Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 31, 2008

Kogi election results

This report comes from Vanguard (Lagos). It's a follow-up to Signs of rule of law and legitimacy in Nigeria

(Trivia: Do your students know why Governor Idris holds the title Alhaji?)

(More trivia: The loser Abubakar Audu could retire to his house in Potomac, MD, zip code 20854, an area where a number of Nigerian politicians have purchased homes. He bought the house at 12301 Glen Road, in 2000 for $1.7 million.)

Kogi Election - Idris Wins, Audu Kicks

"ALHAJI Ibrahim Idris of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) was, yesterday, returned to office as governor of Kogi State in a landslide victory. He polled 518,581 of the 734,625 votes cast in Saturday's election.

"His closest opponent, Prince Abubakar Audu of the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP), trailed a distant second with 175,978 votes; while Mr. Ramat Momoh of the PAC got 1,529 votes and Professor Yusuf Obaje (DPP) got 1,259 votes...

"Idris extended his hands of fellowship to his opponents. But Prince Audu said the election was characterised by a high level of malpractices...

"The ANPP and the Action Congress (AC) with which it ran a joint ticket in the election, as well as the Democratic People's Party (DPP) called for the nullification of the election...

"Their spokesman, Chief Mike Adeleye, who is the chairman of AC in the state... alleged that the results declared in four local government areas in Kogi East senatorial districts were manufactured by the PDP..."

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sharing comparative teaching ideas

A teacher in Harrison, NY has uploaded a comparative teaching plan about political parties that looks good. The teacher would like feedback about the plan.

It's extensive and includes some basic research, thesis development, and a presentation. The conclusion is a 3-5 page paper.

Check it out and use it or use parts of it. And offer some evaluation.

The title is Political Parties Inquiry, and it's described as "Student based research on political parties & electoral process."

It's at the sharing comparative Yahoo Group site.

There are two other teaching plans posted there: the EU Mini Research Project and The State Research Project.

You need to be a member of the group to access these documents. If you're not a member of the group, you can use the link below to join.

Click here to join sharecompgovpol
Click to join sharing comparative

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Prosperity and politics

If globalized science can contribute to reducing international conflict (See Science and politics), can growing, globalized affluence help? Many people think so. Not Guardian columnist Jason Burke in London.

Perhaps this suggests a topic for a post-exam seminar for those AP teachers who have weeks of class after May 5. Or perhaps this is the beginnings of a research paper assignment.

All middle class, maybe. All the same? No

"The dinner party theory of conflict prevention runs like this: the world is getting richer, hundreds of millions of people are being borne up the social ladder by unprecedented global economic growth and as they get wealthier, these new planetary middle-class masses are inevitably going to become more like nice, educated, reasonable, middle-class people elsewhere - i.e. here. In short, they become the sort of people you'd invite to dinner.

"I would like to believe this theory...

"The dinner parties are certainly likely to be cosmopolitan affairs... but do not necessarily mean the dawning of a new era of global stability and peace.

"Why? First, because the internationalist, optimistic vision... relies heavily on a rejection of out-dated allegiances to 'the nation'... Sadly, there is precious little evidence that this is happening. Yes, nation states might be weaker, but our attachment to them seems stronger than ever. A sense of national chauvinism appears often to be a corollary of a society developing economic wealth, rather than its opposite...

"In Europe... protectionism is back with a vengeance. In Russia, Vladimir Putin is the expression of a new nationalist...

"The key people here are not the ultra-rich... The key is the swath of the population beneath: those whose parents or grandparents were poor, who have just traded the family motorbike for a family car, just swapped the flat for a house, who are scared that their gains could disappear...

"For, since the end of the Cold War, we have been lulled into a complacency based in the idea that... most people are like us or, if they are not like us, they would want to be. But the truth is that not everyone, given the means, wants to dissolve their own identity in a global pick'n'mix, particularly one that is actually far from global but actually American-European.

"Aspirations to live in security, health and prosperity are universal. But so is the desire to live with a sense of cultural, national and personal independence..."

See also:
  • The Diffusion of Prosperity and Peace by Globalization
    Critics of globalization forget that free trade fosters prosperity and know almost nothing about its most important benefit—its tendency to prevent war. Quantitative studies have shown that trade fosters peace both directly, by reducing the risk of military conflict, and indirectly, by promoting prosperity and democracy.
  • Does Globalization Bring War or Peace?
    High levels of economic exchange act as an accelerant: extensive trade enhances either cooperation or conflict.
  • How Globalization Promotes War
    Globalization, more correctly called corporate globalization, is founded upon a conservative, free market-oriented worldview that seeks to limit the economic impact of government actions.
  • Investment Means Prosperity, Peace, Cohen Tells Shanghai Stock Traders
    Economic prosperity leads to peace and democracy, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said at the Shanghai Stock Exchange July 14, 2000, a day marked by record trading.
  • Globalization: The Pathway to Prosperity, Freedom and Peace
    Globalization... has led to a better world, one in which greater numbers of people have the opportunity for peace, prosperity and freedom. Anti-global critics are tragically wrong for they condemn millions of people to poverty, disease, force migrations, ethical strife, and terrorism.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Signs of rule of law and legitimacy in Nigeria?

(Kogi is a state just south of Abuja, partly in the Middle Belt region. Frederick Lugard [right] was the British Governor-General of Nigeria from 1914-1919. His wife is credited with inventing the name Nigeria. Lugard House was the seat of British rule in central Nigeria and is at least the symbolic seat of power in Kogi.)

From Leadership (Abuja)

Kogi Re-Run Election - Who Goes to Lugard House?

"It's D-day in Kogi State. The people of the state are going to the polls again to elect a new governor. It is a battle royale between the two leading political parties in the state - the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

"The Appeal Court sitting in Abuja had set the tone for today's rerun for the office of governor, when it upheld the nullification of the April 14, 2007, gubernatorial contest in the state that produced Alhaji Ibrahim Idris (PDP) [left] as the winner...

"Ahead of today's election, the federal government has deployed over 6, 000 policemen and women to the state. Also, over 1, 000 army personnel have been deployed to the state, while about 1,000 para-military officials from the neighbouring states, comprising Immigration, Prisons, Customs and Civil Defence Corps, are on ground in the state...

"The real combatants in today's epic battle are former governors Ibrahim Idris and Abubakar Audu [left]. They would not be meeting for the first time. Today's meeting will be the third time. In 2003, all the political forces in Kogi State lined up behind Idris to unseat Abubakar.

