Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 27, 2015

Breaking news from the UK

Sometimes current events offer insight into government and politics.

British Tory MP to leave Parliament after lobbying sting
Conservative Party lawmaker Malcolm Rifkind quit Tuesday as head of the committee overseeing Britain’s intelligence services and announced his retirement from Parliament, after being caught in a hidden-camera sting appearing to discuss swapping political influence for money.

Rifkind, a former foreign minister and one of his party’s most senior lawmakers, called the allegations against him “contemptible.” But said he did not want the vital work of the Intelligence and Security Committee to be “distracted or affected by controversy as to my personal position.”…

Rifkind was caught in a sting along with former Labour Party foreign secretary Jack Straw, who was already planning to leave Parliament in May…

The return of corruption allegations is unwelcome for British politicians during a close-fought election campaign. The reputation of Parliament has been tarnished by previous cash-for-access scandals and by revelations several years ago that lawmakers had claimed taxpayer-funded expenses for second homes and items including porn movies, horse manure and an ornamental duck house.

UKIP’s support slips in polls before Britain’s May election
Support for the anti-EU UK Independence Party has slipped less than three months before a national election, following a slew of negative publicity, denting its hopes of winning more seats in parliament, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday.

UKIP won European elections in Britain last May, has regularly been getting 15 per cent in opinion polls, and has even spoken of holding the balance of power after the election.

But a Comres poll for the Daily Mail newspaper put the party… at 13 per cent…

An Ashcroft poll on Monday put UKIP at just 11 per cent…

A YouGov poll in the Sun newspaper showed more than half of voters now want the Conservatives – in a ruling coalition with the Liberal Democrats – and the opposition Labour Party to rule out a post-election pact with UKIP…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam. BUY IT HERE.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is AVAILABLE HERE.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nigerian campaign speech in London

Presidential candidate Buhari gave a major campaign speech in London a couple days ago.

Why in London? I can think of two good reasons: first of all there's a large and influential group of Nigerian voters in London and, secondly, the international reporting on the speech would be greater than if it were given in Abuja or Lagos  (and will probably be seen by other international groups of Nigerians).

Stanley Lorenzo sent me (thank you) the link to the transcript published in Nigeria's The Sun.

Buhari’s Chatham House speech (full transcript)
Now, let me quickly turn to Nigeria. As you all know, Nigeria’s fourth republic is in its 16th year and this general election will be the fifth in a row. This is a major sign of progress for us, given that our first republic lasted five years and three months, the second republic ended after four years and two months and the third republic was a still-birth. However, longevity is not the only reason why everyone is so interested in this election.

The major difference this time around is that for the very first time since transition to civil rule in 1999, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is facing its stiffest opposition so far from our party the All Progressives Congress (APC). We once had about 50 political parties, but with no real competition. Now Nigeria is transitioning from a dominant party system to a competitive electoral polity, which is a major marker on the road to democratic consolidation. As you know, peaceful alternation of power through competitive elections have happened in Ghana, Senegal, Malawi and Mauritius in recent times. The prospects of democratic consolidation in Africa will be further brightened when that eventually happens in Nigeria…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools, the original version and v2.0 are available HERE.

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A little protest goes a long way (in the media)

Echoing the 2009 protests in Iran, the conservative judiciary (all clerics) and the Twitterverse (probably not clerics) take sides again.

Iranians protest Khatami media blackout online
Some Iranians on social media have launched the hashtag “We will be Khatami’s media” in Persian after Tehran banned media from mentioning name of former President Mohammed Khatami, who was known as a reformer…

On Monday, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the spokesman for Iran’s judiciary said Tehran’s justice department had issued a ruling that prohibits any mentions of Khatami in the Iranian media.

“There is an order that bans the media from publishing photos or reports about this person,” Mohseni-Eje’i said, referring to Khatami without naming him, according to the semi-official Isna news agency.

Iran’s judicial system is dominated by conservatives and works separately from President Hassan Rowhani’s government, leaving the leader incapable of influencing its decisions…

A Facebook page, which garnered 26,810 likes… was also created.

The page was filled with Khatami’s pictures and the hashtag “we will be Khatamai’s media.”

Khatami, who became president starting 1997 till 2005, was regarded as Iran’s first reformist president. His campaign was on the rule of law, democracy and the inclusion of all Iranians in the political decision-making process…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is NOW AVAILABLE. Buy it here.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New ideas from the UK

In most political cultures, there are no ideological restrictions on personal beliefs. But some things just don't go over well in the public sphere.

BTW, David Tredinnick attended Eton College, earned a degree from St. John's College, Oxford, and an MBA at the University of Cape Town. He has been an MP since 1987.

Astrology could help take pressure off NHS doctors, claims Conservative MP
A Conservative MP has claimed that astrology could have “a role to play in healthcare”.

David Tredinnick said astrology, along with complementary medicine, could take pressure off NHS doctors, but acknowledged that any attempt to spend taxpayers’ money on consulting the stars would cause “a huge row”.

He criticised the BBC and TV scientist Professor Brian Cox for taking a “dismissive” approach to astrology, and accused opponents of being “racially prejudiced”.

