Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's a quiz

What does this photograph tell us about the political culture of the Peoples Republic?

The answer can be found at Liuzhou Laowai, the blog written by a British expatriate living and working in southern China.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nigerian president's surgery

Yar'Adua in Hospital, Undergoes Surgery

"President Umaru Yar'Adua has undergone successfully a serious surgery suspected to be kidney related ailment in a Saudi Arabia hospital where he has been receiving treatment for days now...

"President Umaru Yar'Adua, who has been officially reported to be on lesser hajj in Mecca is in King Fahd hospital in Saudi Arabia. In fact, reliable sources confirmed to Saturday Vanguard last night that the president underwent, serious renal transplantation and has been under intensive care. But his condition is said to be very stable...

"The Federal Executive Council had on Wednesday refuted rumours that President Umaru Yar'Adua was currently indisposed at a Saudi Arabia hospital..."

See also:

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Comparative oil production

Alan Carter wrote from the UK to recommend this article from the Financial Times of London. The theme could become the focus of a comparative study, even for AP classes that examine Nigeria, Mexico, Russia, and Iran -- all major oil producers.

Crude realities

By Matthew Green

Published: August 28 2008 03:00

"The world needs Africa's oil, but the stuff has a habit of ruining the places that produce it. From the civil war battlefields of southern Sudan to the slums of Angola and the swamps of the Niger Delta, the discovery of crude has done little to improve local lives. Often, it has destroyed them.

"Yet a fisherman who makes his livelihood in Africa's newest oil province - a deep-water field off Ghana's Atlantic coast - can hardly wait for it to start flowing. 'With God's help, I'll be a rich man,' says Joseph Cudjoe, one of a chain of young men hauling a net into a brightly painted longboat beached at the village of Axim. 'If the oil is coming, we'll get a lot of money, just like the Saudis.'

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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Teaching idea for Tuesday

Here's an idea that might help students get into a comparative frame of mind.

Labor Day in the US is recognized at the end of summer.

When do the countries students are about to begin studying celebrate a "Labor Day?"

Why do each of these countries choose the date of their "Labor Days?"

What do those choices tell us about politics and political culture in each country?

Assign a couple or three students to find the answer for each country (or make it a small group project).

Throw out the question as an extra credit project.


Mexico City is not Mexico

Another example of how different Mexico City is from the rest of Mexico.

Mexico City Struggles With Law on Abortion

"When Mexico City’s government made abortion legal last year, it also set out to make it available to any woman who asked for one. That includes the city’s poorest, who for years resorted to illegal clinics and midwives as wealthy women visited private doctors willing to quietly end unwanted pregnancies.

"But helping poor women gain equal access to the procedure has turned out to be almost as complicated as passing the law, a watershed event in this Catholic country and in a region where almost all countries severely restrict abortions...

"Now, even as the city’s left-wing government revamps its abortion services, the law is coming up against its biggest challenge — in the courts.

"On Monday, Mexico’s Supreme Court begins public deliberations on a legal challenge that was filed last year by the conservative federal government and backed by anti-abortion groups..."

Mexican Supreme Court upholds legal abortion

"Mexico's Supreme Court upheld the capital's abortion law Thursday, setting a precedent for the rest of the country that could inspire other Latin American cities.

"Mexico City is one of the few places in Latin America that allows abortion without limitations in the first trimester.."

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blog orientation

As I was writing about Josip Dasovic's blog yesterday (Clouds, Clocks, and Sitting at Tables), I thought that at the beginning of a new school year, some orientation about the use of this blog might be relevant.

Most of the blog entries are based on published news stories. I read through 10-12 online news sources almost every morning and pick out things I see as possible teaching tools. I excerpt big ideas from articles and offer some comments on how I think they can be used. Sometimes, I come across a topic I want to learn more about and do a series of blog entries about that topic. (See SoftPower for a series I did last fall.)


First of all, if you are at the teaching comparative web page (if you're reading your e-mail, you might want to go there for this orientation), you'll see a "Search Blog" box in the upper left of the screen. You can use this to search all of the 1,000+ blog entries that I've made over the past 27 months. If you search for "political culture," for example, you'll see every blog entry in which that phrase appears.

But that kind of search might not be appropriate for your purposes.

On the right side of the blog page (beneath the subscription boxes), you'll see a list of "Links."

The first link on the list is to the "Index of Blog Entries." At that index, you can click on any of the 90+ tags I've attached to entries and you'll be presented with those entries from newest to oldest.

The other links on the list are things I think might be useful to you in teaching comparative government and politics. There are links to other teachers' blogs, to the Facebook group Patrick O'Neil organized, AP Central, several pedagogical resources, and to the sharing comparative group, which offers members an opportunity to share teaching ideas. There's also an advertising link to my book's web site.

Beneath the map showing where yesterday's web visitors logged in from, is a list of the ten most recent blog posts. If you're looking for something you saw recently, this would be the quickest way to find it.

Below that are links to files of posts from the last 2+ years, organized by month. If you want to find a post about something that happened, for example, in the fall of 2006, this would be a place to look.

At the bottom of the sidebar are my editorial advertisements advocating freedom of the Internet press and net neutrality (without which a blog like this would probably be too expensive to "publish" without lots of advertising. -- You have noticed that mine is the only advertising here, haven't you?).

