Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Training for change

The change in Mexico's legal system is not something that happens automatically. Judges, lawyers, the accused, and the public need to learn new roles in an adversarial system.

Mexican Prosecutors Train in U.S. for Changes in Their Legal System

"In what experts say is nothing short of a revolution, Mexico is gradually abandoning its centuries-old Napoleonic system of closed-door, written inquisitions -- largely a legacy of Spanish colonial rule -- that had long been criticized as rife with corruption, opaque decisions, abuse of defendants and red tape that bogged down cases for years.

"Instead, for the first time, defendants will be presumed innocent until proved guilty, instead of the other way around, as they are now. The police will use more forensics and meticulous fact-gathering. Plea bargains, mediation and probation, never tried before in Mexico, will become standard.

"And, in what many consider one of the biggest leaps, courtroom doors will be thrown open to the public for oral trials before a trio of judges where victims and the accused can confront one another and evidence will be laid out in the open...

"The changes, long demanded by human rights groups, are similar to reforms in a dozen other Latin American countries...

"[A training] session, with 27 Mexican lawyers from three states... was organized by the Conference of Western Attorneys General and the National Association of Attorneys General, which together will be training several hundred prosecutors in the next few years..."

See also:

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From the "The Monkey Cage" blog

If you're looking for help explaining the EU political parties, here's a suggestion from the political scientists who write for the George Washington University-based blog:

EU Profiler

"Now, via Peter Mair, there’s a site called EU Profiler, which is designed to help you choose who to vote for in the upcoming European Parliament elections. It uses a two dimensional issue space, one dimension being socio-economic views (your standard left-right divisions, and the other, your position on EU integration). What is nice is that it appears to have a standardized question database across EU countries, to tell you which party is closest to your views in different member states."

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Soldiers as cops in Mexico

The roles of soldiers and police officers are clearly distinct in most democratic regimes. Threats to a regime or a state can easily begin blurring that distinction.

Mexico proposes expanding army's power

"A bill that would let Mexico declare temporary states of emergency and expand the army's power in a bloody fight against powerful drug gangs drew immediate fire Thursday from human rights activists who say soldiers should not be doing the job of police.

"President Felipe Calderon's proposal, which centers on the idea of declaring drug trafficking hotspots 'domestic security' zones, would give the army access to civilian court and police files...

" By law, soldiers are limited to playing a support role for police.

"The proposal would officially place army troops at the head of anti-crime efforts in some areas – formalizing the reality that in some places the military has effectively replaced weak or corrupt local forces..."

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A campaign is a campaign is a campaign

It might not look like it, but the arrests reported here are part of the presidential election campaign in Iran. The American journalist, who is now in jail, is also part of the campaign. Can your students explain how and why?

Iran arrests terror group, newspaper says

"An Iranian newspaper said yesterday that the authorities had arrested a group of what it called terrorists linked to Israel, accusing them of planning to plant bombs in Tehran ahead of the June 12 elections.

"[It] quoted the minister of intelligence, Gholam-hossein Mohseni Ejei, as saying that a 'terrorist team' wanted to create 'anarchy and insecurity' ahead of the elections. He did not reveal when the arrests took place or how many people had been arrested...

"The accusation was the second incident in a week highlighting Iran's long-running suspicions about and hostility toward Israel...

"Such are the suspicions that a serious debate erupted here last week over reports that Israeli oranges had reached Iranian markets..."

See also:

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Reminder: all of Nigeria is not politics

This article came from the Daily Independent in Lagos.

Why I Won't Star in Nollywood -Zebrudaya

"Hardly would the story of comedy in Nigerian Television be told without recalling his comic name. Chika Okpala... played a prominent role in the popular sitcom comedy New Masquerade, a T.V. Series that kept households glued to their television sets in late 1980's.

[At right, Delta state Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Udaughan on the left and Chika Okpala (Zebrudaya) on the right.]

"Even after the series, he remains a brand in the nation's entertainment industry. In this interview with reporter, Ifeoma Meze in his Enugu residence, Okpala talks about his life as a comedian and why he is hardly seen in nollywood movies, among other issues.

"How has life been so far after the Sitcom comedy The Masquerade?

"Life has not been smooth in terms of drama. I have tried my hands in so many other productions but they don't seem to catch the same flavour and attention as Masquerade, may be because of language or style. I cannot really say where the problem is from because I use good actors for the show and still it does not really go like Masquerade...

"Is that why we have not been seeing you in other Nollywood movies?

"Not exactly for that reason, we started Nollywood. We initiated what today is shaped to be Nollywood. What we had in mind was to boost the image of Nigeria, boost the image of the black man especially the Igbo man mannerisms and ways of life. That was what we had in mind by putting up Masquerade. Masquerade is a kind of comic relief that x-rayed the public and character of people in their different performances. The comedy brought them out for people to see the foolishness in man. So it became interesting...

"What is your view on the level entertainment has gotten to in Nigeria?

"It is improving tremendously. Nigeria is beginning to realise that with entertainment they could push education... We call it entertainment education programmes... When instructions are interwoven into entertainment, into comedy or even music, people learn more from it..."

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Monday, April 27, 2009

More on Russian elections

Here's a case study on how United Russia wins elections.

Idealism Amid the Cynicism of Russian Politics

"In a country where complaints of vote-rigging are common -- and commonly ignored -- Anton Chumachenko's stands out: The authorities say he won an election, but he insists he lost.

"A first-time candidate for office and a member of Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party, Chumachenko won a seat on a local legislative council in St. Petersburg last month. Three weeks later, he publicly renounced his own victory, expressing disgust that votes had been falsified in his favor...

