Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Election drags on

Some people in the US are expressing campaign fatigue. What if the election lasted as long?

The headline in Al Jazeera was a bit misleading (the "Nigerian leaders" are actually former Nigerian leaders), but the article does describe an aspect of Nigeria's regime. Nine gubernatorial races have been overturned and elections rerun since last year's elections. Losers in previous fourth republic presidential elections have challenged the results in court. Why should last year's losers be any different?

In my mind, the significant thing is that the challenges are taking place in the courts -- within the regime.

Nigeria leaders seek poll annulment

"Nigeria's supreme court has begun hearing an appeal by opposition leaders against the victory of Umaru Yar'Adua, the country's president, in last year's elections.

"Atiku Abubakar and Mohammadu Buhari [at left], two opposition candidates, have asked the court to overturn a lower court ruling that upheld Yar'Adua's victory in the April 2007 vote...

"The hearing, which started on Tuesday in the capital, Abuja, has been adjourned indefinitely to allow for more legal briefs to be filed...

"The opposition wants the final tally to be disregarded and another election to be held...

"The case is likely to drag on for several months because once Yar'Adua has made his case, Buhari and Abubakar have a further three weeks in which to reply...

"The seven-judge bench of the supreme court hearing Buhari and Abubakar's petition goes into recess in July and only resumes in September, lawyers said..."

Leadership, a newspaper in Abuja, described the situation this way:

Supreme Court Decides Yar'Adua's Fate July

"Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, yesterday indicated that the nation's apex court may shift its yearly vacation from July to August to enable it enter judgement in the two appeals filed before it by General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar...

"Buhari and Atiku [at left] want the court to review the tribunal's verdict which dismissed their two consolidated petitions and affirmed the election of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in the April 21, 2007 presidential poll..."

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I know. I know. I'm only showing my age. But when I began studying Chinese politics, I never dreamed I would ever have seen the headline below from Xinhua, the Chinese news agency. Do your students know why I'm so surprised?

Hu Jintao meets KMT Honorary Chairman Lien Chan in Beijing

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Twenty years of innovation

China's largest special economic zone celebrates 20th anniversary

"China's... Hainan Province, the largest special economic zone (SEZ) in the country, celebrated its 20th anniversary in its capital city of Haikou on Saturday.

"'Setting up SEZs was an important measure of China's reform and opening-up. The SEZs have played a pioneering role in prompting the reform,' said Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang at the celebration ceremony...

"Hainan SEZ was a pioneer in experimenting with the market economy, developing the land with foreign investment, implementing a provincial insurance system, abolishing the agricultural tax and school fees for nine-year compulsory education...

"The province will continue to implement its visa-free policies for tourists and open up aviation rights, introduce renowned overseas travel agencies and hotel management corporations, according to the action plan for the long-term goal of a first-class international tourist island..."

China's island province urged to further reform, open up

"Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday urged Hainan Province, China's largest special economic zone (SEZ), to further carry out reform and opening up as it embraces its 20th anniversary...

"It saw its gross domestic product expand 7.6-fold in real terms in the past two decades while pioneering in experimenting with the market economy and in other fields of foreign investment use, agricultural tax and education..."

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Graphics for your use

I was looking for an illustration for a question on the studying comparative blog/quiz and came across a remarkable resource.

It's the Wikimedia Commons Atlas of the World.

Like Wikipedia, anyone can contribute to the Commons, but nearly all the contributions are graphics, photographs, and videos. And, almost without exception, they are available for you to use on your web site, in your blog, on teaching materials, or in your publication.

If you find an image you want to use, click on the image and you'll see information about its maker and any restrictions on its use.

What I found specifically was the Atlas of Nigeria.

It includes
  • a context map showing Nigeria's location in Africa
  • an image of the national flag
  • Some basic linguistic and geographic information (it's not competition for the CIA World Factbook)
  • several general maps, including maps showing the states (like the one showing Kaduna to the left)
  • maps of the country highlighting the location of each of the 36 states
  • several history maps
  • demographic, economic, and vegetation maps

And there are also Wikimedia Commons Atlas of the World entries for Iran (heavily weighted toward historical maps), Mexico, the Peoples Republic of China,Russia, the United Kingdom, and most other countries.

Each of them has content similar to that for the Nigeria entry.

You will find things there that you and your students can use in lectures, handouts, presentations, and test questions.

Make your bookmarks or create your favorites now. You really will want to have them handy the next time you teach this course.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nationalism and legitimacy

In answer to a question about how the PRI maintained its legitimacy in spite of corruption and rigged elections, I pointed to the nationalization of the oil industry as part of the answer. My assertion is supported by this news story from San Diego Union-Tribune.

Many Mexicans see oil as last frontier against U.S. invasion

"Even with oil prices at record highs, Mexico's state-run oil company is managing to lose money.

"But a presidential plan to fix Petroleos Mexicanos by inviting foreign help is stirring deep-seated emotions over sovereignty...

"[W]hile Mexicans may shop at Walmart and eat at McDonald's, oil is a birthright. The sentiment dates back to March 18, 1938, when President Lazaro Cardenas kicked out the American and European oil companies that refused to pay union wage demands while reaping Mexico's oil profits.

"Every year on that day, school children learn about the bold eviction of foreign companies, especially those from the United States, whose annexation of half of Mexico's territory after the 1846 Mexican-American War still hurts...

"For Maria Elena Hernandez, 53, much more is at stake than Mexico's image...

"The retired secretary joined demonstrators singing the national anthem to police guarding an office building where legislators have fled in hopes of getting some work done.

"'If we let down our guard, the Americans would come in and install their oil workers,' said Hernandez, wearing a white baseball cap and T-shirt emblazoned with 'Defend Pemex.' 'Soon they would be telling us that we have to pay rent to live here.'"

And by the way,

Mexico: Leftist Lawmakers End Takeover of Congress

"The sit-in was declared over after the governing conservatives and their centrist allies agreed to 71 days of debate on the plan, to begin in the middle of May."

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Comparative Leadership

I just uploaded MS Word and .rtf files of a teaching plan I call "Comparative Leadership" to the sharing comparative group site.

My suggestion is to have students do some research on political leaders who were contemporaries and identify what ideas or events influenced their thinking and political actions. I've identified a number of historic and present-day political leaders for the AP6 and suggested a number of questions to ask students to answer. (There are also ideas that can be easily, I think, adapted to other political science or history courses.)

If you're not a member of the group and would like to have access to the 8 teaching plans now available, you can use the link below to join the group.