I also want to point out is that at the end of every blog post is a link to "Comments." If you have a reaction to a topic or a correction or an addition, this is where you can become part of this effort. Few people besides me use the Comment feature on this blog. I usually use it to post follow-up information (like the comment I added yesterday about the probable hospitalization of Nigeria's president). Please, feel free to make this more of a conversation.

And finally, those subscription boxes that are near the top of the right hand sidebar.

The first one allows you to subscribe so that new blog entries are sent to your newsreader.

The second one lets you receive each entry at your e-mail address.

(Then you don't have to visit the web site to see blog entries. But, I've been told, that illustrations don't always show up in e-mails and newsreaders.)

Do you have suggestions? Do you have topics you'd like to see covered? Do you have a class blog to add to the "Links" list? Do you have other resources to add to that list? Some people send me sources and ideas for blog entries, and I love to get them.

Use the "Comment" link at the bottom of any entry to contact me. The comments come to me before they get added to the blog.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an international organization whose importance is mostly potential at this point. But, if Iran or other OPEC countries join, it could become a big deal. It may be a reminder of the shifting center of world politics. The official Chinese press is featuring the current meeting.

Chinese, Russian presidents meet in Tajik capital

"Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev met in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe Wednesday to discuss furthering bilateral relations...

"Hu and Medvedev are to attend Thursday's summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe, which will focus on economic, security and cultural cooperation in the region.

"Founded in Shanghai in 2001, the SCO groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India are observers of the SCO..."

See also Special report: President Hu visits 3 nations, attends SCO Summit

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Valuable resource

Recently, in another blog I write, I confessed to reading two novels twice and not realizing either duplication until I was nearly finished reading. That experience made me think I might not have to buy any new books. I could get by just rereading the ones I have.

Last February, when I first came across Clouds, Clocks, and Sitting at Tables, I was amazed and admiring. (Look back at that February posting.)

After writing about it and bookmarking the blog, I started using a new computer for writing this blog. I forgot about Josip Dasovic's blog.

Then I rediscovered it last week. As I finished writing the posting below, I got an inkling that things sounded familiar. I searched the blog for Dasovic. Sure enough, I'd praised this resource before. It's worth another mention. Go look at it and look at its archives. You'll find somethings there that will help you teach.

Josip Dasovic teaches comparative politics and international relations at the University of Richmond. He writes a blog, "Clouds, Clocks and Sitting at Tables," to support his more formal teaching activities.

The blog frequently includes entries that you might find valuable and useful. The entries include tags that identify the relevant topics mentioned in the blog and (for comparative entries) the chapter in O'Neil's textbook that deals with those topics.

In addition to all that, you'll probably find many of the entries simply fascinating.

If you're looking for teaching ideas, Dasovic has lots of them. If you borrow some, thank him.

HELP: Any bloggers out there who can give me hints about preventing the YouTube embeds from overlapping with the sidebar?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Leadership in Nigeria

There are more details here than most of us need to know, but the blogger who writes at Grandiose Parlor (who describes himself as "a full-blooded Nigerian male. Although my origin is the southwestern corner of the country, I now belong to the massive pool of Nigerians in the Diaspora. I live in Minnesota, U.S.A.") can offer you and your students a perspective and understanding that's difficult for us non-Nigerians to achieve.

Here is his list of questions about an apparently great appointment to the presidential staff. A couple of your students could do some research on Ibori and Edevbie for a report to the rest of the class.

James Ibori and the New Principal Secretary to the President

"David Edevbie is the new Principal Secretary to the Nigerian President. If one goes by his qualifications and achievements alone, David will be value-added to the presidency.

"David is a Harvard-trained economist, with extensive and impressive exposure in both public and private sectors. According to news report, Edevbie - a development, economic and finance management expert - “began his career with Barclays Bank London where he became Manager’s Assistant, Corporate Lending, over-seeing multi-million pounds investments in Oil and Mineral sectors of emerging markets.”

"But his impressive professional career appears blotched by his association with the same former Delta state governor James Ibori, whom he served under as Commissioner of Finance (2003 -2005) and Economic Adviser (2006-2006).

From left : The Chairman of the occasion Chief Goodie Ibru, His Excellency Chief James Ibori, the Delta State Commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning, Mr. David Edevbie, Mr. Albert Okummagba of BGL Securities, and Senator Stella Omu.

"In December 2007, Ibori was arrested over allegations of corruption and money-laundering. Shortly before his arrest, A UK court froze his assets in the UK, allegedly worth $35m. Ibori’s official salary while in office was less than $25,000 a year. Ibori had to spend the 2007 Christmas in prison and has his case pending in court...

"As an observer far removed from the mystery within Aso Rock, it is really perplexing that the President - who appears keen on creating a corruption-free government - would be comfortable having a close associate and confidant of a man whose tenure as a state governor was heavily tarnished by corruption."

And in the cabinet

From ThisDay in Lagos

Yar'Adua Shops for New Ministers

"The shake-up in the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua will be stepped up in the coming weeks as the president continues with his far-reaching re-jiggling, one year after assuming office.

"Fresh from the scrapping of some positions in the Presidency and the sweeping changes in the military with the retirement of service chiefs, Yar'Adua is currently shopping for candidates to strengthen his cabinet...

"THISDAY was informed that in the current cabinet, Yar'Adua did not have much input as ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftains and PDP governors practically imposed their choices on him apparently as reward for those who helped him during the presidential election.

"'Yar'Adua personally chose only three ministers,' the source said...