"In a recent interview, he exhibited that youthful mix of earnestness and ambition so familiar in official Washington. The skinny 23-year-old with thick, arched eyebrows, a dark two-button suit and a degree in public relations said it was a "childhood dream" to seek office, adding that he hoped to fix roads, organize street patrols to fight crime and make St. Petersburg a more attractive tourist destination.

"As for his selection of a political party, Chumachenko said he didn't have much choice. 'I understood that only this political party would give me the power and opportunities to change things,' he said. 'If I worked with any other party, it would be just words, and I think it's better to do something than just criticize.'

"As president and now as prime minister, Putin has worked to weaken Russia's opposition parties while concentrating power in United Russia, whose members hold the vast majority of the nation's elected posts, including more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

"But the ruling party established in 2001 remains a work in progress. It has struggled in particular to contain infighting in municipal elections, one of the few remaining venues for open political competition in Russia...

"Chumachenko has provided evidence to the court and urged it to transfer his mandate to Vishnevsky. A ruling is pending. Meanwhile, prosecutors have sought to examine the original ballots. Election officials say they were damaged when a water pipe burst, an explanation that has been used before in Russia to stall investigations into election irregularities.

"'We have very smart pipes,' Chumachenko said with a grin. 'They know exactly where to leak.'"

See also:

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A navy to match its economy

China makes its debut as a world sea power

"At dawn Thursday, a long row of grey-hulled warships will sail past this port city [Qingdao], making an unprecedented display of China's growing naval might and a statement about its new willingness to use it around the world. Officially, Thursday's fleet review here marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy, which was born in 1949, when a unit of nine warships defected from the Kuomintang to join the Communists.

"But the display of force, which is to include the first public showing of China's nuclear submarine fleet, will also serve notice that the country has arrived as a global naval power. It's a moment of obvious pride for this nation of 1.3 billion people, and one of quiet concern for some of its neighbours. Beijing also has recently confirmed that it is moving toward developing its first aircraft carrier, though that milestone is likely several years away...

"Beijing has spent billions modernizing and adding new vessels to its fleet, which is believed to include as many as 10 nuclear-powered submarines...

"But China still remains fiercely guarded about the actual strength of its naval forces. While many foreign warships visiting Qingdao this week, including the destroyer USS Fitzgerald, opened themselves up to military and civilian visitors, Chinese ships have been kept strictly off limits..."

Chinese navy sails onto world stage

"The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was making final preparations for Thursday's international fleet parade in the eastern port of Qingdao to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding.

"The parade will feature 21 navy ships from other countries...

"Major-General Zhang Shiping... said inviting foreign navies to China is a process of communication and exchange...

"In fact, 'inviting in and going out', which has been used to describe China's foreign trade, has been increasingly applied by the Chinese army, especially by the PLAN, in its relations with foreign military..."

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Testing the capacity of the state

The response by Mexican government officials certainly demonstrates the capacity of the state.

Imagine the response to an epidemic like this in Nigeria (see Imagine campaigning for votes in this environment and Politics and polio in Nigeria)

Remember SARS in China? (see How Bad Is It?)

Have you read about Mad Cow Disease in the UK?

And how is Iran doing in dealing with drug use and AIDS?

Then there's Health alert as Russia’s alcohol consumption triples.

All these situations test the capacity of states. How are they doing?

Swine flu empties Mexico City's churches, streets

"Churches stood empty Sunday in heavily Roman Catholic Mexico City after services were canceled, and health workers screened airports and bus stations for people sickened by a new strain of swine flu that experts fear could become a global epidemic.

"President Felipe Calderon has assumed new powers to isolate people infected with the deadly swine flu strain that Mexico's health minister says has killed up to 81 people and likely sickened 1,324 in the country since April 13...

"In Mexico, soldiers and health workers patrolled the capital's subway system on Sunday handing out surgical masks and looking for possible flu cases. People were advised to seek medical attention if they suffered from multiple symptoms – which include a fever of more than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea..."

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Follow up on Sochi election

Watch for results soon.

Democracy, the Kremlin Way

"Voters in Sochi will cast ballots Sunday in one of the highest-profile local elections to be held in Russia in years, a contest that President Dmitry Medvedev recently described as "good for democracy" but that critics have condemned as a showcase for the Kremlin's usual dirty tricks.

"Six candidates remain in the mayoral race out of the 25 who originally expressed interest. Seven were struck from the ballot because of alleged errors in their registration forms, and others said they were pressured into quitting.

"Only one candidate has been able to run a real campaign -- Anatoly Pakhomov, the incumbent and nominee of the ruling United Russia party...

"Analysts said the only significant gesture the Kremlin has made toward allowing real competition in the race was the decision to let Nemtsov, a prominent Putin critic, stay on the ballot...

"Nemtsov, a Sochi native, said the authorities have detained his campaign workers, seized his leaflets and prevented him from renting facilities for events. Last month, unidentified assailants threw ammonia in his face outside his campaign headquarters; he says they were activists from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.

"Local media have refused to accept advertising from any of the opposition candidates or cover their campaign events...

"The opposition has sought to make a stand in municipal elections in part because other options have been closed. The Kremlin abolished gubernatorial contests in 2004, and it exercises tight control over presidential and parliamentary elections..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Party politics in Mexico

PRI Leads, But Rivals Gain in Mexico

"Mexico’s largest political party is holding on to the top spot in the Latin American country, according to a poll by Consulta Mitofsky. 32.3 per cent of respondents would support the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in this year’s election to the Chamber of Deputies.

"The ruling National Action Party (PAN) is second with 26.8 per cent, followed by the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) with 14.7 per cent...