The MP for Bosworth, in Leicestershire, who is a Capricorn and in 2010 paid back £755 he had claimed in expenses for software that used astrology to diagnose medical conditions, told Astrological Journal: “I do believe that astrology and complementary medicine would help take the huge pressure off doctors…

Opposition to astrology is driven by “superstition, ignorance and prejudice”, he said. “It tends to be based on superstition, with scientists reacting emotionally, which is always a great irony.

“They are also ignorant, because they never study the subject and just say that it is all to do with what appears in the newspapers, which it is not, and they are deeply prejudiced, and racially prejudiced, which is troubling.”

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.

It's available HERE.

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Quick Russian history lesson

Another discovery by John Unruh-Friesen is this excellent three and a half minute summary of the 1991 coup attempt in Russia.


I think it's worth reminding students that 2 years after Yeltsin led the defense of the Russian "White House," troops loyal to Yeltsin attacked the same building when the legislature tried to take control of the government.

There is no narration in this film clip, but the video of army tanks firing on the headquarters of the Duma is dramatic.

Under what circumstances can you imagine the PLA firing on the Great Hall of the People? Or the British Army firing on Westminster?

The Sixth Edition of What You Need to Know is also available from the publisher HERE.

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Fun with politics

John Unruh-Friesen, who teaches in Minnetonka, MN, found the following bit of mocking humor from John Oliver about the Labour Party's attempt to win women's votes in the upcoming election. (Think stress relief.)

The Sixth Edition of What You Need to Know is available from the publisher HERE.

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Campaign funding, another case study

Here are the numbers from the UK. How do they and the financing methods compare to those in other countries?

Political donations: Conservatives received most in final quarter of 2014
The Conservatives received the most in donations in the final quarter of 2014, according to the Electoral Commission.

The party took home £8,345,687, compared to Labour's £7,163,988.

Ed Miliband's party remained heavily-backed by trade unions, and was also supported by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Donations to the Lib Dems totalled £3,038,500 - giving the party an annual record total - while UKIP reported £1,505,055 and the Greens £248,520…

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said donations were higher than normal because of the upcoming general election…

In addition to these donations, six parties accepted £3,834,816 from public funds during the final quarter of the year…

Unison [public service], Unite [industrial workers], and GMB [trade workers] unions were the top three biggest donors in the final quarter of 2014, giving more than £3.6m combined to the Labour Party…

Meanwhile, the biggest donor to the Conservatives was Michael D Gooley [founder of the UK's largest travel agency], who gave the party £500,000.

The Lib Dems reported a £400,000 donation from Max Batley, while UKIP received £394,254 from Rock Services Limited…

There have been £65.6m of donations for political parties in 2014.

The Conservatives received the most money in donations last year - £28.9m, compared to £18.7m for Labour, £8.2m for the Lib Dems, £3.8m for UKIP and £3.7m for the SNP.

Despite recent poor poll performances, the Lib Dems set a new party record, raising £1.5m more in 2014 than their previous annual record.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools, the original version and v2.0 are available to help curriculum planning. Buy them here.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ah, pedagogy

Not only does Ken Halla post things about Comparative Gov Pol on his US Gov't Teachers blog, he posts things about the art and science of teaching. Here's a link the latest. Cause for thought and discussion.

Mastery Learning
[T]he doctor who helped bring my son Grant into the world had only delivered ten kids prior to us... Lawyers who can't win for their clients the first time, can appeal and law makers often have to try year after year to get their bills or amendments through. But as a father of two middle schoolers, I see how motivated students can be and how much they (my girls) want to improve their scores if they didn't do well enough the first time.

I have been transitioning... the last few years to mastery teaching.

I think mastery teaching has also been possible as I work more one on one with each of my kids than I have ever had time to do before...

The Second Edition of What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools is now available from the publisher

The Sixth Edition of What You Need to Know is also available from the publisher.


Limits on the EU

It's not just nationalist politics and nationalist economics that are imposing limitations on the EU. International terrorism is also threatening the vision of an open, multi-national society.

EU needs stricter border checks to disrupt terrorists, say leaders
European Union leaders have called for stricter checks on travellers entering the passport-free Schengen area, in response to last month's Paris attacks…

Schengen area
EU travellers can often avoid extensive ID checks under the Schengen agreement.

The agreement abolished internal borders, enabling passport-free movement between 26 European countries. The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland are not involved.

Spain had suggested that the agreement might have to be amended to permit more border checks on people suspected of having terrorist links…

Countries would "proceed without delay to systematic and co-ordinated checks'' on anyone whose movements are flagged as suspicious by databases that use unspecified "common risk indicators", the statement said.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz endorsed tighter controls, but said there were red lines he and other lawmakers would refuse to cross.

He warned that rashly curtailing individual rights in the name of boosting public safety would play into the terrorists' hands by discrediting Western-style democracy…

The leaders also called for police and judicial authorities to step up information sharing to prevent arms trafficking and money laundering and to effectively freeze assets used for financing terrorism…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Let's get this right

Here's a Chinese defense of its political and cultural values.

How well can your students critique it?

Why should China say no to "wrong Western values"?
The West breathed a collective sigh when Chinese education minister recently vowed to ban "wrong Western values" in universities.

