Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 29, 2008

Dramatic changes in Mexican rule of law (maybe)

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on recent developments, but the headline is a bit of an overstatement. The changes described would take effect if the Senate also passes the bill and if the proposed constitutional amendment is approved by 17 of Mexico's 31 states.

Mexican Congress approves presumption of innocence, nixes warrantless searches

"Mexican lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a sweeping judicial reform that would introduce public, oral trials and guarantee the presumption of innocence, after deleting a proposal to allow police to search homes without warrants.

"President Felipe Calderón praised the measure, which would replace closed-door proceedings where judges rely on written evidence with U.S.-style open trials based on arguments presented by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

"'Changing from an inquisitorial system, like the one Mexico has today, to an adversarial system based on oral trials, as are used in the American justice system, will provide much greater transparency, much more agility in the administration of justice,' Calderón told a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce...

"The Chamber of Deputies passed it by a 462-6 vote Tuesday... and it now goes back to the Senate... Then, the constitutional amendment must be approved by at least 17 of Mexico's 31 states...

"Although the reforms do not create a jury trial system – only judges will continue to hear cases and decide on convictions – they establish public oral trials...

"Qualified public defenders will now also represent suspects, replacing 'advocates' who often lack law degrees. And for the first time in history, the presumption of innocence will be guaranteed in Mexico's constitution."

Another opinion about the proposed constitutional amendment in Mexico comes from a story at Bloomberg.com.

Mexico Lower House Approves Softened Anti-Crime Bill

"Mexico's lower house of congress approved a softened version of President Felipe Calderon's anti- drug bill.

"The 462-to-6 vote today came after lawmakers eliminated a clause that would allow police to search homes without a warrant in life-threatening situations...

"The package is part of Calderon's efforts to combat organized crime and quell violence. It would allow lawyers to make oral arguments to speed up trials and would give police the right to record conversations to be used as evidence...

"Senators rejected other parts of the bill in December, including a provision that would have allowed prosecutors on their own authority to freeze assets and examine bank records of organized- crime suspects. The senators said such clauses violated individual rights and gave too much power to police.

"President Calderon praised the anti-drug bill in a speech today at the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico, saying a judicial system allowing for oral arguments 'will allow for much more transparency, much more agility in the administration of justice.'"

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Complications of human rights

The question is whether the suppression reported in this BBC report is discrimination against women or a more general opposition to dissidents.

Iran 'targeting' women activists

"Amnesty International has called on Iran to stop persecuting people who campaign for women's rights.

"The human rights group says activists involved in a big campaign to improve women's rights have been targeted...

"Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has insisted women in his country are treated better than anywhere else.

"The so-called Campaign for Equality aims to collect a million signatures for a petition to push for an end to discrimination against women.

"But Amnesty says those involved in it have suffered harassment, intimidation and imprisonment. Dozens of women have been arrested...

"Amnesty says this is part of a wider crackdown on dissent in Iran, although it concedes that women have benefited in some way since the Islamic revolution of 1979."

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Political action in China

The Chinese political system is a complicated amalgam of the Communist Party, representative government bodies, and bureaucratic agencies.

How well could your students explain the place in the regime of the actions and the actors described in the Xinhua articles below, all published on the same day?

10th NPC Standing Committee concludes last session, with law amended, deputies confirmed

"BEIJING, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- The Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature, concluded its 32nd session here on Thursday...

"The top legislature passed an amended water pollution law, getting tough on corporate executives responsible for causing severe pollution by imposing hefty fines on them...

"The Standing Committee also approved the draft agenda of the upcoming First Session of the 11th NPC, candidate lists for the presidium and a work report by the 10th NPC Standing Committee...

"Attending the meeting were Wang Zhaoguo, Li Tieying, Ismail Amat, He Luli, Ding Shisun, Cheng Siwei, Xu Jialu, Jiang Zhenghua, Gu Xiulian, Raidi, Lu Yongxiang, Wuyunqimuge and Han Qide, all vice chairpersons of the NPC Standing Committee..."

CPC session ends, vows to deepen political reform

"The Second Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) closed on Wednesday with a pledge to deepen political reform.

"Hu Jintao, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, delivered an important speech at the session, which was held from Feb. 25 to 27 in Beijing. Participants included 204 members of the CPC Central Committee and 167 alternate members.

"A communique issued after the session... said that the CPC must hold higher the banner of democracy, stressing, 'It is a constant goal for the Party to advance socialist democracy.'...

"According to the communique, the session approved two lists of candidates for state leaders and leading members of the country's top political advisory body...

"The CPC session also approved two documents on deepening the country's administrative system reform and the institutional restructuring of the State Council...