"In the July 2006 legislative election, the PAN secured 206 seats in the 500-member Chamber of Deputies, followed by a PRD-led alliance with 160 lawmakers, and a coalition of the PRI and the Green Environmentalist Party (PVEM) with 121 mandates..."

Polling Data

Which party would you vote for in the next election to the Chamber of Deputies?

Mar. 2009

Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI): 32.3%

National Action Party (PAN): 26.8%

Democratic Revolution Party (PRD): 14.7%

Other: 5.3%

None of these / Not sure: 20.9%

Source: Consulta Mitofsky
Methodology: Face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Mexican adults, conducted from Mar. 27 to Mar. 30, 2009. Margin of error is 3.5 per cent.

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Online government in China

Will online availability lead to more transparency?

Nationwide Chinese e-gov't system has been built

"As of the end of 2008, the country's government administrations at central, provincial and municipal levels have all set up official Web sites, said Yang Xueshan, vice minister of Industry and Information Technology Ministry at the China E-government Forum opened Thursday.

"More than 90 percent of county-level governments and even many towns and villages have established portal Web sites, Yang added...

"'With this across-nation e-government system being built, it can be a good channel between government and the public,' said WeiLiqun, senior official at China National School of Administration.

"These Webs sites post government news, notices and documents. Some even has [sic] started an online application and approval service for licenses, to better help the people."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Allow me to repeat myself about the AP exam

Back in December 2006 I offered this bit of wisdom,"My advice to students in the face of changes remains the same. 'Do what you're asked to do in the question.' And 'Answer the question that's asked.'"

All of the old advice still pertains to this year's exam.

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics


Another candidate in Iran

Ex-Leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Seeks Presidency

"A hard-line politician and former head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezai, announced Wednesday that he would enter the presidential race, indicating additional splintering among the country’s conservatives.

"Mr. Rezai, who oversaw the Revolutionary Guards from 1981 to 1997, had been seeking to unite conservative politicians behind another candidate to compete against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he decided instead to become a candidate himself in the presidential election, to be held June 12, Iranian news media reported.

"Mr. Rezai, who has accused Mr. Ahmadinejad of mismanaging the economy, will run as an independent candidate, the ISNA news agency reported.

"His candidacy underscores the political fragmenting of a conservative faction known as the Principlists, which threw its support behind Mr. Ahmadinejad when he ran for president in 2004. Some leading figures who supported Mr. Ahmadinejad then have not publicly backed him this time...

"Politicians who favor more political and social openness, along with closer ties to the West, have also been unable to coalesce around a single candidate. They are divided between a former prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and a former speaker of Parliament, Mehdi Karroubi..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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A possible economic rebound from authoritarian politics

Russians Bet on a Market for Dampening Dissent

"Alongside bargain retailers, cheap restaurants, debt collectors and bankruptcy lawyers, a midsize factory in Siberia is promoting a product that it hopes is just the thing for hard times. Employees here call it the “anti-democracy truck,” a modified fire truck fitted with a water cannon and designed to quell riots.

"'We look at this as a product with a market,' Vladimir N. Kazakov, the factory director, said in an interview in his office. 'We don’t mind who buys them. We would be happy to sell them to Israel, America or France.'...

"The truck is sold under the brand names Avalanche-Hurricane and... the Storm. Shrouded in steel armor, it comes standard with brick- and cobblestone-resistant window grilles, sprinklers attached to a tank of chemical irritant like pepper spray, speakers that can emit ear-splitting noise and, of course, a powerful, joystick-operated water cannon. The cannon can topple protesters from dozens of yards away...

"In Russia, the economy is doing an about-face from 6 percent growth in 2008 to an expected 2.2 percent contraction this year, according to government figures that are probably too optimistic, many economists say. With unemployment rolls swelling, protests are likely, said Yevgeny S. Gontmakher, a member of the board of the government-affiliated Institute of Contemporary Development, a research organization in Moscow. 'The social consequences will grow all this year, we can say that with certainty.'..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Explaining lower voter turnout in the EU

Worth voting for an MEP?

"A Eurobarometer poll just released indicates that 28% of those Europeans questioned probably won't vote. A startling 30% in Britain said they definitely wouldn't vote: not "perhaps not", or "maybe" - they have made up their minds they won't cast a vote...

"General disillusionment with the EU may be the reason, but this isn't very logical: Conservatives and Libertas are both very critical of the existing structure and want to change it and UKIP want to pull out. So there is no shortage of options for those who dislike the EU in greater or smaller measure.

"There's little doubt that, for good or ill, the European Parliament has gained power and will gain even more if the Lisbon Treaty ever comes into effect...

"So why the indifference? I suspect that, although a lot of our laws are made at European level (more on this next week), people find it difficult to see how their vote matters. In general elections you actually vote for an individual MP but most people think in terms of voting for a government and a prime minister.

"In elections for the European Parliament things are not so clear-cut... [I]f the Socialists, currently the second largest party, became the largest power block instead of the Christian Democrats, what difference would it make?...

"Labour MEP Richard Corbett... suggests that this is not a specifically European effect: turnout for the mid-term congressional elections in the US is even lower. Again voters are not choosing a government. There is a general trend of falling turnout in most elections. I've just being talking to some visiting academics and one suggested that his vote changed nothing: it was lobby groups and NGOs that make a real impact, whether in Brussels or Westminster. Does voting change anything?..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let the campaign begin

Iran's Revolutionary Guard is a military force separate from the rest of Iran's military. Its purpose is to protect Iran's revolution. The actions of the Revolutionary Guard are closely coordinated with the goals of the supreme leader. President Ahmadinejad served in the guard's militia, the Basij, during the war with Iraq.

