Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, July 31, 2006

Prime Minister's Questions -- live and online

It turns out you no longer have to rely on recording the C-SPAN broadcasts of Prime Minister's Question Time from the UK House of Commons.

You can view Prime Minister's Question Time here,
live each Wednesday at 1200 GMT while the House of Commons is in session (the next PMQs will be on Wednesday October 11). Or you can access recorded video and transcripts of past PM Question Times. The videos are available in Windows Media Player and in Real Player.

Also available is a Web page, What are Prime Minister's Questions?. "Prime Minister's Question Time (often referred to as PMQs) is an opportunity for MPs from all parties to question the PM on any subject..."

You can, however, find at C-SPAN's Web page, Legislatures Around the World, links to legislatures all over the world and find links to the Webcasts that are available from many countries. (You could compare PMQs in the UK and Canada and Australia, for example.)

Mexican standoff?

I'd guess we'll have to wait until at least September 6 to get an idea of what happens next in Mexico. I still think a comparative exercise that compared Obrador's approach to that of Al Gore in 2000 (regarding the results in Florida) or John Kerry in 2004 (regarding the results in Ohio) would be a valuable way to introduce students to comparative methods.

Here's part of the New York Times report for Monday, 31 July:

Leftist Plans Sit-Ins to Challenge Mexico Vote

"MEXICO CITY, July 30 — Four weeks after a very close election plunged this country into political crisis, the leftist candidate escalated his campaign to undo the official results, telling a mass rally of his supporters on Sunday that they must engage in civil disobedience to 'defend democracy' and force the recognition of 'my triumph as president.'

"'Mexico does not deserve to be governed by an illegitimate president,' said the candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor who election officials say lost the national election by a mere 243,000 votes of 41 million cast.

"A special electoral court has yet to ratify the results and Mr. López Obrador has challenged the official tally, contending that there were widespread irregularities, human errors and, in some instances, fraud. He and his supporters want all the ballots counted again.

"Felipe Calderon, a conservative candidate who officials say received the most votes, contends that recounting all the votes is unnecessary and illegal. Poll workers, chosen at random like jurors and trained for the job, counted the ballots the night of the election in the presence of party officials and signed formal tally sheets...

"The tribunal has until Sept. 6 to resolve the legal challenges and declare the president-elect. Mr. López Obrador said he would not accept anything less than a full recount and promised to wage a campaign of civil disobedience until he got one..."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Testing Hypotheses

Jeffrey D. Sachs is the Director of The Earth Institute, a professor at Columbia University, Director of the UN Millennium Project, Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals. Sachs is also President and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty. He was named among the 100 most influential leaders in the world by Time Magazine, and he is author of The End of Poverty (Penguin, 2005).

Sachs is perhaps most famous as an advocate of shock therapy (economic restructuring) for Russia and other countries attempting to reform their economic systems and join the developed world's trade network.

He writes a monthly column in Scientific American. Interesting ideas come from many places. Interesting people write things in interesting places. In the August issue of Scientific American, Sachs wrote a little op-ed piece. It contains some interesting hypotheses that students could evaluate by doing some research on case studies. Sachs mentions Liberia and Haiti, but I think students could use Nigeria, Russia, or Iran to test his ideas as well. You don't have to be a PhD economist to use the historical record to test the basic hypotheses that Sachs suggests.

Virtuous Circles and Fragile States
Want to promote stable democracy in struggling nations? Send timely packages of food, seeds and medicine

"For nations in a deep crisis, the greatest danger is a self-fulfilling prophecy of disaster...

"When the public thinks that a newly elected national government will succeed, local leaders throw their support behind it. Expectations of the government's longevity rise. Individuals and companies become much more likely to pay their taxes, because they assume that the government will have the police power to enforce the tax laws.

"A virtuous circle is created. Rising tax revenues strengthen not only the budget but also political authority and enable key investments--in police, teachers, roads, electricity--that promote public order and economic development. They also bolster confidence in the currency. Money flows into the commercial banks, easing the specter of banking crises.

"When the public believes that a government will fail, the same process runs in reverse. Pessimism splinters political forces. Tax payments and budget revenues wane. The police and other public officials go unpaid. The currency weakens. Banks face a withdrawal of deposits and the risk of banking panics. Disaster feeds more pessimism.

"...if each impoverished farm family is given a bag of fertilizer and a tin of high-yield seeds, a good harvest with ample food output can be promoted within a single growing season. A nationwide campaign to spread immunizations, antimalaria bed nets and medicines, vitamin supplements and deworming agents can improve the health of the population even without longer-term fixes of the public health system. Electric power can be restored quickly in key regions. And safe water outlets, including boreholes [at right below] and protected natural springs, can be constructed by the thousands within a year.

"All these initiatives require financial aid, but the costs are small. Far too often, however... the rich countries and international agencies send an endless stream of consultants to design projects that arrive too late, if ever... After a few months, the hungry, divided, disease-burdened public begins to murmur that "nothing has changed," and the downward spiral recommences. Pessimism breeds pessimism. Eventually the government falls, and the nascent democracy is often extinguished.

"By thinking through the underlying ecological challenges facing a country--drought, poor crops, disease, physical isolation--and raising the lot of the average household through quick-disbursing and well-targeted assistance... policy makers would provide an invaluable investment in democracy [and] development..."

Teachers union in Mexican politics

In an article I found frustratingly deficient in political information, the Washington Post reports on a traditional protest that, like Mexican politics, seems to be in the process of change.

We might note that Oaxaca, the southernmost Mexican state, was the home of Benito Juarez [at right] and Porfirio Diaz. [below at left] We might also ask why the teachers union, a mainstay of the PRI structure, is "credited with mobilizing the huge turnout of voters that may have given Felipe Calderon his narrow margin of victory..." It is a state that has elected a PRI governor (apparently fighting with the teachers union), 11 (out of 11) PRI Federal Deputies and 2 (out of 3) PRI Federal Senators. And I'd like to know who credits the union with that achievement. Is it a good example of the power of the unions (the teachers union specifically)? I'd also like more information about "...the remarkable reach and influence of unions in Mexico..." and the assertion that "None is more powerful than the teachers union.." I guess I'll have to read some more informative sources and set students to researching the background to those assertions.

In Mexico's 'Misery Belt,' an Annual Strike Becomes Much More

"OAXACA DE JUAREZ, Mexico -- Gonzalo Toledo Cruz tries to teach math in a dark, sweltering classroom that has no electricity... Toledo Cruz's classroom in Juchitan de Zaragoza, a small, rugged town in what is known as "the Misery Belt" east of Oaxaca de Juarez, has become his private hell. But he knows that to curry favor with his bosses and get the transfer he so desperately wants, he must make a big show of union support.

"So each May, Toledo Cruz joins nearly 70,000 teachers, administrators, school doctors, food-service workers and janitors in this picturesque colonial city. Their gathering -- now in its 26th year -- has become one of Mexico's longest-running serial protests and a forum for complaints about low wages, poorly equipped schools and unfair treatment of indigenous peoples.

"Most years, the school workers peacefully chant and march for a week or two, win some minor concessions and pack up. But this year, the protest has turned into a tense, occasionally bloody standoff that has scared off tourists and is now stretching into its third month, with no end in sight.

"The stalemate illustrates the remarkable reach and influence of unions in Mexico, where workers' organizations play a huge role in defining the political and social lives of their members. None is more powerful than the teachers union, which has 1.3 million members nationwide and is the largest union in Latin America.

"The teachers union is credited with mobilizing the huge turnout of voters that may have given Felipe Calderón his narrow margin of victory in the disputed July 2 presidential election. A small piece of that union, the chapter in southern Mexico's Oaxaca state, has shown its clout by effectively bringing gridlock to this region's political world with a forceful call for the ouster of state Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, whom union members blame for failing to secure more federal funding for the schools...

"The city's residents usually tolerate the protests, comforted by an unspoken contract that teachers will have their say, then leave. Visitors still pour into the city, famed for its ruins and the rich black mole its chefs concoct from simmering chocolate and chilies.

