction that motivated me to attend the Mitt Romney fundraiser here in Stockton. I read in the Record that the former Massachusetts governor would be swinging through town for a $1000-a-plate breakfast at ‘Villa Angelica’, the home of well-known local billionaire Alex G. Spanos. Now as a college student about to graduate, I assume it goes without saying that a grand is more than I plan on spending on any meal anytime soon, but I was determined to get into the event and hear what the candidate had to say. I decided then that I would call the number listed in the article for those wishing to purchase tickets and plead my case: ‘I’m a political science major at the local university and while I may not have the money to attend such a prestigious event, I feel the student voice will play an important role in the upcoming presidential election and I would gladly be in attendance as a representative of that population.’ It took some persistence on my behalf and a background check on theirs, but I was, in the end, successful in my venture.

I must admit I felt like a wolf in sheep’s clothing as I entered the Spanos compound. I was one of the few younger attendees and every time I was told I was the future of the party, I couldn’t help feeling that I probably had more in common (politically and socioeconomically) with the scores of protesters standing outside in the rain. But I took my seat, made small with my fellow table 23ers and eagerly awaited Romney’s speech. He was introduced first by one of the grandchildren of the Spanos’ and then by his wife Ann, who discussed her husband’s adherence to family values and the importance of the upcoming race before turning the microphone over to the candidate.

Pacific Political Science student Jordan Schreiber met GOP frontrunner MItt Romney at a Stockton, CA fundraiser.

The bulk of the governor’s speech focused on the economy and his concerns regarding President Obama’s policies stifling American growth. He told a variety of anecdotes about people he’d met on the campaign trail who have found great success in their entrepreneurial endeavors and explained how each were each a symbol of the spirit of this country’s economic drive. He traced their success to an American culture rooted in the principles of our founding fathers, a commitment to freedom and opportunity. He went on to state the current administration fails to understand this atmosphere of innovation and that they would rather government, not individuals, guide our industry. He cited the controversy surrounding Solyndra, the solar energy company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, two years after the Obama administration pledged $535 million as part of a federal program to boost alternative energy growth. Romney stated that it was programs like Solyndra that proved the current president is determined to undermine economic freedom and crush that entrepreneurial spirit that is so much a part of our country’s past. It was clear that he knew he was in a room full of dedicated supporters, for the rhetoric was slightly more heated than I had heard at campaign rallies over the past few months.

The governor spoke for about twenty minutes and allotted the same amount of time for questions from the room. The questions ranged from Romney’s ability to reconcile between his Massachusetts healthcare plan and President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act of 2010 to what federal departments he would eliminate once in office. The majority of his time was spent responding to a gentleman’s question regarding a ‘hot mic’ gaffe the president had made while talking to Russian President Dmetry Medvedev in South Korea a few days prior. The microphone overheard Mr. Obama claim that after the election he’ll have much more flexibility in terms of foreign policy. Governor Romney explained that the statement was damning evidence that the president “has an agenda he is not communicating to the American people, not just with regards to Russia, but with regards to many other policies.” He painted the president as a naïve player in world politics, who fails to understand the threats posed by nations like Russia and Iran as well as non-state actors such as “radical violent jihadist”. The governor closed the event thanking his hosts and all those in attendance and was rapidly escorted out of the hall, in a hurry to make it down to Los Angeles for a scheduled appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

I must say that leaving the breakfast my opinions on the upcoming election and the issues that America faces hadn’t changed dramatically. But I was very happy to have an opportunity to meet the man I’ve spent the last year reading about. I can now say I’ve seen Mitt Romney’s charm and I’ve shaken his hand. Whether I support him or not, he is clearly a man who cares deeply about this country and I’m fortunate to have gotten to see that. At the very least I can say that I got my political junkie fix for the week.