"The pill of that defeat was too bitter for Abubakar to swallow. He vied for the office again in April 2007. Again, Idris was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which had illegally disqualified Audu from contesting. Audu headed for the courts and obtained a judgement nullifying the election of Idris...

"Today's election in Kogi State is an acid test for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The credibility of the commission is at stake.

"INEC chairman Professor Maurice Iwu recently declared that the commission would declare whoever emerges winner in today's election in Kogi State as the winner. It was the electoral body's indication that it wants to be neutral...

"The electoral body has imported their officials from 12 neighbouring states comprising Edo, Benue, Nasarawa, Niger, Enugu, Kwara, Ekiti, Ondo, and the Federal Capital Territory.

"Furthermore, over 1,000 members of the National Youth Service Corps have been drafted from the neighbouring states to assist the INEC officials...

"Meanwhile, with the high presence of security personnel, everywhere seems to be calm. Today's election may be peaceful if report from other parts of the state is anything to go by..."

See also

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Raising prices to combat inflation?

There's something about raising prices to curb inflation that doesn't make sense in my logical mind. That dissonance suggests to me that the real problem is raising enough grain. Could it be that there will be a shortage next fall? If so, what will the government need to do then?

China hikes minimum grain purchase prices to fight inflation

"China has raised its minimum purchase prices for rice and wheat for a second time this year to encourage grain production and curb inflation, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said on Friday...

"The NDRC also said that the minimum price system would be expanded to cover the northeastern province of Liaoning, which would become the third province -- after Heilongjiang and Jilin --to have minimum prices. China began setting minimum purchase prices in 2004 to encourage production...

"Costs of farming inputs, including fertilizers and seeds, have risen, adding upward pressure to farm produce prices...

"It sends a signal to farmers that planting crops means making money, which is important because grain prices will only stabilize if supplies are guaranteed, Song Hongyuan, the deputy director of the Research Center for Rural Economy under the Ministry of Agriculture, said..."

See also:

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kremlin watchers

Kremlin watchers keep their "eyes" on the black box (or red box if we look at the color of the brick wall) that is elite politics in Russia, and pounce on every hint they think gives them a picture of what's going on inside -- especially if it confirms a suspicion they have.

So, the New York Times went with this story from Reuters this morning.

Russia's Medvedev Hints At Kremlin Power Struggle

"Russian president-elect Dmitry Medvedev has predicted some people might try to challenge his presidency, the first acknowledgement of what could be a simmering turf war among Kremlin clans.

"Kremlin-watchers say factions close to outgoing president Vladimir Putin are nervous about Medvedev running Russia and want to leave the way open for Putin to return if his replacement does not prove up to the job...

"'As for concerns (about the Putin-Medvedev partnership) then they, of course, exist and will continue to exist,' Medvedev said in an interview, extracts of which were published on Thursday on his official Internet site https://www.rost.ru/medvedev...

"He did not spell out that any challenge would come from inside the Kremlin. But with Russia's opposition parties weak and marginalized, government infighting, for now at least, appears to offer a bigger test...

"Analysts say resistance to a Medvedev presidency is led by a loose grouping of Kremlin insiders, commonly referred to as the "siloviki" who, like ex-KGB spy Putin, have backgrounds in the security services..."

See also:

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Science and politics

Seed magazine is one of my favorite things to read in my leisure time. While keeping my brain busy creating new pathways and synapses, I get to read about fantastic and fantastical things going on the world of scientific research and philosophy. (I read a recent article "Questioning Consciousness" which proposed ways scientists as well as philosophers could study human consciousness.)

But, in the January/February issue, I came across two articles at the intersection of science and political theory. They might be fodder for interesting discussions with your students in comparative politics. Your students could do research to determine what variables are related to the degrees of scientific freedom in the countries they study, and whether the correlations are also causes.

The first article is, "Science and Democracy" by Maggie Wittlin. As I saw the title I was reminded of Fang Lizhi [at left], the noted Chinese physicist whose ideas helped spark the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989 and Andrei Sakharov, the persecuted Soviet physicist who won a Nobel prize, not for physics, but for peace.

Wittlin's article (which is not yet online) notes Chinese innovations in the design of the "Bird's Nest" stadium being built for the Olympics. Then she asks, "Both science and democracy are about freely exchanging ideas, challenging accepted theories, and judging propositions on merit; ideals the Party's tight rule would seem to preclude. China in 2008 prompts the question: Can innovation thrive without democratic governance?"

In the Chinese context, this question goes back to at least the May 4th movement of the early 20th century.

Wittlin points out that the first non-Party ministers in the government were Wan Gang, minister of science and technology and Chen Zhu, minister of health. She also refers to the "return" of Chinese scientists who have studied abroad. Together with increases in government funding for scientific research and growing collaboration with non-Chinese scientists, she implies these are signs of greater intellectual freedom.

Wittlin quotes physicist Xu Liangying as asserting that the pressures for progress in science and technology will push the Chinese regime toward more democracy.

Would your students agree?

And once you have discussed that idea, consider Joshua Roebke's question in "Science at Large" (also not yet online). He asks, "Can the inherent multilateralism of big science be an instrument for renewed international coooperation and peace?"

He points to the financial contributions of 30 countries and the work of 9,000 physicists from 85 countries to create the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

And in more conflict-prone environments, he asks whether things like the Sesame synchrotron in Jordan, the NATO "Science for Peace" projects in the former USSR, and the Siachen Science Laboratory in Kashmir can promote international cooperation, while reducing conflict.

Roebke asks, "[Can] multilateralism be renewed through the example of Big Science."

"Science," he writes, "succeeds thanks to its openness to contradictory points of view, rationality, and liberal attitudes in the search for solutions, which are certainly also the characteristics for successful diplomacy."

How would your students respond to that idea?

Science is often seen as the source of bigger and better weapons for nation states and non-state groups to use either to force change or preserve the status quo. If we combine Wittlin's and Roebke's ideas, we get to ask, whether science alternatively offers the means to more peaceful and democratic societies and global interactions?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Political alienation: Iran and Russia

The Economist reported that in the recent elections, "Turnout was modest. Government officials claimed that as many as 65% of Iran's 44m eligible voters took part, trumpeting this as a victory over foreign plots to undermine the Islamic revolution. Yet the Ministry of the Interior's own figures indicated a national turnout of 52%, and no more than 30% in Tehran...

"Candidates in the capital, with a population of 12m, needed to capture at least a quarter of the 2m votes cast to win in the first round... the reformists struggled to rally supporters... many sympathisers seem to have seen no point in voting."

Iran is not the only country where some of the elite are alienated from politics according to Catriona Bass' report for TimesOnLine (London).