"The source added: 'In fact, Obasanjo handpicked all the nominees from the South-west and most of the nominees from other geo-political zones. That is why Yar'Adua allowed them to be. But now, he is looking for his own ministers whom he can vouch for in terms of competence and performance.'..."

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Head of state; head of government

What rules do you follow if the situation is ambiguous? What does this tell us about the Russian government? about the Russian regime? Have the Russian leaders eliminated the differences between state and government? Why do political scientists make that distinction?

West Baffled by 2 Heads for Russian Government

"When Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, rushed to Moscow earlier this month to mediate the crisis over Georgia, he found the new Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to be calm, even sanguine about prospects for a solution.

"But the tone was wildly different when Mr. Sarkozy heard from Vladimir V. Putin... Mr. Putin was virulent in denouncing Georgian actions as atrocities, and he expressed such deep antipathy toward Georgian leaders that it made the war seem personal.

"Mr. Sarkozy’s report... has added to a sense of bewilderment in Washington about how to deal with what is now a two-headed government in Moscow — with Mr. Putin, still the dominant partner, occupying what is technically the subservient role.

"American and European officials say there is no doubt that it is Mr. Putin who maintains the real power, making the decisions on how to prosecute and conclude the conflict. But they have felt compelled to follow diplomatic protocol that requires them to focus their negotiating efforts on Mr. Medvedev, who succeeded Mr. Putin in May to become the head of state...

"Ever since Mr. Medvedev was inaugurated May 7, after an election in which all significant opposition candidates were either kept off the ballot or limited in campaigning, the United States and other nations have deferred to him as the head of state. They did so even as it was clear that Mr. Putin would remain a significant political force — if not the de facto leader — in his role as prime minister.

"But the war with Georgia has made that pretense far more difficult to sustain..."


Friday, August 22, 2008

Civil society, civil authority, religious authority

Things can get very complicated when varied parts of the state have differing priorities.

Sharia force targets sex workers

"Islamic authorities in the Nigerian city of Bauchi have carried out the arrest of sex workers identified by the Red Cross in a census.

"The Red Cross carried out the census amid efforts to tackle the spread of HIV in the north-eastern state.

"But after it had found 320 women, the local Sharia commission ordered that they be rounded up...

"The Sharia commission normally liaises with the police... but this time they acted directly, using their own security force to arrest the sex workers.

"It is not clear how many of the women have already been arrested.

"They could face flogging or prison terms.

"Following the arrests, the Red Cross has halted its census.

"Between 75 and 100 of the 320 women have so far tested positive for HIV..."

(Map showing location of Bauchi is from Wikimedia Commons, a great source of copyright-free maps and photographs.)

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

History restarted

At the intersection of comparative politics and international relations, David Remnick analyzes the issues of Russia's resurgence as a regional power on its southern border in the current issue of The New Yorker.

This might be good background for an introduction to Russia, but if you're not teaching about this for a few months, don't save it. I think it will be fairly quickly out of date.

Boundary Issues

"Solzhenitsyn anticipated the persistence of the old and unrepentant élites, the former Communist Party chiefs and K.G.B. officials who so easily transformed themselves into 'democrats' and 'businessmen...'

"Part of the 'naïve fable' was that the collapse of the Soviet Union would peaceably defy historical precedent. Empires, blinded by hauteur and ambition, don’t often stoop to understand the complexities of their human and territorial acquisitions, and care even less about the disfigurements and time bombs they eventually leave behind. The record is long: after the Ottoman decline came the slaughter of Armenians and the drawing of senseless boundaries in the Middle East; imperial Britain left in its wake the wars in Ireland, Palestine, Nigeria, and the Indian subcontinent; the French provided a legacy of imminent violence from Algeria to Indochina...

"Putin is not Hitler or Stalin; he is not even Leonid Brezhnev. He is what he is, and that is bad enough. In the 2008 election, he made a joke of democratic procedure and, in effect, engineered for himself an anti-constitutional third term. The press, the parliament, the judiciary, the business élite are all in his pocket—and there is no opposition. But Putin also knows that Russia cannot bear the cost of reconstituting empire or the gulag. It depends on the West as a market. One lesson of the Soviet experience is that isolation ends in poverty. Putin’s is a new and subtler game: he is the autocrat who calls on the widow of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn..."

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More on military shakeup in Nigeria

According to Leadership, a newspaper in Abuja, there's more than meets the eye in the new military hierarchy.

How would your students critique the 9-point response to the crisis offered by the ruling People's Democratic Party?

PDP Raises Alarm Over Coup Plot

"The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday raised alarm over secret plots by some group of persons in collaboration with some foreign entities to 'sabotage the nation and reverse the progress we have so far made as a democratic nation.'

"The party said it had some documentary evidence which suggested that 'some foreign entities who are hell-bent on creating instability in Nigeria in order to play down the growing influence of Nigeria in regional and international affairs,' are working in concert with the Nigeria United for Democracy (NUD).

"Apparently giving credence to the secret plots, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua yesterday approved the appointment of Air Marshall Paul Dike as Chief of Defence Staff. Dike is to take over from General Andrew Azazi, who is retiring from service...

"The PDP, while frowning at the development, urged security agencies to weigh in on the calls for the overthrow of established constitutional order.

"It would be recalled that NUD is an amalgam of some opposition political parties, which include Action Congress (AC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP).

