Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Legitimacy of China's cadres

For China's Local Officials, a New Test

"Traditionally dismissed as do-nothing, often-corrupt paper pushers, local functionaries are now bearing the responsibility for keeping people safe following this month's earthquake, anticipating their needs and getting real answers to their questions. Their role has been striking in a country where the Communist Party's vow to "serve the people" has long been regarded by many as an empty slogan...

"Government propaganda has unceasingly told people in the quake zone to "trust the government" in how it manages the aftermath of the earthquake, which has left 80,000 dead or missing. Many here in Mianyang city have little choice. They have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods.

"But for their faith in government to endure, local officials must deliver on the promise that people will be taken care of...

"'Rebuilding after the earthquake could be a turning point for local government's image,' said Ren Jianming, a professor at the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University. 'Corruption so easily happens and used to happen so much.'...

"Local officials are being blamed by parents of the estimated 9,000 schoolchildren who died when their classrooms collapsed around them during the earthquake, burying them in the rubble. The parents allege that corrupt officials turned a blind eye to substandard construction...

See also: China Protests

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Friday, May 30, 2008

China protests

The photograph was dramatic. An official of the all-powerful Communist Party of China beseeching citizens to end a protest.

"Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss of Mianzhu, knelt Sunday to ask parents of earthquake victims to abandon their protest." He didn't want them to march to the provincial party headquarters. Photo by Shiho Fukada for the New York Times

There have been few Party leaders in such humiliating positions since the Cultural Revolution.

The circumstances are dramatically different, but these protests are a danger for the Party's legitimacy and power.

Parents’ Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials

"Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.

"Parents of the estimated 10,000 children who lost their lives in the quake have grown so enraged about collapsed schools that they have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials...

"On Tuesday, an informal gathering of parents at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan to commemorate their children gave way to unbridled fury...

"Sharp confrontations between protesters and officials began over the weekend in several towns in northern Sichuan. Hundreds of parents whose children died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the city of Mianzhu staged an impromptu rally on Saturday. They surrounded an official who tried to assure them that their complaints were being taken seriously, screaming and yelling in her face until she fainted...

The parents who lost their children at Juyuan Middle School say they have yet to hear from Dujiangyan officials. A few said they had been approached by teachers and told that they would be well compensated for their loss — about $4,500 per child, several times the average annual income in this area — if they would stop their increasingly vociferous public campaign.

“'We don’t want their money,' said Mr. Luo, the farmer, as others nodded in agreement. 'We just want this corruption to end.'..."

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Presidential politics in Iran

One of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's rivals is mayor of Tehran. Another has assumed the post of speaker of Iran's parliament.

Ahmadinejad rival takes powerful post in Iran

"A powerful rival to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became speaker of Iran's parliament today, clearing the way for a potential challenge against the hard-line head of state ahead of 2009 presidential elections...

"His victory over former speaker Gholam-Hossein Hadad-Adel, who rarely challenged Ahmadinejad, suggests hostility to the president among the new batch of mostly conservative lawmakers...

"Many analysts say the differences between Larijani [right] and Ahmadinejad have more to do with style than substance. Larijani, who won his parliamentary seat as a representative of the shrine city of Qom, hails from an elite religious family. Ahmadinejad is a blacksmith's son who fought as a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in the Iran-Iraq war.

"Iran watchers speak of a conservative anti-Ahmadinejad alliance which includes Larijani and Tehran mayor Mohommad Baqer Qalibaf. Both ran against Ahmadinejad in 2005...

"Though marginalized, the liberal reformist faction in Iran's political elite hopes to gain from any fight within the camp of the conservatives..."

Time magazine earlier reported that Centrists Could Derail Ahmadinejad

"The respectable showing by pragmatic conservatives, and their growing coordination with the reformists... suggests that the country could be poised to move past President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's politics of confrontation. Tehran Mayor Mohammed Qalibaf, a possible Ahmadinejad opponent in next year's presidential election, says a centrist Third Wave is taking shape and it will push a moderate, pragmatic agenda...

"The centrist alliance... is being enouraged by other heavyweights such as former Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, and ex-Speaker Mehdi Karroubi... [I]f it holds, this alliance could prove to be a significant factor in next year's presidential election.

"Another potential presidential contender is Ali Larijani, who captured a Majlis seat with a landslide victory in a district in the holy city of Qom. A pragamtic conservative... as also an unsuccessful hopeful against Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential contest. But he indicates that the victories of many pragmatic conservatives as well as some reformists in the parliamentary election have given the centrist Third Wave a boost. 'The extremist people of both currents will be eliminated, and the Majlis will move toward moderation, reason and pragmatism,' he said in the TIME interview..."

See also today's report from the New York Times, Rival to Iran’s President Is Elected Speaker

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ah, the details...

The more things change in Russia, the more they stay the same.

I often joked to my students that Russia was transformed by the Soviets. It began as a centralized, autocratic, ideological state and ended up as an ideological, autocratic, centralized state. We could probably add Putin to that list of transformers, but we'd have to account for the Yeltsin years. (How about the joke that it took 70 years for the Russians to prove that communism didn't work, but only 10 years to prove that capitalism doesn't work either.)

New jobs, old faces

"In the first week of Mr Medvedev's presidency, it was Mr Putin who made the headlines... [He] also made several big appointments this week, transferring many of his old subordinates from the Kremlin down the river to the 'White House'.

"One such was to make Igor Sechin one of five deputy prime ministers... Mr Putin has also kept in place his liberal economic team, including Alexei Kudrin, the long-serving finance minister. His first-deputy prime minister is to be Igor Shuvalov, an economically liberal and politically flexible former Kremlin aide...

"Mr Putin has also shaken up the siloviki... The head of the Federal Security Bureau... has been... replaced by a younger deputy... Also seemingly sidelined is Viktor Ivanov, a hardline ex-spook who worked closely with Mr Sechin...

"One explanation for reining in the siloviki is that they had become too powerful for Mr Putin's liking. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies the Russian elite, says that Mr Putin is cleansing the siloviki clan and getting rid of those who were equal or even senior to him in the KGB. 'A tsar does not have colleagues, he has subjects,' she says. Hence also the demotion of Sergei Ivanov, a top KGB man and defence minister who was a candidate for the presidency and cut a more independent figure than Mr Medvedev...

"Yet none of these changes, including even the shake-up of the siloviki, alters either the direction of Russia or the political system created by Mr Putin over the past eight years. He is well aware of Russia's colossal corruption, lawlessness and inefficiency; his recent speeches would befit an opposition leader..."

See also:

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Friday, May 23, 2008

A respite

It's Memorial Day weekend in the USA. The last Monday in May is a federal holiday that my grandmother (1901-1984) called Decoration Day. It began as a day to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead. Many people will be involved in patriotic ceremonies all over the country on Monday. But more people will be taking a short vacation on this three-day weekend.