Russian politics: the bald truth

"Nothing in the world would have dragged [my St Petersburg friend] to the polling booth. Like most of my friends here, many of whom manned the barricades in 1991 to save their newfound political freedoms, she dismisses politics today in the way that most of the city's intellectuals did in Soviet times. Politicians are vulgar and to be ignored as far as possible...

"... a smug respectability which has filled St Petersburg's central boulevards with art galleries, antiques shops, restaurants, theatres, boutiques and concert halls. The rattle of trams has been replaced by the ringing of church bells, car alarms and digital door codes...

"The President's supporters among the elite are highly visible, but [for]... the moment, consumerism and censorship seem to have killed off opposition politics in St Petersburg. My intellectual friend neither voted nor protested. She went to her dacha to ski in the forest and 'to eat and drink and forget about politics'."

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Voting reform in the UK

The Guardian (London) reports on ideas for changing voting rules in the UK. The article is full of references to political science concepts. Ask your students to identify them and to evaluate the logic of the suggested reforms.

This article might also offer an opportunity to review the British version of how a bill becomes a law (check out manifestoes, white papers, green papers, and draft bills).

Ministers back radical plan for voting reform

"A significant overhaul of electoral legislation to give voters a second vote, open polling stations at weekends and make it compulsory to participate is being proposed by the government to increase turnout and improve the legitimacy of the Commons.

"Ministers... hope the measures will increase the authority of MPs and reduce voter disengagement. In the 2005 general election, only 61% of those eligible participated...

"When Gordon Brown came to power he promised radical reforms to restore trust in politics, but there has been little progress so far.

"The decision to examine Commons voting systems has been prompted by proposed reforms in the House of Lords, which will almost certainly be elected by a proportional voting system...

"Ministers fear that the Commons will have difficulty retaining its status as the pre-eminent legislative chamber if peers, elected by proportional voting, can claim greater authority than MPs, who are sometimes put in office by less than a third of the electorate..."

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

In summary (so far)

Vanguard (Lagos) has a great summary of the Nigerian House's investigation into the scandal surrounding the attempts to improve that country's electrical grid. Transparency seems to be improving in Nigeria's notoriously corrupt system of government spending.

Power Sector Probe, Heads Will Roll

"Seven days of testimonies at the public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Power and Steel organized to unearth the mystery behind the huge expenditure of $16billion on the sector with no commensurate results has confounded Nigerians with the amount of colossal waste the power sector turned out to be in the eight years of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

"It started like what sounded like an innocuous remark by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who posited... that his predecessor expended about $10billion on the sector while at the helm of affairs with virtually nothing to show for it.

"The House of Representatives... mandated its Committee on Power and Steel led by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu to investigate the claim and report back to the entire House for further action.

"Before the committee could settle down to its assignment, it came to light that the amount spent on power... may in fact be more than what the president disclosed as... there was another $6billion extra budgetary expenses on power during the period under review.

"... the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, revealed to the committee that at least 34 of the companies which had been awarded the power contracts under NIPP were not registered. The public hearing was also to learn that prominent Nigerians including former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar, had interests in many of the defaulting companies.

"He had been named as the chairman of Energo Nigeria Limited which in 2003 got a N19billion transmission substation contract, collected $13billion in advance payment yet the consultants don't even know the site of the project...

"With the public hearing over,the committee now begins the business of sifting the tonnes of document it received with a view to making a recommendation to the House which would form the basis of further action on the probe. No date has been set for the submission of the report but there is little doubt that Nigerians would be anxious to see the outcome and its bearing on the epileptic power situation in the country...

"We have now identified people who are part of the problems in the sector. We are going to invoke our powers under the Constitution against anybody whenever it is necessary to do so. We have the powers of investigations, and we would recommend to the appropriate authorities like the Attorney General's Office and other relevant agencies to prosecute anybody we find culpable," the House spokesman... told Sunday Vanguard, weekend."

See also:

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Whips in Parliament, part 2

In the House of Commons, there's a big difference between a "free vote" and the "three line whip." Do your students understand how party unity is maintained while being flexible?

Minister's threat as cardinal joins embryos row

"The government is facing a resignation from the cabinet if Gordon Brown refuses to allow Labour ministers to vote against contentious proposals to allow medical research on human-animal embryos.

"The Welsh secretary, Paul Murphy, is one of several Catholic senior government figures pressing the prime minister to allow all MPs a free vote on the human embryology and fertilisation bill later this spring...

"Pressed again on the issue at prime minister's questions, Brown indicated he would soften his stance by allowing MPs to "exercise their consciences". However, since this is a government bill, Labour members will only be allowed to abstain, while opposition parties will allow their MPs a free vote..."

See also:
  • Brown criticised over embryo bill
    "[Scottish] Cardinal Keith O'Brien... will also call on Gordon Brown to allow Labour MPs a free vote on the issue at Westminster..."

  • Pressure mounts over embryo bill
    "[Archbishop of Cardiff Peter Smith wrote] to the prime minister asking for Labour MPs to be released from the three-line whip that would force them to vote for the legislation - ministers who did not support a whipped vote would be expected to resign..."

  • Gordon Brown 'to respect MPs' conscience' for fertility vote
    "Gordon Brown yesterday opened the door to a climbdown over proposed laws on fertility and embryo research.

    "The Prime Minister said he would "respect the conscience" of every MP as he came under growing pressure to offer a free vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill."

  • Whips in Parliament

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Interview with Mayor Qalibaf

Time magazine's analysis of Iranian politics seems built on comments by Tehran's mayor. That position was held by Ahmadinejad before his election as president.

Centrists Could Derail Ahmadinejad

"Iran's conservatives have won more than 70% of the seats in the 290-seat parliament, known as the Majlis. That was a foregone conclusion... Still, the balloting may eventually prove an unlikely turning point in Iran's domestic politics, as well as in Tehran's nearly 30-year cold war with Washington...

"Tehran Mayor Mohammed Qalibaf [at left], a possible Ahmadinejad opponent in next year's presidential election, says a centrist Third Wave is taking shape and it will push a moderate, pragmatic agenda. 'Our people are tired of extremism and the exaggerations of the factions on the right and the left, and generally of factionalism altogether,' he said...

"The still-loose alliance, whose strength in parliament will not be known until a runoff election in May, seeks to capitalize on Ahmadinejad's failures to doom his prospects for reelection next year..."

See also:

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sharing teaching ideas

Beth Boyd, who teaches in Marietta, Georgia, wishes it was possible to merge this blog with the lesson plan exchange group. I agree, but don't know how to do that without charging users for the service.