"PDP's nine-point response is as follows:

"The call for an interim government has no place in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria...

"Contrary to the posturing of this group, Nigerians... have come to accept democracy as the only means for socio-economic development, the protection of human rights and the advancement of good governance and leadership rooted in accountability, fairness and justice...

"The attempt to supplant a popular election with an unelected regime [in 1993] led to a crisis that shook the very foundation of our country...

"Once again, the judiciary, which we all look up to as the last hope of the common man, has come under a vicious attack...

"It is also frightening that in this era of due process and the rule of law, the NUD in their statement advocated for a determination of conflicts 'politically rather than legally.'...

"The PDP believes in the structures of the Nigerian nation as presently constituted...

"The motive and intentions of this group are very clear: to create confusion and cause general disaffection within the polity, because of their failure at the polls...

"From all available facts before us, some of the conveners of the NUD are working in concert with some foreign entities...

"In line with all the above, the PDP condemns this reckless act and calls on Nigerians, including the security agencies, to be vigilant and nip in the bud any attempt to foist any illegality on the Federal Republic of Nigeria..."

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Education policy in Nigeria

To recognize the gap between countries like Russia and the UK and countries like Nigeria is part of evaluating the power of governments and the policy challenges faced by nation states.

How do the challenges of educational policy in Nigeria compare to those in the UK?

This report was published in This Day in Lagos.

Primary School Enrolment Still Less Than 50 Percent

"Primary school enrolment in Nigeria has been put at less that 50 per cent, with the north recording less than the national average. Secondary school enrolment figure is even worse with only 25 per cent for girls and 29 per cent for boys.

"Vice President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Issa Aremu... regretted that 'Nigeriaís educational sector has taken a leap backward with the re-emergence of new critical mass of illiterates who for various reasons are simply out of school...

"'The country's educational crisis has been defined in terms of failing quality, incoherent curriculum, examination malpractices, poor funding, dilapidated structures and abysmally poor sector management,' which he said has resulted in poor enrolment and an even poorer educational delivery to the few pupils fortunate to be in school..."

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Signs of a government in charge or in trouble

Nigeria military chiefs dismissed

"Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has dismissed the country's chief of the defence staff together with the heads of the army and navy...

"No reason has yet been given for the surprise dismissals, but an official statement said the men were retiring, a BBC correspondent in Abuja said.

"The move appears to be the first major change to Nigeria's military since Mr Yar'Adua came to office...

"The head of the air force, Air Marshal Paul Dike, has been promoted to become overall defence chief, the country's top military position.

"The BBC's Chris Ewokor in Abuja said that such dismissals usually only take place where there has been evidence of a threat to the government and it could be that the men had fallen out of favour with Mr Yar'Adua...

"Our correspondent said the sackings were a bold move in a country that has had more military governments than civilian ones in almost 50 years of independence..."

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Was his heart at ease with his successors?

Mao's successor Hua Guofeng dies

"Hua Guofeng, who succeeded Mao Zedong as chairman of China's Communist Party, has died, state media is reporting...

"Hua took over as chairman after Mao's death in 1976 and is credited with helping to end the Cultural Revolution.

"But Hua was himself quickly pushed aside by radical reformer Deng Xiaoping. His period as chairman ended formally in 1981.

"However, unlike former leaders who were purged and exiled to remote villages, Hua remained in Beijing and on the party's Central Committee...

[Short biography and posters from Stefan Landsberger's collection]

"Chairman Hua and we are of one heart" 1977

"Chairman Hua shows us the way" 1978

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Mark you calendars

Here's democratic centralism at work.

Now, once again, who is meeting according to the headline? according to the article? And who set the agenda?

China's top legislature starts five-day session on Aug. 25

"The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, will start a five-day session on Aug. 25 to review draft laws on food safety and recycling, among other issues.

"The Fourth Session of the 11th NPC will meet here in the capital.

"Five bills are likely to be debated. These are draft laws on food safety and recycling, an amendment to the Criminal Law, a revised edition of the Insurance Law and a draft of the revision of the Patent Law.

"According to the recommended schedule submitted at Monday's meeting of NPC Standing Committee chairpersons, the NPC will also discuss an additional protocol to the Organization Law of the Union Postale Universelle and three conventions on criminal judicial assistance with Namibia, Brazil and Japan.

"The session will review several reports of the State Council, or the cabinet, on increasing farmers' income, the protection of minors, the 2007 central budget.

"Wu Bangguo, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, presided over Monday's meeting."

Wu Bangguo chairing the meeting of the NPC Standing Committee in February 2008.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

British education policies

Sometimes it's necessary to translate news articles, even when they're written in English.

That's what I had to do to understand the report in The Guardian (London). Then I had to look up "A-Levels" to really understand the BBC report, since I'd never really been clear about what A-levels were.

Turns out that the "Sats" referred to are not what American high schoolers refer to as SAT. The British "Sats" refer to Standard Assessment Tasks which are evaluations used to determine whether schools and teachers are performing up to standard.

A-level exams, I found out, are subject-specific exams taken by British students in the final two years of secondary school. In those two years, students concentrate on 3 or 4 subjects and take A-levels in their areas of concentration. Passing 3 A-level exams is usually a minimum for university admission. (AS-levels are supplementary exams. While students usually concentrate on three subjects, they may study others in less depth.)