Memorial Day is now a symbolic beginning of summer for those of us in the northern part of the US. (In my back yard the lilacs and the flowering crab apple tree are flowering two weeks later than normal.) In many places it also marks the end of the school year, and in Indianapolis there's a big auto race.

All that's my way of saying that there won't be any activity here until the middle of next week.


Anti-corruption activity in Nigeria

And a follow-up to the dismissal of the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in January.

The question is, who is Mrs. Waziri and who are her sponsors?

This is the report from This Day in Lagos.

Waziri is New EFCC Chairman

"Speculations as to the fate of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were laid to rest yesterday.

"Five months after he was controversially sidelined and ordered to proceed on study leave, Ribadu was yesterday officially replaced as the chairman of the anti-graft agency.

"President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua approved the appointment of Mrs. Farida Waziri, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, as EFCC chairman...

"Waziri will hold forte (sic) in an acting capacity until she is confirmed by the Senate...

"Waziri has LLB (Hons) and LLM degrees from the University of Lagos, BL from the Nigerian Law School, MSc in Strategic Studies from the University of Ibadan and attended the Nigeria War College, Abuja...

"[She has also] attended various professional and administrative courses at home and abroad, mostly on investigations and operations...

"[H]er sponsors, who are said to be some former and serving governors and a former presidential aide, were said to have sealed the deal to have her appointed last weekend in Bayelsa State..."

Paul Ohia, writing in This Day offered a profile of Farida Mzamber Waziri.

Waziri - On the Hot Seat

"On her way to being a Catholic nun where she would have devoted her entire life to chastity and poverty, Mrs. Farida Mzamber Waziri made a U-turn from Queen of Holy Rosary Convent in 1963 and discovered an essential life of sacrifice in secular life.

"She ended up in the Police Force and today all eyes are on her as she takes over at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria's foremost anti-fraud agency...

"In the force she had a reputation as a "no nonsense" officer who rose from the ladder to enviable position of Assistant Inspector General before retiring. She held several appointments in the police force including headship of the Federal Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) and Interpol...

"Critics say her appointment was made at the behest of some corrupt politicians who wanted Ribadu [her ousted predecessor] out at all cost...

"It is believed in some quarters that since the removal of Ribadu, the EFCC has been incapacitated by some powerful people in and out of government especially those under trial...

"She headed the police Anti-Fraud Unit between 1996 and 1999 during which Ribadu and the EFCC Director of Operations, Mr Ibrahim Lamorde, were trained by her.

"She is a tough and disciplined anti-graft crusader and a very hard worker, those who know her say.

"She will be expected to restore public confidence in the EFCC and would seek to work closely with international agencies and governments engaged in reducing fraud and corruption.

"It is said that Waziri has not engaged in partisan political activity and has a deserved reputation for being unafraid of pursuing those in her sights.

"She is well thought of in police circles in Nigeria as well as among the lawyers and judges with whom she works...

"She may prove critics wrong and wage an all out war on corruption, though analysts say she may not be well desposed to chasing alleged corrupt officials down to airports like her predecessor.

"If confirmed by the Senate, Waziri will also be expected to prosecute those who might be indicted by the various committees in the Senate and House of Representatives and analysts believe former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, may come under her prosecutorial hammer if indicted, to take attention away from the former governors...

"Positions she has held during her career put her on the pedestal of someone who has risen through the lowest to the highest rank in the police force and no other woman has yet recorded the phenomenal progression in the entire force yet...

"Waziri is a member of several professional organisations including Chiefs of Police Association, USA, International Association of Women Police (IAWP), Soroptomists of Nigeria, Federation of Women Lawyers, African Women Leaders Think-Tank. She is also the Vice-President, Alumni Association of the National War College (AANWAC)."

Another view of the appointment came from Sahara Reporters, an online news source.

Corrupt Ex-Governors Force Yar’Adua to Name a New EFCC Head

"Former Governor James Onanefe Ibori and a coalition of ex-governors embroiled in corruption scandals have prevailed on “President” Umar Yar’Adua to appoint their candidate as the new head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission...

"The former AIG has promised the ex-governors that, once confirmed, she will work to sabotage their ongoing prosecution for acts of money laundering, graft and corruption...

"Mrs. Waziri’s nomination has been long pushed by corrupt former governors facing trial from the Ribadu-led EFCC...

"Since the removal of Ribadu, the EFCC has been effectively paralyzed by a group of powerful ex-governors led by James Ibori of Delta State who had invested close to $500 million in slush funds towards getting Yar'adua 'elected' into office in the gravely rigged April 2007 elections...

"Mrs. Waziri's brief will include aggressive prosecution of persons to be indicted by the various committees of the House of Representatives currently investigating the regime of former President Obasanjo. She is also expected to ensure that former governors currently facing prosecution by the EFCC are allowed to get away through lackadaisical prosecution..."

Back in January, Jessica Emeruwa reported in The Sun (Lagos) that Mrs. Waziri was up for this job. I guess the politics of the appointment took awhile to complete.

Race for EFCC top job hots up

Monday, January 7, 2008

"There are indications that a retired Inspector General of Police (AIG), Mrs. Farida Waziri, is being considered for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) top job being vacated y Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.Some top presidency officials were said to have recommended Mrs Waziri to President Umar Musa Yar’Adua as a neutral candidate that can keep the anti-corruption fire aflame.

"Beside presidency officials, it was also learnt that retired big guns in the security and intelligence circles were said to have made favourable recommendations to President Yar’Adua on Mrs Waziri...

"She is said to have gotten many favourable recommendations for the job because she headed the police Anti-Fraud Unit between 1996 and 1999 during which Ribadu and the EFCC Director of Operations, Mr Ibrahim Lamorde were trained by her. Waziri is also being considered so that a tough woman..

22 May; from Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: EFCC Grounded

"Business activities have been grounded at the corporate headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Abuja following the inability of the newly-appointed acting chairman of the commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, to officially assume duty.

"LEADERSHIP gathered last night that Mrs. Waziri, a lawyer who is very conversant with the EFCC Act, has refused to officially assume duty because of the pronouncement by the Senate that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua didn't follow due process in her appointment...

"LEADERSHIP gathered that the presidency, which is aware of the happenings at the commission, had to quickly forward the name of Mrs. Waziri and others to the Senate yesterday for confirmation so that activities could resume at the anti-graft agency..."

See also: Anti-anticorruption move in Nigeria

That January blog entry has a long list of related articles attached to it. Aha, do I sense the potential for a case study?

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

No more horsehair wigs!?!