It's not as good, but I will announce here when teaching ideas are posted at the sharing comparative group.

And, to start things off, I've posted MSWord and .rtf versions of a teaching plan and a set of questions for a mini-research assignment about the structure, function, and politics of the EU.

It's intended as a one-class-day (or out of class assignment) research activity followed up by discussion and comparison of results. The questions can all easily be answered using Europa, the EU web site or the BBC News site.

I've used the idea successfully as an introduction to the EU. (However, I revised the questions for this 2008 version, so I haven't used this exact set of questions.)

Other follow-ups could include an exercise involving the classification of EU institutions as democratic, federal, or transnational and the analysis of parties in the EU parliament (those two are in the Comparative Government and Politics unit I did for The Center for Learning).

More follow-up could be discussions about the "frictions" between and among the representative, federal, and bureaucratic institutions of the EU and about the issues involved in "broadening and deepening" the EU.

Use the link below to make a request to join the group.

Click to join sharecompgovpol

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And for the defense in Nigeria...

As we should expect, there's a defense to the charges in Nigeria of vast waste in the electricity production industry. This report was published by Vanguard in Lagos. The article is nearly all quotations from testimony at the legislative hearings into the allegations of mismanagement and corruption.

OBJ Didn't Waste Money On Power

"GOVERNORS Olusegun Agagu (of Ondo state, at right above) and Liyel Imoke (of Cross River state, at right below), both of them Ministers of Power in the Obasanjo administration, declared yesterday that the much-talked-about expenditure on the power sector by that government was not a waste as widely thought...

"Clarifying his role as head of the Presidential Technical Committee on Power and later as the Minister of Power and Steel, Governor Imkoe said: 'Power supply is increasingly capital intensive. Another fact which I will like to state is until there is total completion of the power projects, it adds nothing to the grid. It will only deliver electricity when it is complete and connected...

"'I was drafted into the technical board in 2000... There was a total collapse of the national grid in March 2000...

"'On my appointment... the President asked us to repair dilapidated machines. There were 79 generating units... and only 19 were working. By the time we left in December, 44 units were working.

"'Before 2000, the last power station that was built was in 1987... In those 20 years the Nigerian economy had grown but we did not realize the importance of power in growing the economy...

"'There is no quick fix to the rehabilitation. Short of expansion of the grid and new capacity, we are going to be faced with challenges. Some suggested private sector involvement. It will take tremendous political will to achieve this..."

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Celebrations, protests, and questions

How much will a revolutionary heritage count when adapting to a global economy?

Mexico marks oil nationalization anniversary with country divided over reforms

"Mexico marked the 70th anniversary of its oil industry's nationalization Tuesday amid a heated debate between those who oppose private investment in the state oil monopoly and those who consider it necessary to boost sagging production.

"Speaking to oil workers in the oil-rich Gulf coast state of Tabasco, President Felipe Calderón announced plans for a new refinery to reduce the country's dependence on imported petroleum products, including gasoline.

"'The challenge for all Mexicans is to transform Pemex so it becomes a more efficient and stronger company that is less dependent on foreign imports,' he said.

"Calderón is pushing an energy reform proposal that would allow private companies to form partnerships with state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to explore deep-water oil fields and boost sagging production... [T]he very idea of loosening the government's grip on the energy sector is a sensitive subject, as many politicians and much of the public revere the state-run oil monopoly with nationalistic pride.

"In Mexico City, former Democratic Revolution Party presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador has said that opening Pemex to private investment would threaten national sovereignty...

"Thousands of López Obrador supporters gathered Tuesday in the capital's central square to “defend” the nation's oil...

"Mexico nationalized its oil industry on March 18, 1938, a day commemorated each year with patriotic fanfare. Its constitution bans most private and foreign involvement in the sector, but in practice, the government has eased the restrictions slightly in the past 15 years, allowing Pemex to subcontract some work to private company."

See also:

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sharing teaching ideas

A bit over 3 weeks ago, Lisa Van Gemert asked whether there was a place for teachers to share lesson plans for teaching comparative government and politics.

I didn't know of any place. No one had any concrete suggestions. So I did some research.

After looking at several alternatives, including the new Google Sites, I went back to a familiar (to me) old system, Yahoo! Groups.

I've used this with groups of students since before it was Yahoo! Groups. (E-groups was bought by Yahoo! back in '95.) I still moderate a Yahoo! Group for about 70 former students. It's not very active, but the group survived the last students graduating from college last year (and changing e-mail addresses).

The group is private. Only members are allowed to participate. People get to be members by invitation from the moderator (me).

Those things are true for the new sharing comparative govpol group as well.

The group is online.

Members of the new sharing comparative group can

  • send e-mails to the group.
  • either receive the e-mails or read them on the group web site.
  • upload files (teaching plans) to the group web site.
  • download files (teaching plans) from the group web site.
  • upload photos or graphics for other members to use in teaching plans.
  • add URLs of valuable web sites to a directory for the group.
  • add events to the group calendar (which already notes the AP Comparative Exam on May 5).

It looks like a good model for a group of teachers who are interested in sharing teaching ideas.

You do need to register with Yahoo! to participate, but I've not experienced any spam or hacking because of the groups I moderate. Just remember, when you register don't give out any more information than you must and feel comfortable sharing with Yahoo!'s advertising clients. And no one will be checking the veracity of the information you supply (except for your e-mail address).

If you want an invitation to join the group, send me an e-mail at
Ken(dot)Wedding(at)gmail(dot)com with your name, school, and the e-mail address which you want to use as a group member. I'll add you to the invite list. (So far I've sent out 33 invitations.)

Once you respond to the invitation and join the group, upload your favorite teaching plan (in a form that usable by others) to the group web site. Make sure you identify the necessary materials needed for the plan (citations and URLs would be helpful -- original material can be uploaded with the teaching plan).

Download and use teaching ideas that others have posted.

Add your favorite valuable URL to the "Links" section.

Ask questions of or offer answers and advice to the group.

If you have questions about this endeavor or a suggestion of an alternative, e-mail me.

If it's a little late in the "season" for this year, don't fret. I'll try to keep the group alive until next year.


PRD leadership

The politics of compromise in Mexico seem more remote after the apparent results of the PRD leadership election on Sunday.

Mexico leftist party picks ex-mayor with hard-line stance against Calderón

"A former Mexico City mayor who favors a hard line against President Felipe Calderón's government will be the new head of the country's main leftist party, according to preliminary returns released Monday.