As in the U.S. with debates about No Child Left Behind, in the UK, "Sats" are controversial. In fact, a comparative case study examining the political issues surrounding NCLB and the Sats would be good practice.

The report about pass rates on A-levels offers complicating evidence of schools' and students' achievements, just like we get in the US. (Recently, it was reported that Minnesota students had the highest average ACT scores in the U.S. In spite of the high scores, almost half of Minnesota students going to college will require remedial work in mathematics and nearly two-thirds will require remedial science course work.)

(Begin my editorial comments)On another note, I wonder why no one has noted a margin of error or a standard for significant difference in any of these testing results. Journalists and politicians go on about drops of 1% - 3%, but offer no hints about whether those changes indicate real failures or just statistical variations within a normal range. Has no one studied statistics?

Oh, and what kind of nonsense is it to say that young people should be "reaching their full potential at age 14..." There are a lot of us who were twice that age or more before we reached most of our potential. (End my editorial comments)

Fall in Sats results for 14-year-olds

"Nearly one-third of 14-year-olds fail to reach the required standards in English, maths and science – a worse performance than last year, according to today's key stage 3 Sats results.

"The percentage of pupils achieving the expected level 5 in KS3 tests in English and maths combined is 66%, a fall of one percentage point on last year's figures...

"The schools minister, Jim Knight, congratulated schools on their results... 'But I am disappointed by the slight drops in English and science – reversing the rises of last year. We know there is more to do before all of our schools are truly world class and that every young person is reaching their full potential at age 14 and beyond'...

"'We are giving schools the tools they need – massive investment in support for teachers; more support for children's wider needs; and the new secondary curriculum starting next month, which will give them real flexibility over how they teach and the confidence to intervene earlier to give support to the right children, at the right time, in the right way.'

"But teachers argued that the results could not be relied upon and urged the government to halt Sats and review assessment.

"The shadow schools minister, Nick Gibb, said the government had failed to raise standards...

"The Liberal Democrat's children spokesperson, Annette Brooke, said it was time for Sats to be scrapped..."

A-level pass rate and A grades up

"There has been another increase in the A-level pass rate and the proportion of entries awarded the top A grade. [Like the girls at right?]

"Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications show 97.2% of entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland passed, up from 96.9%.

"A grades went to 25.9% of the entries, up from 25.3% - and in Northern Ireland more than a third achieved an A...

"There were a record 827,737 A-level entries and 1.13 million AS-levels this year from more than 600,000 students..."

And in a related matter, Sats marking contract is scrapped

"The firm responsible for this summer's national test marking "shambles", ETS Europe, has had its contract ended by exams watchdog the QCA.

"Problems with the marking of the tests, taken by 1.2 million 11 and 14 year olds in England, delayed results and prompted concerns about quality.

"ETS is to pay back £19.5m and cancel invoices worth £4.6m. The total contract for 2008 was worth £39.6m.

"The QCA said the five-year £156m contract was ended by 'mutual consent'..."

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic policies

Not Olympian, but Chinese policies for the Olympics.

As I looked at the blue sky and the logos in these two pictures from Beijing, I was reminded of the public policies imposed on the country and its people. How many could your students find examples of in these pictures?

Photographs by Wen Ling, the author of ziboy.com. Many more interesting and good teaching photographs at Wen's site.

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For better or best, but not for worse?

Is the EU only feasible in good times? Or was the post-WWII trauma so vital to it's success, that later generations who didn't experience the first half of the 20th century, don't get it?

Economic Malaise Threatens To Undermine European Unity

"Europe is joining the United States and Japan in what is turning into First World economic malaise, leaving the still-healthy emerging giants of Asia and Latin America to sustain global growth for the first time...

"The vastly more generous social safety nets in Europe have made it so Europeans are likely to suffer less than Americans from the global slowdown. But as the once-sizzling economies in Europe go cold, discontent with the notion of the E.U. appears to be growing. Ireland, for instance, dealt a blow to the future of the union in June by rejecting a treaty that would have, among other things, created a full-time E.U. president...

"[A]nalysts say the financial interests of Europe are diverging, highlighting the fundamental challenges at the core of plans to build one integrated European economy. Years of relatively fast-rising wages in Spain, Ireland and other of Europe's former dynamos -- many of which became overly dependent on building booms and surging domestic consumption for growth -- have made them less competitive globally. That happens even as the continent's economic powerhouse, Germany, appears to be regaining its footing with leaner companies and lower labor costs..."

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Statistical comparisons

Sanford Silverburg, who teaches at Catawba College, recommends the OECD publication, Babies and Bosses, as a source of data for comparative exercises. As he says, "This report appears to be a good source for a socio-political analysis of OECD countries and comparative political hypothesis testing." I'd add that it would be a great way of helping students learn to read and interpret graphical data.

The book is described at the OECD book store this way:
"Finding a suitable work/family life balance is a challenge that all parents face. Some people would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could match that commitment with their employment situation. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. Yet other parents who are happy with their family situation, may wish to work at different hours, or reduce hours worked to spend more time with their children. This book synthesises the finding of the 13 individual country reviews published previously and extends the scope to include other OECD countries, examining tax/benefit policies, parental leave systems, child care support, and workplace practices."