Click to join sharecompgovpol

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More Iranian voting

Iran votes in second round poll

"Iranians are voting in second round run-off elections which are expected to confirm the dominance of conservatives in the country's 290-seat parliament.

"Eighty-two seats in which no candidate managed to win 25% of the vote in last month's first round are being contested...

"Conservative candidates won around 70% of the seats in the first round vote.

"But correspondents say many of them are highly critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic policies.

"If the conservatives continue to cause problems for Mr Ahmadinejad in the new parliament, this will strengthen Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, they add..."

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It's not just political consolidation

At Expense of All Others, Putin Picks a Church

"Just as the government has tightened control over political life, so, too, has it intruded in matters of faith. The Kremlin’s surrogates in many areas have turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a de facto official religion...

"This close alliance between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a defining characteristic of Mr. Putin’s tenure...

"The relationship is grounded in part in a common nationalistic ideology dedicated to restoring Russia’s might... [and] is tinged with the same anti-Western sentiment often voiced by Mr. Putin and other senior officials...

"The government’s antipathy also seems to stem in part from the Kremlin’s wariness toward independent organizations that are not allied with the government...

"The Russian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and Mr. Putin has often spoken against discrimination...

"While church attendance in Russia is very low, polls show that Russians are embracing Russian Orthodoxy as part of their identity. In one recent poll, 71 percent of respondents described themselves as Russian Orthodox, up from 59 percent in 2003...

"Russia has far more Muslims than Protestants or Catholics — anywhere from 7 million to 20 million, depending on how religious observance is measured. But the Russian Orthodox Church regards Islam as far less likely to lure converts..."

Background on the Russian Orthodox church from Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Procedural democracy

There's a philosophical debate in the ethereal heights of political science about what is required to label a regime democratic. (You can easily buy research papers on this topic if you search the Internet, but that "wouldn't be the cowboy way.")

[And, it's not just at lofty academic levels that these ideas emerge. Check out Dan Larson and Andrew Conneen's blog that they write for AP students. (The entry I linked to is meant for students of U.S. Government and Politics, but the idea of substantive democracy stands out. It begins, "Elections alone do not make a democracy.")]

The debaters sort of argue over whether democratic procedures or widely-beneficial policies are more important when evaluating the nature of a regime.

Robert Dahl, who has been around long enough that I read at least one of his books over 40 years ago, is one of the participants. The Sterling Professor emeritus of political science at Yale University, seems to be a neo-Madisonian (in the Federalist 10 sense).

He has argued that democracy is a Platonic ideal, that can never be fully realized. However, if a regime meets some basic procedural criteria, it will produce a political system in which elites will compete for political power and authority. He calls this kind of system a polyarchy. Most commonly, people refer to regimes like that as pluralistic. The competing self-interests in such a system, according to Dahl (and Madison), will produce government in the interests of the citizenry.

The criteria that Dahl describes are elected officials; free, fair, and frequent elections; freedom of expression; alternative sources of information; associational autonomy; and inclusive citizenship. (Democracy and Its Critics, 1998)

Others argue that procedures are not all that's necessary for a democratic regime. They argue that economic, cultural, historical, and ideological factors can prevent an apparently democratic procedure from being democratic.

Those critics might ask whether the UK had a democratic regime before World War I when only men were allowed to vote.

They might ask whether the poverty of Mexican peasants, which leads some of them to sell their votes for t-shirts or patches of paved roads near their homes, negates the legal procedures for elections there.

What if a change in government, brought about by a free and fair election changes no laws or policies but only the people in power?

These critics want to emphasize the statutory and policy results of government when defining democratic regimes. Instead of a merely procedural democracy, they want to see substantive democracy.

Charles Tilly, the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University, might represent the critics of the procedural definition of democracy.

In his book Democracy, he asks about a regime, "Does this regime promote human welfare, individual freedom, security, equity, social equality, public deliberation, and peaceful conflict resolution? If so, we might be inclined to call it democratic regardless of how its constitution reads."

Tilly recognizes limitations on his approach. He also wrote, "Two troubles follow immediately, however, from any such definitional strategy. First, how do we handle tradeoffs among these estimable principles? If a given regime is desperately poor but its citizens enjoy rough equality, should we think of it as more democratic than a fairly prosperous but fiercely unequal regime?"

TradingMarkets.com, an online investment advice service, offers this bit of description of the democratic nature of Russia's regime (it's a little premature in announcing the end of Putin's presidency and a little loose with its definition of "socialist," but the unnamed writer is probably a stock analyst, not a political scientist): Kremlin Twist

"By now, everyone knows that Mr. Vladimir Putin stepped down from the chief Kremlin seat, and in his place, sits Mr. Dmitry Medvedev - a 42-year-old lawyer. And what do you know Mr. Medvedev, Putin's protégé was handpicked by the former president to run in Russia's nearly unopposed election. Of course, he not only won but it was a landslide victory. Oh, and by the by, guess who the new prime minister, is? It's former president Mr. Vladimir Putin; so how is that, for a Kremlin twist?

"For the former Soviet, it is a perfect combo of 'Putin Power' and a case of dotting i's and crossing t's, after all, no one wants to be accused of or labelled in running a socialist tight ship, of one man, one power..."

So, we should ask our students to consider whether Russia's regime meets the criteria to be labeled a procedural democracy. Then we should ask them to consider whether it meets the criteria to be labeled a substantive democracy.

And, in AP courses, we should ask them to consider the same things about Iran, Mexico, China, Nigeria and the UK. We should ask them to compare the countries they are studying on procedural and substantive criteria and to compare them with themselves over time. Does Mexico have a more substantive democracy now than it did in the 20th century? Does the Russian regime meet more of the characteristics of a procedural democracy than it did in 1990?

Good things to think about as we lead our students through rehearsals of critical thinking and recall.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Weakness or democracy in action?

Crisis in Britain defused? From the BBC report, it sounds like we should all listen to prime minister's questions which took place a couple hours ago (23 April). It sounds like things got a bit testier than usual, since the minority leaders see Brown as vulnerable.

Later today, the video and transcript will be posted to the Prime Minister's web site.

It will also be broadcast on C-SPAN on Sunday evening (9PM ET).

Brown defends 'U-turn' on 10p tax

"The prime minister has defended moves to compensate pensioners, young people and childless people on low incomes who lost out from the 10p tax rate's axing...

"His U-turn on compensation came amid continued rebellion from Labour MPs.

"Tory chief David Cameron accused him of "weakness, dithering and indecision"...

"In what will be seen as a U-turn forced by Labour rebels, the chancellor said he would assess the loss to pensioners aged 60-64 and childless people...