"But this year, as the tourism that Oaxaca de Juarez lives on has waned, downtown business owners and workers have grown more agitated. They are particularly peeved that the protest forced the cancellation of Oaxaca's popular Guelaguetza cultural festival...

"The teachers have said that they are simply standing up for their rights against a system with a legacy of corruption. The state and federal government have a history of spying on teachers, jailing them without cause and possibly playing a role in the deaths or disappearances of 150 teachers since 1970, human rights groups say. The teachers union isn't without its own record of corruption and cronyism. School workers sometimes make payoffs to secure cushy lifetime jobs here in Mexico's second-poorest state..."

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Limitations on perceptions

During class one day at Saint Mary's College, we were talking about whether comparative government and politics had any direct relevance to students or whether it was more purely an academic pursuit. I think we generally agreed that in a global society and economy, studying about political systems other than our own had a very practical value.

I was reminded of that discussion when I read Michael Schermer's column "Skeptic" in the August issue of Scientific American (p. 34). In Folk Science, Why our intuitions about how the world works are often wrong, he describes many examples of the ways in which the world as we're able to perceive it with modern science is counterintuitive.

"The reason folk science so often gets it wrong is that we evolved in an environment radically different from the one in which we now live. Our senses are geared for perceiving objects of middling size -- between, say ants and mountains -- not bacteria, molecules, and atoms on one end of the scale and stars and galaxies on the other end. We live a scant three score and 10 years, far too short a time to witness evolution, continental drift or long-term environmental change."

And we should add, that in spite of the technological shrinking of the world, we really only internalize the culture and society in which we live. If we aren't able to or don't broaden our frames of reference through study and travel, we are seriously handicapped when it comes to understanding our global society. If civics and patriotism were vital for citizenship yesterday, wider knowledge and experience and comparative analytical skills are equally important today. Government and politics aren't complete cultures, but they are a start.

In my opinion, that's why studying comparative government and politics is one of the more important things a student can do and one of the more important things a teacher can help with.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

New online resources

From Saint Mary's College, South Bend, IN:

In our workshop here at Saint Mary's, we've come across many (too
many?) good online sources with great potential when teaching comparative politics.

In the past two days, I've added 15 links to the "del.icio.us" page of links for comparative.

If you haven't seen that page yet, click here, or go to


(And besides just looking at the links there, play with the sorting capabilities of del.icio.us. Click on a tag, and you'll only see the links related to that tag.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cultural Revolution film

I just came across what seems to be a gem of Cultural Revolution propaganda that's now available on YouTube. I have only had the opportunity to look at one "episode," but it looks like there is some promising teaching material in this old movie.

It's a film made in '76 (near the end of the Cultural Revolution) called Breaking with Old Ideas. The Yahoo film guide says it's "One of the most controversial dramatic films produced in China during the cultural revolution, "Breaking" is about the struggle to Democratize education in the countryside..."

On YouTube, you can see and download scenes from the Breaking with Old Ideas page.

Answers.com quotes Hal Erickson's All Movie Guide about the film, "Breaking With Old Ideas is thought-provoking fare from the People's Republic of China. Filmed during the twilight of Mao's cultural revolution, the film explores the challenge of "re-educating" a populace ruled by centuries-old tradition. A remote rural community, representing a microcosm of thought and behavior patterns, is scrutinized. Government representatives construct a state-of-the-art college, where the peasants are to be redoctrinated. Obviously slanted in favor of the Red party line, Breaking With Old Ideas is nonetheless a fascinating cultural capsule."

Another textbook supplement

If you'd like a good journalistic description of the House of Commons and Prime Minister's Question Time, check out this New York Times article while it's available online. It's a good supplement to what your textbook says about Commons.

What’s Mannerly, Rowdy and Jabs Blair? Question Time

"The rules governing the ritual known as prime minister’s questions, the weekly parliamentary contest between the government and the opposition, are fairly clear. Ask a question; do not make a speech. Do not address other legislators as “you” (or “Yo!”). Instead, call them 'the honorable gentleman' or 'the honorable lady.'...

"Unlike the collegially constructed national legislatures in places like the United States, where everyone sits in a convivial semicircle, the House of Commons was built to be adversarial, with legislators glaring directly at one another across a narrow divide. Their benches — they do not have individual seats — are placed the length of two swords apart, which in times past was enough to prevent outbreaks of physical violence.

"During prime minister’s questions, the goal is to score points any other way you can, including witty one-liners, withering putdowns, low-blow ad hominem remarks, muttered asides and the enthusiastic verbal pummeling of anyone who falters...

"Like the feral schoolboys in Lord of the Flies, members of Parliament are quick to pounce on weakness. When in the heat of the moment Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once reverted to her humble roots and used the regional word 'frit' in place of 'frightened,' the Labor Party never let her forget it, shouting 'Frit! Frit!' at delicate parliamentary moments for years afterward.

"More recently, when Mr. Blair said that 'what we need is more antisocial behavior' (he meant antisocialbehavior legislation), the Tories practically fell off their benches with laughter...

"Last Wednesday, in the last question session before Parliament’s summer recess, a noisy recklessness prevailed. In a snide reference to the cowboy outfit [Blair's deputy leader] Mr. Prescott [pictured at left] recently admitted accepting from an American millionaire who hopes to build a casino in London, the Tories greeted him with snide cries of 'Howdy!'

"Not that Labor remained silent. After one too many insults, Mr. Prescott — sitting next to the prime minister like Humpty Dumpty, his face screwed up in a permanent scowl — called one of his tormenters an idiot..."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Limits to Power

We hardly need a more graphic example of how the power of nation states, even superpower nation states, is limited than the one outlined in this New York Times article.

As the Price of Oil Soars, So Does Its Power to Shape Politics From Washington to Beijing

"As violence spreads in the Middle East, the Bush administration is grappling with an unwanted side effect of its policies: higher oil prices caused by fears of a disruption in global oil supplies.

"While the administration seeks to confront Iran, give Israel more time to defeat Hezbollah, and secure stability in Iraq, higher oil prices reduce its maneuvering room overseas and frustrate American consumers at home...

"Worries that the unabated conflict in Lebanon could draw in Syria, or Iran, which in turn could threaten the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, have compounded those jitters, as has the Bush administration’s confrontation with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program...

"Any step by Iran to cut off its own oil revenues would be so hard politically for the government in Tehran that many experts say it would not be tempted to go down that road.

"But even a temporary shut-off would be a huge psychological blow to the global market, and Iranian leaders may calculate that there would be an advantage in the economic damage to Europe and the United States...

"Given Iran’s dependence on oil exports for income that supports a broad range of subsidies for food, fuel and other necessities for its people, excluding energy from any sanctions plan raises real questions about how effective such a step would be.

"American officials acknowledge that oil complicates American diplomacy but insist that they will not alter basic policies, especially on Iran, which the West accuses of supporting groups like Hezbollah and Hamas...

"Today the Bush administration faces rising criticism from hard-liners that its Iran policy is not stiff enough. But if the diplomatic course is challenging, the military options may be more treacherous and, analysts say, would almost certainly drive the price of oil even higher...

"Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a speech this year, “No one who is honestly assessing the decline of American leverage around the world due to our energy dependence can fail to see that energy is the albatross of U.S. national security.”...

"In April, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained that the hunt for oil and gas was “distorting international politics in a very major way.” Now that comment is turning out to be both prophecy and understatement.
New oil money has given not only Iran but also Russia more resources to resist Western pressure...

"...Russia has joined with China to mobilize a five-year-old group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose members include several Central Asian countries....

"Many American analysts say energy issues are driving Russia and China into each other’s arms politically, and that if anything American policies are accelerating the trend..."

Monday, July 24, 2006

Feeling, thinking, knowing

The multitude of things we deal with when thinking about complex topics is daunting. And we have to consider the same multitude for each and every student. Perspective, bias, frame of reference, prejudice, and assumptions are all part of our perceptual and intellectual universe. Research, as this Washington Post article suggests, is not always encouraging. In fact, in this case, it seems to make the learning/teaching job more difficult.