Those who follow the antiquated paradigm of autocracy versus democracy will invariably label the announcement as ideological tightening and claim China is closing the door to western culture.

But this sort of conclusion, without prudent review of why the Chinese government resists these "wrong Western values" or the context of this decision, is in itself wrong.

China does not oppose the ideas of liberty, democracy, equality and human rights, which are among the core values of western culture. In fact, these concepts are included in the Constitution. However, China's understanding of these concepts may differ to the West…

There is no universal criteria to judge political values. Therefore, China must assimilate western values within its own political culture. Otherwise, it could ruin the future and fate of the entire nation.

China has always stressed the protection of human rights, which are the basic goals of countries seeking for good governance. However, it holds different values from the Western thought that human rights are natural born.

China holds that the concept of human rights depends on objective conditions, like history, traditions, and economic and social development, thus, there is no universal concept of human rights.

Unlike western countries, which pay more attention to liberty, protection of private property and other civil and political rights, China, a developing country, prioritizes the right to subsistence and development.

In addition, humans do not only have civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights.

Liberty is cherished the world over, including in China. In the political spectrum, liberty is a symbol of Western political thought that is based mainly on the individual. Chinese traditions and Marxist ideology, however, is based on collective liberalism…

China did not just stumble upon its current political system by accident, nor did it happen by random invention.

It is a result of a laborious processes of trial and error; reflection and institutionalization. During this process, some western concepts such as multiparty elections and the separation of powers were proved unsuitable for China' s development.

History has told the Chinese that denying the leadership of the CPC and socialism leads to chaos and stagnation…

As for political systems, China welcomes equal discussion and study, rather than criticism or lack of consideration of others' conditions.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is a clear guide to the course content.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Summary sheets

Ken Halla keeps sneaking Comparative Gov Pol things into his US Government Teachers Blog. (And I try to repost them to a wider audience. Summary/review sheets like this are great tools. I recommend using them in my What You Need to Know book.)

Today he offered a link to "Country Review Sheets AP Comparative."
He wrote, "Last year I started having my students fill out these country e-sheets for AP Comparative.

"I credit the assignment with [being] one of the reasons why my kids had some great scores last year...

"[W]e watch our flipped videos and discuss them. For my discussion I use the Socratic method and do it in a comparative sense so that the kids are constantly referring back to previous countries we have done. If you look at the AP Comparative multiple choice and FRQs this is what they do, so it is a good idea to constantly do it in class.

 "We also constantly refer back to US government so they do not forget that material as well."

The Sixth Edition of What You Need to Know is available here.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

YouTube cartoons from China

Three cartoons supporting the Communist Party of China's campaign against corruption have been big hits on Youku, a Chinese version of YouTube.

They are combined in the YouTube video below (7 minutes total), but beware.

There are subtitles, but they are fast moving and hard to read. You might want to stop the video and read them the first time through. Then show the video again when everyone knows the topic of each scene. President Xi is recognizable, but no other characters are. They are probably symbolic, but most of the meanings went over my head. If you do better than I did, add comments at the bottom of this post.

The Sixth Edition of What You Need to Know is available here.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Priorities? Capacity? Islam?

Understandably this issue doesn't get much publicity, but it's a good case study of the government's priorities and capacities. It's also a good place to question the role of Islam in the government.

Drug Abuse in Iran Rising Despite Executions, Police Raids
Iran is breaking bad.

Officials say methamphetamine production and abuse of hard drugs are skyrocketing in the country despite potentially lethal criminal penalties for users if they are caught. The increase is partly because of Iran's status as the gateway for the region's top drug exporter, Afghanistan — and partly because Iranian dealers are profiting so handsomely…
Iranian policeman and seized hashish
Anti-narcotics and medical officials say more than 2.2 million of Iran's 80 million citizens already are addicted to illegal drugs, including 1.3 million on registered treatment programs. They say the numbers keep rising annually…

Iran's health ministry was slow to finance rehabilitation clinics nationwide, but a growing network of private camps has sprung up that partly receive state financing, some of them run by former or recovering addicts.

"When I set up this shelter, authorities didn't support me. But after several years of hard work, they were convinced that it's better to provide care and shelter to addicts," said Majid Mirzaei, manager of a Tehran shelter for drug addicts and a former addict himself…

Officials say Iran's taste for illegal narcotics is certain to expand into greater abuse of heroin, simply because next door is Afghanistan, maker of three-fourths of the world supply…

Iran has also stepped up a public awareness campaign to prevent and slow down the dangerous trend.

"Increasing public awareness about the dangers of illicit drugs is the best remedy," said Homayoun Hashemi, the head of Iran's State Welfare Organization.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools, the original version and v2.0 are available to help create lessons.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pretend this article is an FRQ

How well did Simon Denyer of The Washington Post answer the question? Anything irrelevant here? Anything left out?

Oh, and who do you suppose are the "experts and officials" who are worrying about the alleged deterrence of bribery?

Without corruption, some ask, can the Chinese Communist Party function?
As China moves into the third year of its far-reaching anti-corruption campaign, experts and officials are worrying that without the grease of bribes, projects are stagnating and the economy is taking a hit.