Britain: A New Look for Judges

Civil court judges in England are scheduled to ditch their traditional wigs and robes in October. The old, stuffy outfits — curly gray wigs made from horsehair, severe black robes with winged collars and stiff neckbands — are to be replaced by modern navy robes created by the fashion designer Betty Jackson... The changes will not apply to criminal court judges, nor to barristers, as lawyers who argue cases in court are known in Britain. Critics of the traditional wigs and robes have long complained that they alienate people in court and look hopelessly out of date."

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Political economy or economic politics

James Lerch, who has been teaching in southern China and who will be off to an even more exotic place next school year, recommended Getting Governance Right by Dani Rodrik. Jim says the article has "all kinds of teaching possibilities." It sure does, if you're comfortable with basic macroeconomic ideas.

Rodrik is a Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. But some political scientists might be alarmed by some of his thoughts and recommendations. (See the conclusion where he writes, "Too much focus on broad issues, such as rule of law and accountability, runs the risk that policymakers will end up tilting at windmills...") Such alarm might be good for discussion.

The article is dense and that will make sorting out the ideas in class even more fun.

Getting Governance Right

"Economists used to tell governments to fix their policies. Now they tell them to fix their institutions... Real and sustainable change is supposedly possible only by transforming the 'rules of the game' – the manner in which governments operate and relate to the private sector.

"Unfortunately, much of the discussion surrounding governance reforms fails to make a distinction between governance-as-an-end and governance-as-a means. The result is muddled thinking and inappropriate strategies for reform...

"Poor countries suffer from a multitude of growth constraints, and effective reforms address the most binding among them...

"Designing appropriate institutional arrangements also requires both local knowledge and creativity. What works in one setting is unlikely to work in another...

"Good governance is good in and of itself. It can also be good for growth when it is targeted at binding constraints. Too much focus on broad issues, such as rule of law and accountability, runs the risk that policymakers will end up tilting at windmills while overlooking the particular governance challenges most closely linked to economic growth."

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Basic concepts

I just added Dr. Barbara Segnatelli's plan for reviewing basic concepts to the teaching plans at the sharing comparative group.

We now have a dozen teaching ideas on file.

If you have a plan that worked well for you and your students -- especially for review or post-exam days, please share it with us.

If you haven't joined the group yet, you can use the link below.

Click to join sharing comparative


Another comparative case study

Could the Iranian and Chinese Internet censors cooperate and learn from each other? In neither case are the protests likely to change policies. However, students of comparative politics could compare the censorship efforts and results.

Iranian Activists Criticize New Restrictions on Web Sites

"Iranian bloggers and activists on Tuesday condemned a move by a government panel to block access to several Web sites related to women's issues and human rights.

"'It's like a big attack,' said Parvin Ardalan, who works for Change4Equality.net, a Tehran-based feminist Web site affected by the new restrictions. 'Now, most sites related to women's and human rights issues have been blocked in one day,' she said...

"Web sites maintained by opposition groups, dissidents and even some supporters of the government have been blocked in the past. Iran also bars access to thousands of Web sites that show pornography...

"The Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture's supervisory board for the media... answers to the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, which determines the country's educational, scientific, cultural and social objectives. The 36-member council sets parameters for what is allowed on the Iranian Internet, but the board decides which sites should be blocked. It is unclear who sits on the board, although its members are thought to include representatives of the judiciary, the intelligence service and other government agencies...

"In 2003, Iranian authorities started restricting access to Web sites, a technique which can be bypassed by filter breakers or other tools to avoid digital censorship. These programs are slow, and filtered Web sites lose many readers.

"According to Iranian blogging services, last year there were more than 700,000 blogs in Farsi, many of which are written from abroad..."

See also:

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EU politics case study

If you're looking for a topic to illustrate the complexities of EU politics, there's probably no better place to begin than the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It's the most expensive EU program, and there might be enough news in the near future to allow you to assemble materials for a teaching plan.

Remember, that behind the stated concerns for efficiency and the environment lie issues concerning wealth (France and the UK) and poverty (Poland and Portugal); "industrial" agriculture (France and Germany) and village farming (Greece and Poland); and free market solutions and state protection of farmers.

Here's a beginning from the BBC:

EU looks to cut farming subsidies

"The EU is renewing efforts to reform its Common Agricultural Policy, the rural payments system that costs more than 40bn euros (£32bn) a year.

"It is due to announce proposals aimed at making farming more efficient and environmentally friendly...

"The commission wants to progressively cut subsidies to farms, and shift the money saved to protect and promote traditional family farms...

"Most EU agriculture ministers say food production has to be increased, but oppose the UK demands [to eliminate subsidies], and the French government will fight hard to keep elements of the old system..."

See also:

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Monday, May 19, 2008

More summer reading

An interesting review by David Sanger in the New York Times.

Democracy, Limited

"When Bill Clinton was in the twilight months of his presidency, he made a compelling case that by integrating China into the world economy we would gradually undercut the viability of its authoritarian government. It was only a matter of time, he told an audience of American and Chinese students in March 2000, before a Net-savvy, rising middle class would begin to demand its rights, because 'when individuals have the power not just to dream, but to realize their dreams, they will demand a greater say.'

"Five years later, in his second Inaugural Address, George W. Bush added a more martial edge to the prediction that democracy was on an unstoppable tear around the world. It was only 22 months after the invasion of Iraq. Describing a grander justification for his mission, Bush declared that in a post-Iraq world it would become the mission of the United States to defeat tyranny and spread his 'freedom agenda' around the world. Sovereign borders of authoritarian states, he made clear, would be no barrier.

"Robert Kagan [right], in a brief and wonderfully argued volume on how the world has a nasty habit of spinning off in its own directions, has a message for Americans of all political stripes: Good luck with that one. The cold war may be over, he declares in The Return of History and the End of Dreams, but anyone who thinks the result was really 'the end of history' — a consensus that liberal democracy is the future — should take another look. 'The world has become normal again,' Kagan says in the first sentence of what is less a book than an extended essay. Deeper in, he puts his argument more plainly: 'Autocracy is making a comeback.'...

"Kagan’s title, of course, is designed to tweak Francis Fukuyama and others who, in a fit of optimism after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, declared not only the end to ideological struggle but 'the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.'...


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Political effects of "openness"

Every comparative textbook that uses Russia as a case mentions that the effects of glasnost on the Gorbachev government were unexpected. Philip Taubman of the New York Times suggests a comparative case study. His cases are Gorbachev's Russia, post-earthquake China, and post-cyclone Myanmar (Burma).

I particularly noted Taubman's last topic: nationalism. Did you read yesterday's blog entry or read other accounts of nationalism in China? And if China's leaders do "not take comfort" in the example of glasnost, think of the generals in Myanmar, anxious to preserve their own power. In six months or a year, there may well be enough evidence to begin making comparisons about the effects of openness and disasters on closed regimes.