Two Views of the Same News Find Opposite Biases

"Israel's 1982 war in Lebanon sparked some of the earliest experiments into why people reach dramatically different conclusions about the same events...

"...researchers showed 144 observers six television news segments about Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon. Pro-Arab viewers heard 42 references that painted Israel in a positive light and 26 references that painted Israel unfavorably. Pro-Israeli viewers, who watched the very same clips, spotted 16 references that painted Israel positively and 57 references that painted Israel negatively.

"Both groups were certain they were right and that the other side didn't know what it was talking about. The tendency to see bias in the news... is such a reliable indicator of partisan thinking that researchers coined a term, 'hostile media effect,' to describe the sincere belief among partisans that news reports are painting them in the worst possible light.

"Were pro-Israeli and pro-Arab viewers who were especially knowledgeable about the conflict immune from such distortions? Amazingly, it turned out to be exactly the opposite, Stanford psychologist Lee D. Ross said. The best-informed partisans were the most likely to see bias against their side.

"Ross thinks this is because partisans often feel the news lacks context... The more knowledgeable people are, the more context they find missing.

"Even more curious, the hostile media effect seems to apply only to news sources that strive for balance. News reports from obviously biased sources usually draw fewer charges of bias. Partisans, it turns out, find it easier to countenance obvious propaganda than news accounts that explore both sides...

"[Researchers also] found that what partisans worry about the most is the impact of the news on neutral observers. But the data suggest such worry is misplaced. Neutral observers are better than partisans at seeing flaws and virtues on both sides. Partisans, it turns out, are particularly susceptible to the general human belief that other people are susceptible to propaganda..."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Playing games

From Saint Mary's College, South Bend, IN.

When I read this article, I was reminded of persuading high school sophomores to assume complex roles while "playing a game" called BafaBafa. It was a powerful learning experience for all of us. Unfortunately, its essential complexity didn't fit well with 55-minute classses and after school sessions could never involve everyone. After a couple attempts to make the simulation work, my teaching partner and I packed away the materials and maveled at the teaching potential of games. Well, educational games are coming back. Here's a New York Times article that offers some things you might want to search out.

Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time

"LAST week, in an effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, I withdrew settlements in the Gaza Strip. But then a suicide bomber struck in Jerusalem, the P.L.O. leader called my actions 'condescending,' and the Knesset demanded a stern response. Desperate to retain control, I launched a missile strike against Hamas militants.

"I was playing Peacemaker, a video game in which players assume the role of either the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian president... Just as in real life, actions that please one side tend to anger the other, making a resolution fiendishly tricky. You can play it over again and again until you get it right, or until the entire region explodes in violence.

“'When they hear about Peacemaker, people sometimes go, "What? A computer game about the Middle East?" ' admits Asi Burak, the Israeli-born graduate student who developed it with a team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 'But people get very engaged. They really try very hard to get a solution. Even after one hour or two hours, they’d come to me and say, you know, I know more about the conflict than when I’ve read newspapers for 10 years.'

"Video games have long entertained users by immersing them in fantasy worlds full of dragons or spaceships. But Peacemaker is part of a new generation: games that immerse people in the real world, full of real-time political crises... the United Nations has released Food Force, a game that helps people understand the difficulties of dispensing aid to war zones. Ivan Marovic, co-founder of Otpor (Resistance) — the Serbian youth movement widely credited with helping to oust Slobodan Milosevic -- helped produce A Force More Powerful, a game that teaches the principles of nonviolent strategy...

“'What everyone’s realizing is that games are really good at illustrating complex situations,' said Suzanne Seggerman, one of the organizers of the [Games for Change Conference in New York]... This is the central conceit behind all these efforts: that games are uniquely good at teaching people how complex systems work...

"In 2003 the Howard Dean campaign hired his company, Persuasive Games, to make a game that showed volunteers how the Iowa primary work was organized... Douglas Thomas, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communications, is developing a redistricting game in which players try to gerrymander different states..."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

American-Nigerian Politics

In one of the rare intersections of American and Nigerian politics, the connection might be corruption. It should be noted that the evidence against the Nigerian vice president is based on statements by Rep. Jefferson, and that nearly all of the currency marked by the FBI for a payment to Vice President Abubakar was found in Rep. Jefferson's home freezer.

The Washington Post report:

Nigerian Entangled In Jefferson Investigation

"The corruption investigation of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) has taken many strange twists...

"But one of the most puzzling and intriguing facets of the case is Jefferson's ties to Atiku Abubakar, the vice president of Nigeria. Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and one of the leading candidates in next year's race for president of Nigeria, divides his time between his homeland and Potomac, Md., where he and one of his four wives maintain a $2.2 million mansion.

"Jefferson, who was a member of a House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, got to know Abubakar [pictured at right] after the Nigerian was elected vice president in 1999. Later, Jefferson turned to Abubakar for help in winning a lucrative Nigerian telecommunications contract for a high-tech firm in Kentucky that was paying Jefferson bribes, according to an FBI affidavit. Jefferson told a business associate in a secretly taped conversation that Abubakar was "corrupt" and needed a hefty bribe and a cut of the profits in return for his help -- allegations Abubakar has strongly denied.

"Abubakar's involvement in the case has created a buzz in Washington's diplomatic circles and generated intense political controversy and media attention in Nigeria -- a country that is trying to shed its long-standing reputation for corrupt government.

"'I don't think it will be simply excused or trivialized,' said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 'I think his opponents will use it, certainly. Nigerian politics is hardball.'..."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Keeping up with the Brits

Every once in awhile it's good to get a sense of what is going on without paying too much atttention to details. It's sort of like me asking my cousin, "So, how's the family?"

Today I made a quick survey of politics in the UK using The Guardian's "Unlimited Politics" page. Here are the headlines:

  • Prescott escapes sanctions over ranch visit "John Prescott [Deputy Prime Minister] has escaped sanctions for failing to immediately declare his stay at the ranch of a US billionaire bidding to open a super-casino in the Millennium Dome... [and] "shortcomings" requiring 'urgent attention' within Mr Prescott's department concerning the recording of ministerial gifts... But he was not obliged to register a cowboy outfit presented to him during the visit because it was received in his ministerial capacity, the MPs noted..." [I'll bet the Tories really loved that line about the "cowboy outift."]

  • Reid under fire over Home Office 'failures' "The home secretary, John Reid, came under fresh fire today after a powerful Commons committee found his department guilty of "basic failures of financial stewardship", which led to a £3m discrepancy in its accounts..."

  • Yesterday in parliament: Criminal justice reforms "Wide-ranging changes to the criminal justice system were announced by the home secretary, John Reid, to put victims' rights ahead of those of the offender..."

  • Labour's rural idyll buzzes with biodiversity targets "Jack Straw [Leader of the House of Commons] yesterday took credit for the recent hot weather. "There has been a lot more sunshine since people voted Labour in 1997," he said. It was a joke, it's never a good idea to say you've improved the climate, even in jest... What was surprising about Mr Straw's remark was that it followed a session of environment questions in which global warming was regarded as an imminent threat - not just another government pledge delivered."

  • Ministers pave way for GM crops as 'zero cross-pollination' ruled out "Ministers yesterday paved the way for genetically modified crops to be grown commercially in Britain from 2009 and warned consumers of organic and conventional food they might have to put up with some GM contamination..."

  • Ministers split on regional government "Differences are emerging between Treasury ministers and the local government secretary, Ruth Kelly, over government policy towards cities and regional government..."

  • Clarke to set personal agenda with nuclear challenge to Blair "Charles Clarke, the former home secretary, is planning a series of speeches setting out a personal political agenda that will set him at odds with the prime minister and the chancellor over civil nuclear power and a replacement for the independent nuclear deterrent Trident.
    He is said to be sceptical over the safety of civil nuclear power and doubtful over the value of spending as much as £20bn on an independent deterrent..."