Across China, more than 100,000 officials have been disciplined since President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive began, according to the government’s own figures. As a result, many others are sitting on their hands, delaying decisions and failing to grant approvals for investment projects, either out of fear that they could be caught up in a future corruption probe, or because, without a bribe, they simply lack any incentive to act…

On Monday, Premier Li Keqiang demanded that local officials sign a written pledge to carry out major economic and social policies faithfully, saying that their dereliction of duty had slowed the economy… Some officials, he said, were “taking a wait-and-see attitude, being reluctant to implement major policies of the central government,” China Daily reported…

Graft has certainly not gone away, but the anti-corruption campaign has taken a toll on the sales of luxury goods and on business at high-end restaurants and hotels. Some karaoke bars, where officials were softened up with alcohol and women, have closed their doors…

The new reluctance among Chinese officials to act appears, as Li said, to have accelerated China’s economic slowdown, although the exact effect is hard to measure — not least because official statistics are not particularly credible…

Arthur Kroeber, head of research at consultants Gavekal Dragonomics… describ[ed] anti-corruption as “just one of a set of policies designed to slow GDP growth to a more sustainable rate.”…

Some economists argue that the anti-corruption drive will ultimately make China’s economy more efficient and lower business costs, just as similar campaigns in Hong Kong and Singapore were credited with doing in the 1970s. Foreign business executives say it could help level the playing field…

“The party knows it cannot totally clean the system because the problem of corruption has been around for many years,” said Li Yongzhong, a senior researcher working within the anti-corruption system.

“It’s a consequence of China implanting the Soviet system, with a concentration of power, and officials being appointed by their supervisors rather than elected. Without reform of the system, appointing new officials can only treat the symptoms. It won’t make any fundamental difference.”

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dangerous… except for…

Another Western reporter has noted the anti-Western campaign in Chinese education. Dan Levin, writing in The New York Times, notes a couple ironies as well. Being ideologically pure is really difficult.

China Tells Schools to Suppress Western Ideas, With One Big Exception
Yuan Guiren
China’s education minister, Yuan Guiren… has been issuing dire alarms about the threat of foreign ideas on the nation’s college campuses, calling for a ban on textbooks that promote Western values and forbidding criticism of the Communist Party’s leadership in the classroom…

But the government’s latest attempts to tighten controls over the nation’s intellectual discourse have raised concerns — and elicited rare open criticism — among teachers and students who reject the idea that foreign pedagogy and textbooks pose a threat to the government’s survival. Indeed, they note, one of the most vocal arguments against such controls came from the education minister himself.

Four years ago, he told a prominent government advisory panel that restricting the use of Western teaching materials was wrongheaded…

[H[e added, “We even sent so many people abroad and they weren’t affected in the nest of capitalism, so why fear they would be affected here?”…

To gird China’s impressionable young minds, Mr. Yuan has been championing new guidelines, issued last month, that call on the country’s higher education institutions to prioritize the teaching of Marxism, ideological loyalty to the party and the views of President Xi Jinping…

The notion that Western ideas are potentially subversive has been greeted with widespread incredulity, especially among Chinese intellectuals who note that Communism itself is a Western import. Xia Yeliang, a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, said the campaign to vilify Western values was hypocritical.

“Was Karl Marx an Eastern person?” asked Mr. Xia, who was an economist at Peking University until 2013, when he was fired for what he says were his anti-establishment political views. “Weren’t Marxism and socialism adopted from the West?”…

Though many academics have kept their frustrations private to avoid losing their jobs, some have openly expressed concern that limiting the availability of foreign textbooks and stifling classroom discussion would undermine China’s quality of education…

Party ideologues have counterattacked in the state media in recent days, demanding harsh punishment for would-be liberal enemies, including prominent entrepreneurs, lawyers, artists and professors. In an editorial on Wednesday, Zhu Jidong, an official in the National Cultural Security and Ideology Construction department at the China Academy of Social Sciences, argued that the authorities must “eliminate the teachers who often publish criticism attacking the party and socialism before we can truly uphold virtue and condemn evil.”…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition can help explain details about comparative politics.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Farming productivity

One of the key factors of production (land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship) is land. Since efficiency is one of the key measures of how well factors of production are used, public policy comes into play.

The English countryside is renowned for its beauty and tranquility. Not so much for its efficiency.

[There'll always be an England
While there's a country lane,
Wherever there's a cottage small
Beside a field of grain.
There'll always be an England...

Will the MPs in London be able to recognize what they can do for the lightly populated rural areas of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland?

Dig for victory! Why British farmers are less productive than their international competitors
In the post-war decades British farms were among the world’s best. But that appears to have changed. Though it is hard to compare agricultural productivity across countries, attempts to do so by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the OECD, a think-tank, suggest that England is now less efficient than its competitors… “British farming may no longer be the world leader it thinks it is,” concluded Andersons, a consultancy, in a report in January. British officials agree.