When the Kremlin Tried a Little Openness

"A dash of openness can be a dangerous thing in an autocratic state.

"Mikhail Gorbachev discovered this two decades ago when his campaign to inject some daylight into Soviet society doubled back on him like a heat-seeking missile.

"Now China’s leaders are playing with the same volatile political chemistry as they give their own citizens and the world an unexpectedly vivid look at the earthquake devastation in the nation’s southwest regions. The rulers of cyclone-battered Myanmar, by contrast, are sticking with the authoritarian playbook, limiting access and even aid to the stricken delta region where tens of thousands of people were killed by the storm...

"Chinese leaders are well aware of the Soviet experience. The bloody crackdown against the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989 seemed motivated in part by fears that a relaxation of repression would lead to a replay of Soviet turbulence in China...

"The collapse of the Soviet empire and dissolution of the Communist Party were not exactly what [Gorbachev] had in mind when he took power in 1985 and launched his twin policies of glasnost (greater openness) and perestroika (political reform)...

"[He] realized his country was rotting from within, paralyzed by repression and ideological rigidity, a backward economy and a deep cynicism among Russians about their government. 'We can’t go on living like this,' he told his wife, Raisa, hours before he was named Soviet leader, he recalled in his 1995 memoirs...

"As glasnost gathered force in the years that followed, it ripped away the layers of deceit that were the foundation of the Soviet state. Each step undermined the authority of the party and the government...

"But resistance to the accelerating change grew as the rivets that held together Soviet society started to snap...

"A striking moment of glasnost came with the killer earthquake in Armenia in December 1988. Faced with the deaths of tens of thousands of Soviet citizens, and desperate for outside aid, the Kremlin lifted restrictions on travel to Armenia...

"As the old regime frayed, Mr. Gorbachev wasn’t prepared for the assault of long-repressed political forces let loose by his reforms. The most potent was nationalism...

"Once uncorked, nationalism essentially overwhelmed Mr. Gorbachev, who, to his credit, choose not to try to hold together the Soviet empire by force...

"Russia today, despite the restoration of authoritarian rule by Vladimir Putin, enjoys a degree of freedom that was inconceivable at the height of Communist rule. Glasnost helped make it that way.

"China’s leaders may not take comfort in that thought..."

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Unwelcome similarites

Melody Diskison, who referred me to the articles about Chinese food and agriculture, also pointed out a blog entry by David Dayton at Silk Road International. Dayton, with a masters degree in cultural anthropology, has been a business consultant in China since 1989 ("... helping clients find the right factories as well as coordinating and supervising production.").

It seems he recently ran into a badly disguised brick wall of ethnocentrism and racism in China (in the same way that some of Barak Obama's campaigners have run into a bedrock of racism while campaigning in the US).

We don't have to go far to be reminded of racist attitudes toward the Chinese.

Is there any reason we should expect other cultures to be less infected with this kind of virulent ethnocentrism?

Dayton's thoughts are worth reading -- if only to remind ourselves of the complexity of cultures, the diversity of cultural values, the effects of history, and similarities between greatly different cultures.

Foreigners not Welcome

"So yesterday afternoon I took my two boys, ages 1.5 and 3, to see the [Olympic torch] relay as it was passing just a few blocks from our home here. We lined up along the main street along with everyone else. As it drew near I was very distinctly told (in Chinese): 'Effing foreigner. Go home. This 0lympics is ours.'...

"I can honestly say that I have rarely if ever been mistreated in China...

"But that changed this last week. Three separate experiences have really damaged my opinion of the depth of Chinese hospitality. First is the excoriating, racist and downright scary language that is being thrown around in China right now towards foreigners...

"I’ve been saying for almost 15 years that China has national-size insecurity complex. They’ve had it for at least 30 years (if not 100 years), but now you see it daily... They want the world to think that they have arrived, but expect a free pass for their xenophobic view of domestic and world history...

"If you want racism all you have to do is quote the Chinese President on T!bet—to paraphrase, he’s basically said that without the “parentage” and protection of the Chinese the other 55 minorities in China would be lost to feudalism..."

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Threats to legitimacy and sovereignty (and regime?)

President Felipe Calderón's government has so far been defined as much by the "war" with drug cartels as anything else. This issue was one of his campaign themes and a policy area in which he needs only minimal cooperation of the divided legislature. It also distracts from persistent poverty and the problems of declining oil production. Will Calderón be remembered as the drug war president? Maybe, but remember, it's still early in his sexenio.

Drug traffickers' hitmen kill top Mexico policeman

"Drug hitmen, one wielding a pistol with a silencer, shot dead one of Mexico's top federal police officers at his home Thursday, in a blow to President Felipe Calderón's fight against cartels..."

Mexico president says attacks against police show organized crime feeling heat

"President Felipe Calderón said Friday the killing of an acting federal police chief was an attempt by weakened gangs to counter his fight against drug trafficking..."

Mexico captures cousin of most wanted drug lord

"Mexican police Sunday captured the cousin of the country's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, after a shoot-out in the northwestern city of Culiacan, the blood-stained base of his Sinaloa cartel..."

Thousands protest drug violence in Mexican border city after police director killed

"Thousands of white-clad people marched silently Sunday to protest a surge of drug-related violence in a Mexican city across from Texas where the No. 2 police officer was shot dead.

"The crowd of several thousand students, church leaders, businessmen and politicians walked for about four miles (six kilometers) across Ciudad Juarez to a park near a border crossing, breaking the silence in a burst of speeches, dancing and singing..."

Mexico says Sinaloa cartel ordered killing of federal police chief, arrests 5 suspects

"A police officer and four other people with suspected ties to a powerful drug cartel have been arrested in the assassination of Mexico's acting federal police chief, authorities said Monday.

[Sinaloa shown above in a map from Wikimedia Commons.]

"The three men and two women belonged to a criminal cell believed to be acting on the orders of the Sinaloa drug cartel..."

Mexico gunmen kill 2 police officers, assault headquarters in separate attacks

"Officials say two police officers were shot and killed in northern Mexico when they tried to stop gunmen from kidnapping a family...

"In a separate attack, assailants opened fire and threw grenades at a police station in Guamuchil in the northern state of Sinaloa..."

Mexico sends troops to fight Sinaloa drug cartel

"Mexico dispatched thousands of troops Tuesday to the state of Sinaloa, the heartland of a powerful drug cartel run by the country's most wanted man, following a wave of police murders..."

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Food, farming, and affluence in China

Melody Dickison pointed me to two articles in the Financial Times (London) about farming, food, and growing affluence in China.