Here is the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Reconciling Work and Family Life in OECD Countries: Main Findings and Policy Recommendations
Chapter 2. The Demographic and Family Environment
Chapter 3. Parents in Employment - Achievements and Challenges
Chapter 4. Tax and Benefit Systems and the Work Choices by Parents
Chapter 5. Parental Leave to Care for Children
Chapter 6. Formal Child Care and Out-of-School-Hours Support
Chapter 7. Family-Friendly Workplace Practices

The book is expensive ($37), but there are lots of great charts explaining the data for OECD countries. It includes the U.S., the U.K., and Mexico. The book was published in December 2007.

The great thing is that you and your students can access the book, in .pdf format, from the OECD book store. (You have to click on the little icon to the right of the "Add to basket" link.)

Using Adobe Reader, you can enlarge the charts and the text so they are easily readable. If you ask your students pointed comparative questions and select the charts they should use, this could be the basis for a great lesson.

List of OECD countries

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The role of Nigerian journalism

Nigeria's press has remained relatively free and open since independence. Have the governments allowed this freedom because of respect for a free press or because the press' lack of power?

How does the political role of the Nigerian press compare to the role of journalism in other countries? Do your students know what "Fourth Estate" means?

From a blog, Grandiose Parlor by Imnakoya, who identifies himself as "a full-blooded Nigerian male. Although my origin is the southwestern corner of the country, I now belong to the massive pool of Nigerians in the Diaspora. I live in Minnesota, U.S.A." How does the role he suggests for the press compare to the role played by the press in the US, the UK, Russia, China, Mexico, or Iran?

Nigeria: Watch dog vs. lap dog journalism

"As far as I can remember, the Nigerian news media has always been flushed with editorials and reports on instances of poor leadership, political irresponsibility, graft and fraudulent activities among those in top leadership positions. Even lately, the Press has been insinuating that the presidency, the pinnacle of power in the land, has gone on a long sabbatical holiday.

"But should Nigerians even expect a different outcome from a political class that is a product of a flawed process?

"Beyond merely reporting what is wrong with our political system, how much input is coming from the Press to ensure the system is working as it should regardless of how the elected got into office?

"It doesn’t do anyone much good to just read about the activities and failures of the political class. Rather than being just an information disseminator, the Press should be framing the political and social issues in the country, and it can not do this simply through editorials and news coverage alone.

"What the Press needs to do in accordance with its position as Fourth Estate of the realm is to empower its audience by actively challenging the status quo in the polity...

"The Press is the only apparatus that can speak directly to the people, with its enormous capacity for advocacy and empowerment, it needs to step to the plate promptly, and arouse the political class from its slumber..."

The Fourth Estate

Brief descriptions of 10 prominent Nigerian newspapers

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

A fourth way?

Jonathan Rutherford, left, (professor of cultural studies at Middlesex University), writing in the Guardian, thinks politics in the UK is changing. Can your students find evidence to support or contradict his thesis?

The politics of relationships

"We are on the cusp of a paradigmatic political change. The era of economic restructuring with its blind faith in the free market, hyper-consumerism and winner takes all, is drawing to its close. Selfish individualism has been dealt a fatal blow by casino capitalism and unprecedented levels of personal debt. The politics of Thatcherism and New Labour is now defunct. Gordon Brown's tragic fate is to be the undertaker of his own endeavour.

"Interdependency will be the new political virtue. Individual market choice will no longer command policymaking. Instead relationships will be the priority...

"The new Conservatives understand this changed paradigm. David Cameron has said 'the greatest challenge of the 1970s and 1980s was economic revival. The great challenge in this decade and the next is social revival'...

"This is the language that once belonged to the left..."

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

While we're considering Nigera...

Will Conners writes in the New York Times about the paradoxes of Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city. The realities he describes provide some grassroots context for discussions of politics and governance in Nigeria.

Opulence and Chaos Meet in an African Boomtown

"Already a city of superlatives on the continent (it has variously been deemed Africa’s most traffic-plagued, most populous and fastest-growing megacity), Lagos has a new title to add to its mantel: most expensive...

"Even European cities like Stockholm and Barcelona, Spain, were found to be more affordable — and in Lagos the high prices are that much more eye-popping because the average Nigerian survives on less than $2 a day...

"Apartment rents... start at $3,000 a month, but rents of $6,000 to $7,000 a month are common here, and renters are required to pay two or three years of rent in advance.

"But high prices do not always mean high quality... no matter what your station in life is, it is impossible to avoid the city’s traffic or its lack of reliable water and electricity. Most homes and businesses... run on diesel-powered generators nearly 24 hours a day, resulting in thousands of dollars in energy bills...

"More than 70 percent of the city’s residents live in informal housing, crammed into slums with no electricity or water, according to Felix Morka, the executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Center, a local economic rights group..."

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When a leader ails

Or when people think he's ailing. A Nigerian political problem that is only secondarily ethnic or religious.

This op-ed piece was written by Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group and a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute.

Nigeria’s Sick Man Democracy

"How sick is Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua? In May, he admitted during a live television broadcast that he suffers from a kidney ailment, but sought to quell rumors that he was terminally ill by insisting that fears for his health are greatly exaggerated and politically motivated...

"With the fall of Nigeria’s dictatorship and the introduction of democracy in 1999, governors in the mainly Muslim northern provinces believed they had struck a deal with their southern counterparts on a regional rotation of the country’s presidency...

"Obasanjo found a compromise: he named a man he trusted, Yar’Adua, a little-known northern governor and devout Muslim, as his preferred successor...