  • Go green, Miliband tells supermarket bosses "Environment secretary David Miliband yesterday summoned bosses from the big four supermarkets to demand they work harder to make their businesses more environmentally friendly..."

  • Split reaction to scrapping of toll road plan "The government has scrapped plans for a £3.5bn toll road through one of Britain's most congested areas, to the relief of environmentalists and the annoyance of motoring groups..."

And there you have a snapshot of politics in the UK on a summer day in 2006. Now, you should do what the MPs and the Cabinet are going to do, take some time off. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Do you have an Internet Circuit?

I do.

I didn't label it that way until I read My Internet Circuit on Rob Cockerham's Web site Cockeyed.com. (I look at Rob's site once a week or so because it's full of interesting and humorous entries.)

Rob wrote, "When I visit the internet, I follow a route, I hit my favorites. I was going through life assuming that everyone else is doing this same thing, or something similar to it. But, once I got to thinking about it, I realized that this isn't at all true."

It probably isn't true, but a few dozen people wrote back to Rob about their own "Internet Circuits." And I realized that I had long used my own Internet Circuit.

Back when I first started using the Web, I built a home page containing the links I used frequently. The latest edition of that home page contains over 60 links. Seventeen of those links go to other home made Web pages (like "News & Stuff") that contain other links. ("News & Stuff" contains links to a dozen news sources and to another home made page of links to over 60 newspapers.)

The home page I use now is probably about the 20th edition I don't use all those links on that page every day. In fact some of them I now ignore pretty much all the time.

While drinking my morning coffee, I open up my home page and begin my Internet Circuit. The length of my circuit varies from day to day. Some days I have more time than others, but I follow the basics pretty consistently.

I usually start with Scene from My Life. Photographers from all over the world are invited to take a picture a day for a week and post them. It's a glimpse of everyday life, often from far away. Then I look at a couple of comic strips that are not in my local newspaper, a local community site, and at web cams from Mt. Washburn (in Yellowstone National Park), Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, Mawson Station, Anarctica, and Oban, Scotland.

Sometimes I look at the photo blog of Wen Ling, ziboy. He's a photographer and painter in Beijing who posts insightful pictures of daily life in China's capital city. Some of those photos can be used as teaching tools.

After the fun and games beginning, I look for good articles in the online versions of the New York Times, the BBC World Service, the Guardian (UK), and the Washington Post. If I have time I look at the news sites of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Asia Times, The Economist, and the headlines at Google and Yahoo! news.

I usually check my 3 e-mail accounts and the site of a Yahoo! Group to which a few dozen of my former students belong. (I really enjoy keeping in touch with them and finding out where they have gone and what they've done.) I also now plan to spend a few minutes adding a blog entry here.

If I have lots of extra time, I go to my del.icio.us page which contains 70 more saved links, like Overheard in New York, Boing Boing, NOTPRON (the hardest riddle available on the Internet), Snopes.com, Post Secret, Numb3rs Blog, Gullible.info, and Guy Kawasaki's blog, Signum sine tinnitu. That doesn't usually happen until late in the day or early in the evening. And I usually only read a few of those at one sitting.

Should you follow my example? If you're teaching, you probably don't have time to do as much. (For instance, in retirement, I've cut my commuting time from 10 hours a week to none.) When I was teaching, my circuit was pretty much limited to reading news headlines and occasional articles at the New York Times, the BBC, and the Washington Post or researching specific topics.

I do think you ought to carve out a bit of time at least every couple days to take a look at sites you find valuable. And of course, you should share the good stuff with the rest of us.

You can send a note to the AP Government and Politics Electronic Discussion Group or you can share here at this blog and/or the "Teaching Comparative Government" online discussion site.

If you find something valuable and/or interesting somewhere (even things not on the Web), you can contribute in several ways:

  • use the comment option here to add something to a blog entry
  • join the blog (ask me how, and I'll invite you) and create your own entries
  • create a new topic or add to an existing one on the discussion site
  • send me a note about your discovery, and I'll add it to the blog and/or the discussion site

I'm still convinced that the more we share, the more we can help each other. And we all deserve the help.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I've been having an e-mail conversation with a former student about the concept of legitimacy. The topic came up in a course he was taking and during a trip he made to Vietnam last spring.

I was reminded of the topic when I saw this BBC article about the EU's plans to deal with border security. A transnational organization like the EU has to achieve some legitimacy just like any government, regime, or state. The primary "audience" is the group of member states. But if the EU is going to function effectively, citizens and the rest of the international community need to see the organization as a legitimate actor as well.

In teaching about this idea, I'd ask my students to read this article and identify the actions and policies that the EU Commission is taking to maintain the perceptions of legitimacy by all three audiences. I might also ask them what actions or policies would probably cause those audiences to see the EU as an illegitimate actor.

EU plans emergency border squads

"A plan to create rapid reaction teams of border guards to deal with European Union immigration crises has been unveiled by the European Commission...

"The plan would help the EU respond to appeals for assistance, such as Spain's request in May for help dealing with African migrants in the Canary Islands...

"All border guards would wear their own national uniforms - with an armband identifying them as members of a joint EU rapid reaction team - but would be temporarily under the control of the host state.

"The Commission says that planning such an operation is currently complicated by a muddle of different national laws in each member state governing what tasks foreign border guards can fulfil.

"It says rapid reaction teams should be able to patrol the border, and to check and stamp the travel documents of anyone crossing it...

"The Commission also approved on Wednesday a list of priority policies to tackle illegal immigration.

"These include a new system for registering the arrival and departure of non-EU citizens visiting the EU, making it easier to verify whether someone has 'overstayed' his or her visa.

"Mr Frattini [EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security pictured at right] said he would also be studying whether to legislate to 'harmonise' sentences in member states for people caught employing illegal immigrants.

"The commission also says it will prioritise action against illegal trafficking, and further deals with third countries to allow migrants to be returned to their point of departure for the EU."

[I am enamored (enamoured?) with the way the Brits and the Europeans use the word "harmonise."]

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Much ado about NGOs

Last spring, the issue of regulating NGOs was big news in Western media. Now as the law is being implemented, the issue has come back to the fore. Cherie Blair's involvement makes this more than a domestic Russian issue and less likely to be played out in the bureaucratic background. It might well be a good case study of policy making. This report is from the New York Times.

Cherie Blair Offers Legal Help to Rights Groups in Russia

"ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, July 17 — Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, on Monday stepped into the debate over Kremlin pressures on Russian civil society, offering legal assistance to human rights and aid groups to challenge a disputed new law, members of the organizations said.

"The offer by Ms. Blair, a human rights lawyer, came at the end of th Group of 8 summit meeting here, during which President Bush and Mr. Blair tried to balance their shared interests with Russia and their concerns over President Vladimir V. Putin's authoritarian tilt.

"Earlier this year, Mr. Putin signed a law requiring private groups, commonly referred to as nongovernmental organizations, or N.G.O.’s, to re-register and forbidding their use of foreign money for political activities...

"Mr. Putin has said the groups sometimes serve as a cover for foreign intelligence activities and should not be allowed to influence Russia’s politics.

"The organizations say that the accusation is groundless and that the law, which has created onerous new filing responsibilities, appears to provide a pretext for shutting down groups that the Kremlin deems a political threat. Several Western nations and organizations have expressed concern that the law reflects a step back from Russia’s public commitments to become more democratic...

"President Bush also met with civil society leaders when he arrived here last Friday, telling them he would bring up their problems during his private meetings with Mr. Putin...

"Mr. Putin, in his own meetings with civil society leaders, said he, too, would review the law."

The costs of modern politics

Campaign expenditures in the UK are tiny compared to those in the US, but spending habits are changing. In the wake of corruption allegations of peerages for loans, the broader issues of party spending, borrowing, and incomes are in the British news. This is a report from The Guardian (UK).

Election spending puts Labour and Tories deep into the red

"Labour and Conservative party finances were today revealed to be in a perilous state following last year's general election, with Labour trebling its debt in just 12 months while the Conservatives saw a sixfold increase.

"But both parties insist their deficits were covered by loans from supporters taken on at commercial rates...