The articles reminded me of one bit of introduction I've used when teaching about China. I display a map showing that China and the USA were about the same size. Then I point out that China has nearly 5 times as many people as the US. I then present the statistics that 18% of the land in the US is arable, while only 15% of China's land is arable. My question to the students about to begin studying about China is, "How is it that China is self-sufficient in feeding its people?" Discussions were always interesting and nearly always informative.

Here's some of the latest on that topic (thanks, Melody):

New eating habits force revolution on China's farms

"China, a small net exporter of rice and largely selfsufficient in wheat, has been something of a spectator in the global food crisis of recent months, with Beijing's role confined to tightening scrutiny of exports to prevent profiteering...

"But the short-term calm... belies the long-term pressures on Chinese agriculture, which are on the verge of triggering revolutions in the way China trades and farms its food. Those pressures could even send it offshore in search of arable land.

"The Chinese are getting richer and, like their western counterparts, eating more meat, which in turn is spurring a surge in demand for foodstuffs to feed a growing population of pigs and other livestock.

"With 21 per cent of the world's population, 9 per cent of its arable land and below-average and poorly distributed water resources, China is already unable to supply enough homegrown animal feed...

"Although analysts disagree on the timing of China's emergence as an importer of all grains, few doubt that Beijing will be forced to modify its longstanding policy of self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs to meet demand...

"But just as important, and largely overlooked, in a debate on food that concentrates on trade is another revolution in Chinese agriculture happening at grassroots level among 700m-odd farmers and their families.

"Liu Yonghao... made his first $1m, and more, in the 1990s from feeding pigs.

"Mr Liu... says China's fractured system of tiny farms, each selling its output separately, will inevitably die.

"'The gap between the modern industrial and urban economy and the small peasant economy is getting larger and larger. We need to modernise farming, and that means scale,' he says.

"'All the recent problems with inflation and food safety relate to our working system. How can we supervise a system with 200m production units that each raises four or five pigs?'..."

And speaking of going "offshore in search of arable land."

China eyes overseas land in food push

"Chinese companies will be encouraged to buy farmland abroad, particularly in Africa and South America, to help guarantee food security under a plan being considered by Beijing.

"A proposal drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture would make supporting offshore land acquisition by domestic agricultural companies a central government policy. Beijing already has similar policies to boost offshore investment by state-owned banks, manufacturers and oil companies...

"If approved, the plan could face intense opposition abroad given surging global food prices and deforestation fears...

“'China must "go out" because our land resources are limited,' said Jiang Wenlai, of the China Agricultural Science Institute. 'It will be a win-win solution that will benefit both parties by making the maximum use of the advantages of both sides.'..."

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Food and politics

This article from the San Diego Union-Tribune is full of references to markets and exchange rates, but behind all that is the implication that government policy will have to react. How?

Food prices push Mexico inflation to 3-year high

"Spiraling world food prices pushed Mexico's inflation to a three-year high in April, reinforcing expectations the central bank will not cut interest rates to stave off the effect of a feared U.S. recession.

"Mexican consumer prices rose 4.55 percent in the 12 months through April...

"Central bankers will closely watch upcoming data for signs of a dip in Mexico's economy, which so far has done well despite the U.S. slowdown but is expected to feel the pinch this quarter...

"Economic growth was likely 3 percent in the January-March period, the government believes. But the U.S. slowdown is expected to hit Mexico's economy soon...

"Mexico's peso, which has strengthened almost 4 percent this year... was stable..."

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The national corporation?

Or the corporation's nation?

Knowing about Gazprom and its operation is crucial to understanding how the regime is structured and how government works in Russia. It may well be more important than knowing about the Duma and how its members are elected. But, on a political science exam, questions about the Duma are much more likely.

As Gazprom Goes, So Goes Russia

"Gazprom and the government have long had a close relationship, but the revolving door between them is spinning especially fast this year: Mr. Medvedev... replaces Mr. Putin as president; Mr. Putin becomes prime minister, replacing Viktor A. Zubkov; and Mr. Zubkov is expected to take Mr. Medvedev’s place as Gazprom’s chairman at a general shareholders meeting in June...

"It’s hard to overemphasize Gazprom’s role in the Russian economy. It’s a sprawling company that raked in $91 billion last year; it employs 432,000 people, pays taxes equal to 20 percent of the Russian budget and has subsidiaries in industries as disparate as farming and aviation.

"The company is a major supplier of natural gas to Europe, and it is becoming an important source of gas to fast-growing Asian markets like China and South Korea... If crude oil and natural gas are considered together, Gazprom’s combined daily production of energy is greater than that of Saudi Arabia...

"Now that Russia is seeking to reclaim the geopolitical clout it had in Soviet days, it is wielding its vast energy resources, rather than missiles, to reassert itself. More often than not, its most potent artillery is Gazprom itself...

"Under a policy championed by Mr. Medvedev when he served as deputy prime minister, Russian consumers are going to have to pay starkly higher prices for natural gas. Prices are set to rise about 25 percent a year, starting this year, with the goal of reaching parity with world energy prices by 2011...

"Just as Gazprom’s riches make it a proxy for Russia’s newfound power and prestige around the world, the company also epitomizes the risks of state capitalism: waste and inefficiency...

"Russian leaders consider Gazprom the template for a new industrial policy. In a globalized world, their thinking goes, strategic Russian companies should be controlled by the government, yet open to the capital and skill of Western investors — just as Gazprom is. It’s a throwback to the Soviet economic model, with an emphasis on gigantism and economies of scale and faith in the pricing power of monopolies...

"Rich as it is, Gazprom faces big challenges in the Medvedev era.

"Rising prices for steel, equipment and labor have caught the company at the outset of its largest capital program in two decades. Like other Russian companies, it invested little money maintaining or upgrading equipment in the 1990s. But the days of coasting on Soviet-era infrastructure are over, as output declines from fields first tapped in the 1970s...

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Maps, pictures, and politics

I know we're not teaching much geography, but maps can help explain the political cleavages in Nigeria, the population distribution in Iran, the extent of earthquake damage in China, the vastness of the oil-rich Russian tundra, the isolation of Mexican peasants, and the relative size of the UK.

Here's a place to find some mapping tools: an introduction to Google Earth and Google Maps. Google has a Geo Education Home page for you.

"We hope that this site will serve as an easy-to-navigate, one-stop-shop for teachers looking to incorporate Google Earth, Maps, Sky, and Sketchup in their classrooms.

"Whether you're approaching these tools as a first-time explorer or a seasoned pro, it's our hope that you will find helpful hints, compelling examples, and... if you're ready to take your expertise of Google tools to the next level, be sure to check out the Google Teacher Academy, happening at Google's Mountain View headquarters in June.