The theme promoted by the Guards' press release -- threats from abroad -- is likely to be a theme that is repeated during the upcoming presidential election.

Iran's Guards unveil Dutch plot to oust govt

"Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said Saturday they unveiled a Dutch plot aimed at overthrowing the Iranian government by supporting the opposition through the media and the Internet...

"[The press release] said the parliament in the Netherlands had in 2005 adopted a 15 million euro ($19 million) budge... which was used to fund Persian Internet sites hostile to the Islamic regime and to help rights groups.

"'The Dutch project aimed to encourage sexual and moral deviation in society,' the Revolutionary Guards center said, and to support the idea that the 'threats (against Iran) are increasing (and) . . . the idea that the current Iranian government is incapacitated.'...

"The Guards revealed it dismantled several networks last month accused of setting up anti-Islamic, counter-revolutionary and 'obscene' websites, and arrested a number of suspects including people residing abroad..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lack of civil society

It's not just corruption and authoritarian government that prevents the Chinese system from being self-correcting.

Graft in China Covers Up Toll of Coal Mines

"[W]ide-ranging cover-up[s] might seem unusual in the Internet age, but it remains disturbingly common here. From mine disasters to chemical spills, the 2003 SARS epidemic to the past year’s scandal over tainted milk powder, Chinese bureaucrats habitually hide safety lapses for fear of being held accountable by the ruling Communist Party or exposing their own illicit ties to companies involved.

"Under China’s authoritarian system, superiors reward subordinates for strict compliance with targets set from above, like reducing mine disasters. Should one occur, the incentive to hide it is often stronger than the reward for handling it well. A disaster on a bureaucrat’s watch is almost surely a blot on his career. A scandal buried quietly, under truckloads of dirt, may never be discovered.

"China’s lack of a free press, independent trade unions, citizen watchdog groups and other checks on official power makes cover-ups more possible, even though the Internet now makes it harder to suppress information completely...

"Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, argues that Beijing’s top-down approach can only do so much to make local officials more accountable.

"'We don’t have the grass-roots democracy; we don’t have independent labor unions; we don’t have checks and balances; we don’t have any system of official accountability,' he said..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Challenges in China

Where will all the students go?

"The global financial crisis could hardly have struck China’s university campuses at a worse time. Even before economic growth began slowing last year, graduates had been having a tough time getting jobs thanks to a surge in college enrolment. This year 6.1m students will graduate from Chinese universities, nearly six times as many as in 2000...

"Campus stability has long been a worry to China’s government. Students took a leading role in several outbreaks of pro-democracy unrest in the 1980s, including the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Student demands for political change have been rare since then, thanks largely to an improvement in career prospects brought about by the economic take-off...

"The government might draw comfort from a growing interest among university students in joining the Communist Party. In some colleges most of them have put in applications. More than 8% of students are now members, compared with just over 1% in 1990. As party literature laments, however, this is often far less about love for the Communist cause than it is about burnishing credentials..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Reduced competition?

Do economic hard times reduce political competition in Russia?

Russian Billionaire Club Loses Two Thirds Of Members

"Russia's economic slowdown has shredded the net worth of its richest people by more than 70 percent in the last year and slashed membership of its billionaires club by two thirds.

"Mikhail Prokhorov, despite losing $13.1 billion, topped the annual rich list published on Friday by the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. The mining tycoon's $9.5 billion fortune made him $1 billion richer than second-placed Roman Abramovich...

"Russian businessmen who borrowed heavily when money was cheap are battling to restructure their share of the $130 billion in corporate debt due to mature this year, a task made harder when the state halted bailouts to plug a budget deficit...

"The net worth of Russia's 100 richest people is $142 billion, down from $520 billion a year ago, Forbes said. The number of billionaires dropped to 32 from 110.

"And while a billion-dollar fortune was not enough to guarantee a place in last year's top 100, a net worth of $400 million would secure a position in the latest rankings..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Nigerian what if

What if the president goes?

"IN AN office in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, economists scour the morning’s newspapers for photographs of President Umaru Yar’Adua, hoping to divine a clue as to his well-being...

"Since Mr Yar’Adua moved into his presidential villa, a string of long and unexplained trips abroad has fuelled speculation that his health is worsening. When photographers in the federal capital, Abuja, were recently barred from taking close-up pictures of him, rumours reached fever pitch...

"Political power in Nigeria is still allotted in back-room deals to ensure that the top job alternates between the elites of the largely Muslim north and Christian south: a 'gentlemen’s agreement' to allow the ungentlemanly feasting on the country’s billions of dollars of stolen and mismanaged oil resources. Nigeria is still one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

"Mr Yar’Adua, a pious Muslim, succeeded Mr Obasanjo, a southern Christian, in the expectation of serving the maximum two consecutive four-year terms. The northerners think that eight years at the trough were duly agreed. But if Mr Yar’Adua had to leave early, the constitution says that the vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, would take the helm until elections at the end of the four-year cycle. Mr Jonathan is another southern Christian. The northerners would not look kindly on his accession, even if he had only two years in office. Yet a power struggle at the top could destabilise the country all over again."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Green, local politics or something else?

Perspective, perspective. Is a new mayor a grassroots, environmentalist or an agent of a political insider?

Phillip Pan, Washington Post reporter, repeats the contention, made by Ellen Barry, that local politics can still be competitive in Russia. (However, the disqualification of the candidate Barry used an example makes her argument very questionable -- see the comment added to the original post.)