What is more certain is that British farms are hardly improving. Productivity rose in the late 1990s as farmers managed to produce the same with fewer inputs—that is, costs such as labour, fertiliser and fuel. But the government calculates that farming has improved only slightly since then…

The country’s participation in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy might explain some of it. Subsidies from Brussels—now falling, but achingly slowly—help to keep unproductive farms alive…

[A]lthough its top farms are among the most productive in the world, many others just trundle along… They are often run by old, generalist farmers whose children have been lured away by good jobs in the cities. A Eurostat study of 27 EU member states in 2007 found that 62% of British farmers were over 55.

Another factor is a shortage of R&D investment. Britain’s public research institutes were wound up in the 1980s. Over the past two decades the country’s spending on agricultural R&D has fallen by an average of 6% per year in real terms…

Britain’s hot market in agricultural land—a popular, lightly taxed investment asset—is another problem. Although land is not always counted as an input in measurements of productivity, its steep rise in value (by 12% year-on-year, according to the latest figures) can gobble up cash that farmers might otherwise invest…

Finally, Britons may be more sentimental about their countryside than others. Farmers whose ancestors have tilled or herded on a property for centuries are reluctant to move or consolidate… Another suggested that Britain’s early industrialisation distanced farming from business and technology in the national imagination; for policymakers, farms became things to conserve, not reform.

Farmers may be custodians of Britain’s beloved landscape, but more of them also need to be entrepreneurs. The government could help by reforming subsidies, creating a clearer path into agriculture for go-getters with commercial acumen and underwriting long-term investment in skills, research and technology…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is ready to help.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Playlets about the EU crisis

Sarah Fisher, from out west of Seattle, posted a link to this wonderful pair of analogies about the EU crisis over Greek debt and German prosperity.

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John Green on Boko Haram (it's very good)

Thanks to Don Claravino for posting a link to John Green's lecture on Boko Haram.


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Voter fraud postponed

The election has been "delayed," and so has the voting fraud in Nigeria.

By hook, crook or chequebook
NO GOVERNMENT in Nigeria has ever come to power through credible elections. Even in colonial times stuffing ballots was the norm. Since independence few aspiring leaders have troubled much with the niceties of elections. Until 1999 military coups were more prevalent than ballots…

The election in 2007 marked a particularly low point, when candidates reportedly garnered millions of fake votes in some 30,000 fake polling stations… The 2011 elections were an improvement but ballot-stuffing was still evident. One innovative wheeze was, as the EU observed rather drily, “the high number of under-age registered voters” who took part in the election.

This time the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it has wiped millions of duplicated voters from the electoral roll, issued voter cards and installed biometric machines to stop people casting more than one vote…

Officials fret that party thugs may smash biometric machines. Using the police or army to influence the vote is also common. Last year the All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition, complained that the army had rounded up its officials and supporters ahead of a vote to elect the governor of Ekiti, a key southern state. Politicians from the ruling party say that it played no part in instigating the arrests and that it won the election fairly.

Even if neither party tries to rig these elections, Nigerians may not see
them as having been free and fair. With ten days to go before the [scheduled] vote, only 44m of 68.8m voter cards [had] been distributed. Opposition strongholds such as Lagos are among the worst affected, activists say.

Another problem is the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria’s north-east, an APC heartland…

Little wonder that a recent Gallup poll found that only 13% of Nigerians trust the ballot (see chart). With such question-marks hanging over the election, losers are likely to cry foul. An outbreak of violence seems all too likely.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is NOW AVAILABLE. 

Check the "Updates and Corrections" page as things change.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine special from Iran

Some signs that the Iranian revolution is losing some influence.

The No.1 mullahs dating agency
AT A loss to explain why most youngsters are delaying marriage or altogether shunning the idea of a happy union, Iran’s government is taking action. In Hamedan province, a senior ayatollah recently warned unmarried public workers to find a spouse within a year or risk losing their jobs. A gentler approach, announced in January, is the launch of a matchmaker website which, the government hopes, could lead to as many as 100,000 marriages.

For those who fret about such things, there is much to stoke concern. The traditional family unit is falling apart in Iran, as elsewhere: around one in three marriages in the capital, Tehran, fails.

The Shia form of Islam practiced in Iran allows sigheh, or temporary marriage that can last for as little as an hour. The government would prefer more durable pairings, however.

In any case, under-30s, who make up 55% of Iran’s population of 77m, seem far more interested in brief flings than marriage. Hence some 300 “immoral” Western-style dating websites have sprung up of late…

But its website, which launches later this month, is unlikely to make much impression beyond religious neighbourhoods where, in any case, there is little premarital nookie. “I would never put my name on a government-run site... no matter how desperate I felt,” says Farhad, a 32-year-old who has been single for the past three years…

Facebook, although blocked by government censors, is also popular among those who have the illegal software to get around internet controls. So too are house parties.

For some, tying the knot has simply lost its appeal. Women make up more than 60% of university students and the better-educated no longer long to be wives first.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Competing goals

Sometimes the limits of a state's capacity are not set by skills, wealth, knowledge, or good luck. What are the political and economic costs of cleaning (or not cleaning) the air in China?