"Labour's Frank Field responded by withdrawing his amendment backed by 46 Labour MPs calling for compensation...

"The Finance Bill - which enacts this year's Budget - was given a second reading on Monday evening when MPs approved it by 298 votes to 223..."

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Background on Yeltsin

Thanks to an experimental promotion from Encyclopaedia Britannica, I can offer you complete access to selected articles from the encyclopedia mothership.

To supplement today's entry, here's where you can read the biography of Boris Yeltsin.

And here is the link to the biography of Vladimir Putin

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Listen to what I say...

Putin Vows to Maintain Free Russia At Yeltsin Grave

"Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his predecessor Boris Yeltsin for bringing freedom to Russia, as he attended a graveside ceremony on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of Yeltsin's death...

"Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin protege who will take over as president on May 7, was also at the ceremony. Putin, stepping down in line with constitutional term limits, said the need for strong presidential power was another lesson taught by Yeltsin.

"'Today, we live in an open and independent country which is developing in strict adherence to the letter and the spirit of the constitution,' he said.

"'Presidential power will always be a guarantor of the basic law and of the citizens' rights, (it) will continue to serve the people of Russia, the nation's sovereign interests,' he added."

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Workshop on Iran

Beth Boyd who teaches in Marietta, Georgia wrote about a tremendous opportunity. Check your calendar. There are 20 openings.

She wrote, "I wanted to alert AP Comparative teachers about a workshop being offered July 8-11 on Persia/Iran in Washington, DC.

"It is sponsored the World Affairs Councils of America.

"The program is open to all high school educators and will focus on Persian culture, history and politics.

"All expenses except for transportation to DC will be paid for by WACA."

There is more information at the World Affairs Councils of America web site.

Don't pass up an opportunity like this without a good reason.

If you get to go, thank Beth.

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Political drama in Britain

You're dragging us to the edge, Labour rebels warned

"Faced by signs of growing unrest, the prime minister hastily rearranged his diary to speak to a packed weekly meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, and immediately struck an emollient tone after two weeks of bruising argument with MPs...

"But his intervention apparently failed to convince a number of disaffected backbenchers as it emerged late last night that at least 35 MPs had signed a motion requiring the government to postpone the tax change until it had produced a compensation package for the poorest affected..."

See also:

Cameron's lead cut in latest ICM poll

"Labour has survived attacks over 10p tax and Gordon Brown's credibility as prime minister, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. It suggests that the Conservative party has failed to establish a secure election-winning lead, with support for the opposition party falling while Labour has gained...

"Today's findings reflect a widespread public disillusionment with all three main parties, just over a week before local elections that will test Gordon Brown's authority...

"The results suggest that the government's fortunes are now tied closely to public attitudes to the economy..."

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Ethnicity in the UK

Compared to the US, the UK is a remarkably homogeneous society. Nonetheless, diversity, immigration, race have been political issues. But a recent report highlights changes in the distribution of minorities in England. These demographic changes might change politics.

Ethnic middle classes join the 'white flight'

"The racial map of Britain is being redrawn, with European migrants heading for the country, richer Asians and blacks leaving city centres for largely white suburbs and young whites mixing readily with other cultures - at least until their children reach school age...

"A poll published this weekend by charity the Barrow Cadbury Trust dismisses tabloid images of a segregated nation at war with itself, concluding that more than two thirds of respondents in Birmingham consider relations between different communities to be good, while almost half thought there was more integration between communities than a generation ago...

"Yet beneath the optimism runs a worrying thread: concern about so-called 'white flight', or the exodus of better-off families from the inner cities to the suburbs and villages - a movement now joined by the black and Asian middle classes as their prosperity increases...

"So were the quarter of a million Londoners who left the capital last year really fleeing multicultural living - or just escaping the rat race?...

"[And] what about those who are less relaxed about a city where white children are already a minority in the school system? Intriguingly the Barrow Cadbury Trust poll found the professional middle classes - who are more likely to live in less racially mixed neighbourhoods - less positive about community relations than working-class peers...

"[T]he patterns of modern migration are becoming more complex - just as the eastern Europeans settling in rural East Anglia to take up agricultural jobs are confounding the old stereotypes. Suddenly white flight has been reversed, as the new arrivals head for the countryside, not the inner cities...

"Using satellite pictures and government data to illustrate exactly which groups have settled where, they show that, while the longer-established Bangladeshi or Pakistani populations remain concentrated in the big multicultural cities of Leeds, Birmingham, London or Manchester, others have produced more unusual patterns - from Chinese enclaves centred in North Wales to Latvians clustered in Lincolnshire...

"The last census in 2001 put the UK's minority ethnic population at 4.6 million, or 7.9 per cent of the total population. In 1991, it was almost 6 per cent.

"Half the UK's minority ethnic population are of Asian origin. Other ethnic groups are mainly black, either of Caribbean or African origin...

"Nearly half of all minorities live in the London area...

"New migrants are still coming to the UK. Last year, an estimated 591,000 arrived, but almost 400,000 long-term migrants left..."

See also:

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Monday, April 21, 2008

The continuing story in Mexico City

A Mexican 527 group?

'Dictator' ad stirs anger in Mexico

"A television spot comparing a leftist leader to Adolf Hitler over a blockade of Congress has infuriated his followers, who condemned the ad on Saturday and demanded it be withdrawn...

"... the spot... was sponsored by a conservative civic group called Better Society, Better Government...

"Officials of Lopez Obador's Democratic Revolution Party said they would file a complaint with federal electoral officials. They allege the spot violates a 2007 law that bans individuals and groups from buying televised attacks on political parties - a measure meant to prevent privately financed end-runs around party campaign spending limits..."

See also: Protest in Mexican congress

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The continuing story in London

Brown defends 10p tax change in face of revolt

"Gordon Brown today defended the decision to axe the 10p starting rate of income tax band in the face of a damaging backbench revolt that could derail government plans...

"As Labour whips warned Gordon Brown that ministers had to intensify their efforts to explain their tax policy to MPs - or risk a serious Commons rebellion next Monday - the chancellor was understood to be drawing up plans to soften the blow of the tax change...

"The comments show that ministers have acknowledged - in private at least - that the prime minister is facing a grave threat as he returns from his tour of the US..."

Q&A: 10p tax rate cut

"What are the changes?

"The 22% tax rate is coming down to 20%, and the 10% tax rate for lower earners is being abolished altogether - forcing more than five million workers up into the 20% tax bracket..."