Russian Voting Tinged With Green

"Environment Outmuscles Kremlin Controls in Mayoral Election

"[I]f the odds were against [Dmitry] Belanovich [left] as he challenged Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, which dominates and often fixes elections in this country, he built his campaign on an issue that seemed to resonate -- environmental protection. And when the votes were counted March 1, he won in a landslide.

"The surprise victory showed that, despite a decade of tightening political controls by the Kremlin, it is still possible to take on Putin's ruling party in a local election and prevail...

"In recent weeks, United Russia's candidates have also lost mayoral contests in the cities of Murmansk and Smolensk, and a volatile race is underway in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics... [See Russian mayoral election]

"Belanovich, 34, said his bid to become mayor of this town of 70,000 received no coverage on television or in major newspapers. But by speaking to residents directly and distributing campaign brochures, he won 45 percent of the vote, compared with 27 percent for the second-place United Russia candidate. He attributed his victory to his promise to protect the natural ecology of this rural municipality, which he calls the "lungs of Moscow" because nearly half its territory is covered with forests. He campaigned on pledges to block construction along rivers and a major reservoir, clean up a polluting pig farm and promote agriculture and tourism instead of industry...

"Some environmentalists have hailed Belanovich's election. But others have played down its significance because of Belanovich's ties to Oleg Mitvol, the deputy chief of the federal environmental watchdog agency and a controversial figure in the movement...

"Critics have portrayed Mitvol as a Kremlin attack dog who used the environmental charges to pressure Shell to sell its controlling stake in the project to the state energy giant Gazprom...

"Other activists defended Mitvol, saying he has drawn attention to environmental causes. 'He may not be the most knowledgeable environmentalist, but he has good intentions,' said Ivan Blokov, director of the Russian branch of Greenpeace..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It was 20-years ago today

The Chinese authorities have started arresting people they think might try to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and massacre. So it's worth noting that in my third year of teaching comparative politics, big events were set in motion just as we were finishing the course. And big events kept happening until the end of the school year.

I spent about 400 hours that summer putting together a HyperCard program about the people and events of April, May, and June 1989. It was published by the HyperMedia Clearning House at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Unfortunately, there's no way to see the material anymore: those little plastic-coated floppy disks are obsolete and I doubt there's a computer outside a museum that can run HyperCard anymore. Besides, the material hasn't been updated since 1991.

All that is an introduction to Jeremiah Jenne's entry on his blog, Jottings from the Granite Studio. (Jenne's an American historian teaching and researching in China.) His note is about the death that sparked the initial demonstrations in China 20 years ago.

The Historical Record for April 15, 2009: The Death of Hu Yaobang

"Today marks 20 years since the death of Hu Yaobang, former General Secretary of the CCP and one of Deng Xiaoping’s key allies in inaugurating the Reform and Opening Era... He was persecuted and purged during the Cultural Revolution only to be rehabilitated and named as Deng’s hand-picked choice to bump Mao’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, off the political stage...

"Hu was stripped of his position as General Secretary in January, 1987, replaced on an interim basis by Zhao Ziyang. In hindsight, and from the perspective of Deng Xiaoping, this was a bit like deciding that Britney was too medicated to drive, and asking Brit’s good friend Lindsay Lohan to take the keys and make sure everyone gets home safe. But I digress…

"The outpouring of public sympathy for Hu caught the CCP leadership a little off guard...

"On April 22, the official day of mourning for Hu Yaobang, a group of students slipped past the cordons and took up positions inside Tiananmen Square. They knelt before the Great Hall of the People, beseeching the leadership to come out and hear their concerns. By the end of the month, others had joined them, and student-led strikes and demonstrations erupted at campuses throughout the country...

"I suspect, however, that within the next few years as key figures who were either involved with the suppression of the demonstrations, or rose to power in the aftermath, take their journey to meet Marx, there may well be a new verdict on the incident. But I don’t think it will happen soon, and we’re more likely to see Mrs. Hu Jintao doing body shots at the Playboy Mansion with Russell Crowe and the guys from Three Six Mafia than any softening of the Party’s grip on historical memory in this troublesome year of anniversaries..."

See: The Tiananmen Incident: A Story in Pictures at The Epoch Times

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Down to two parties in NIgeria?

Politicians who hope to unite opposition to the ruling PDP and create a two-party system in Nigeria.

Mega Party Advocates Seek Two-Party State

"Proponents of a mega political platform met in Lagos yesterday under the aegis of National Political Summit Group (NPSG) with a resolution to work towards the realisation of a two-party system.

"They also maintained that the current Peoples Democratic Party-led government has failed to deliver good governance, economic prosperity and social justice to the downtrodden citizens of this country.

"NPSG said one of its objectives was to work towards the realisation of a two-party system, which it said would eliminate the current proliferation of political parties in the country today.

"Nigeria has over 50 political parties at the moment..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Journalists praise Mexican legislature

liberty central's civil liberties hero of the week: Mexico's Chamber of Deputies

"Three cheers for Mexico's Chamber of Deputies, who have overwhelmingly voted to protect journalists by adding crimes against the press to the federal statute...

"[T]he Mexican lower house recently voted 263-0 to add crimes against 'journalistic activity' to the federal penal code. This gives an additional penalty of up to five years in prison for anyone who 'impedes, interferes, limits or attacks against journalistic activity'.

"The measure is now before the Senate."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Imagine campaigning for votes in this environment

If immunizing children against an incurable disease is difficult, how would a politician win people's votes?

Progress On Polio Vaccinations, But Resistance Lingers

"Health workers in Nigeria, considered the epicentre of the current wave of polio outbreaks in West Africa, and in neighbouring countries are racing to stop the spread of polio infections...