"The decision to take on loans running into millions of pounds to cover the expenditure has sparked furious controversy, and has led to a change in the rules to require loans to be declared to the commission in the same way that large donations are...

"The Labour party chairwoman, Hazel Blears... said that the current controversy about loans risked undermining public confidence in the democratic system.

"'The general feeling that somehow party politics in this country is not a respectable activity is damaging for the whole of democracy,' she said.

"'I think we need to be very robust in saying that party politics are essential to democracy.

"'Politics costs money to run and therefore people should be encouraged to support parties that express their values.'...

"The latest update on political party funding showed Labour and the Conservatives spent similar sums on last year's general election.

"Labour spent almost £15.2m on campaigning in 2005, on top of running costs of £23.8m and other expenses, which brought the party's total expenditure to £49.8m. It had an income of £35.3m over the year, including donations totalling £13.9m and membership subscriptions of just under £3.7m.

"The Conservatives spent around £15.7m campaigning, out of a total expenditure for 2005 of £39.2m. The Tories' income was £24.2m, including £13.6m in donations and membership fees of £843,000.

"Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats recorded a deficit of £207,052, receiving an income of almost £8.6m and spending around £8.8m, of which some £4.9m went on campaigning..."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Details for textbook generalizations

The Wichita Eagle (on Kansas.com) published an article credited to the Dallas Morning News that makes a number of good illustrations of what your textbook says about voting in Mexico.

Vote buying may have made difference in Mexico election

"MEXICO CITY - The women of Colonia Vicente Guerrero showed up at their precinct at noon July 2 to cast their ballots in the presidential election. But before they even reached their destination, representatives from Mexico's three major political parties stopped them with irresistible propositions, they said.

"Representatives of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and the National Action Party, or PAN, offered them beans, rice, sugar, salt and cooking oil, the women said. The offer from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, included a couple of pounds of tortillas, but they had to provide names, addresses and phone numbers of at least one relative, the women said...

"At another polling place near the Zocalo, Lourdes de los Reyes, 53, a PRD polling observer, noticed some voters were taking pictures with their cell phones as they marked their choice for president, she recalled.

"When she questioned one voter, she said, she was told that 'in order to keep our jobs, we must vote against Lopez Obrador and for Felipe Calderon,' the PAN's candidate...

"Officials of the PRD, PAN and PRI acknowledge that there continues to be electoral abuse and say they welcome specific complaints that can be checked.

"The tactics, experts say, are reminiscent of the practices that the PRI used to remain in power for 71 years. The party was ousted from the presidential mansion in 2000 by Vicente Fox of the PAN.

"This election season, thousands of poor Mexicans were threatened with losing their health care and housing benefits if they did not vote for a particular candidate, according to a study by Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan citizens' group funded in part by the United Nations.

"As many as 4 million people receive benefits through state or local governments controlled by the three main parties, and those benefits often are used as carrots to persuade people to vote a certain way, said Silvia Alonso Felix, the alliance's executive director.

"The PRI continues to lead the way with such tactics, but the PAN and PRD are not far behind, Alonso said...

"Coercing votes and other illegal tactics are among the key issues in the aftermath of the recent presidential election. Calderon won by fewer than 244,000 votes out of more than 41 million cast...

"Calderon's margin represents fewer than two votes per polling place, of which there are about 130,000 in Mexico.

"Alonso said the possibility of voter coercion 'raises serious doubts about the winner of the presidential election and makes it all that more necessary to ensure certainty in the election results.'...

"'Democracy in Mexico exists for about 70 percent of the Mexican population,' said Primitivo Rodriguez, a longtime democracy activist. 'The 30 percent remaining is still under the thumb of political chieftains. You cannot have true democracy without real education. In other words, vote coercion is very much alive.'"

Flexing political muscles

I guess I'm just going to have to be patient if I want to learn more about the politics of Mexico. The events there since the presidential election, like this demonstration reported in the Los Angeles Times, are a great classroom.

Mexicans Rally in Support of Recount

"MEXICO CITY — Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador led a massive protest march to Mexico City's central square Sunday and called for peaceful civil resistance to press his demand for a full recount in the presidential election he narrowly lost to a conservative rival.

"The marchers, in the hundreds of thousands, stretched 10 abreast for about four miles along Paseo de la Reforma, the main thoroughfare. They jammed the square, the Zocalo, in the heart of the capital, under a festive sea of yellow banners and spilled for blocks down nearby streets...

"Lopez Obrador hopes the crowds will help sway the Federal Electoral Tribunal as it begins this week to consider his request for a recount of the 41 million votes cast. Felipe Calderon of the governing National Action Party prevailed in the official count, but the tribunal has yet to certify his victory...

"Police officials subordinate to the PRD-led city government said 1.1 million people took part in the daylong protest. Notimex, the semiofficial news agency of the conservative-led federal government, estimated 700,000 were present.

"More cautious estimates by Mexican media put the crowd at half a million, still bigger than any rally during the presidential campaign and double the size of Lopez Obrador's initial postelection protest rally July 8...

"Last week, Lopez Obrador said he would call off his protests if the tribunal agreed to his recount request. His speech Sunday warned of 'irrational confrontation,' economic instability and social unrest if it did not...

"Yet after whipping his partisans into a fist-pumping frenzy, he sent them home with little idea of what to do next...

"'I don't think there will be any more civil resistance than you're seeing already — just marches and demonstrations,' said Alejandro Bernal, a PRD official. 'We are not going to do anything that would impinge on the rights of others. That would give ammunition to those who ran a scare campaign calling Lopez Obrador a danger to the country.'

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Cheap gas in Tehran

Like Nigeria, also a major oil-producing OPEC member, Iran imports gasoline and the government subsidizes it. Are Iran and Nigeria more similar than they appear at first glance?

What are the politics and policy goals behind those actions? What policy choices does the government face? What are the limitations on its actions? Are there comparable politics and policy decisions in other countries?

This New York Times article outlines the Iranian situation.
Iran, an Oil Giant, in a Gasoline Squeeze

"As the threat of economic sanctions over Iran's nuclear activities has helped push the price of crude over $78 a barrel, the country, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, is struggling with the cost of its gasoline imports.

"With demand far outstripping its domestic refining capacity, Iran buys foreign gasoline for slightly more than 50 cents a liter (about $2 a gallon) and sells it at the pump for about 8 cents a liter (less than 40 cents a gallon), the highest subsidies in the region...

"Parliament and the government ... are still discussing options, including rationing domestically produced gasoline and selling imported gasoline at its regional price...

"And while the government has publicly said it definitely intended to ration supplies, doing so would risk serious political and social consequences. Even the previous president, Mohammad Khatami, who encouraged liberalizing the economy, was afraid to raise gas prices or ration supplies, fearing inflation and social discontent...

"As in other countries dependent on automobiles, traffic and pollution are major problems, and public transport is slow and insufficient. The government’s efforts to bar private cars from driving into downtown Tehran has done little to ease traffic or clean the air..."

Roles of women in Iran

Kathy Green wrote from St. Louis Park, MN, in response to the article about politically correct fashion in Tehran, to recommend a pair of books by Iranain expatriat Marjane Satrapi.

She said, "A great resource on this topic of women in Iran are the books/graphic novel style memoirs Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi."

Here's the note from Satrapi's publisher: Marjane Satrapi

"Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

"Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and of the enormous toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane's child's-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a stunning reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, through laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

"You've never seen anything like Persepolis--the intimacy of a memoir, the irresistibility of a comic book, and the political depth of the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy. Marjane Satrapi may have given us a new genre."
--Gloria Steinem"

The publisher notes that,
"Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran. She grew up in Tehran, where she studied at the Lycee Francais before leaving for Vienna and then going to Strasbourg to study illustration. She currently lives in Paris, where she is at work on the sequel to Persepolis and where her illustrations appear regularly in newspapers and magazines. She is also the author of several children's books."

You can read an interview with Marjane Satrapi at the web site of Powell's book store (one of my favorite places in Portland or online).

Friday, July 14, 2006

Oh, what to wear?