"Alejandro Encinas [left] led former Sen. Jesus Ortega, a party moderate, by as much as eight percentage points for the Democratic Revolution Party's top job after Sunday's vote in samples of results released by two polling agencies...

"While final results won't be released until Wednesday, newspaper headlines and television programs declared Encinas the winner Monday...

"The party, known as the PRD, has been fractured by severe infighting since its presidential candidate, Andres Manuel López Obrador, lost Mexico's 2006 presidential election by half a percentage point.

"López Obrador alleges that the contest was stolen from him through electoral fraud, and his supporters refuse to have formal dealings with Calderón's administration. He has established a parallel 'legitimate' government with himself as its leader.

"Sunday's vote was seen as a referendum on whether the party's future will be dictated by the López Obrador camp or a by more moderate wing, which has worked with the executive branch to pass legislation, including sweeping electoral and judicial reform...

"Both sides accused the other of vote-buying, intimidation and improper handling of ballots. Problems were reported at 376 of the 4,976 polling places.

"The PRD controls 127 seats in the 500-member Congress, making it the chamber's second-largest party. It ranks third in the Senate with 26 of 128 seats. The party also governs several states as well as Mexico City."

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Situation normal...

My Dad brought an acronym back with him from his service in the U.S. Navy: SNAFU. He taught me the polite meaning when I was young: Situation Normal, All Fouled Up. The "word" was used as a noun.

This report from the BBC describes what sounds like a Nigerian SNAFU. And the former president and former leader of Transparency International, Obasanjo, is being implicated.

Is this normal in Nigeria? What are the implications for Nigerian politics? What are the implications for government legitimacy? What are the implications for the legitimacy of the regime?

Nigerian deals 'wasted billions'

"Some $2.2bn-worth of Nigerian energy contracts were awarded without a bidding process by the former president and his energy minister, officials say...

"The BBC's Ahmed Idris in the capital, Abuja, says this week's parliamentary hearings, which are being aired on television, are causing a stir with their revelations.

"He says many parts of the country go for days without electricity and businesses and many homes rely on their generators.

"When President Umaru Yar'Adua came to power last year he announced he would declare a "state of emergency" on the country's energy crisis...

"The House of Representatives committee is investigating why six power stations - already paid for by the government - are yet to be completed years after they were begun..."

See also:

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shariah backgrounder

Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has written a very helpful article for the New York Times about Islamic constitutionalism and law.

There are only a few references to Iran (most of which point out how unusual that case is in the Islamic world), but I think this article would be very instructive for American students trying to grasp the details and subtle generalizations of Iranian government and politics.

Why Shariah?

"No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word 'Shariah' conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed...

"In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world...

"How is it that what so many Westerners see as the most unappealing and premodern aspect of Islam is, to many Muslims, the vibrant, attractive core of a global movement of Islamic revival?...

"For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for Shariah is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law...

"[The] fourfold combination — the Koran, the path of the prophet as captured in the collections of reports, analogical reasoning and consensus — amounted to a basis for a legal system. But who would be able to say how these four factors fit together?... [A] self-appointed group came to be known as the scholars... got the caliphs to acknowledge them as the guardians of the law...

"The caliphs... still had plenty of power. They handled foreign affairs more or less at their discretion. And they could also issue what were effectively administrative regulations... As a result of these regulations, many legal matters (perhaps most) fell outside the rules given specifically by Shariah...

"[A] state under Shariah was... subject to a version of the rule of law. And as a rule-of-law government, the traditional Islamic state... was legitimate, in the dual sense that it generally respected the individual legal rights of its subjects and was seen by them as doing so. These individual legal rights... included basic entitlements to life, property and legal process — the protections from arbitrary government oppression sought by people all over the world for centuries...

"But if Shariah is popular among many Muslims in large part because of its historical association with the rule of law, can it actually do the same work today? Here there is reason for caution and skepticism...

"In only two important instances do scholars today exercise real power, and in both cases we can see a deviation from their traditional role. The first is Iran, where Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a distinguished scholar, assumed executive power and became supreme leader after the 1979 revolution. The result of this configuration, unique in the history of the Islamic world, is that the scholarly ruler had no counterbalance and so became as unjust as any secular ruler with no check on his authority. The other is Saudi Arabia, where the scholars retain a certain degree of power. The unfortunate outcome is that they can slow any government initiative for reform, however minor, but cannot do much to keep the government responsive to its citizens. The oil-rich state does not need to obtain tax revenues from its citizens to operate — and thus has little reason to keep their interests in mind..."

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Threat to the government and regime

The Zapatistas in Chiapas are not the only alternative to the Mexican government. A bigger threat exists in the far north. The limits of state power are clearly on display.

Drug Trade Tyranny on Mexico's Border

"Events in three border cities over the past three months illustrate the military and financial power of Mexico's cartels and the extent of their reach into a society shaken by fear.

"More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police are engaged in a multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords, a conflict that is being waged most fiercely along the 2,000-mile length of the U.S.-Mexico border...

"A total of more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in 2006 and 2007, making the murder rate in each of those years twice that of 2005. Law enforcement officials and journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned down in the wave of violence...

"Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation and cash, the [drug] cartels have come to control key parts of the border...

"More than 1,900 miles southeast of Tijuana, the city of Reynosa... is Gulf cartel country, a region dominated by the cartel's private army, Los Zetas. Their arsenal befits a military brigade, exceeding those of some Mexican army units.

"Led by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, Los Zetas are a highly disciplined mercenary squad composed of former elite Mexican troops, including officers trained by the U.S. military before they deserted..."

See also:
  • Mexico gunmen slay seven in attack on law firm
    "Unidentified gunmen burst into a law firm in the western Mexican city of Guadalajara and killed seven people, officials said Friday, in what appeared to be the latest round of drug slayings.

    "Five men and one woman died in the shooting Thursday afternoon at the office of the Rangel Garcia y Asociados law firm, which Mexican media said had high-profile drug smugglers among its clients..."

  • Mexico captures top cartel leader
    "Mexican authorities announced yesterday that they had detained a man they described as a top leader of Arellano Félix's drug cartel and said he would be deported immediately to the United States..."

  • Mexico authorities find 33 bodies in backyard in border city
    "Mexican investigators found 19 more bodies buried in the backyard of a house in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, increasing the tally of corpses found there to 33..."

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Is there news here?

The lead 'graph doesn't contain any news, but the second paragraph hints that there might be news to come.

Hard-liners dominate Iran polls

"Hard-line allies of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are set to retain control of parliament, partial election results suggest.