If the rebels prevail, Brown could be ousted in days

"Labour MPs have a real and interesting opportunity. Let us be quite clear. If the rebellion over the 10p tax rate abolition continues to gather pace and the rebels hold their nerve, they can get rid of Gordon Brown as early as next week...

"Labour is doing so badly in the polls that quite a lot of backbenchers, and even ministers, are saying behind their hands: 'Good thing too, let's call that bluff and have a change of leader while we can.'..."

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Required discrimination

Sanford Silverburg, who teaches at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina is looking for references. If you have any suggestions, contact him at ssilver at catawba dot edu

He says, "I am searching for a source that will list discriminatory practices in democracies, cemented by law. For example, required registration of births in state supported churches in Denmark. The discrimination can be social, economic, or political, but has the effect of differentiating the quality of citizenship nevertheless."

I'd guess he'd welcome examples as well as a list of legally-mandated discriminations. Share what you know.


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The TUC speaks

The TUC was politically "tamed" by Tony Blair, but its leaders may have found an issue that will lead to a renewal of lost influence in Labour.

TUC leader slams Brown over 10p rate

"The leader of Britain's trade unions launches an attack on the government today, accusing Gordon Brown of being lured by the 'siren voices' of the rich as a new poll shows the Tories making further inroads with voters.

"On the eve of a critical vote over scrapping the 10p tax rate, in which Brown's leadership is at stake, TUC head Brendan Barber said the government had made a mistake...

"Brendan Barber's intervention reflects growing union anger at decisions ranging from the freeze on public sector pay to a retreat over taxing wealthy non-domicile residents. It is significant, given that union support was crucial to putting Brown into Number 10 and that union money is keeping the Labour party afloat.

"Labour rebels are being warned that tomorrow's vote on the finance bill - which includes the 10p tax measure - is in effect a confidence vote in the government. If Brown cannot get the bill through, he could face calls to resign..."

See also:

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saber rattling and/or political maneuver

It's undoubtedly an expression of nationalism and regional power, but the military parade and boasting are also probably part of the president's efforts to defend himself against charges that his economic policies have led to high inflation and unemployment.

Iran shows off its military might

"Iran has been displaying its military power at a ceremony to mark the country's annual army day.

"Speaking at the parade, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was the most powerful nation in the world.

"The country's strength was such that no major power would dare to challenge its security, he said.

"Official media claimed the ceremony included the largest ever show of aerial strength, with a fly past by almost 200 aircraft.

"There was also a huge military parade, with missiles displayed on trucks..."

U.S. jets in largest Iran air force parade

"Iran, in a show of force, has staged its largest ever combat air parade.

"Officials said the Iranian Air Force deployed 140 aircraft for Army Day, which took place on Thursday. They said the aircraft included the Russian-origin MiG-29, Su-24 and U.S.-origin platforms.

"'The military is in the heart of the Iranian nation,' Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said.

"Iran also displayed U.S.-origin aircraft procured in the 1970. They included the F-14 fighter-jet and the Boeing 707 and 747..."

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Think summer reading

I just read about a book that might be good summer reading for teachers.

It's China Shakes the World: A Titan's Rise and Troubled Future -- and the Challenge for America. It was the Financial Times book of the year in 2006.

The author, James Kynge, a journalist in Asia for two decades, is the former bureau chief of the Financial Times in Beijing. Fluent in Mandarin, he has visited every Chinese province and is the recipient of numerous journalism awards.

The Booklist review by Gail Whitcomb says, "Kynge demonstrates how China's thirst for jobs, raw materials, energy, and new markets--and its export of goods, workers, and investments--will dramatically reshape world trade and politics.

"China's appetite, though unpremeditated and inarticulate, has become a source of major change in the world. Napoleon said, 'Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.' In the early days of the twenty-first century, China has started shaking the world with its prowess in manufacturing.

"Not all is rosy, however, because China has serious problems with its environmental resources, severe pollution, and institutionalized corruption within the government, the legal system, the police force, and the media. The question Kynge offers answers to is how the world will cope with China's extremes of both strength and weakness."

Other reviews note Kynge's use of anecdotes to illustrate his big ideas. (Maybe he's a British Thomas Friedman.)

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Resistance to a three-line whip

How does the British system respond to revolt from the back benchers? It's going to be a busy weekend at 10 Downing Street even though the PM is in the US.

Brown warned of Labour rebellion over 10p tax rate

"Gordon Brown was warned today that he will face an unprecedented rebellion by Labour MPs if he does not do something to help the five million people who could lose out from the abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax...

"Brown announced the abolition of the 10p starting rate of income tax last year. He abolished the 10p rate to fund the reduction of the basic rate of income tax from 22p in the pound to 20p.

"A majority of taxpayers gain from the changes, which came into force this month. But around five million people earning less than £18,500 a year will lose out...

"MPs will vote on the issue on Monday..."

See also:

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

More new China

It's obvious that I'm going to have to get used to more than the new Beijing skyline as I adjust my mental images of China. For instance:

All this is an introduction to the announcement I saw on boingboing, the eclectic "directory of wonderful things."

You might well find interesting teaching materials here.

National Geographic has put its stunning feature on China online, including

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Follow-ups to a non-surprise

Putin to become United Russia chief, cementing hold on power

"Vladimir Putin put the finishing touches to his postretirement formula for retaining power in Russia Tuesday by scooping up the leadership of the country's dominant political party, a position he will hold in addition to being prime minister...

"Russian observers are deeply divided over the consequences of Putin's move... Russia's historical experience with divided power has been an unhappy one, but many experts believe the close personal ties and complementary skills of Putin and Mr. Medvedev may produce a stable political synergy that will enable much-needed economic reforms and anticorruption measures.

"Others warn, however, that any future strife between the two men, who represent very different generations and backgrounds, could split Russia's fractious bureaucracy and paralyze the work of government..."

And one big issue Putin and Medvedev will have to face:

'Threat' to future of Russia oil

"The future supply of Russian oil is threatened by a likely decline in production levels, one of the country's top oil executives has warned.

"Lukoil's Leonid Fedun said $1 trillion would have to be spent on developing new reserves if current output levels were to be maintained...

"Once highly-productive fields in Siberia are slowly being exhausted and the huge cost of searching for oil in the untapped but remote region of eastern Siberia has deterred firms...

"Russian worries underline longstanding concerns about whether there is enough oil to meet the needs of the global economy, particularly fast-growing China and India.

"They are also a particular cause of concern for several of Europe's largest economies, such as Germany, which buy a large share of their oil from Russia..."

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Still another teaching resource

Twenty years ago, a new principal decided that all academic courses had to administer final exams that would count as part of semester grades. I was teaching an AP course to seniors who had taken the AP exam and had mostly "checked out" after that, even though graduation was 3 or 4 weeks away.