The cost of clean air: Measures to combat air pollution are biting hard in industrial areas already hit by an economic slowdown
Last year on a typically smoggy day in Beijing, Li Keqiang, the prime minister, declared “war” on air pollution—a problem that has become a national fixation. Smog remains a grave danger in most Chinese cities, but environmental measures are beginning to show teeth. Regulators in the most polluted provinces are ordering mass closures of offending enterprises. In some areas officials are being punished for failing to control pollution…

The transformation will be painful. China’s new toughness on polluting quarries, mills and factories coincides with an economic slowdown that will make it harder to create new jobs for those laid off…

Mr Li’s war is especially bloody in Hebei, which is blamed for much of the smog in Beijing. Keeping the air of the capital clean is a political priority. Chinese leaders have been embarrassed by the damage caused to China’s international image by the city’s relentlessly grey skies. They worry that the smog could fuel dissatisfaction with the government and undermine stability in the capital, as well as affect their own and their families’ health…

On February 2nd the Ministry of Environmental Protection named China’s ten most-polluted cities in 2014. Seven of them were in Hebei province (a perennial winner of this grim contest)…

Farther from Beijing, in places where the anxieties of leaders in the capital are felt less keenly, some officials have been trying to shift attention away from the polluting industries that keep people in work. In Dazhou, in the south-western province of Sichuan, officials last month blamed their city’s smog on the smoking of bacon (a popular practice in local cuisine), provoking mockery online…

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bold move?

Asking your appointee to investigate you for corruption might not be a big deal.

The right place to start
[President Peña] announced that he, his wife and his finance minister will become the first subjects of a conflict-of-interest investigation. This startling decision was part of a package of anti-corruption measures that Mr Peña hopes will re-establish his credibility and popularity, which has been battered by scandal and public anger over crime.

President Peña
To succeed, Mr Peña must first of all establish that he is blameless…

[The investigation] will be conducted by Virgilio Andrade Martínez, a civil servant. Mr Peña has appointed him minister of public administration, a post that has been vacant for more than two years. The ministry’s duty is to monitor whether government officials are abiding by the law.

Anti-corruption activists question how impartial Mr Andrade’s probe will be, since he owes his job to Mr Peña. A panel of experts will scrutinise his findings, which will provide some reassurance…

A whitewash could discredit a broader effort to cure systemic corruption that plagues Mexico from the highest tiers of government to the lowest. The president called on Congress swiftly to approve a constitutional reform, put forward by the opposition National Action Party (PAN), to create an interlocking system of enforcement and supervision, rather than a single anti-corruption agency…

The involvement of both parties suggests that the reform has a good chance of passing. It has the backing of many anti-corruption NGOs. But it is probably not enough to change the behaviour of politicians…

A false start
PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PEÑA NIETO´S decision to expose himself, his wife and his finance minister to an investigation over conflict-of-interest allegations has unfortunately got off to a bungled start. The government minister appointed to lead the probe said on February 4th the he was unable to investigate the mortgage contracts that are at the centre of the scandal, raising questions about the seriousness of his endeavor…

Some accused Mr Peña of acting cynically in announcing with much fanfare an investigation that he must have known would be limited in scope. It is also widely noted that Mr Andrade owes his job to Mr Peña, and says he is a personal friend of Mr Videgaray… But Mr Peña’s anti-corruption drive, a belated bid to address his plunging popularity, has started on the wrong foot.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Voter registration in the UK

A couple years ago, the coalition government changed the way people register to vote. Following the American example (?), they made registration an individual responsibility. Before that registration was done by a head of household or by a membership organization, like a union. New voters in the upcoming election will have to be self-registered. Voters who were registered under the old system will be transferred to the new voter rolls.

A step forward? Good for individual responsibility? Voter suppression? An attack on Labour party voters?

This analysis is from the BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson.

Why young people should register to vote
"Can I get you to vote?"

That's what I asked when I took my ballot box to the hair salon to ask a group of apprentices whether they're going to bother.

Their answers… were revealing. Some argued there was no point because the system was rigged against them and nothing changed. Others insisted that if you didn't vote you couldn't change things.

… A new opinion poll has shown that as many as 800,000 young people aged 18 to 21 will not be able to vote in the general election because they're not on the electoral roll. That poll for the Electoral Reform Society also showed that 24% of 18-to-21 year olds haven't registered to vote. Another 9% had no idea whether they were on the register at all.

Call it apathy, call it disaffection, call it what you like, it's a problem. Politicians will always focus on those who might vote for them and increasingly that means older people.

The new system of individual registration is making that problem worse. You used to be able to rely on your college or student union - or Mum or Dad - to do it but now you have to register yourself. Having said that it's easy to do - taking around three minutes online…

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Teaching maps of Nigeria

Sue Witmer from Pennsylvania sent me a link to this BBC article. It's the best set of teaching maps I ever seen. Save this and use these maps!

Nigeria elections: Mapping a nation divided
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and most populous country - but poverty is widespread and the country is in the grip of a violent uprising by Islamists Boko Haram. The BBC maps the country's divisions ahead of its postponed elections.

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Politics is (are?) politics

It seems that the practice of politics in a variety of political cultures is in someways very similar.

If you can't make substantive points, argue about appearances. (I wonder if "intimacy" has connotations in Farsi like it does in English?)

Can you find examples of similarities from other countries?