"But conservative critics of Mr Ahmadinejad also appear to be making a strong showing that could undermine his domination of the parliament..."

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oh, that's Hu

Well the "nameslist" wasn't released before the election, but now Xinhua is releasing the names of the elected officials.

Hu Jintao reelected Chinese president

"Hu Jintao [left], general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was reelected president of the country..."

Xi Jinping elected Chinese vice-president

"Xi Jinping was elected vice-president of China at the ongoing session of the 11th National People's Congress..."

Wu Bangguo reelected chairman of NPC Standing Committee

"Wu Bangguo was reelected chairman of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee..."

Hu Jintao reelected chairman of Central Military Commission

"Hu Jintao was reelected chairman of the Central Military Commission of China at the annual session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) Saturday morning.
The election result was announced after a secret ballot by deputies to the top legislature."

13 vice-chairpersons of NPC Standing Committee elected

"Thirteen vice-chairpersons of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC),China's top legislature, were elected on Saturday morning at the ongoing NPC annual session.
"They are Wang Zhaoguo, Lu Yongxiang, Uyunqimg, Han Qide, Hua Jianmin, Chen Zhili, Zhou Tienong, Li Jianguo, Ismail Tiliwaldi, Jiang Shusheng, Chen Changzhi, Yan Junqi and Sang Guowei ."

Li Jianguo elected secretary-general of NPC Standing Committee

"Li Jianguo was elected secretary-general of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, Saturday morning at the ongoing NPC annual session.
"Li was concurrently elected one of the 13 vice-chairpersons of the 11th NPC Standing Committee."

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Interesting but not informative

Xinhua reported that Candidate namelist of China's new leadership finalized

"The candidate namelist for China's top leaders, including top lawmaker, president and vice-president of the state, and chairman of the Central Military Commission, was finalized Friday afternoon.

"The Fourth Presidium meeting of the First Session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) adopted by voting the final namelist of candidates of the chairman, vice-chairpersons, secretary-general and members of the 11th NPC Standing Committee, president and vice-president of the state, and chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People's Republic of China..."

But, nowhere in the article are the names of the candidates mentioned.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Comparative Elections

The BBC headline about today's election in Iran was, Iranians vote in general election

The article went on to say, "Voting has been taking place in Iran, with conservatives expected to win after opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were barred from running."

It continued, "The BBC's Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne says a lack of choice, due to widespread disqualifications of reformist candidates, could discourage Iranians from voting.

"With the field narrowed, he says, the only question is how seats will be shared out between competing conservatives..."

With all the publicity about an election that's not very open, it's an opportunity for a case study.

Back in 2005, the Russian Duma changed the election law, and the BBC reported on it this way:

Duma backs Russia election reform

"Russian MPs have approved a crucial second reading of a controversial law which could increase the Kremlin's control over parliament.

"The bill, which is expected to be adopted, would change the way parliamentary deputies are elected.

"Members of the lower house, the Duma, would be chosen by proportional representation, with parties needing 7% of the vote to get seats.

"Critics say it will be almost impossible for liberals to be elected..."

What similarities and differences could your students identify? Is one of these electoral systems more democratic? more representative? more legitimate? Why?

See also:
  • Q&A: Iran parliamentary election
  • Iran's Elections
  • A New Parliament, but Still All Putin?
    "The Kremlin is taking no chances. With Mr. Putin’s blessing, the existing Parliament, or Duma, spent much of 2006 preparing for the elections by tightening laws. It abolished minimum turnout requirements and the option of voting “against all.” New election rules also barred candidates from criticizing the authorities in office or even encouraging a vote against an opponent."

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

What if nobody voted?

How large a voter turn out is necessary to make an election legitimate?

Iran bans make for flat election

"The election rally was a desultory affair. It was the last one as campaigning ended in Iran ahead of Friday's general election.

"But barely 100 people gathered in the private car-parking space under a small block of flats.

"The interior ministry would not let them hold the meeting in public.

"Hardly any of the audience were women. They feel even more disconnected from politics than Iranian men.

"And the party itself, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has no candidates anyway...

"This is no fringe party. It had the single largest group of members in the Iranian parliament until just four years ago...

"The election itself is being held less than a week before the country shuts down for the Iranian new year holiday of Norouz. At the moment most Iranians are more interested in shopping than politics.

"On the streets of Tehran there has been almost no evidence an election is about to happen...

"The suspicion is that the authorities are in two minds about what sort of turnout they want.

"They need enough voters to endorse the legitimacy of what they still insist is a democratic process.

"But too high a turnout might encourage those who have given up on the government to go out and register their protest, if they can find a like-minded candidate who has not been disqualified...

"Control of parliament is almost certain to remain with the conservatives, or "principalists" as they prefer to call themselves - how can you be a conservative, and a revolutionary at the same time, after all?

"Precisely which of the conservatives will win is a more complicated question - fiendishly complicated in fact.

"There are five main groupings or 'lists' battling for seats. But many candidates have been endorsed by two or more groups.

"Some candidates are even standing for apparently opposing groupings..."

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Conjunction of headlines

From a variety of sources, a variety of news about China. What political connections could your students identify with each of these stories?

  • China Retools Its Government in Efficiency Push

    "China announced Tuesday that it would reorganize the central government by creating five so-called superministries, including one responsible for improving environmental protection. But the plan stopped short of creating a single agency to oversee the contentious issue of energy policy..."

  • China Hands Security to Likely Next President

    "Chinese President Hu Jintao's likely successor and the nation's domestic security chief have been charged with overseeing the last few months of preparations for the Beijing Olympics...

    "Xi Jinping, who is likely to replace Hu in 2012, and Zhou Yongkang, the Party's security tsar, will join top Beijing organizer Liu Qi in the Olympics and Paralympics leadership small group..."

  • Take Aid From China and Take a Pass on Human Rights

    "[A] shifting world order is bearing new fruits for Sri Lanka. Most notably, China’s quiet assertion in India’s backyard has put Sri Lanka’s government in a position not only to play China off against India, but also to ignore complaints from outside Asia about human rights violations in the war..."

  • U.S. Drops China From List of Top 10 Violators of Rights

    "The State Department no longer considers China one of the world’s worst human rights violators, according to its annual human rights report released Tuesday..."

  • China Sticking With One-Child Policy

    "China’s top population official said the country’s one-child-per-couple family planning policy would not change for at least another decade. The announcement refutes speculation that officials were contemplating adjustments to compensate for mounting demographic pressures..."