"Nigeria is one of four endemic countries worldwide where polio infections originate before they are transferred 'silently and stealthily across borders,' said [Oliver Rosenbauer with WHO's Polio Eradication Group]. He said a case diagnosed recently in Indonesia came from Nigeria. 'It is not just neighbouring countries that are at risk. This virus travels.'...

"Nigeria's northern region has reported 123 infections. More than 30 cases have been reported in seven neighbouring countries this year...

"Four years after Muslim clerics in northern Nigeria issued warnings based on fears that hormones in the vaccine could cause sterility and HIV infection, resistance is no longer the primary reason children miss vaccinations, WHO's Rosenbauer said...

"But a 46-year-old father of seven in Kano state, Haruna Maikudi, said he is still not convinced the vaccine is safe. 'I still don't allow my children to receive [the] polio vaccine because I'm not convinced of its safety despite all the noise that it is safe for children.' He added that many believe the Kano state government 'was arm-twisted into resuming the polio immunisation after it stopped the campaign in 2003.'

"Maikudi told IRIN that he and other parents continue to refuse calls to vaccinate. 'We are yet to be told what those sex hormones are doing in the [polio] vaccine in the first place. This is why I and many others don't give the vaccine to their children.'...

"Twenty percent of the families surveyed in Kano state this time last year reported that their children had been vaccinated against polio, versus 40 percent this year, said Rosenbauer...

"Health workers' goal is to vaccinate 90 percent of all children under five to build up 'herd immunity,' or a group's ability to withstand an epidemic..."

See a slide show of Fred de Sam Lazaro's PBS report from News Hour

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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State of the Federation

In Putin’s Economic Plan, an Emphasis on Spending

"Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin unveiled his economic recovery plan for Russia in a speech to Parliament... which in sharply focused terms explained the need to generate domestic consumer demand to substitute for shriveling oil exports.

"The plan offers $90 billion in stimulus spending, with an emphasis on tax cuts and social welfare spending for the elderly and young families who are likely to dispose of the money quickly...

"With Mr. Putin’s endorsement on Monday, the government’s 2009 budget seems sure to be adopted in the compliant Parliament. The speech on the budget, Mr. Putin said, will become an annual tradition and provide government accountability before the chamber. Mr. Putin, however, is also head of the pro-government party United Russia, which controls 315 seats in the 450-seat Parliament..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Woman presidential candidate in Iran

Iranian women can run for president

"There is no restriction on women standing in this year's presidential election, a spokesman for constitutional watchdog the Guardians Council said, according to a Mehr news agency report on Saturday.

"'Women have sought to be candidates in the past and the Guardians Council has no special opinion. There are no restrictions and no law on the nomination and assessment of women candidates,' Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaye said...

"To describe candidates for the presidency, the Iranian constitution uses the word rejal, which in Arabic implies a man but which in Farsi means a political figure.

"'The council has never put an interpretation on the word rejal,' Kadkodaye said.

"The comments come shortly after former MP Rafat Bayat (left) on Friday told the Mehr News Agency that she plans to run in the upcoming presidential race.

"On May 20 the Guardian Council will release a list of presidential candidates who can run in the June 12 election."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Water problems

Seemingly everyday things reveal the problems and capabilities of the state.

Water cut off in Mexican capital

"Mexico City officials have shut down a main pipeline providing fresh water to millions of residents because reserves have fallen to record low levels...

"Hundreds of water trucks have been deployed in the areas worst affected by the cuts.

"The local government says it will carry out emergency repairs to the water supply network.

"More than 50% of the water carried by the pipeline leaks out before it reaches its destination...

"It has been deliberately timed to coincide with Easter weekend, when many residents, or at least those who can afford to, leave the city, our correspondent says..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Nigerian accommodation

Kevin James at Albany High School pointed out the first article to me. We'll have to wait to see what the long term results are. Are the incentives to the cults enough to integrate them into the political and cultural systems? Will the economic and environmental benefits to the people living in the delta be enough to bring them into the mainstream?

The articles were in Vanguard (Lagos). (In Nigerian journalese, "FG" stands for federal government.)

FG offers militants amnesty

"PRESIDENT Umaru Yar’Adua said yesterday that arrangements have been concluded by the Federal Government to grant amnesty to all militants in the troubled Niger Delta region...

"According to him: 'Next week, the National Security Adviser will meet to finalise these new rules for engagement to grant amnesty to all those ready to lay down their arms and ammunition...

“'And this amnesty will include not only laying down their arms but reintegrating them and rehabilitating them into the Nigeria society,' he said..."

And from Vanguard the next day:

MEND Rejects Yar' Adua's Amnesty

"THE offer of amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta announced Thursday by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has continued to elicit reactions, with the mainstream militant group, Movement for Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), yesterday describing the condition given by the Federal Government for its proposed amnesty as unrealistic...

"In an online statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the group said, 'Such an offer by a government known for its insincerity must first be given to those who are being held captive by the Nigerian state for the rest of us to take seriously.'...

"According to the militant group, 'Ironically, it should be the people of the Niger Delta considering amnesty to the military and the past and present leadership of a corrupt Nigeria for the evil perpetrated in the region'...

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Federalism at work

In textbooks about US government and politics, the states are often described as policy proving grounds. New ideas get tried out in states, and if they work well, the policies are copied by other states and sometimes the national government.

Could it be that something similar is happening in the Nigerian state of Kwara? (Thanks again to Imnakoya for bringing this story to my attention.)

Constant Light in Kwara

"Constant “light” - the Nigerian euphemism for electric supply, is the most valuable upgrade... Nigeria needs at this time for obvious reasons.

"[I]t is uplifting to read how kwara State went about taking care of business, locally...

"Among his peers, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the state Governor [right], demonstrates an uncommon out-of-the-box mentality to governance...