"With so many challenges ahead, Nigeria can ill afford an ailing president. Yar’Adua insists that he’s fine and that his trips to Germany for medical treatment, during the election campaign last year and again this April, have been unfairly politicized... The true state of his health may matter less than public fears that he’s hiding something.

"Yar’Adua’s health worries are creating risks to Nigeria’s stability that run far beyond questions about the Niger Delta or any single political issue. If Yar’Adua were to die in office, his vice president would succeed him – returning the presidency to a southern Christian. Nigeria’s northern Muslims are highly unlikely to accept that result without protest...

"Only Umaru Yar’Adua’s doctors know for sure how sick he is. But as answers begin to emerge, we will learn much more about the health of Nigeria’s fragile democracy."

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Political opinion in China

A recent report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project focused on China.

It shows that satisfaction with the country's direction and economy has risen dramatically in the past 6 years. At the same time satisfaction with family life has declined slightly. What political ramifications do these attitudes have?

"The new data suggest the Chinese people may be struggling with the consequences of economic growth. Notably, concerns about inflation and environmental degradation are widespread. And while most Chinese embrace the free market, there is considerable concern about rising economic inequality in China today...

"While corruption is seen as a problem, most Chinese (65%) believe the government is doing a good job on issues that are most important to them. However, poorer Chinese and residents of the western and central provinces covered in the survey give the government somewhat lower grades than do citizens in eastern China...

"Overwhelmingly, the Chinese think their country is popular abroad - roughly three-in-four (77%) believe people in other countries generally have favorable opinions of China..."

If you'd like your students to analyze the whole report and hypothesize political implications of the attitudes, you can download the whole report from a link in the article.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Follow-up on anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria

Analysis from London's Financial Times

Nigeria anti-graft drive facing threat

"Powerful Nigerian politicians are seeking to derail attempts to fight high-level corruption by weakening the main anti-graft agency and hounding Nuhu Ribadu, its former head, officials within the unit have warned.

"The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, say that the new leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has removed dozens of senior investigators from cases against seven former state governors charged last year with looting public funds.

"'The view is that of a total takeover of the levers of control by the people who are supposed to be on trial,' said one EFCC official.

"Mr Ribadu, who led the EFCC after its establishment in 2003 under Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president, is regarded at home as the first Nigerian to have struck fear into a political class estimated to have stolen billions of dollars of public funds accrued mainly from the country’s oil wealth.

"Abroad he is respected for having led an unprecedented campaign to prosecute theft of government money and for collaborating with foreign police forces to curtail the e-mail scams and fraud for which Nigeria had become infamous.

"But the softly-spoken police officer, whose modest lifestyle contrasted with that of many of his targets, also attracted fierce criticism. A widespread perception that Mr Obasanjo was using him as a tool to persecute political opponents and exclude them from running at the polls cost Mr Ribadu some of his credibility.

"The EFCC is one of several institutions, promoted by the former government as the face of a new Nigeria, to have been shaken up since Umaru Yar’Adua became president in May last year..."

Another hint about the demotion of former Chief Executive of the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu comes in an article in Vanguard in Lagos. The article is titled, Ribadu - Why He Was Demoted.

Yinka Odumakin of the Pan Yoruba Soci-cultural organisation, Afenifere, is quoted in the article as saying, "we have other issues to take up with the Police Service Commission: We are alarmed that about 40 of the demoted officers, compared to nine from the North, come from the South-West zone, which means they are all Yoruba.

"We want to be convinced that this is not another continuation of geographical manipulations to ensure that a certain ethnic stock continues to take all the sensitive positions in the force now and in the future."

In other words, a Yoruba organization is alleging that the demotion of Ribadu was part of an "ethnic cleansing" of the EFCC by the government of northerner President Yar'Adua

See also:

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Friday, August 08, 2008

The British government is likely in trouble

Could the British regime be in trouble too?

Britons Think Their Society is Broken

August 01, 2008

"Almost two-thirds of adults in Britain believe their country is in a state of crisis and many blame crime and immigration for it, according to a poll by YouGov. 64 per cent of respondents think British society is broken, while 23 per cent disagree.

"When asked which aspects lead them to say that British society is broken, 57 per cent of respondents point to a high incidence of crime and anti-social behaviour, while 43 per cent state that too many immigrants are moving into Britain. Less than 30 per cent of respondents mention economic setbacks, problems among teenagers, misleading politicians, a widening wealth gap, and broken homes..."

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Antisocial innovations

When established systems don't work, people create alternatives. Is that the future of the Nigerian regime?

From The Economist

Cults of violence: How student fraternities turned into powerful and well-armed gangs

"Nigeria’s university system used to be the finest in west Africa, but today’s classes are overcrowded, buildings are crumbling and the curriculum has remained unchanged for years. The cults emerged from the shambles. Having started life as confraternities for the most academic students, they have deteriorated into gang violence. The Exam Ethics Project, a lobby group, says that inter-cult violence killed 115 students and teachers between 1993 and 2003. The real number may be much higher.

"The situation is particularly bad in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, the country’s wealthiest and the centre of the oil industry. Here cults have spilled beyond the campus walls to mix with the political militants, thugs and crooks responsible for a violent insurgency in the Niger Delta. Most city residents believe that nearly all of today’s most prominent militant leaders were or still are cult members...

"[M]ilitary leaders of the 1980s and 1990s saw the groups’ growing membership as a chance to confront the leftist student unions, often aligned with pro-democracy movements. So the confraternities were given money and weapons. They turned against student activists—and against each other. By the mid-1980s, violence had become so fierce that Mr Soyinka tried unsuccessfully to disband his former creation.