Chastised at Home, Iranian Diplomat Refrains From ‘Intimacy’ With U.S. Counterpart
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was assailed by hard-liners in Tehran last month for talking a widely photographed walk in Geneva with Secretary of State John Kerry during a break in their talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

Conservative Iranian lawmakers even signed a petition asking Mr. Zarif to appear before Parliament to provide an explanation. “There is no conceivable ground for intimacy between the foreign ministers of Iran and America,” said the petition, Reuters reported at the time.

On Friday, Mr. Zarif, who has a well-deserved reputation as a smooth-talking diplomat who likes to banter with Western reporters, was much less visible.

Mr. Zarif and his team met with Mr. Kerry and his aides for more than an hour on the sidelines of a security conference…

There was no walk this time…

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Another case study

The low petroleum prices should remind us that it's not only Mexico that depends upon oil exports. Russia, Iran, and Nigeria also depend upon those exports. How do these low prices affect government and politics in those countries? And how do those prices affect government and politics in China? Is the UK immune to the forces of lower oil prices?

Mexico, which depends largely on oil revenue, cuts public spending
The collapse in global oil prices forced Mexico on Friday to announce large cuts in public spending, threatening several major projects, including the government’s showcase but controversial bullet train out of Mexico City.

Finance Minister Luis Videgaray announced cuts of about $8.5 billion, about 0.7% of Mexico’s gross domestic product. About a third of the Mexican government’s budget comes from oil revenue, and the price-per-barrel of Mexican crude has fallen in recent months from about $100 to $38…

Other sectors taking hits were the mammoth state oil and gas company, Petroleos Mexicanos, to the tune of $4.1 billion, and the unwieldy education ministry. Videgaray said subsidies on housing and seasonal agricultural work would not be affected, although pensions for the elderly would be reduced…

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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Analysing the Nigerian election

Here's an excellent BBC analysis of next Saturday's election in Nigeria.

Nigerian elections: Goodluck Jonathan vs Muhammadu Buhari II
Nigeria's presidential election on 14 February promises to be a closely fought rematch between incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari…

Past elections have been marred by violence and allegations of vote-rigging. Since campaigning began in mid-November, both the ruling and opposition camps have reported violent attacks against their supporters…

Fourteen candidates are contesting the election but only Mr Jonathan and Gen Buhari have a realistic chance of winning.

President Jonathan is seeking a second four-year term. His People's Democratic Party (PDP) has dominated Nigerian politics since civilian rule was restored in 1999 but now faces its toughest election challenge from Gen Buhari's alliance of opposition parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Mr Jonathan is expected to do well on homeground in the mainly Christian south…

Former military ruler retired Gen Buhari has lost the last three elections…

He is said to be extremely popular in the mainly Muslim north and has in the past supported the implementation of Islamic law there.

Gen Buhari is also expected to do well in the south-west around the commercial capital Lagos.

But former militants in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta have endorsed Mr Jonathan's candidacy and warned of violence if Gen Buhari wins…

While the personalities of the two main candidates have been at the forefront of this election campaign, certain key issues - namely insecurity, elite corruption among high-profile politicians and business leaders and the state of the economy - have become increasingly important to voters… [See the original article for an outline of the candidates' positions.]

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has promised a clean ballot. All 14 candidates have signed an agreement binding them to credible and non-violent elections. Official campaigning is due to end on 12 February.

To win in the first round, a candidate needs more than 50% of the national vote and at least 25% of the votes in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states.

Biometric cards will be used for the first time but the INEC says less than half of the nearly 70 million eligible voters have obtained their identity cards. The minimum voting age is 18…

Polls will open at 0800 local time (0700GMT). All voters must be present at their designated polling station by 1300 local time (1200GMT) at the latest to be allowed to cast their ballot. Polls will close when the last person in the queue has voted…

INEC has approved the presence of international and local observers to monitor the elections, although the European Union says its observers will not deploy in the north-east due to security concerns…

If there is no outright winner in the first round, the law states a run-off election must be held within seven days. But INEC has said it is doubtful whether a run-off vote could be organized in a week. Victory in a run-off election is by simple majority.

Parliamentary elections also take place on the 14 February, with 739 candidates vying for a place in the 109-seat Senate and 1,780 seeking election to the 360-seat National Assembly.

Nigerians will vote again on 28 February to choose new governors and state assemblies for 29 of the 36 states.

Like the president, governors are limited to two four-year terms, so this election will see a new set of occupants in many states.

Governors hold huge sway because they allocate federally disbursed revenue and shape policy on development and security in their states…

Candidate profiles: Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Soft power; hard covers

Are demands for ideological purity going to derail the process of change in China or just keep it under control? Is this more than power politics? And how does it compare with demands from Japan about historical accounts of the past?

China Warns Against ‘Western Values’ in Imported Textbooks
This week, China’s ideological drive against Western liberal ideas broadened to take in a new target: foreign textbooks.

Meeting in Beijing with the leaders of several prominent universities, Education Minister Yuan Guiren laid out new rules restricting the use of Western textbooks and banning those sowing “Western values.”…

Mr. Yuan said at a meeting with university officials… “By no means allow teaching materials that disseminate Western values in our classrooms.”