"Kwara power project is the first and the only one to be completed. It’s been in operation since January 2009."

Imnakoya cited a report from the newspaper, Daily Trust:

One month of non-stop power supply: How is Kwara doing it?

"Ilorin, the capital city of Kwara State, is a city that is usually counted among Nigeria’s sleepiest because of its low level of economic and social activity. But it is now stirring to life... in front of business centres, hotels, supermarkets, workshops and offices there are no more irritating noises coming from the small buzzing generators that used to supply electricity round the clock, holding up to the world Nigeria’s ridiculous failure to supply enough power to meet both its domestic and industrial needs. In Ilorin the noise these days is to be found indoors in welding workshops, furniture workshops, barbing salons, business centres and grain mills. The buzz all around is ‘light, light, light’.

"‘Light’, which has become the local euphemism for electricity supply has been steady for four weeks now and this has infused a new found productivity...

"What the Kwara State government built was not a power generating plant which is the buzz in the top tier of government at the moment but it simply built a transmission station on a 2.5 hectares of land at Ganmo that could better utilize and maximise the available power that is been generated by the existing generating stations but wasted because of inadequate power infrastructures. Now, the state capital and the towns and villages in the state heave a sigh of relief for this simple foresight...

"But nowhere is the impact more significant than in small scale industries. The South Africa-born General Manager of Kwara Technix, a joint venture business between the Kwara state government and a South African furniture manufacturer, Mr. Frank Cross says the recent improvement in electricity supply in the state has reduced significantly the company’s expenditure on diesel to fuel generators...

"But the recent success in Ilorin goes beyond the state and says much about the Federal Government’s approach to provide the nation with electricity. It is beginning to look like states waiting for the magical Seven-Point Agenda to connect them with constant and regular electricity will have to abandon their lethargy and act to help themselves..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

And, on the other hand...

The observation by one journalist that Mexico was nearly a failed state, has created an ongoing journalistic and diplomatic debate. Here are two more bits of that debate.

In Drug War, Mexico Fights Cartel and Itself

"The nation has begun a war, but it cannot fully rely on the very institutions — the police, customs, the courts, the prisons, even the relatively clean army — most needed to carry it out.

"The cartels bring in billions of dollars more than the Mexican government spends to defeat them, and they spend their wealth to bolster their ranks with an untold number of politicians, judges, prison guards and police officers — so many police officers, in fact, that entire forces in cities across Mexico have been disbanded and rebuilt from scratch...

"This was a war started by Mexico, but supported — and in some ways undermined — by the United States...

"At the same time, American drug users are fueling demand for the drugs, and American guns are supplying the firepower wielded with such ferocity by Mexico’s cartels...

"With the prospect of a quick victory increasingly elusive, a rising chorus of voices on both sides of the border is questioning the cost and the fallout of the assault on the cartels..."

Analysis: Mexico a failing state?

"The Mexican establishment shuddered at the dispatches from Washington: the two failing states most worrying to the U.S. defense department, they said, are Pakistan and Mexico.

"Since such reports began appearing in January, Mexican officials have sternly denied that the drug cartel armies destabilizing the United States’ southern neighbor can be compared to the terrorist groups threatening to undermine the Islamic republic.

"'It’s totally disproportionate and clearly mistaken,' a rattled-looking President Felipe Calderon told reporters in Davos, Switzerland. 'To me it seems important that whatever doubts be cleared up, and I will do it personally.'

"His position has been supported by many of the nation’s pundits and intellectuals, who have pointed their fingers at the international press for misreporting the problems. While Mexico has some serious issues with organized narco-crime, they say, it is ludicrous to compare it to crumbling states in Africa and Asia..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Subscriber Notice

I just reviewed the subscriber list for teaching comparative. Thirty-one people on the subscriber list are listed as "Unverified."

If you are one of the "unverified," it means that you didn't respond to the automatic verification e-mail when you subscribed or there was a typo in your e-mail address.

If you want to receive blog entries as e-mails, you'll need to respond to the verification e-mail or re-register if you didn't get a verification e-mail.

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

Chinese reality

In the midst of data about the Chinese economy and a Chinese middle class nearly as large as the population of the European Union, there are stark reminders that China is not a wealthy country.

12-year tuition-free education unrealistic

"China's Ministry of Education says it's unrealistic to implement a 12-year tuition-free education system nationwide due to a lack of available funds. However, China will focus on strengthening its existing nine-year free compulsory education.

"Sun Yunxiao, vice director of the China Youth & Children's Research Centre, says 27 counties in China still have difficulties providing a nine-year tuition-free compulsory education for children living there. China is still a developing country and doesn't have enough money to provide students all over the country with another three years of free education.

"However, officials from the Education Ministry have indicated that the country will encourage local governments to popularize a 12-year tuition-free education according to their own financial situation..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Basic disagreements

International cooperation is based on some degree of basic agreement on political issues. Cultural, political, and nationalistic disagreements are not always worked out ahead of treaties. And things change.

European Court Seems to Rankle Kremlin

"Fed up with the brazen string-pulling and favor-trading in the corrupt Moscow courts, a judge named Olga B. Kudeshkina went public, criticizing the system in numerous interviews as little more than a legal bazaar — 'an instrument,' as she put it, 'for settling political, commercial or simply personal scores.'

"When Ms. Kudeshkina was then dismissed, she joined a stampede of Russians in appealing their cases to the European Court of Human Rights [headquarters at left], which ruled last month that she had been improperly disciplined.

"But now, it seems, that path is becoming more difficult, as the Kremlin is blocking an overhaul of the European court that is intended to reduce a multiyear backlog of cases — many of them from Russia.