"The general goal of administrative reform was to establish a simplified and efficient socialist administrative system with Chinese characteristics by 2020...

"The session also expressed concerns over social issues in education, social welfare and health care, and pledged to try hard to promote social harmony and ensure social stability..."

China issues white paper on "Promoting Rule of Law"

"A White Paper on "China's Efforts and Achievements in Promoting the Rule of Law" was issued here on Thursday by the Information Office of the State Council, the cabinet.

"The paper... covers such topics as the historical course of building a socialist country under the rule of law, legislation and a legal system with Chinese characteristics, legal systems to respect and safeguard human rights, and other social and economic issues...

"In conclusion, the white paper says: 'China's legal construction is still facing some problems' and adds that 'the task still remains onerous to strengthen education in the rule of law and enhance the awareness of law and the concept of the rule of law among the public.'..."

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More analysis of Iranian politics

The Economist published another analysis of Iranian politics. It's similar to the earlier Washington Post analysis that suggested that today's prominent divisions were generational. This analysis suggests the big divisions are political and religious.

New parliament, new policies?

"It's no longer reformists against conservatives in Iran but pragmatic conservatives against the hardliners.

"Its rulers have long boasted that Iran has the only democratic government in a region of despots and monarchs. The country's parliament, or majlis, is certainly not the rubber-stamp body that rules most of the Arab roosts. But the election due on March 14th shows why Iran's system of government is so hard to categorise. The ballot may be neither free nor fair, but the candidates vary, competition can be fierce and the results are hard to predict...

"On paper, the 290-seat majlis looks like any other parliament. It drafts laws, ratifies treaties (such as on nuclear non-proliferation) and debates the annual budget. In theory it can remove cabinet ministers and impeach the president for misconduct.

"In practice, it plays second fiddle to the Guardian Council... [that can] vet all candidates and can veto parliamentary legislation...

"With little hope of an electoral comeback, the reformists are glum. Four years ago they protested against their wholesale disqualification by boycotting the election...

"Indeed, the previous contest pitting conservatives against reformists has been superseded by one between hardline conservatives sympathetic to Mr Ahmadinejad (“men of principle”, as they call themselves) and more pragmatic conservatives less in thrall to revolutionary ideology. This latter group is gathering around a former nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani (who is running for a seat in parliament), the mayor of Tehran, Muhammad Qalibaf, and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaii...

"Mr Ahmadinejad's weak spot is the economy. Thanks as much to his mismanagement as to international sanctions, Iran is a rare big oil-producing country where economic conditions have worsened despite a tripling of oil prices. This may help the pragmatic conservatives...

"Tehran is Iran's political heart and soul, the low turnout among disaffected urban sophisticates means they no longer set the political pace...

"Iranian politics are dominated by personalities and factions rather than political parties. This confers an advantage on the hardliners, who can call on state organisations such as the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia to turn out their vote. Yet elections in Iran often surprise. The pragmatists might still do well in the majlis elections. That would not change Iran at a stroke: the lesson of the Khatami era was that real power lay with the supreme leader rather than with parliament. But a rebuff in the majlis election could damage Mr Ahmadinejad's chances of remaining president after June next year—and send a powerful signal of discontent to the supreme leader himself."

See also:

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Keep watching

Nigeria poll petitions dismissed

"A Nigerian tribunal has dismissed both opposition petitions asking that President Umaru Yar'Adua's election last year be annulled...

"Lawyers for both losing presidential candidates, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, say they will take their cases to the Supreme Court...

"Correspondents say a Nigerian president has never lost an election challenge but the decision was not a foregone conclusion.

"The country's courts have been exerting their independence recently - overturning other controversial results from the disputed elections...

"The BBC's Andrew Walker... says the ruling will fly in the face of what many Nigerians experienced during the election but most have already accepted Mr Yar'Adua's election...

"'The broader issue of how you get legitimacy as a president in Nigeria rests much more with what you do in government,' African analyst Anthony Goldman told the BBC...

"Neither opposition candidates claim they actually won the election - they had called for a re-run..."

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Worries in Nigeria

Watch tomorrow's news. Now that the Oscars are over, this story will probably make the headlines in the U.S. tomorrow.

Vanguard, a Lagos newspaper, reported on worries that the Appeals Court decision, to be announced tomorrow, might provoke angry responses. I'm sure that many people are thinking about the fearful precedents in Kenya.

Nigeria: Security Beef-Up Nationwide

"THE authorities are beefing security across the country ahead of tomorrow's judgment on last year's presidential election.