The strictures on textbooks are the latest of a succession of measures to strengthen the Communist Party’s control of intellectual life and eradicate avenues for spreading ideas about rule of law, liberal democracy and civil society that it regards as dangerous contagions, which could undermine its hold on power.

On Jan. 19, the leadership issued guidelines demanding that universities make a priority of ideological loyalty to the party, Marxism and [President] Xi’s ideas…

Chinese universities must ensure that the ideas of Mr. Xi, the powerful and ardently traditionalist party leader, would “enter teaching materials, enter classrooms and enter minds,” Mr. Yuan said.

The Communist Party has repeatedly sought to reinforce ideological influence over education, especially since 1989 [Tianamen protests]… But many liberal intellectuals said Mr. Xi has elevated fear of Western subversion to a new extreme, and the scrutiny of textbooks reflects that fear.

“Higher education has been designated as a major battleground of ideological struggle,” Zhang Xuezhong, a lawyer in Shanghai…

While the party is unlikely to entirely ban such books, its determination to cleanse schools of politically troublesome ideas seems unstoppable. At the same meeting at which Mr. Yuan laid down his demands, university officials lined up to endorse the ideological clampdown…

Japan asks US publisher to change 'sex slave' textbook
Japan has asked a major US publisher to "correct" a school textbook that references World War II sex slaves, the foreign ministry said Thursday, as Tokyo's bid to polish its history moves abroad.

Diplomats petitioned McGraw-Hill to change passages of a book used in American schools that refer to "comfort women", a euphemism for those forced to work in military brothels.

"The Japanese government, through an overseas diplomatic office, in mid-December asked McGraw-Hill executives to make a correction in the content of their textbook titled Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past," a foreign ministry statement… said…

And in December the government lodged a complaint with Beijing over a reference to "300,000" people who were killed when imperial troops swept through the Chinese city of Nanjing, in a weeks-long orgy of rape and violence…

Diplomats protested that the figure is "different from Japan's position" and that it is "difficult to determine the concrete number of victims," sources told Kyodo News…

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Thursday, February 05, 2015

More video treasures

Ken Halla has found more good material for comparative gov/pol and posted the link on his US Government Teachers Blog.

This time he posted a link to a good three-minute video titled, "Why does Iran hate the US?" This is a bit marginal for the comparative course, but it does help explain a lot about the motivations of political actors in Iran.

The real prize here is TestTube. It's an offshoot of cable TV's "Discovery Digital Networks." TestTube produces a short video each day on topics of current interest.

For instance, I found one titled, "How Powerful is Nigeria?" The Nigeria production is pretty superficial and only a beginning point for a comparative study of the country. But, what can you expect from a 3-minute news item? This report on Nigeria comes from AJ+, a producer of digital content from Al Jazeera America television.

Check these out. Subscribe and get updates. Evaluate and let us know what you find. Assign students to check the library of videos and report on the contents.

Why Does Iran Hate The U.S.?
The U.S. and Iran have a long history of aggression and deceit, but both countries desire to take down ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Can they mend their strained relationship to team up and defeat ISIS? To find out, we take a deeper look into the origins of their tension and distrust.

How Powerful is Nigeria?
Nigeria is expected to surpass the population of the US sometime before the year 2050 - which would put them third in the world behind India and China. Experts expect to see major economic growth during this time. So, how powerful is Nigeria?

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Out of the Party's control?

Has centralized planning gone awry or is this what the Party leaders want?

The great sprawl of China
IN ANCIENT times, Beijing built towering city walls that helped to prevent undefendable sprawl. These days it builds ring roads, stretching built-up areas ever outwards…

Breakneck urban growth has propelled China’s rise in the past three decades. Migration from the countryside has helped expand the urban population by 500m—the biggest movement of humanity the planet has seen in such a short time. Over half the population is now urban…

China depends on its cities for economic growth and innovation. But it is failing to make the most of its largest conurbations… Residents are beginning to question whether their quality of life, which for many has improved by leaps and bounds, will continue to do so. The giant cities are polluted, pricey and congested…

Most of China’s cities share the legacy of a central-planning mindset in which all life and work was centred on a single “work unit”. Cities were “built as producer centres rather than consumer ones”, says Tom Miller, author of “China’s Urban Billion”. Their planning focus was on industry; not commerce, services or even community. The work units are gone but the tradition of dehumanising architecture persists…

China has swapped its socialist dream for an American-style one of cars and sprawling suburbs…

The ill-defined ownership rights of farmers have encouraged the sprawl. Officials can expropriate rural land easily and at little cost. Doing so is far cheaper than redeveloping existing urban areas. Industrial land is heavily subsidised, so factories have remained in urban areas rather than move to cheaper sites on city outskirts…

Massive spending on infrastructure has hugely improved connections within and between cities. Since 1992 China has spent 8.5% of its national income on infrastructure each year…

Planners often ignore the needs of 200m or more residents who have no urban hukou, the household registration certificate that is needed for access to public services. Cities therefore have inadequate hospitals, schools and affordable housing…

The World Bank says that, at 54%, China’s degree of urbanisation is still well below the 70% expected of a country with its current income level per person. The flood of migrants will continue; by 2030 Chinese cities will contain more than 1 billion people. A change of thinking will be needed to make them better places to live in.

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