I created a "Final Quiz" instead of a final exam and used something like it for a few years until I was allowed to use post-exam projects as final exam equivalents for AP students.

I went through an old version of the "Final Quiz" and revised the obviously out-of-date questions (I hope) and added a few new ones. There are 45 short-answer questions.

Mexico and Iran are probably slighted, because I didn't teach about them when I originally wrote this, but you can compensate by adding your own questions.

I uploaded MSWord and RTF versions of the questions to the sharing comparative group web site. Look in the "Files" section.

If you don't belong to the group, you can join using the link below.

Click to join sharecompgovpol


Devolution to independence?

Will devolution lead to confederalism or independence?

Scots rally for independence yet again

"In 1320, Scots penned the Declaration of Arbroath. In lines that would echo through the ages, they wrote, 'It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.'...

"In 1997, Scots spoke loudly when they voted to reinstate their Parliament...

"The Scottish Parliament has authority for health, education, courts and the environment. The British Parliament retains control over most taxes and foreign affairs. The question now is, what next? The current Scottish government is the first in modern times that wants to see Scotland reclaim its independence...

"The Scottish government wants Scotland and England to become independent and equal nations, with the queen and her successors continuing as the common head of state of both — similar to what happened in Canada and Australia in the 20th century. In other words, we would move toward becoming united kingdoms, rather than the United Kingdom..."

From Angus Reid Global Monitor:

Scots No Longer Keen on Independence

"Fewer adults in Scotland believe the area should attain sovereignty, according to a poll by YouGov. 50 per cent of respondents oppose Scotland becoming a country independent from the rest of the United Kingdom, up 11 points in two years...

"Do you support or oppose Scotland becoming a country independent from the rest of the United Kingdom?

Apr. 2006

Support 46%
Oppose 39%
Don't Know 15%...

Apr. 2008

Support 34%
Oppose 50%
Don't Know 15%"

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Another teaching resource

Long ago, when I began teaching comparative, I developed a review essay assignment about legitimacy and participation. The idea was to get students to think about a couple essential concepts, practice doing a comparative case study, and practice timed essay writing.

I revised the question once again for 2008.

Part of the plan is that students would anonymously grade each other's essays, but that's not essential to the exercise.

I have uploaded both MSWord and RTF versions of the assignment sheet to the sharing comparative group site. Look in the "Files" section.

If you want to join the group, use the link below.

Click to join sharecompgovpol

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No surprise

This report came from Reuters on Monday morning.

Russia's Biggest Party Seeks Putin as Leader

"Russia's biggest party will ask President Vladimir Putin to become its leader this week at a conference that could provide the final clue in the riddle of who will really run Russia after Putin steps down...

"If Putin does accept the invitation from the United Russia party to become its leader, it would significantly entrench his power and indicate, some analysts say, that he is planning to use that position to preserve his long-term influence...

"'It would be the optimal variant if Putin became the party leader. Like no one else he would get a sense of the wishes of the people from the grass roots,' United Russia lawmaker Vladimir Kolesnikov, told reporters at the conference on Monday...

"There is a precedent for leadership of a party, rather than any state position, providing the lever of power in Russia. For much of the 20th century, the leader of the Soviet Communist party held sway over state institutions."

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Investigation in Nigeria

It's not just in China that associates of former leaders find themselves in political and legal hot water. (Is this a hint about researching for evidence of a generalization?) And this time in Nigeria, it's not just about unbuilt electrical generating plants.

This report comes from This Day (Lagos).

75,000 Houses Demolished in Abuja Under El-Rufai

"The general counsel of the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA), Mal-lam Mohammed Alkali yesterday told the Senate Committee probing the sale of Federal Government houses and property in Abuja that the el-Rufai administration in the FCT destroyed over 75,000 houses and other public property...

"Alkali described the actions of the FCTA under Malam Nasir el-Rufai, the immediate past minister in charge of FCT as lawless and irresponsible...

"In response to the question on demolition of houses that were certificated, he said, 'It was wrong for houses to be demolished when those houses were duly certificated.' He also said 'it is unlawful to revoke plots that were said to have breached laid down standards and reallocate them to other people. It was lawless.'..."

See also: In a Dream City, a Nightmare for the Common Man

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Teaching resource

Dr. Timothy Lim teaches comparative politics at Cal State LA. and maintains an exceptional web site to support his courses.

I posted a description of and a link to his current course web page at the sharing comparative group site (in the "Theory and Method" folder in the "Files" section). You might well find useful material and ideas there.

Dr. Lim's book Doing Comparative Politics is very valuable for teacher background. If you're not familiar with it, I think you ought to check it out.

Doing Comparative Politics at the publisher's web site.

Doing Comparative Politics at Amazon.com.

If you don't belong to the group yet, you can join using the following link.

Click to join sharecompgovpol

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Influences on policy

Here's an example to use when asking your students to sort out the domestic from the global -- the historical from the contemporary influences on policy making. (You could create a little 4-cell matrix from those variables and ask students to find examples of each type of influence.)

From the Washington Post:

Backstage Role of China's Army in Tibet Unrest Is a Contrast to 1989

"As Chinese security forces blanketed Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas over the past month, the regular army remained discreetly in the background, under orders to let police take the lead in suppressing the unrest that exploded in Lhasa and quickly spread to adjoining provinces.

"The backstage role played by the People's Liberation Army marked a sharp change from China's last big protests, in 1989. During that crisis, PLA troops using tanks and automatic weapons moved in to quell rioting in Tibet and crush pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed civilians.

"The decision to minimize military intervention this time suggested that the Communist Party leadership did not consider the Tibet crisis to be as serious as the 1989 protests, when China's entire ruling system was thought to be under challenge. Analysts here also saw the recent lower-key response as reflecting official concern over the reaction abroad if the army were to deploy massively against internal unrest as China prepares to host the Beijing Olympics in August...

"The shift in approach by President Hu Jintao and his Communist Party lieutenants reflected political sensitivities that still surround memories of 1989...

"The party Propaganda Bureau has worked tirelessly since then to restore the military's image...

"Hu and his premier, Wen Jiabao, both had prominent roles in the 1989 resort to the military... Hu was party secretary in Tibet... and imposed martial law there to give soldiers a freer hand. Wen, a rising star in 1989, was photographed just behind a senior party leader, Zhao Ziyang, as Zhao tried in vain to persuade students to leave Tiananmen Square before the army attacked..."