The Guardian reported today on a fashion show in Tehran. The role of the government in maintaining religious standards of dress and the role of women sounds unusual to me as an American. But there are forces in other countries that argue for similar state support for religious standards, so perhaps the situation is not unique.

Iran's fashion police put on a show of chadors to stem west's cultural invasion

They are unlikely to grace any catwalk or adorn the figures of supermodels, but the latest in Islamic fashions got top billing from Iran's religious authorities yesterday in an exhibition aimed at promoting female modesty and countering the influence of western clothing.

Tehran's Imam Khomeini mosque hosted the country's first Islamic dress fair, in which ankle-length manteaus, or overcoats, and all-covering black chadors supplanted the sexually daring styles favoured by European designers. The 10-day event is being organised by Iran's police force along with the commerce ministry and the state broadcasting corporation, IRIB, to promote the idea of women dressing stylishly in line with the values in the Qur'an.

Hundreds of women, most wearing chadors or other forms of conservative dress, browsed an array of outfits, many of which appeared strikingly uniform in their dark colouring and full length. But representatives from the Tehran-based Superior Hijab Production Company modelled a blue chador that departed from tradition by coming with sleeves - solving an age-old practical problem...

The exhibition was a response to recent trends among many young Iranian women towards short, tight-fitting manteaus and headscarves pushed back to expose elaborate hair styles. Earlier this year Tehran city council ordered a police crackdown against women whose dress was deemed insufficiently Islamic...

Rafighe Musapour, 65, dressed in a traditional black chador, welcomed the exhibition. "It's a good idea to persuade younger women to dress in a more Islamic fashion. We are Muslims and we should try to dress more appropriately," she said.

But some young women were less impressed. "The designs here are not appropriate for the youth or people of my age," said Shakoofeh, 19, a student. "I came along out of curiosity to see what the authorities think we should wear. I would not wear hijab at all if it wasn't the law."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Corruption in Russa

This BBC article is long on human interest stories and short on generalizations, but the examples might help students understand the pervasiveness of corruption in the Russian system.

Greasing the wheels

"Bribery and corruption are everywhere in Russia, from top to bottom.

"It's not by chance that most big businessmen are former members of the Communist Party elite.

"In the first, chaotic years after the Russian bear embraced the free market, those with the best connections seized the state's main assets.

"In capitalism's second phase, it's still sensible to stay close to the authorities - which means bribing or "feeding" officials regularly. That's the best guarantee that your private enterprise will prosper..."

Troubles for Tony, part 53 (?)

If I used this New York Times article in class, I would want my students to note and explain

  • how the effects of this scandal in Britain compare to the effects it might have in a presidential system
  • what the political significance of finding major funding outside of the unions was for the Labour Party
  • the process of political recruitment and succession

Top Blair Fund-Raiser Arrested in British Labor Party Scandal

LONDON, July 12 — Lord Levy, Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief fund-raiser, as well as his tennis partner and Middle East emissary, was arrested on Wednesday in connection with allegations that Labor Party backers were offered peerages in return for loans and donations.

The development, which surprised many politicians, brought the long-simmering scandal closer to Mr. Blair and raised new questions about the future of his increasingly beleaguered government...

Lord Levy and Mr. Blair met soon after Mr. Blair became the leader of the Labor Party in 1994 and subsequently became friends. At that time, Lord Levy was known largely as a pop music impresario who had managed singers, including Alvin Stardust, and once owned a recording company.

As a fund-raiser, nicknamed Lord Cashpoint, he helped Labor replace the labor unions as its traditional source of money. The change was important to Mr. Blair’s effort to remodel the party and rebrand it as New Labor.
After Mr. Blair came to office, Lord Levy, previously Michael Abraham Levy, was named Baron Levy of Mill Hill. In 2000, Mr. Blair appointed Lord Levy as his personal envoy to the Middle East...

Lord Levy also played a central role in promoting one of Mr. Blair’s favored education projects — so-called city academies built with private money largely to replace failing public high schools in run-down neighborhoods. In April, the police arrested a former government adviser, Des Smith, over charges that the government was prepared to offer honors in return for donations to the academies...

After nine years in office, Mr. Blair’s position seems shaky for a variety of reasons. His support of President Bush in the Iraq war has left him unpopular with many Britons. He has said that he will not contest a fourth election, indicating that, at some stage, he will step aside as Labor Party leader in favor of Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer.

Frequent sniping between Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown has only deepened a sense of disarray, though...

Ah, the textbook business

James Lowen (at left in photo to the right) has been at it again. Telling us that high school textbooks are less than stellar sources of good writing and scholarship. Our students know this if they have read and thought about what they've read. Have enough high school teachers read the books they assign to their students to know that too?

Luckily, most comparative politics textbooks are more reliable than the mass market high school texts.

However, Gabriel Almond's (shown at left) name still appears on the textbook he helped write long, long ago even though he died in 2002. His co-author Powell is still alive and actively teaching. He has a number of co-authors credited on the cover and the authors of individual chapters are clearly noted.

On the secondary textbook side, you don't think that Mr. (Dr.?) Magruder of Magruder's American Government is still around, do you? That book had been around a long time when I started teaching in the '60s. The newest edition of that franchaise is credited to William A. McClenaghan and sells for $94.40 at Amazon.com. Wish I did as well with my self-published book as the 10-15% authors like McClenaghan are reported to get.

Then, in this New York Times article, one of the lead authors tells us that authorship is not a big deal since these books aren't classic literature. That's for sure. Canterbury Tales is easier to read than many high school history textbooks.

Schoolbooks Are Given F’s in Originality

"Just how similar passages showed up in two books is a tale of how the largely obscure $4 billion a year world of elementary and high school textbook publishing often works, for these passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers. And while it is rare that the same language is used in different books, it is common for noted scholars to give their names to elementary and high school texts, lending prestige and marketing power, while lesser known writers have a hand in the books and their frequent revisions...

"The industry is replete with examples of the phenomenon. One of the most frequently used high school history texts is Holt the American Nation, first published in 1950 as Rise of the American Nation and written by Lewis Paul Todd and Merle Curti. For each edition, the book appeared with new material, long after one author had died and the other was in a nursing home. Eventually, the text was reissued as the work of another historian, Paul S. Boyer.

"Professor Boyer, emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, acknowledged that the original authors had supplied the structure of the book that carries his name. But he said that as he revises the text, he adds new scholarship, themes and interpretations. He defended the disappearance of the original authors’ names from the book, saying it would be more misleading to carry their names when they had no say in current editions.

“'Textbooks are hardly the same as the Iliad or Beowulf,' he added...

“'This is really about an awkward and embarrassing situation these authors have been put in because they’ve got involved in textbook publishing,' [said] William Cronon, a historian at the University of Wisconsin who wrote the American Historical Association’s statement on ethics...

"Named authors share royalties, generally 10 to 15 percent of the net profits, on each printing of the text, whether they write it or not...

"The similarities in the Prentice Hall books were discovered by James W. Loewen, who is updating his 1995 best seller, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Another Great Source of Info on Russia

While searching for details on Putin's interview, I came across a BBC Web section titled "Russia: Key Facts."

It has several pages of graphs and charts describing economic and demographic data from Russia. The information might be the basis of test questions, student research, or discussions hypothesizing about the political implications of the data.

Check it out.

Establishment and Critics

In the run-up to the G8 meeting, critics of Putin and the status quo in Russia are meeting and Putin is meeting with the foreign press to defend the state of things.

First the New York Times report on the dissidents' meeting and the silence of the Russian media.

Rights Activists Call for Russian Evolution

"Hundreds of advocates of civil society and opposition figures opened a two-day conference here on Tuesday, protesting the authoritarian streak that they say defines Mr. Putin’s Kremlin and its hold on the Russian state...
Those attending the conference, held in advance of a meeting of the leaders of the Group of 8 industrial nations scheduled to begin in St. Petersburg this weekend, called themselves The Other Russia.