  • China’s Rate of Inflation Is Highest in 11 Years

    "Consumer prices in China surged to a 8.7 percent annual rate in February from a 7.1 percent rate in January, the fastest pace of increase in more than 11 years,.."

  • Hundreds of monks protest in Tibet

    "Hundreds of Tibetan monks have taken to the streets of Lhasa in the biggest protest against communist rule in almost two decades..."

  • Chinese police teargas protesting monks in Tibet

    "Chinese police fired teargas into crowds of monks who took to the streets of Lhasa yesterday for a second day of protests in the Tibetan capital..."

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Add to the list of concepts: informal politics

Long ago, Debra Perry, who teaches in Columbia, Missouri, asked about informal politics, a term she and her students ran into. Specifically, she asked about whether patron-client systems like guanxi or nomenklatura were examples of informal politics.

I replied that I found a reference to the term informal politics in John Cross' book Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City.

Cross used the term to describe grassroots politics that is not institutionalized. The term is based on the idea of the informal economy. That's one in which everything is temporary and "ad lib:" anonymous day laborers, street corner hiring, cash wages, curb side-car trunk stores, little kids' kool-aid stands, etc.

I also found a reference to, Informal Politics in East Asia, a Public Affairs article from 2001, in which Joseph Yu-Shek Cheng describes "the various forms of informal politics within different East Asian political cultures with a strong Confucian legacy emphasizing personal relationships and reciprocity..."

I also found this in a paper by Liisa Lasko (University of Helsinki) delivered at a workshop “Democracy in the Third World: What Should be Done?”, ECPR, Mannheim, March 26-31, 1999:

"Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz in their recent book on African politics haveintroduced an idea... '[that] in Africa political action operates… largely in the realms of the informal, uncodified and unpoliced - that is, in a world that is not ordered in the sense we usually take our own polities in the West to be.'

"As a contrast '[i]n an ordered, regulated polity, political opportunities and resources are defined explicitly and codified by legislation or precedent.' (1998, xix)... the point Chabal and Daloz are making that 'formal politics' plays virtually no role in Africa, deserves a closer look. Is it true that lack of institutionalisation and disregard for the formal political rules is a dominant feature of African politics?"

So it seems that informal politics means personal, reciprocal, for-the-moment political ties that are outside of the established and institutionalized procedures.

Patron-client systems, like the grassroots systems (the lowest levels of prebendalism at least) in Nigerian villages would be informal, but the PRI system in Mexico might not. At the grassroots level I suspect the family/clan/tribe/"congreational" links among people in Iran might fit, but the bonyads, and the basiji (as informal as they might appear to bureaucratic Westerners) would not.

So, how important is the concept of informal politics for AP students? I doubt the term will appear in a multiple-choice question, but it might show up in an FRQ. The term is not in the index of any of the comparative politics texts I have on my shelf.

If it does show up, I'd tell my students to look carefully at the definition and context in the question and to began a response by clarifying or expanding that definition and using examples that are as specific as possible. A question about informal politics might be one of those FRQs that benefits from a briefly supported thesis.

While I'm on the subject of FRQs, no one has attempted to answer any of the questions at studying comparative yet. So all the questions, including today's that will be posted very shortly, are available to students. And all those prizes are unclaimed.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Nigeria's personal politics

A quick example to illustrate a basic fact of political life in Nigeria.

The emphasis in the last paragraph is mine.

Nigeria ruling party in key talks

"Nigeria's governing party is holding its national convention to decide on the new party leadership.

"The meeting is being seen as a test of the influence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo [left], who is backing a candidate to become chairman...

"President Umaru Yar'Adua is staying neutral on the issue of who will become party chairman...

"The BBC's Alex Last in Lagos says Mr Yar'Adua's decision to stay neutral on the leadership question at the convention may open the field considerably...

"Nigerian politics has never really been about ideology, he adds, but more about personal power and patronage so there is likely to be a lot of back-room dealing before the result is announced."

See also:

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Don't forget the historical context

While I was on the road between home and Beloit, Wisconsin (helping get my younger son back to campus after spring break) and Rockford, Illinois (visiting my older son and his family), Karmin Tomlinson, who teaches at Oregon City High School in Oregon City, Oregon, sent me a reference to this Economist article.

This raises some interesting issues. What would your students predict the results of these proposals will be?

I only added a tiny bit of context at the end of the excerpt below.

You have permission to think freely

"IT MAY seem an odd time for China's risk-averse officials to be talking about political change. Yet at the opening of the country's annual session of parliament on March 5th the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, echoed recent calls in the state-owned media to 'liberate our thinking', even as he gave warning of a difficult year ahead, with threats from inflation and from America's subprime mortgage mess...

"In his two-and-a-half-hour speech Mr Wen told nearly 3,000 delegates in the Great Hall of the People that China must 'break the shackles of outdated ideas' and 'boldly explore new ways'. As is the way of things in China, the words were vague; Mr Wen did not spell out what he meant by 'thought liberation' and he did not offer any strikingly bold initiatives. Yet the intention was clear and these vague exhortations will fuel debate in the months ahead. In the build-up to the Olympics, Chinese leaders are anxious to preserve stability (not to mention one-party rule). But they appear ready to think about making the party a bit more accountable. This, they hope, might reduce social tensions caused by rapid economic change...

"Few are expecting much change on the political front in the months ahead. But Mr Wen wants to see checks on government authority strengthened. 'Civic organisations' (to party officials the term NGO sounds too much like organised opposition) would be given a role in 'voicing the concerns of the people', he said.

"Officials are keen to stress the importance of bureaucratic changes that are expected to be endorsed by delegates in the coming days...

"Recent talk of 'thought liberation', however, has gone far beyond the need to shake up hidebound bureaucrats. Much discussion in the state media has centred on a book published late last year by a group of scholars including several from the heart of the citadel, the party's academy for senior officials, China's equivalent to France's ENA. The work, whose abbreviated title is Storming the Fortifications, tactfully supports the party's continued monopoly of power. But it outlines 'urgent' steps for political reform in unusual detail: turning the legislature and courts into “modern power balance mechanisms” by 2016 and creating a 'modern civil society' with flourishing NGOs and religious groups by 2020. Freeing up the press, it says, would also help..."

The subtitle of The Economist article is "China's prime minister lets a hundred flowers bloom. Well, ten."

Students should be reminded of The Hundred Flowers Campaign because every educated Chinese will think about it.