"The dispute with the court has underscored the Kremlin’s growing antipathy to international organizations and thrown into question the commitment of Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to confronting corruption and what he has described as Russia’s 'legal nihilism.'...

"The rulings of the court, which was established under the auspices of the Council of Europe, are binding on all its member countries...

"The court appears to have increasingly rankled the Kremlin by issuing rulings that highlight corruption, torture and other official misconduct in Russia, including the pervasive practice of what is known here as 'telephone justice' — a politician calling and instructing a judge how to rule.

"Russia began taking part in the court in the late 1990s. In 2000, the court received 1,987 appeals against Russia, or 8 percent of the total, court officials said.

"At the end of 2008, the number of cases filed against Russia had risen to 27,250, or 28 percent of the total, far more than any other country, and out of proportion to its population...

"Genri M. Reznik, a lawyer who is a member of a Kremlin advisory body called the Public Chamber, said senior officials needed to acknowledge that the Russian legal system was deeply troubled.

"'We should not blame the mirror of the Strasbourg court if we are shown to have an ugly face,' he said."

See also:

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Friday, April 03, 2009

It doesn't matter who is president in Iran

At least, Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, doesn't think it matters. His advice is not to let an election get in the way of understanding Iranian politics.

Iran’s Muddled Presidential Politics

"In trying to sort out [the election] muddle, the most important thing to keep in mind is not so much who will be elected, but what that choice will reveal about the intentions of the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Unfortunately, the most likely outcome will be continuing transformation of the Islamic Republic from a civil government into a garrison state in which the military plays a major role in determining political and economic matters...

"Ayatollah Khamenei, who is... the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, oversees the agencies that will run the election: the Guardian Council and the Ministry of Interior, which supervise the electoral process, and the Basij militia and Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), which unofficially control the ballot-boxes and the vote-counting process...

"Perhaps one of the most significant elements in Iran’s stagnation is that the Revolutionary Guards control a large portion of the economy, and are beyond the reach of government regulation. In order to manage the economic crisis successfully, any president must not only shift economic policy, but also amass enough political power to be able to thwart the intervention of the Revolutionary Guards and other organizations in economic policy-making...

"Speculation about the outcome of the election is an interesting parlor game. But it should not distract us from the fundamentals of Iranian politics... [O]n the big issues of foreign policy, relations with the West, and the nuclear program, the identity of the president is not important. These issues will be decided by a man who is not running for office in June, but whose power is secure: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Russian mayoral election

Sometimes a plethora of candidates is a sign of vigorous democracy; other times it's a sign of silliness. Which is it in Sochi?

Russian City Finds Race for Mayor Ever Odder

"Now in the running to become mayor of the southern Russian city of Sochi: a former ballerina for the Bolshoi Ballet; a porn star who sometimes goes by the name Velvet Angel; the head of Russia’s largest Masonic lodge; an Anglophile newspaper mogul; a Yeltsin-era reformer who is anathema to the Kremlin; and, among 15 or so other contenders, the president of Russia’s Arm Wrestling Federation...

"The central mystery surrounds Boris Y. Nemtsov [being arrested above], a longtime opposition leader...

"Mayoral races are among the few remaining opportunities for independent candidates to run for office in Russia, where the Kremlin appoints regional leaders and the United Russia party dominates parliamentary races. Sochi is a particular plum, offering the winner some access to the Olympic construction budget, which is around $6 billion. The leading candidate is the acting mayor, Anatoly Pakhomov, the United Russia candidate.

"That did not stop the ballerina Anastasia Volochkova from declaring her candidacy on Thursday. Ms. Volochkova, a favorite of Russian gossip columnists, was famously dismissed from the Bolshoi over her weight (110 pounds)...

"'On the list are already 20 candidates, who all resemble each other,' Ms. Volochkova said. 'Twenty men, who, more than anything, all need money and power. There are few who worry about people, they are all interested in the Olympic budget.'..."

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mexico is not a failed state

Enrique Krauze, the editor of the magazine Letras Libres and the author of Mexico: Biography of Power, is perturbed by much of the reporting in the US about Mexico. Krauze's message was repeated by US Secretary of State Clinton on her trip to Mexico last week.

This is a reminder that the journalism we read is limited in perspective and that we ought to look for supplemental ideas.

The Mexican Evolution

"AMERICA’S distorted views can have costly consequences, especially for us in Latin America. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Mexico this week is a good time to examine the misconception that Mexico is, or is on the point of becoming, a “failed state.”...

"It most assuredly will not. First, let’s take a quick inventory of the problems that we don’t have. Mexico is a tolerant and secular state, without the religious tensions of Pakistan or Iraq. It is an inclusive society, without the racial hatreds of the Balkans. It has no serious prospects of regional secession or disputed territories, unlike the Middle East. Guerrilla movements have never been a real threat to the state, in stark contrast to Colombia.

"Most important, Mexico is a young democracy that eliminated an essentially one-party political system, controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, that lasted more than 70 years. And with all its defects, the domination of the party, known as the P.R.I., never even approached the same level of virtually absolute dictatorship as that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or even of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez...

"Our national institutions function. The army is (and long has been) subject to the civilian control of the president; the church continues to be a cohesive force; a powerful business class shows no desire to move to Miami. We have strong labor unions, good universities, important public enterprises and social programs that provide reasonable results.

"Thanks to all this, Mexico has demonstrated an impressive capacity to overcome crises...

"This may be the most serious crisis we have faced since the 1910 Mexican Revolution and its immediate aftermath..."

See also:

What You Need to Know -- a study guide for AP Comparative Government and Politics

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