"They said their ideals — including free elections, respect for opposing views and human rights and fair distribution of public wealth — were a counterpoint to Russia’s recent political course...

"Participants said more than 40 of their members had been arrested throughout Russia while traveling to the conference here or to St. Petersburg for the Group of 8 meeting...

"The protests and the police actions were ignored by Russian news programs, which are securely under the Kremlin’s sway..."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (no longer heard in most of Russia) also reported on that meeting.

Russia: Opposition, NGOs Gather Ahead Of G8 Summit

Meanwhile, Putin was granting interviews to foreign reporters and criticizing Western attitudes and words in a defensive, Slavophile way.

The BBC report on the interviews is Putin rebuffs 'colonialist' West

"Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Western critics of Russia's record on democracy of using "colonialist" rhetoric.

"In TV interviews, he said it was unacceptable for the West to use the issue to interfere in Russia's affairs.

"He singled out US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who earlier this year accused Mr Putin of backsliding on democracy.

"Pro-democracy campaigners have been pressuring the West to raise the issue at a G8 summit in Russia this weekend...

"Talking to France's LCI television, which translated his remarks, Mr Putin accused critics in the West of using Russian 'colonialist' language towards Russia.

"'If you look at newspapers of 100 years ago, you see how, at the time, colonialist states justified their policies in Africa or in Asia. They talked of their civilising role, of the white man's mission,' he said.

"'If you change the word 'civilising' to 'democratisation', you find the same logic, you can read the same things in the press today.'...

"He called Mr Cheney's criticism of Russia's record 'a failed hunting shot'."

The Washington Post report is Putin Rips Cheney's Verbal 'Hunting Shot'

The official text of the interview is at the Web site of the Russian President.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Another great source

Jim Lerch found another gem on the Internet. It's Project Syndicate. As a source for global op-ed articles, it's first rate.

I'd suggest that Project Syndicate would be a source for good material for many social studies courses, not just comparative politics.

I have bookmarked this site and plan to make it a regular stop on my routine Web trips.

Here' how the people running the project describe it:

"Project Syndicate is a non-profit international association of 275 quality newspapers in 115 countries devoted to:
  • "bringing distinguished voices from across the world to local audiences everywhere;
  • "strengthening the independence of printed media in transition and developing countries;
  • "upgrading their journalistic, editorial, and business capacities.

"Financial contributions from member papers in developed countries support the services provided free by Project Syndicate to members in less advanced economies. Additional support comes from the Open Society Institute, Politiken Foundation and Die Zeit Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius Foundation.

"Each year, Project Syndicate delivers hundreds of commentaries by prominent figures to the world's foremost newspapers.

"All commentaries are written by men and women who deserve to be heard by a global audience and who [come from] an endless variety of professions, national and cultural backgrounds, and political perspectives."

Recent contributors have included:

  • Joschka Fischer, Green Party leader and German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 to 2005.

  • Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and adviser to the governments of Poland, Russia, and other countries.

  • Ralf Dahrendorf, former European Commissioner from Germany, a member of the British House of Lords, a former Rector of the London School of Economics, and a former Warden of St. Antony's College, Oxford.

  • J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a former Assistant US Treasury Secretary.

  • Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University.

  • Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, formerly Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to President Clinton and Chief Economist and Senior Vice President at the World Bank.

The commentaries are organized in three main areas:

  • Global Perspectives ("Frontiers of Growth," "Human Rights," "Worldly Philosophers," and "Islam and the World")
  • International Insight ("European Economies," "A Window on Russia," "China Stands Up," Latin America," "Into Africa," and "The Asian Century")
  • Mind and Matter ("Health and Medicine" and "Science and Society")

Mexican electoral bureaucracy

This may be more than you or your students need to know, but knowing the details might help understand what's going on. This article, from The Washington Post, reads like a textbook explanation.

As usual, the title is a link to the article (just click on it) and the link is posted on the Comparative Government and Politics "del.icio.us" page (just click on that link too), so you can find it even after this blog entry is deep in the archives. I'll also post a link on the "Teaching Comparative" web discussion site in the Mexico forum.

The Mexican Electoral Court and the Federal Judiciary and the 2006 Presidential Election


"Presented on May 18, 2006 at a CSIS Mexico Project event titled "Administering Mexico's 2006 Federal Elections"

"This speech aims at explaining the main features distinguishing the resolution system for electoral disputes which is in force in Mexico, pointing out the institutional role played by the Electoral Court of the Federal Judicial Branch in the 2006 presidential election.

"The current Mexican Resolution System for Electoral Disputes was established in 1996, when both the Constitution and the electoral legislation were amended in order to provide for an Electoral Court of the Federal Judicial Power (to which I will refer simply as the electoral court in what follows) which is empowered to resolve not only every dispute arisen from federal elections..."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Humor from Germany

A friend in Germany sent me a July 9 article from From Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. It was published in English and presents itself as a US State Department memo to President Bush about his upcoming visit to Germany. Who knew that someone in the mainstream media (MSM) in Germany had such an Onion-like sensibility?

Here are some excerpts relevant to comparative politics:

"How German Politics Works

"We cannot go into detail here, but the chancellor is a "Christian Democrat" - think Republicans minus the death penalty, if you can.

"The other big party is the "Social Democrats" - basically, left-wingers like Teddy Kennedy, but with fewer sex scandals (and smaller houses).

"There are rumors that there are other parties in the German parliament as well, but the CIA has been unable to find them...

"What NOT to Say

"Not even Germans understand the Germans; they are a very, very complex people. That is especially true for people in the former East Germany who feel more cheated by history than AI Gore.

"As a result, talking to them can be difficult, even though many of them know English. When you want to make a little "conservation" (your phrase) with eastern Germans [the area President Bush will visit], these phrases are a big no-no:

  1. "So,were you a Communist, too?"
  2. "What kind of job do you have?"
  3. "How about a prayer before we eat?”
  4. "I notice there's not a lot of black people around. Are they afraid to come here?" (Laughing to show you are only joking makes things worse.)

A new cleavage in Nigerian politics?

Finding information on the everyday politics in Nigeria and Iran is never easy. But at least the major Nigerian newspapers are published in English. The maneuvering of presidential politics dominates this as well as most other political reporting from Nigeria.

Here's a report from This Day which suggests that there's a new, politically relevant cleavage in Nigerian politics. If there is really the emergence of a younger generation anxious to move up, it adds a new dimension to the already-complex situation. Of course, this might be a case of an entrenched, military-based elite being gently prodded by a civilian elite that wants a bigger share of power rather than a generational competition.

(The "IBB" in the headline is the common press reference to former military ruler Ibraham Babangida.)

Govs, Ministers Move Against Buhari, IBB

"A new twist may have occurred in the political camp of President Olusegun Obasanjo over who succeeds him in 2007 as some state governors, ministers and federal legislators loyal to him and who supported the failed third term project have asked him to look towards what they called the “new school” in picking his successor...

"THISDAY gathered ... that the group comprising the governors, ministers and the legislators, most of who are below 50, already had audience with the President on the need for him to support the paradigm shift and get the country away from the “old school” system.

"The group which is said to enjoy the support of the President’s reformist team, as well as the corporate community that supported the third term project, wants the likes of Babangida and Buhari to be taken out of the political equation for 2007.

"Unfolding the agenda of the group to newsmen weekend, one of the governors at the forefront of the generational change said the search of his group has no ethnic or geographical inclination.

“'Our dichotomy is on generational change not on north or south,' pointing out that the target is to pick a candidate that will fit into the modern system so that Nigeria will not be left behind in the emerging global changes.

"THISDAY gathered that though the group did not present any particular candidate to President Obasanjo when they met him, they however made it clear to him that their preference will be on knowledgeable person under 55 years of age.

"The governor said though the President has also not been too keen on handing over to a younger person, he could not resist the pressure as the group comprises mostly those who funded and openly supported the failed third term project.

"The President was said to have expressed reservation on the possibility of such young person holding the unity of the country because of exuberance but was reminded that all great leaders including himself made the difference as Nigerian leaders when they were at that age bracket, naming Generals Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, Yakubu Gowon [pictured at right] as well as former President Shehu Shagari.