"As their strength grew, the cults’ influence on the universities became more malign. They exacerbated the corruption that had already bred in unmanageably big classes and deteriorating facilities. Today, older students and alumni flood campuses in the first weeks of the new academic year to recruit for the cults...

"Some progress has been made in tackling the cults at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, thanks to 200-odd security officers, covert surveillance and student informants. For the first time in over a decade there were no gunshots on the campus last year..."

See also:

Renewed Cult Clash Claims Eight Lives in Port Harcourt

This Day (Lagos), 3 August 2008

"After several months of reprieve, Port Harcourt city, Rivers State, lost its peace once again, as rival cult groups engaged themselves in a free-for-all that left eight dead.

"The renewed clash between two warring groups allegedly led by Soboma George and Farah Dogogo, left residents of the oil city scampering for safety.

"The fighting, according to report, started around NPA dock yard extended to Njemanze, Borokiri, Nembe Waterfronts and other parts of the state capital. The cultists were said to have freely detonated dynamites and engaged themselves with sophisticated weapons of war...

"The rival gangs are led by Sogboma George and Prince Farah, who are wanted by the Rivers State government for kidnapping and involvement in other criminal activities, police spokeswoman Rita Abbey said..."

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Russian poll results

No surprises from Angus Reid Global Monitor.

Four-in-Five Russians Approve of Putin

"Vladimir Putin maintains a high level of public support in the Russian Federation, according to a poll by the Yury Levada Analytical Center. 80 per cent of respondents approve of their prime minister’s performance, down three points since June.

"In addition, 70 per cent of respondents have a positive opinion of the way Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is doing his job, also down three points in a month...

"Polling Data

"Do you approve or disapprove of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s performance?

"Jul. 2008: 70%
"Jun. 2008: 73%
"May 2008: 70%

"Do you approve or disapprove of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin’s performance?

"Jul. 2008: 80%
"Jun. 2008: 83%
"May 2008: 80%"

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mexico's political system

There was a lot of press coverage recently about a referendum in which the overwhelming majority of people voting in Mexico rejected the idea of privatization of the oil industry.

While the debate about the oil industry's future is a really big deal, the referendum is not.

This, however, is a big deal for the government and the regime.

Mexican military losing drug war support

"OJINAGA, Mexico – This hardscrabble Mexican border town welcomed 400 soldiers when they arrived four months ago to stop a wave of drug violence that brought daytime gunbattles to its main street.

"But then the soldiers themselves turned violent, townspeople say, ransacking homes and even torturing people.

"The frustration boiled over this week. More than 1,000 people marched through the streets carrying signs begging President Felipe Calderón for protection from his own troops.

"Ojinaga, across the Rio Grande from Presidio, Texas, is not alone. People in cities on the front lines of Mexico's battle against trafficking say they are increasingly frustrated with military tactics – a shift in opinion that threatens to undermine Calderón's nationwide crackdown...

"A poll published June 30 by the newspaper El Diario of Ciudad Juarez found that only 18 percent of those living in Juarez completely approved of the army's presence. Two months earlier, the number was 65 percent. The poll, by Confirme, had a margin of error of 5 percentage points...

"A $400 million drug-war aid package just approved by the U.S. Congress does not require the U.S. to verify that Mexico's military is respecting human rights, as many American lawmakers and Mexican human rights groups had insisted.

"The requirement was dropped at the insistence of Mexican officials, who said it would violate the country's sovereignty..."

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Monday, August 04, 2008

The Chinese state, government, and political culture

Here's a beginning project for students: In terms of the basic concepts of comparative politics, what is Catherine Sampson talking about in this op-ed piece?

Which China?

"'What is not clear,' Simon Jenkins wrote... of the Beijing Olympics, 'is who will win, China or its critics'.

"We all know what Simon Jenkins means: that China's Communist party leadership is winning the short-term race to host the Olympics on its own terms, but it may face trouble running the marathon – the longer-term struggle. I broadly agree with this analysis.

"But when we use the word 'China' to refer to the small group of party leaders who wield power, then we play the Communist party's game.

"Saying 'China' when what we mean is actually the tiny group of men who run the country is a shorthand that we've all used, myself included. Before you roll your eyes and accuse me of being picky, I would argue that it is extremely important now, in 2008, to make this distinction...

"[T]his use of an all-inclusive 'China' is the most potent method of control that the leadership has over its own people. To raise questions about one-party rule – indeed to raise questions about pretty much anything – is to be 'anti-China', a dissident...

"I have lived in China for about 15 years... My sense, as I spoke to people about the things that were happening, was that there were far greater differences of opinion than at any time since the demonstrations and massacre of 1989.

"I encountered angry anti-western sentiment... I also encountered ordinary people – not people who would describe themselves as dissidents – who were furious with their leadership... I have heard people rail against propaganda. I have met taxi drivers who get their news from the internet and who can discuss intelligently the differences between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown...

"We must distinguish China the nation from the Communist party leadership which dictates policy. We must remember at all times that the Communist party is rarely united and that stability is often an illusion. And most of all we should remember that the vast variation in opinion among the ordinary people who make up China does not make up a monolithic will. The struggle, as it emerges, will not be between "China" and "its critics" – it will be the debate inside China itself."

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