"The move, according to a security source in Abuja, is to prevent hoodlums and/or their sponsors from causing trouble on the strength of the decision of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal...

"The tribunal, last Thursday, announced that it would deliver its judgment tomorrow on the consolidated petitions of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidates of the Action Congress (AC) and the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) respectively against the emergence of President Umaru Yar'Adua in the April election."

Former vice president Atiku Abubakar, one of the complainants in the suit, released a statement in Washington, D.C. appealing for U.S. support in the court challenge.

Africa's Fraudulent Elections - A Non-Violent Alternative

"Nigeria will soon confront one of the most difficult challenges that any emerging Democracy must face, whether the rule of law as set by the courts will prevail. The Nigerian Supreme Court will soon decide if it will nullify last year's presidential elections on fraud charges. How the government reacts could well determine the future of the country. Nigeria is a sovereign nation, but the United States must urge the current leaders to abide by the Supreme Court's ruling. If not, the unfolding tragedy in Kenya and the violence in that neighboring country could well repeat itself..."

An Abuja newspaper, Leadership reported that the other compainant in the suit, Muhammadu Buhari, issued a statement urging the judges to make a truly independent decision. That was in response to President Yar'Adua's nomination of the chief judge in the case to a position on the Supreme Court, which was seen by some as an attempt to reward Justice James Ogebe in advance of a ruling favorable to the ruling party.

Don't Succumb to Pressure, Buhari Urges Judges

"Ahead of tomorrow's judgement in the consolidated petition against the election of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, All Nigeria Peoples Party the presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari has urged the presidentia not to succumb to any inducement or pressure that may be coming from the presidency..."

Buhari's spokesman said, " Almost everybody in this country acknowledges that the 2007 elections were flawed. Both international and domestic monitors and certain section of the so-called government have both agreed that the election was messed up. We are expecting that the court, being the last place where the common man will take his case, would do justice and pronounce the election annulled."

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

One-party democracy?

If you're teaching about Russia or about to, there's a good article for your students in Sunday's New York Times. It's part of a series of articles that "will examine the crackdown in Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin."

I think good questions to ask would be about the prospects for legitimacy of the regime under Putin's leadership.

Putin’s Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates His Opponents

"Over the past eight years, in the name of reviving Russia after the tumult of the 1990s, Mr. Putin has waged an unforgiving campaign to clamp down on democracy and extend control over the government and large swaths of the economy. He has suppressed the independent news media, nationalized important industries, smothered the political opposition and readily deployed the security services to carry out the Kremlin’s wishes.

"While those tactics have been widely recognized, they have been especially heavy-handed at the local level...

"Mr. Putin’s Russia is not the Soviet Union. For most Russians, life is freer now than it was in the old days. Criticism of the Kremlin is tolerated, as long as it is not done in any broadly organized way, and access to the Internet is unfettered. The economy, with its abundance of consumer goods and heady rate of growth, bears little resemblance to the one under Communism.

"Still, as was made plain in dozens of interviews with political leaders, officials and residents of Nizhny Novgorod over several weeks, a new autocracy now governs Russia. Behind a facade of democracy lies a centralized authority that has deployed a nationwide cadre of loyalists that is not reluctant to swat down those who challenge the ruling party. Fearing such retribution, many of the people interviewed for this article asked not to be identified..."

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

On the road

I'm going to be on the road (actually more in the air) for the next few days and probably won't have time to read all my sources and think about them. And I might not have the regular Internet access I have when I'm at home.

So, if you miss a daily reminder of the breadth and depth of the study of comparative politics, check out the index of blog entries. The link is at the top of the list to the right.

And here is another one.

If you find something intriguing while I'm not regularly online, please send it to me or post it as a comment. And send me questions, too. If I don't have a ready response, I'm sure someone else reading these, will.


Less guanxi, please

It's hard to imagine that anyone but Party cadres and academics outside of China would pay attention to this, but Xinhua featured it in the "Window on China" section of its web site.

It's another vague statement of opposition to corruption. Action takes place in a totally different world -- maybe not this world.

When Party leader Xi talks about the criteria that should be used for "selecting and appointing cadres," what is he saying about the criteria now used?

Senior Chinese leader pinpoints criteria for selecting cadres

"Senior Chinese leader Xi Jinping [above] has urged the Party to improve its criteria for selecting and appointing cadres in the process of building the Party in the new era...

"The Party should set officials' integrity, performance and their dedication to their work as an important criteria for selecting and appointing cadres, Xi said.

"The CPC's 17th national congress put forward the aim of increasing public trust in cadre selection and appointment...