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Protest in Mexican congress

Mexico: Leftists Take Over Congress in Protest Against Oil Plan

"Left-wing legislators shut down both houses of Congress and vowed to continue their sit-in indefinitely to protest a government plan to revamp the country’s state-run oil monopoly..."


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Friday, April 11, 2008

New teaching plan posted

I've posted a description and links to Rob Crawford's teaching plan for comparing the economic and political systems found in the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome at sharing comparative.

Use the "Files" link on the left side of the main web page to find an MSWord file and a rich tech format (.rtf) file of the introduction with links to Rob's web pages.

Here's Rob's introduction:


"OK, let's face it: Comparative Politics can be exceptionally tedious, particularly the dry but absolutely essential area of structural analysis. The following exercise is an attempt to "liven up" this section of the course by allowing the students to apply the tools of analysis they have acquired in an entertaining and stimulating manner.

"In the film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Max is the Gulliver of a post-apocalyptic world, journeying from place to place in search of Utopia. The places he finds, 'Bartertown' and 'Crack-in-the-Earth', are complex and visionary representations of two very different communities with startlingly different cultural propensities and political systems. This setup is perfect for analysis and comparison--and with explosions as an added incentive to pay attention!

Through quizzes, discussion, and practice essays comparing the societies in Mad Max..., students will be able to quickly recognize ideological patterns and master the Easton model before moving on to analyze the nations of the real world in preparation for the AP Exam."

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

Click to join sharecompgovpol"

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Guanxi in reverse

Guanxi, the web of personal relationships that is often described as the heart of Chinese culture, is usually seen as beneficial to the people connected to one another. But it can also work to one's disadvantage. What if your "patron" is over the hill instead of a rising star?

Ex-Party Boss in China Gets 18 Years

"The former Communist Party chief of China's financial capital was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison for his role in a massive corruption scandal involving the city's pension fund and state-owned companies.

"Chen Liangyu, who also was a member of China's powerful 24-seat Politburo... was locked up ''for taking bribes and abusing power.''...

"The scandal investigation... has been widely viewed as part of President Hu Jintao's efforts to shove aside supporters of former President Jiang Zemin, whose political base was Shanghai.

"Chen was among Jiang's most powerful allies. He reportedly clashed with Premier Wen Jiabao over Beijing's efforts to cool economic growth, lobbying instead for ambitious infrastructure projects.

"Earlier this month, Shanghai tycoon Zhang Rongkun... was sentenced for his role in the scandal to 19 years in prison for bribery, share price manipulation, financial fraud and misuse of public funds..."

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Weak state exemplified

If you want an example (for teaching or a test question) of how weak the Nigerian state is, check out the April 5th edition of The Economist, p. 50

Another deadline goes up in flames

"Continued gas flaring harms both the environment and the economy

"Gas flares... may well contribute more greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than any other source in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria flares more than any country after Russia: 20 billion cubic metres a year out of a global total of 150 billion. For years oil companies have flared the gas to separate it from the lucrative crude oil. Lacking facilities to harness the gas or a market to sell it, flaring made good business sense, even if it damaged the atmosphere. But flaring not only continues to pollute horribly, it is also wasteful. The gas that is wasted could earn the country more than $500m a year.

"All this was supposed to have changed by this year to meet a deadline to end flaring agreed on by the government and international oil companies. But no one seems to agree on whether the 2008 deadline was January 1st or December 31st...

"Nigeria outlawed gas flaring in 1979, to be phased out five years later. But since companies pay a minuscule fee for flaring and are allowed to carry on under government-granted exceptions, there is little incentive to stop. No legislation regulates the gas industry; penalties and procedures are irregularly enforced.

"In February the government approved a “gas master plan”. This provides for building new facilities and injecting gas into the domestic supply, so encouraging producers to stop flaring once and for all. But although regulators have threatened heavier penalties for flaring, the fact that oil accounts for about 76% of government revenue and 90% of exports makes the government wary of imposing penalties so tough that they might persuade oil companies to shut down production instead..."

The article is online at

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I've been paying attention to Chinese government and politics for over 40 years. I'm well aware that politics and government have changed greatly since the early days of the Cultural Revolution. But, since I'm not in China, there are other changes that take me by surprise.

Here's an example of the image of Beijing that's in my head.

However, when I saw this picture below, I realized how much I needed to update my mental image. (You can click on the photos to see the full-sized images.)

For me this is a reminder of the necessity of updating the presumptions I carry around in my head about "how things work" in China and other countries. The UK may be on the verge of electing the Lords, for instance. That's one of the challenging things about teaching comparative politics. That's one of the joys of teaching comparative politics.


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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

And the margin of error is...

Al Arabia reports on a massive project in which Gallup pollsters interviewed 50,000 people in 35 Muslim countries. The results have been published in a book called Who Speaks for Islam? What a billion Muslims really think.

Muslims don’t hate the West, they admire it

"A recent survey gathered on what Muslims truly think of the West revealed that Muslims feel disrespected by the West and although they admire Western values they feel that democracy when applied in Muslim countries was hypocritical...

"'Despite widespread anti-American and anti-British sentiment, Muslims around the world said they in fact admired much of what the West holds dear', including freedom of speech and citizens, democracy, technological progress and access to knowledge, co-author Dalia Mogahed said on Monday.

[She continued] "'When we asked Muslims around the world what the West can do to improve relations with the Muslim world, the most frequent responses were for the West to demonstrate more respect for Islam and to regard Muslims as equals, not as inferior.'..."

See also:

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Credit crunch and public policy in the UK

The privatization of British council housing (public housing in the USA), begun under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, means that the mortgage crisis is hitting the UK as well as the US. Now, some politicians are urging local councils to buy houses from owners who are threatened with foreclosure. What are the politics of such a policy change?

Labour MPs' fury over homes crisis

"Gordon Brown's government came under attack from one of his closest allies last night for failing to help families threatened with losing their homes in the credit crisis.

"George Mudie, a senior member of the Treasury select committee, called for ministers to strike an urgent deal with lenders to delay repossessions and help struggling householders through short-term difficulties.

"His words reflect backbench MPs' fears of a rise in people losing their homes as around two million Britons come off cheap fixed-rate deals this year and struggle to get another affordable mortgage...

"Around 40 Labour MPs have now signed a Commons motion tabled by backbencher Austin Mitchell warning that a 'large and growing number of houses' will be repossessed because of this year's credit squeeze. It urges councils to buy up the empty homes, allowing former owners to stay under their own roof as council tenants and helping councils expand housing stock...

"Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, has asked officials to monitor the situation. The Treasury has held provisional talks with lenders about extending mortgage 'holidays' - a few months' grace for families in changed circumstances..."

In a broader context which more politicians will have to respond to, the BBC reports about a prediction from the IMF. How will this policy challenge present itself to Russia? China? Iran? Nigeria? Mexico? And how will the public policy-makers in those countries respond?

Credit crunch costs '$1 trillion'

"The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that potential losses from the credit crunch will reach $945bn (£472bn) and could be even higher.

"The IMF says that losses are spreading from sub-prime mortgage assets to other sectors, such as commercial property, consumer credit, and company debt.

"It says that there was a "collective failure" to appreciate the risky borrowing by financial institutions.

"And it warns that tough measures and government intervention may be needed..."

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Monday, April 07, 2008

I'd forgotten

Back in October 2005, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on something called the Public Chamber in Russia.

I had heard nothing about this organization since then. Then I ran into an old e-mail and wondered what had become of the Public Chamber. There's apparently still not much to tell, but it seems like there might be somewhere down the road.

Questions, it seems to me, revolve around whether the Public Chamber will become a powerful actor in the regime or a bit of facade for civil society in an undemocratic system.

At the time I first read about it, I compared the Public Chamber to Iran's Guardian Council. That impression came, in large part, from the Kommersant article.

A Chamber to Serve the Homeland

"There are almost three months remaining until the Public Chamber will be fully formed. But it is already clear that that body concocted by the Kremlin will not be as important in and of itself as it will be as another step toward its ideal of fully eradicating elections in Russia.

"The order by Russian President Vladimir Putin appointing the first 42 members of the Public Chamber was signed on September 28...

"In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper in September 2004, [Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Vladislav] Surkov explained why the Kremlin needs to appoint a Public Chamber when its function (guaranteeing citizen collaboration with state organs, public control over the activities of those organs, consultation on proposed legislation in the State Duma) is supposed to be fulfilled by the elected parliament. 'Yes, it is supposed to and it does it. But in its own way. The birth defect of parliamentarianism is its glancing at elections, past and future. Parliamentary discussions always and everywhere result in populism to some degree and, in our rather low level of political culture, they often turn into farces. The experts in the Public Chamber will be less dependent on political conditions, which will allow them to be more objective and correct the poorly conceived decisions of the authorities,' he said...

"The mention of the 'birth defect of parliamentarianism' is key to the discussion. The authorities do not like elections. They are inconvenient for them: they can't keep track of them all, money is being spent without their knowledge, the elections may or may not come out right. It would be much simpler if balanced people could be appointed to watch over the elected...

"This leads to the conclusion that Chamber No. 3 (following the State Duma and Federation Council) is intended not to reinforce civic society, but to heal the above-mentioned 'birth defect' by rejecting any elections that may bring to power irresponsible populists instead of balanced people..."

The only textbook I have that mentions the Public Chamber is Introduction to Comparative Politics by Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph (4th ed., 2007). In a section on civil society, the authors describe the Public Chamber as a "new initiative... created in 2005 by legislation proposed by the president... [T]he organization is presented as a mechanism for public consultation and input, as well as a vehicle for creating public support for government policy. It appears," the authors continue, "to reflect a corporatist approach that might serve to co-opt public activists from more disruptive forms of self-expression." (p. 192)

Russia Profile offered this description in January 2006: "As part of the ongoing conversation about civil society in Russia, on July 1, 2005, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill authorizing the creation of the Public Chamber, a 126-member body designed to provide oversight of the Duma. The stated purpose of the new body is to provide oversight of governmental bodies and the executive branch, offering expertise in relation to new legislation, and 'organizing cooperation between the citizenry and federal organs of state power.' The Chamber can issue nonbinding advice to the government on domestic policy and legislation and request investigations into suspected wrongdoing...

"Few analysts think that the Chamber will be anything more than a rubber stamp for the Kremlin's policies, with scholars from the Moscow Carnegie Center calling it 'a very useful, thoroughly domesticated, element of civil society in bureaucratic form' and journalists declaring that only 4 of the Chamber's members are completely free of the Kremlin's influence..."

When I searched for news reports about the Public Chamber, I found a year-old Kommersant article: Russia: Public Chamber Notes Crackdown on Independent Media

"The Public Chamber is going to hold a monitoring of freedom of press in Russia, Pavel Gusev, editor-in-chief at Moskovsky Komsomolets, said, referring to international reports which put Russia below number 100 in terms of freedom of speech. At the same time, Russia has the world's largest number of killed journalists, second only to Iraq..."

A paper presented at the International Studies Association in March 2008 by James Richter (who also presented a paper on Russian civil society in 2006) dealt with the Public Chamber.

The paper's abstract was,"The reassertion of the Russian state under Vladimir Putin has been described by political analysts close to the President as an exercise in 'sovereign democracy.' The basic premise of this philosophy is that true democracy can occur only in a state that is truly sovereign. The state's efforts to maintain internal sovereignty, moreover, depend to a large degree on its ability to defend its external sovereignty.

"In this respect, Putin's policy may be regarded as a response to the challenges of globalization, but it contains a key contradiction. On the one hand, Putin recognizes the need for Russia to participate in the global economy, but at the same time he still envisions the Russian nation as an organic community under the state that must maintain its cohesion in order to survive. He therefore finds himself praising the individual initiative necessary to engage the global economy successfully even as he creates barriers to insulate society from the fragmenting effects of global market and social forces.

"No where is this tension between seeking to promote individual initiative while keeping it under control more apparent than in the Public Chamber, a corporatist-type body designed to invite social organizatons to consult and monitor government agencies even as it insulates these organizations from the influence of foreign donors. By examining the Public Chamber, one can see how the Putin administration, in response to globalization, seeks to monitor how 'divides' are crossed between Russia and the world, by whom and for what purpose."

President-elect Dmitry Medvedev met with the members of the Public Chamber a few weeks ago.

According to a report from Reuters (UK) [Russia's Medvedev urges stronger role for civil society], he told the Public Chamber members that civil society groups should have a bigger role in forming policy and holding the government to account.

The article noted that "some observers have predicted the next president may adopt a more consensual style than former KGB spy Putin."

Medvedev is quoted as saying "Our task is to create a system which would allow civic structures to participate in working out state policy and appraising its quality," and that the opinion of minority groups represented by public organizations and professional unions should be taken into account.

"Medvedev told the Public Chamber he wanted civil society groups to help scrutinize legislation before it came into force, saying officials were not always able to assess the social impact of new laws."