"But according to information, Obasanjo told them that the situation is not the same today as there are more problems today threatening national stability than the periods these people led the country..."

(The biography that accompanies the photograph of a young Yukubu Gowon on a Nigerian government website, begins, "Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon became head of the Federal Military Government and Supreme Commander of the Armed forces on August, 1966. At 32 he was Africa's youngest head of state. This followed a brilliant Army career which began in 1954, a year after he left college...")

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Complexity and Ambiguity in Chinese politics

The Washington Post article frames the issue around policy debates over birth control, but there is so much more involved here. Who are the "Beijing hard-liners" mentioned in the sub-head? Are they reformers pushing for economic change or old-line Communists resisting it? Another big issue involves the power of local officials and the powers of the central authorities. Then there is the problem of the internal politics of the Politburo. Oh, and does the article mention the growing civil society?

Then again, this issue may be bigger in the international arena than in the Chinese one. Perhaps the blind peasant will be convicted and then allowed to come to the US for medical treatment. Uncomfortable dissidents have followed that path in the past. He would come as a hero to the current American administration probably just before next fall's election.

Chinese to Prosecute Peasant Who Resisted One-Child Policy

"Decision Reveals Growing Clout of Beijing Hard-Liners

"The Chinese government is preparing to prosecute a blind peasant who exposed excesses by authorities in enforcing the one-child policy in eastern China..

"Before he was detained in September, Chen had tried to organize a class-action lawsuit against Linyi officials, alleging they were illegally forcing parents with two children to be sterilized and women pregnant with a third child to have abortions. Residents also accused officials of detaining and torturing relatives of people who fled the crackdown.

"Chen's cause drew support from lawyers, scholars and civic activists across the country, and the government agency responsible for population policies in China, the National Family Planning and Population Commission, launched an investigation...

"But local authorities fought back... [and] lobbied the Foreign Ministry and the powerful Propaganda Department, which agreed to ban any discussion of Chen in the state media and the Internet, the sources said.

"For months, the party appeared torn about how to proceed, but the decision to prosecute Chen suggests that the Linyi officials have outmaneuvered others in the government...

"Chen's case was also complicated by an internal party debate over the future of the one-child policy. Some party officials and scholars have urged the government to relax the policy... But provincial leaders and others in the party have resisted...

"A party official involved in the debate said Hu and others on the ruling Politburo Standing Committee are unwilling to take a position on the issue ahead of a leadership conference next year. As a result, he said, many in the party are not sure whether they should support Chen or condemn the Linyi officials."

More government control in Russia

From the New York Times

Kremlin Curtails U.S.-Financed Radio Broadcasts to Russians

"MOSCOW, July 7 — American-financed radio news broadcasts to Russia, a staple of the American government's outreach efforts since the cold war, have been sharply curtailed in recent months under legal pressure from the Russian government, according to Russian and American officials.

"The pressure has knocked programs off the air in much of the country...

"The suppression of the Western-financed news, which began last year weeks after a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty infuriated the Kremlin by interviewing Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel leader, has been indirect but highly effective, officials said.

"Rather than confront the news services' operations directly, regulators from the Culture Ministry have audited the services' partners across the nation... The audits found that the stations had not complied with provisions of Russian media law requiring them to submit and adhere to "concepts of programming" that delineate how much air time will include material they produce themselves and how much will come from external sources...

"Regulators warned the Russian stations that they would risk losing their licenses if they continued to broadcast the material provided by the American news services. As a result, one station after another has dropped the programming.

"The crackdown, first reported by The Washington Post, has followed Kremlin efforts since President Valdimir V. Putin came to office in 2000 to control or restrict independent journalism in Russia, especially on the airwaves. Television stations fell under the Kremlin's sway and now principally act as instruments of the state..."

The Guardian (UK) reports on the same topic, noting that,

"The news is an awkward reminder of the administration's crackdown on the media and comes days before Mr Putin hosts his G8 colleagues for a summit in St Petersburg. The US and the EU have criticised the lengthy media crackdown in Russia...

"Civil society advocates say such bureaucratic regulations are designed to give officials scope to close organisations that are politically inconvenient.

"The restriction removes a dissenting voice in the Russian media that millions have tuned in to for an alternative point of view since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991."

Russia forces US-funded radio services off the air

Mundane reform in Nigeria - a sign of progress?

The BBC reported on a bit of non-spectacular, non-disaster news from Nigeria. This kind of news may be more important for government and politics than the riots and kidnappings in the delta. Then again, in spite of his credentials (see the link to the profile of Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai,), perhaps the reforms are simply aimed at removing Vice President Abubakar's supporters from government service. It is nice for the government to have all that oil money coming in.

Nigeria to cut thousands of jobs

"Some 33,000 Nigerian civil servants are to lose their jobs by the end of this year, a minister has said.

"This amounts to about 20% of Nigeria's 160,000 public workers.

"The minister in charge of civil service reform, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, said that those who did not lose their jobs would be given an unspecified pay rise.

"He said many of those to be sacked were unfit, guilty of serious misconduct or "ghost workers", inherited from the years of military rule...

"The measures are intended to improve efficiency in Nigeria's civil service, which has a poor reputation...

"The government said it has earmarked 50bn naira ($389m) for the "house-cleaning exercise", which would be used not only to pay for redundancies but also increased salaries..."

Friday, July 07, 2006

More public opinion to consider

A new opinion poll from the Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed attitudes in several countries about issues involving Muslims and immigrants. The results could be useful teaching tools or just good knowledge in the back of teachers' awareness.

First the New York Times article.

Poll Shows Bright View of Muslim Integration

"PARIS, July 6 — One year after bombings by Islamic militants in London set off intensive soul-searching across Europe about Muslim integration, a new survey has turned up surprisingly positive attitudes, both among European Muslims toward Europe and among society in general toward Muslims.

"The poll, carried out by the Pew Global Attitudes Project this spring in 13 countries, with additional samples of Muslims living in Britain, Germany, France and Spain, indicated that "Muslims are generally positive about conditions" in their countries of residence...

"Among Muslims in Europe who see a struggle within Islam between moderates and militants, most support the moderates. But allegiance to militant Islamic political movements is not insignificant; in Britain, 15 percent of the Muslims polled sided with the militants.

"The majority populations often worry that a growing Islamic identity could lead to violence. But many also worry that it could keep Muslims from adopting the national customs and way of life. In Germany, Britain and Spain, big majorities saw immigrants as wanting to remain distinct, as did a small majority in France..."

The Reuters report on the poll results emphasized different results:

British worries on Islamic extremism rising

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Worries about Islamic extremism in Britain rose markedly in the year since the London bombings, while growing numbers of Britons say immigration from the Arab world is a bad idea, a survey showed on Thursday.
In a new poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project released on the eve of the attacks' one-year anniversary, 42 percent of people surveyed in Britain said they were very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the country, compared to 34 percent in May 2005.

"In Germany, 40 percent said they were very concerned, up from 35 a year earlier. In France -- which faced riots that included residents of Arab and African origin last year -- and Spain -- itself the victim of Islamic militant bombings in 2004 -- the numbers dropped to 30 from 32 percent and to 35 from 43 percent respectively.

"Forty-three percent of Muslims surveyed in Britain also said they were very concerned by rising Islamic extremism, compared to 26 percent in France, 23 percent in Germany and 21 percent in Spain..."

The International Herald Tribune article is very similar to the New York Times report.

Muslims and Europe: Survey finds positive attitudes

"One year after bombings by Islamic extremists in London sparked intensive soul-searching across Europe about Muslim integration, a new survey has turned up surprisingly positive attitudes, both among European Muslims and in society in general...

"The survey also found that:
"The entry of women into modern roles is apparently welcomed by many European Muslims.
"European Muslims show signs of favoring a moderate version of Islam.
"The majority of European Muslims do not see many or most Europeans as hostile toward Muslims.
"More French people see immigration from the Middle East and North Africa as a good thing than did so a year ago..."