You can read more about Google for Educators on the Official Google Blog.


Influential political scientists

Do the names Shirin Ebadi, Ashis Nancy, Aitzaz Ahsan, Samuel Huntington, Lilia Shevtsova, Michael Ignatieff, Robert Kagan, Anies Baswedan, Francis Fukuyama, Richard Posner, Ivan Krastev, Robert Putnam, Michael Walzer, Lawrence Lessig, Wang Hui, Gianni Riotta, Therese Delpech, Yan Xuetong, Oliver Roy, and Minxin Pei mean anything to you?

They are political scientists on a list that Patrick O'Neil, who teaches at the University of Puget Sound, pointed to: "The Top 100 Public Intellectuals". The list is in an article in Foreign Policy.

This is the magazine editors' list of "the thinkers who are shaping the tenor of our time." And the editors invite readers to vote for their top five (another article coming in the July/August issue).

What Patrick O'Neil pointed out was the preponderance of political scientists among the "Top 100." It's a good reminder to our students of the roles played by political scientists, and tool for recruiting the next generation.

[Click on the image to a larger version.]


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Two-year old prophecy

Less than two weeks after I started writing this blog at the beginning of May 2006, I cited a New York Times article, "Putin Says to Name Preferred Successor."

The link to the article itself is no longer active, so all I can see is the excerpt I quoted at the time.

The article noted that, "Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are widely seen as frontrunners to be picked by the Kremlin to follow Putin. The lawyer Medvedev and ex-spy Ivanov come from different backgrounds, but are both seen as likely to maintain Putin's course of ensuring a strong Kremlin, and being assertive abroad..."

The author of the Reuters report concluded by saying, "I'd put my money on Ivanov, given Putin's KGB background. But, if Medvedev has been a realiable and pliable assistant in the Kremlin, he might get the nod. Ah, democratic politics, Russian style. It's as interesting as capitalism, Chinese style and revolutionary politics, Mexican style."

If the writer was correct and Medvedev was "a realiable and pliable assistant," perhaps we can expect him to continue in that role.

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Food and global politics

Near the end of March, I noted a Xinhua article that suggested the Chinese government was raising prices paid to farmers to combat inflation. I suggested that feared food shortages were more a motive than feared inflation. (There are several additional references and comments appended to the original post.)

The latest Economist (May 10) puts the food supply in a global political context. It's worth reading for the examples it provides as well as a way to ask students to identify The Economist editors' biases and alternative preferences.

Taking the strain

"The political fallout from the rising cost of food has been manageable—so far.

"WHEN Haiti's prime minister resigned last month after a week of food riots, it seemed to confirm a warning that Bob Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, had given ten days before. He said 100m people were being pushed into hunger and malnutrition—and 30-odd countries faced social upheaval unless food policy improved and the rich world got its act together to help...

"The UN is... trying to make the international response more coherent. Ban Ki-moon, its secretary-general, has set up a task-force to co-ordinate what the UN agencies are doing and has called a food summit in early June to work out a plan...

"While donors squabble, poor countries face riots. But so far, these have had less political impact than many expected. Around 30 countries have suffered protests but only Haiti has seen its government fall. In the Middle East, the part of the world most dependent on food imports, there have been demonstrations and strikes in Egypt, Morocco and Jordan. But all three countries withstood more serious food riots in the late 1970s and 1980s...

"In some of the poorest countries, rising food prices have been causing less distress than might have been expected because benefits have also appeared. In Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries, the rice crop is up 10%, prices are about four times production costs and wages for landless peasants are soaring...

"Food importers... are buying time by, for example, boosting food subsidies or hiking wages. In Egypt, bread used to be about a fifth of the world price; now it is less than a tenth. Several Arab states have decreed hefty pay rises: 25% for public-sector workers in Syria, 30% in Egypt.

"These policies are inflationary and expensive.,,"

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Comic relief for students who know something about Nigeria

On a cool, rainy Saturday morning, I obviously have too much time on my hands.

If you're familiar with The Onion, you can probably predict what video clips you'll find on the Onion News Network, or ONN.

As I was looking at "clips" from the ONN series In the Know, I found "Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex".

It's a satire of Sunday morning panel discussion shows where the panelists who have no idea what's going on in Nigeria, are expected to carry on a discussion anyway. One of the panelists quickly looks up Niger on his Blackberry and proceeds to describe Nigeria as a country whose economy is dependent on cattle exports. Later, panelists begin to argue about the merits of Nigerian leaders they've never heard of. (The moderator isn't always much more knowledgeable than the panelists.)

Your students might enjoy the humor and understand that they are more knowledgeable than most Americans -- at least about one topic.

(This one's safe to show in class -- not all the others are. There is an advertisement at the end of the clip that you can easily skip.)

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Clarify and simplify (Nigerian corruption)

At times the headlines, detailed accounts, and the use of nicknames and abbreviations in the Nigerian press make figuring out the politics a real chore.

This report from The Economist does a good job, I think, of describing much of what's going on in the effort to identify corruption in Obasanjo's administration. Based on what I've read, this article underplays the blatant and enormous fleecing of the public in a nearly imaginary drive to create a reliable electrical generation infrastructure (which has produced no new power plants or transmission lines), but it is easier to understand than most Nigerian press accounts.

The past catches up

"Olusegun Obasanjo's reputation as a financially prudent president is being undermined by a series of investigations... Given that President Yar’Adua [right] was hand-picked by his predecessor, and that Olusegun Obasanjo is widely perceived to be his mentor, this is something of an embarrassment to the head of state, and many Nigerians are now watching to see how he responds to the mounting evidence of mismanagement and corruption during the Obasanjo era.

"Thus far, most of the charges of poor governance have not called into question Mr Obasanjo's personal integrity, so Mr Yar'Adua has not had to consider the need for some form of investigation or even charges against the former president. However, the corruption cases are getting closer to the former president.In early May, Nigeria's high court ruled that Mr Obasanjo's daughter, a senator, must face charges in a corruption case...

"[T]he Senate is continuing with its probe [that]... has already led to evidence that attempts to improve the electricity supply—at an estimated cost of US$16bn between 2000 and 2007—had no real benefit...

"All told, therefore, Mr Obasanjo is expected to come under even greater scrutiny in the next few months, forcing Mr Yar'Adua to try to find a balance between being seen to be tackling corruption and avoiding the ire of powerful people such as Mr Obasanjo..."

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Russian political economy

With all the attention recently paid to the new Russian president, the new Russian prime minister, and the militaristic Victory Day parade, broader analysis is neglected.

James Lerch alerted me to a Newsweek article about political economy in Russia. Owen Matthew's account makes the whole picture look pretty shaky.

And the political implications are?