All the King’s Men and Local Politics

October 8, 2011 16 comments
Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren

Image via Wikipedia

What Robert Penn Warren and All the King’s Men

Tells us about Local Politics

Bob Benedetti

In recent years many communities have selected a book annually which citizens are encouraged to read and discuss. This year (2011) San Joaquin County selected All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.  Those making the decision may have been influenced by the fact that one of two movie versions was shot in Stockton and on the Delta. Moreover, the book is arguably a great American novel and one of the few to focus on local politics. What does Penn Warren tell us about the way democracy works at the grassroots?

At first glance, the picture is not a pretty one.  All the King’s Men recounts the career of Willie Stark, a small town farmer who aspires to public life.  He takes a correspondence school route through law school and runs for local office.  He loses, but uncovers shady construction practices in the building of a local school, which later collapses.  A statewide political “machine” recruits him to run for Governor to split the rural vote.  When he realizes the stratagem, he campaigns for the machine’s opponent and, in the next election, runs against the machine and the incumbent, winning on a populist platform.  Subsequently, he uses blackmail and the promise of lucrative contracts to solidify his political position. While his policies gratify the poor, he manipulates voters with fiery rhetoric and pressures those who oppose him with all means available to him, including those of questionable legality and morality.

However, he attracts loyal followers whom the author describes sympathetically. They are torn between his attention to projects for the poor and his disregard for the standards of reasoned debate and ethical behavior.  This tension is dramatized by the interaction between Willie Stark and Adam Stanton, a young doctor from an established local family.  Stark uses one of Stanton’s friends and his sister to convince Adam to direct a new hospital.  However, when Stanton realizes that Stark has had an affair with his sister, has uncovered unsavory information about his father, and is awarding construction contracts for political gain, he shoots Stark and is killed by Stark’s bodyguard in return.

One would think that Penn Warren would settle for telling a simple morality story in which the corrupt politician gets what is coming to him for breaking the rules of fair political practice and rational policy discourse.   However, his analysis is more subtle and suggestive. He implies that Stark and Stanton are extremes between which American politics fluctuate.  He indicates that the better course of our democracy would be a balance between political realism and political idealism, between necessary compromises to get projects accomplished and the dictates of reason and conventional morality.

If we take his point and apply it to state and local politics today, we may become more sympathetic to recent governors who have seemed to be braking some promises to accomplish others.  This is not to say that Penn Warren does not see a role for principled behavior in politics.  He clearly does, but he is also aware the appeals to principle often benefit one class or group more than others.  If the public good is to be done, all classes and groups need to receive benefits.  In moderation, he would allow politicians to break eggs to make an omelet.

In sum, democracy at the grassroots is an attempt to negotiate a middle ground between the real needs of all citizens and an honoring of traditional practice and rational debate.  Penn Warren thinks it is mythic for citizens to believe that everything necessary for the polity can be accomplished by ordered deliberation.  He accepts, even dignifies, the practice of logrolling where policy is not accomplished by an agreement on merits, but by politicians mobilizing support through trading benefits across policies and, in some case, across policies and personal needs or wants.

Rational choice theory, now quite popular in political science, easily accommodates the idea of “side payments” which are conceptually akin to the practices that Penn Warren is sanctioning here.  However, such theories may not give adequate weight to the moral/rationalist/utopian strain in American democratic politics.  A more fulsome theoretic would accord equal time to the reform impulse in America, to the League of Women Voters as well as to the political machine.  All the King’s Men reminds use to look for a balance between these impulses, both empirically and normatively, as we sift through the politics running along our city streets and across our Capitol malls.

For more discussion of the book see: http://mainehumanities.org/podcast/archives/tag/all-the-kings-men

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Dari Sylvester Honored

September 6, 2011 1 comment

One final note about Pacific Political Scientists at the American Political Science Association (APSA) meetings in Seattle:

Congratulations to Professor Dari Sylvester, who received the 2011 Adaljiza Sosa-Ridell Award for Exemplary Mentoring of Latino/a Students in Political Science.  The Adaljiza Sosa-Ridell Award is presented each year by the APSA’s Committee on the Status of Latinos and Latinas in the Profession.

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