The Library of Congress Country Studies Glossary for China, describes the Hundred Flowers Campaign this way:
  • "Also Double Hundred Campaign. Party-sponsored initiative to permit greater intellectual and artistic freedom. Introduced first into drama and other arts in the spring of 1956 under the official slogan "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend." With Mao's encouragement in January 1957, the campaign was extended to intellectual expression and, by early May 1957, was being interpreted as permission for intellectuals to criticize political institutions of the regime. The effect was the large-scale exposure and purge of intellectuals critical of party and government policies."

The Country Study itself is a bit more direct:
  • "As part of the effort to encourage the participation of intellectuals in the new regime, in mid-1956 there began an official effort to liberalize the political climate.

    Cultural and intellectual figures were encouraged to speak their minds on the state of CCP rule and programs. Mao personally took the lead in the movement, which was launched under the classical slogan 'Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend.'

    At first the party's repeated invitation to air constructive views freely and openly was met with caution. By mid-1957, however, the movement unexpectedly mounted, bringing denunciation and criticism against the party in general and the excesses of its cadres in particular. Startled and embarrassed, leaders turned on the critics as "bourgeois rightists" and launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign."

The Anti-Rightist Campaign was also a prelude to The Great Leap Forward.

We should also note that Mao's call for the blooming of a hundred flowers and a hundred schools of thought, was a reference to the 6th century BCE period.

The Library of Congress Country Study for China, describes that time this way:
  • "So many different philosophies developed during the late Spring and Autumn and early Warring States periods that the era is often known as that of the Hundred Schools of Thought. From the Hundred Schools of Thought came many of the great classical writings on which Chinese practices were to be based for the next two and one half millennia. Many of the thinkers were itinerant intellectuals who, besides teaching their disciples, were employed as advisers to one or another of the various state rulers on the methods of government, war, and diplomacy." [Kong Zi (Confucius) and Meng Zi (Mencius) were the most prominent of these thinkers.]

That too will be part of context within which educated Chinese will evaluate Wen Jiabao's call to "break the shackles of outdated ideas" and "boldly explore new ways."

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Teaching comparative in the news

Marc Mayfield's efforts to get his students at LaGrange High School (GA) involved in blogging about the topics in their comparative government and politics classes made news. (The article even mentions this blog.)

Congratulations, Marc, to you and your students.

If you didn't check out the great description and grading rubric before, now's the time to take a look. This is a great teaching idea.

See the publicity: ‘Internet is virtually limitless as teaching tool’

"LaGrange High government teacher Marc Mayfield knows his students spend a lot of their free time online. Web sites like MySpace and YouTube are part of the youth culture.

"But Mayfield sees the Internet as more than a vehicle for social interaction.

"'The potential of the Internet as a teaching and learning tool is virtually limitless,' Mayfield said. 'It can make learning fun and interesting.'

"The fifth-year LaGrange High teacher with 19 years of teaching experience is putting his conviction into practice this semester, having advanced placement students create their own web logs - better known as blogs - for a comparative government class focusing on China, Russia, Nigeria, Iran, Great Britain and Mexico.

"Instead of a traditional notebook crammed with clippings and photos, students are finding and posting their material online...

"Mayfield believes the online experiment has been successful so far and plans to continue it. One plus has been the friendly competition among blogging groups.

"The groups vie to create the best blogs in the class. The fifth-period Russian blog is the current favorite. Among its features: an updated “Putin’s Picture of the Week,” a streaming version of the Russian national anthem and a load of current news and events. Other groups post polls and trivia questions to jazz up their blogs and get the class interested and involved..."

See also:


Friday, March 07, 2008

Political debate with Chinese characteristics

China to crack down on pop stars

"China is to impose stricter rules on foreign rock and pop stars after singer Bjork caused controversy by shouting "Tibet, Tibet" at a Shanghai concert.

Her cry followed a powerful performance of her song Declare Independence...

"China's culture ministry said the outburst "broke Chinese law and hurt Chinese people's feelings" and pledged to "further tighten controls"...

"Her behaviour at Sunday's Shanghai concert has not been reported in the state-controlled Chinese media."

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Another step toward judicial change in Mexico

Mexico’s Congress Passes Overhaul of Justice Laws

"Mexico’s Senate gave final approval on Thursday to a historic overhaul of this country’s often-foggy criminal justice system, introducing oral trials in which lawyers will argue cases before judges and the public can see the evidence.

"The Senate voted 71 to 25 in favor of a series of reforms to the Constitution that the lower chamber, the House of Deputies, had approved last week. If approved by a majority of state legislatures, the reforms would fundamentally change the way the police, prosecutors and judges work in Mexico.

"The changes would give the police the authority to investigate crimes, something until now reserved for prosecutors and special police units in their offices. The bills would also introduce for the first time the presumption of innocence for defendants and make several changes intended to speed up trials. The legislation stops short of providing for trials by jury, however...

"Under the current system, people often languish in jails for years after a prosecutor has decided they are guilty, waiting for a judge to determine if the evidence supports that decision.

"The judges carry out their deliberations in private and base their decisions purely on written affidavits and documents, making decisions behind closed doors with the scribble of a pen.

"The system is rife with corruption, experts on Mexican law say. Miscarriages of justice are so common and the distrust of the police so widespread that many Mexicans simply avoid reporting crimes altogether...

"The switch to open trials would mark a sea change in Mexican jurisprudence. Not only will lawyers and judges have to get used to doing things in public, but for the first time the media and the public would have a full view of the evidence..."

See also: Dramatic changes in Mexican rule of law (maybe)

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Propaganda from China

This article in Xinhua is mostly public relations. Since at least 1949, there have been a handful of parties allowed in China. What's new is the level of positions to which non-Communist Party people are being appointed.

China to install more non-Communist officials

"More eligible non-Communists are expected to become high-ranking officials in China following last year's appointments of two non-Communist ministers, said a spokesman of the forthcoming annual political advisory session.

"'Across China, more than 31,000 non-Communists are working as officials at or above county level, of whom at least 6,000 work at government organizations and judicial bodies at various levels,' said Wu Jianmin, spokesman for the First Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)...

"Wan Gang, of the China Zhi Gong Dang (Party for Public Interest), was appointed Minister of Science and Technology last April as the first non-Communist party cabinet minister since the late 1970s.

"In two months, Chen Zhu, a Paris-trained scientist with no political party affiliation, became Minister of Health.

"'Their appointments represented "major moves" of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in enhancing socialist democracy and pushing forward multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC,' said Wu...

Communist Party headquarters in Zhongnanhai

"China's eight non-Communist parties represent specific interest groups, reflect complaints and suggestions from all walks of life and serve as a mode of supervision of the CPC.

"Their combined membership is more than 700,000, about one percent of the CPC's 73 million..."

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