Economy of Clay

"Moscow is flush with oil money. But the new President Dmitry Medvedev needs to do more than just redistribute it to bring his nation back to fiscal health...

"Moscow may seem an odd place to host a major international boat show—not least because Russia's capital is nearly a thousand kilometers from the open sea. But over the last few years, a heady combination of easy oil money and a taste for excess has worked strange miracles in this, Europe's brashest capital...

"Across town... the skyscrapers of the Moskva-City business development are springing up like mushrooms after the rain. By 2015, Moscow will boast the 10 tallest office buildings in Europe...

"On paper, Russia's basic economic indicators appear quite healthy: growth has averaged 7.5 per year for the last eight years, the country's massive debts have been replaced with a $150 billion stabilization fund, and its trade balance shows a healthy surplus of $72.5 billion last year...

"[B]y some estimates, Russia's GDP growth should have been closer to 14 percent...

"The underlying reasons for Russia's underperformance are more political than economic... the policies of Putin's Kremlin—which will doubtless be continued by the Medvedev administration—have considerably worsened Russia's economic situation... Put bluntly, 'the state uses the law selectively to expropriate the property of its enemies—or of any business which individual bureaucrats want to steal,' says Sergei Filatov, an activist for the United Civic Front opposition group...

"The result is a kind of state-sanctioned extortion. And by extension, that every businessperson in Russia knows that his or her business is only safe from being raided and stolen by bureaucrats or police to the extent that they have powerful allies in the police or administration themselves...

"Not surprisingly, given the fact that it is more profitable to be a bureaucrat than a businessman, that the size of Russia's bureaucracy has risen by 50 percent in the eight years of Putin's rule... More, a survey last year of 16-to-24-year-olds by the Moscow-based Levada Center found that nearly 70 percent of young Russians aspired to work for the state rather than become entrepreneurs...

"[T]he Kremlin has been the fastest-growing Russian corporation of all, extending state control into almost every sector of the economy from energy and metals to the defense industry, car and aircraft makers and the media. These giants are grossly inefficient by any Western corporate standards, yet the flood of oil money coming in obscures their fundamental unsoundness in a deluge of cash..."

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Divisions within the theocracy

As is often the case in a less-than-transparent and partially-democratic political system, recognizing politics can be difficult. Thomas Erdbrink, of the Washington Post offered some hints by highlighting a Tehran newspaper article.

Ahmadinejad Criticized for Saying Long-Ago Imam Mahdi Leads Iran

"Several leading Iranian clerics criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday for saying that the last imam of Shiite Islam, a messianic figure who Shiites believe was hidden by God 1,140 years ago, leads modern-day Iran...

"Several clerics in the Iranian parliament accused Ahmadinejad of implying that Imam Mahdi or Imam Zaman (Imam of the Age), as the Shiite messiah is also called, supports his government. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran's government has been overseen by Shiite clerics, but religious leaders here have resisted Ahmadinejad's frequent hints that his government's actions are guided by the Mahdi.

"Clerics said in interviews published Wednesday that the president should not use the imam to his political advantage or to silence critics of the government.

"'If, God forbid, Ahmadinejad means that Imam Zaman supports the government's actions, this is wrong. Certainly Imam Zaman would not accept 20 percent inflation rates, nor would he support it or many other mistakes that exist in the country today,' wrote Gholam-reza Mesbahi Moghadam, a cleric belonging to a powerful faction close to Iranian businessmen and established religious figures. His comments appeared in Ettemaad-e Melli, a Tehran newspaper owned by a cleric who is critical of Ahmadinejad...

"The clerics also feared that the president's remarks in Mashad could make it harder to criticize the government. 'These kinds of statements might create an image of a holy relation between persons and religion, which will close the path for critics,' Mahmoud Madani Bajestani, another cleric and politician told Ettemaad-e Melli..."

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Who's on first?

Questions Consume Kremlin-Watchers As Putin Steps Aside

"On Wednesday, Dmitry Medvedev will walk through three gilded halls in the Grand Kremlin Palace to a rostrum where he will be sworn in as Russia's third president...

"The following day, with much less ceremony and more dispatch, his popular and powerful predecessor, Vladimir Putin, will almost certainly become Russia's new prime minister...

"Since the moment last year when Putin announced his willingness to become prime minister, Russia has been gripped by questions: Who will rule Russia? Why is Putin assuming a seemingly subordinate role to Medvedev? And how long will this tango last?...

"Putin has also been named chairman of the dominant United Russia party, beginning Thursday. The party rewrote its rules to allow its new chairman to dismiss any functionary and suspend any party activity...

"Through the party, Putin will control both houses of parliament, which can impeach the president and regional governors. He will also be master of Russia's vast bureaucracy and state-controlled companies whose ranks are full of his loyalists...

"'With two drivers, there will be conflict, even paralysis,' Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Center said. 'Medvedev has to show he has the guts, courage, vision and charisma to consolidate his own position.'"

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A retrospective on Putin's career (so far)

Putin Restored Russia's Pride, At A Price

"Vladimir Putin, who will step down on Wednesday after eight years as president, allowed nothing to get in the way of his goal of making Russia great again.

"Most Russians think he succeeded. Russia's economy is flourishing, a Chechen insurgency has been quelled and this week Russia's military will display its reviving might by parading tanks through Red Square.

"Foreign governments and a minority inside Russia ask at what cost. On Putin's watch, Russia's relations with the West have turned prickly while critics accuse him of accumulating huge power at the expense of democracy and human rights.

"Either way, he has left a big mark on Russia and his legacy is still being written. His successor Dmitry Medvedev has said he will continue Putin's policies while the ex-president himself will retain power as prime minister..."

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Post-AP Exam teaching ideas

Many people have time left in the school year after the AP Exam. Using that instructional time wisely is often a dilemma. I usually assigned some kind of project that was based on a theme (meme?) that had come up during the semester (e.g. comparative human rights, parties in other democratic regimes like India, Japan, Germany, Brazil...).

I've uploaded a couple new teaching ideas for the post-AP Exam period to the sharing comparative group site.

The first, from Don Myers in Bellevue, Washington, is a responsive essay based on an op-ed piece (link provided) by a political scientist who is also a partisan activist. It's titled "Evaluation of Liberty."

The second is a research/presentation/discussion/writing project titled, "Post-Exam Project 1." (It's #1, because I expect some of you will be able to contribute ideas after you've tried them out.)

If you're not a member of the group, you can join using the link below.

Click to join sharecompgovpol


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Advanced Placement exam

On Monday afternoon, 5 May, about 14,000 high school students will sit down to take the Advanced Placement exam in Comparative Government and Politics.