It seems to me that we need to keep our eyes and ears open for more details about the Public Chamber in Russia. It's significance might change as a new president takes over, either as a forum for consensus building or a way for Putin to exercise more power.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Teaching suggestions, anyone?

Kit Heidlage, who teaches at Massachusetts' Newton North High School, is looking for suggestions for a post-AP exam project.

She asked, "Do you know of a post-AP exam project where the students build their own government? My students all take multiple AP courses and so there is a constant and varied absence rate, and I thought that a group project like this would be doable. However, I need some guidance and ideas of how to structure the project. And, of course, I would be delighted to have a detailed plan! Can you help me out?"

I replied that I thought the idea was a good one.

If I were doing it, I'd want to set up some initial parameters for students:
  • create a geography/climate/population/history for students to work within
  • A list of what needs to be done: governance structure: executive, management, legislative, judicial? constitution?
  • How will the new government come to be accepted?
  • How will leaders be chosen?
  • How to best represent citizens?
  • Citizen and human rights?
  • Are there minorities that need/deserve protection from majority rule and how do you protect them?
  • Legitimacy (internal and external)?
  • What about civil society? Traditions? Religion?
  • Environmental challenges?

Or give students the Bhutan example: a king who wants to create a democracy.

Or maybe you want them to create a political system for a space colony. See

Maybe the key is to create two "teams" and and ask each one to create a country for the other group to create a governance system for.

Do you have ideas? Suggestions? A teaching plan to share? Tell us using the "Comments" link below.

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Uncertainty in blogging in Iran

Neil MacFarquhar reports in the New York Times on bloggers in Iran. His report offers a glimpse of what it's like to live in a system where rule of law is not a given.

Iranian Blogosphere Tests Government’s Limits

"Troll through the Iranian blogosphere [click on the map above] and you can find all manner of unexpectedly harsh critiques denouncing the government of the Islamic Republic, from reformists who revile it as well as conservatives who support it...

"What gets filtered out is not entirely predictable either. Even some religious topics are deemed unacceptable. The government blocked the site of a blogger advocating the Shiite Muslim custom of temporary marriage...

"Over all, a new study by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School shows that Iran’s blogosphere mirrors the erratic, fickle and often startling qualities of life in the Islamic republic itself. The rules of what is permissible fluctuate with maddening imprecision, so people test the limits...

"In 2004, according to Human Rights Watch, 21 bloggers or people who worked at Internet news sites critical of the government were arrested, and some of them were tortured. Periodic arrests since then have ended with jail terms...

"The researchers’ general conclusion was that, 'despite periodic persecution,' many Iranians are able to use blogs to express 'viewpoints challenging the ruling ideology of the Islamic Republic.'...

"The study found that the next largest group of bloggers, hundreds of them, concentrated on romantic poetry. So many blogging bards might be uncommon in many other countries, but in Iran it is simply a reflection of a culture that so reveres poetry, where many children grow up dreaming of becoming great poets in the way many young Americans dream of a future in sports..."

See also: Mapping Iran's Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Another good source

Melody Dickison, from Wayne High School, wrote to recommend the Hoover Institution's China Leadership Monitor. I'm glad she did.

There are some sources that I've known about long enough to take them for granted and expect that everyone else knows about them too. This is one.

The China Leadership Monitor web site says that it "seeks to inform the American foreign policy community about current trends in China's leadership politics and in its foreign and domestic policies... " The organization's "analysis rests heavily on traditional China-watching methods of interpreting information in China's state-controlled media." The "website is updated with new analyses quarterly."

Currently, the articles on the web site are about elections in Taiwan, reorganization of the PLA, corporate power in China, the chances for political reform, an analysis of current Party leadership, and the leadership in Guangdong.

This is a source that you and your students can use as a research source. Thank Melody.

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Colombian-Mexican-Chinese soap opera

A curious example of globalization was reported by Reuters of India (which continues the globalization theme).

Mexico's Televisa starts making Chinese soap opera

"Broadcaster Televisa said on Thursday it started production of its first Chinese language soap opera, as the Mexican media giant taps the vast Asian market in search of new business.

"Televisa will make a new version of Colombia's 1999 hit soap Yo Soy Betty la Fea about a goofy, mustachioed, bushy-browed but brainy girl who climbs high in the corporate ladder and wins the love of a top executive.

"Televisa, the biggest producer of Spanish language content in the world, said in a statement that it will partner with China's Hunan broadcaster, production house Nesound and Colombia's RCN in the production of the new soap, due to air in September.

"In May 2007, Televisa announced it would kick off partnerships with Chinese producers and distributors to create soaps with local actors, as well as to develop reality shows and scripts..."

Was the original Colombian show the origin of the American show, Ugly Betty? It wouldn't be the first time that American producers adapted an idea that was successful elsewhere for network television in the USA.

Do you know about the link between All in the Family and Tony Blair? (You probably need to be really old, or a good Wikipedia researcher, to know this.)

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Making Nigeria work

This editorial in Vanguard (Lagos) tries to explain why government in Nigeria is so weak. The editor may have read comparative political science textbooks because the analysis seems based on academic ideas. Parts of it remind me of the complaints of Odili, the idealistic protagonist in Achebe's novel, Man of the People.

I think this essay would be a good review exercise, not only about Nigeria, but for thinking about political science as well.

If your students read this, what basic concepts would they recognize? What examples in Nigeria (and other countries) could they identify? How would they evaluate the editor's analysis?

Nigeria: Making Country Work

"LITTLE doubt exists that existing governments leave more mess than they had promised to clear. Governance is gradually reduced to doing nothing, other than clearing a bit of the muddle the previous governments splashed.

"The process itself creates more confusion. The people are always left to ponder the role of governments in their lives. They are right to think in that manner.

"Each incoming government runs campaigns promising to improve the life of the people. These campaigns answer quickly to perceived and suggested obstacles to solving the confounding problems of Nigeria. During campaigns, solutions are in abundance, the politicians cannot wait to get into office.

"They soon discover that many of them had no clues to the challenges of governance. Their brand of politics overshadows their own abilities to recognise they have personal limitations...

"In the midst of deliberate scarcities woven into the Nigerian life, it is only those who have access to some ends of the power cord that can get the barest benefits the state provides. Jobs, admission to schools, and procurement of security documents like passports and identity cards depend on who someone knows...

"Everyone seems content with complaining or blaming the Nigerian factor for things not working. The reason is simple - most Nigerians are waiting for their own opportunity to repeat these offences, with the evil precedents as their excuse...

"Nigeria cannot work, where the common good is cast aside for fleeting personal interests. Too much of our resources are being wasted in treating offences with levity."

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