In fact, as I write this at 10:00 CDT on 4 May, students in New Zealand (if there are any AP students there) are finishing the exam. It's noon in Tokyo and Seoul and the exam will begin shortly. It's 11:00 AM in Shanghai, where students will take the exam after lunch.

Students in Honolulu will be among the last to finish the exam, about three hours after those in Los Angeles and Anchorage.

The finale of all those efforts will come in June when a couple hundred people who teach comparative politics will gather in Florida at "the reading," to apply the rubrics to the Free Response Questions, which will complete the exam grading process.

Good luck to all those students and to those of you who will later be readers.


British local elections

A sign of things to come?

Colorful Tory Beats Laborite to Become Mayor of London

"As votes were tallied across the country after Thursday’s elections, it emerged that the Labor Party had suffered its worst local election results in at least 40 years.

"With final votes in for the 159 local councils in which seats were being contested, Labor lost 331 seats overall, and the Conservative opposition gained 256. The Labor Party took an estimated 24 percent of the overall vote, placing it a woeful third behind the Conservatives, with 44 percent, and the Liberal Democrats, with 25 percent.

"But it was the mayoral race, in which Mr. Johnson, 43, defeated the experienced Labor incumbent, Ken Livingstone, 62, by 1,168,738 votes to 1,028,966 votes, that was the biggest shock — a sure sign of a deep national weariness with the Labor government...

"Except in the case of the mayoral contest, the election results were more important for their symbolism than for their substance. Local councils have little actual power, but British voters tend to use local elections to express relative degrees of displeasure with the government in office...

"The prime minister admitted bluntly that the result was terrible, as did an array of cabinet ministers dispatched to spread the message that the government was listening to the public and that it would try to improve...

"But historically, poor results for the ruling party in local British elections are not necessarily harbingers of poor results in subsequent general elections...

And from the BBC:

BNP wins seat in London Assembly

"The anti-immigration British National Party has won a seat on the London Assembly after getting 5.3% of votes.

"Richard Barnbrook, who is BNP leader on Barking and Dagenham Council and who came fifth in the mayoral contest, will take up one of the 25 assembly seats...

"London voters elected 14 of the London Assembly members directly, with the remaining 11 divided between the parties in proportion to London-wide votes...

"The BNP campaign focused heavily on tackling crime and stopping recent immigrants jumping ahead of people who had been on council housing waiting lists for a long time.

"There were also pledges to scrap the congestion charge, pull out of the EU, plant more fruit trees and provide solar panels on public buildings.

"But immigration is the BNP's best known policy area - they want an immediate halt to it, deportation of all illegal immigrants and they propose offering money for 'voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin'..."

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Nigerian constitution

There are many people in Nigeria who argue that the 1994 constitution was undemocratically imposed on the country by military and political leaders. Critics argue that it's illegitimate and flawed. The reasons for dissatisfaction vary widely, but the coalition of reformers has enough clout to "study the problem" nearly every year.

So far, efforts at constitutional reform have stalled because of political differences among the constitution's critics.

The newspaper Leadership in Abuja reported on the latest review. The billion Naria budget for the study would be about $120,000 US.

Senate to Spend N1bn On Constitution Review

"The Senate has earmarked N1 billion for the joint adhoc committee to review the 1999 constitution.

"Speaking with Senate reporters yesterday, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate president who is also chairman of the joint committee confirmed that just like in the Senate, this time too, the sum of N1 billion has been earmarked for the activities leading to the review of the 1999 constitution..."

See also: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Economics, expectations, and politics

What hypotheses would your students make about the political effects of the changes and attitudes reported by the New York Times?

For Europe’s Middle-Class, Stagnant Wages Stunt Lifestyle

"The European dream is under assault, as the wave of inflation sweeping the globe mixes with this continent’s long-stagnant wages. Families that once enjoyed Europe’s vaunted quality of life are pinching pennies to buy necessities, and cutting back on extras like movies and vacations abroad.

"Potentially more disturbing — especially to the political and social order — are the millions across the continent grappling with the realization that they may have lives worse, not better, than their parents...

"To be sure, Europe’s middle class is still larger than the number of people at risk of falling into poverty — and, by many measures, more protected than the American middle class. But policy makers worry that could change as the European economy starts to feel the drag of an American slowdown and high inflation...

"That simmering concern turned into anger last week in Britain. Striking teachers closed schools for the first time in two decades...

"German workers from several industries waged a series of strikes last month demanding a greater piece of the economic pie...

"In France, where purchasing power has replaced unemployment as Public Enemy No. 1, unions representing workers from teachers to factory workers have taken to the streets in protest...

"Stagnant pay and soaring prices have hit Italy hardest. Recent statistics from the country’s main shopkeepers’ union showed consumer spending was down 1.1 percent in January from a year earlier, the biggest drop in three years. Leisure and recreation spending fell 5.5 percent..."

Political effects? A Spanish television director is quoted in the article as saying, “I’m surprised we haven’t started a revolution.” An Italian secretary is quoted as saying, “I look at people on the bus and they seem sad and beaten down. We’re 40 years old. We should be feeling more combative, but really all we feel is frustrated.” A German union representative said, “The idea that ‘I will sacrifice to save my job’ is dying. People are ready to fight now.”

Who will they elect?

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

EU malaise

And now here's my reminder that studying comparative politics without considering international and transnational and supranational organizations makes the study incomplete (IMHO).

As Euro Nears 10, Cracks Emerge in Fiscal Union

"The euro turns 10 next January, a milestone that will be marked with celebratory speeches, inch-thick scholarly papers and a commemorative 2-euro coin...

"By most yardsticks, Europe’s common currency has been a success, emerging as an alternative to the fading dollar for bond dealers, central bankers, [and] Chinese exporters...

"Yet fissures are forming in the European monetary union that threaten to widen in coming months.

"Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain... are struggling with eroding competitiveness, rising prices and bloated debts. Meanwhile, Germany, the sick man of Europe for most of the euro era, is suddenly vigorous again...

"When leaders and laggards use the same money but have opposite problems, tensions are bound to surface.

"Take Italy, perhaps Europe’s shakiest economy. Facing high labor costs, slumping exports and a gaping public debt, its old remedy for hard times would have been to devalue the lira. Now, chained to the mighty euro, it cannot do that. Instead, it will probably have to endure a recession and rising unemployment, something no politician — but especially not one just elected, like Silvio Berlusconi — wants to face...

"In some sense, the political honeymoon for the euro ended in May 2005, when voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the proposed constitution for the European Union. While that document had little direct bearing on the currency, it symbolized Europe’s steady march from economic to political integration, a process that, for now at least, has stalled...

"Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries once hoped to adopt the currency fairly soon after joining the European Union. Now, with a deeper awareness of its cost, most will wait until after 2012..."

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