"The Party should give special attention to cadres who have long been working diligently in places fraught with hardships and difficulties, and promote cadres who work hard, enjoy popular support and have political integrity, Xi stressed.

"He vowed to severely punish crooked Party officials linked to corruption and dereliction of duty."

See also:

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Opportunities for AP teachers

If you can take advantage of them, summer opportunities can make incredibly valuable contributions to teaching . The four that made significant differences in my teaching are
  • A 1972 Summer Institute in Anthropology at Hamline University
  • Reading AP exams in South Carolina, Maryland, Nebraska, and Colorado
  • A 1982 seminar at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, sponsored by The European Atlantic Movement
  • A 1990 seminar at Soest, Germany sponsored by the German Marshall Fund

Here are some opportunities (from the NCSS newsletter tssp):
  • The Summer Institute on International Peace, Security, and Conflict Management for Secondary School Social Studies Teachers sponsored by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP).

    Held in Washington, D.C., the program draws upon practitioners, scholars, and educators to work with teachers to examine sources of global conflict, and the various approaches to peacemaking and peace building. The current global environment presents unique challenges and opportunities for teachers striving to ready young people to take their places in an increasingly complex world. The program's activities throughout the week emphasize case studies, experiential learning, and shared curriculum exercises and resource analysis. The Summer Institute is designed to enhance substantive expertise and teaching skills in secondary school settings where global understanding is critical.

    The application is online.

    Who knows, maybe Chiapas will be on the agenda.

  • The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia sponsors Seminars all over the U.S.A.

    "Each seminar leader or team facilitates a 30-hour seminar on East Asian history and cultures that incorporates primary-source selections from the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean traditions. Individual seminars are adapted to the needs and curricula of the participating teachers..."

    Details available at the NCTA web site.

  • Global Explorations for Educators Organization is a new non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging and assisting as many teachers as possible to travel abroad. This summer's inaugural tours will go to Peru and India.

    "These trips are each 2-3 weeks in length and are limited to 10-15 teachers and their traveling companions. Tours are available to Peru and India and both of these trips are customized to include activities that will be particularly interesting to teachers. Graduate and professional development credits are available to participating teachers."

    Details are available at the GEEO web site.

    You can contact director Jesse Weisz at
    GEEO: Global Exploration for Educators Organization
    125 Conway Ave
    Narberth, PA 19072

    Jesse Weisz's e-mail is jesse@geeo.org

    Or call Toll Free 9AM-10PM EST, 7 days a week: 1-877-600-0105
    Or Fax: 610-667-8543


Different from the rest of us

A Russian bank's report allows Russians to proclaim, "We're number two!"

Number two at what? And what does this have to do with politics and governance in Russia?

Billionaires boom as Putin puts oligarchs at No 2 in global rich list

"While 'oligarchs' from the era of former president Boris Yeltsin have been purged by the Kremlin, a new breed of super-rich tycoons has thrived under Vladimir Putin, bringing the number of dollar billionaires in the country to more than 100. Russia now has the most billionaires in the world after the US...

"According to an annual survey published by Russia's respected Finans magazine... the number of Russian billionaires had soared to 101, compared with 61 last year...

"Many tycoons live in the wealthy ghetto of Rublyovskoye Shosse, near the Putin's dacha on the edge of Moscow, where Lamborghini showrooms jostle alongside Gucci boutiques. Plastic surgery is a huge growth industry, while elite restaurants and nightspots are booming. The capital's uber-wealthy set were shocked this month when their favourite club, Dyagilev, burned down. Tables costing up to £7,500 a night had ensured privacy away from the prying eyes of ordinary Russians, who earn less than £300 a month on average...

"The survey confirms the dominance of a tier of tycoons who have developed friendly relations with the Kremlin by agreeing to Putin's ultimatum to stay out of politics...

"While Russia's economic boom has begun to trickle down to an embryonic middle class, social inequality has risen as the super-rich accelerate away..."

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Threat to the Mexican regime?

News of Mexico via Al Jazeera? Think globalization.

This is probably a bigger threat to the regime than the uprising in Chiapas or the strikes and protests in Oaxaca. Would your students agree? Why?

Mexico's 'narco' uprising

"The warning note was written in a scrawling handwriting and nailed to the town hall of the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez near the border with the United States.

"'For those who don't believe it we will do it,' it said, followed by the names of 17 police officers.

"Days later, four of those on the list were dead, ambushed by masked attackers firing automatic weapons and driving brand new mini-vans.

"The murders of the Juarez officers are part of a recent wave of attacks on Mexico's law enforcement agents as Felipe Calderón, the Mexican president, tries to crack down on heavily-armed drug cartels...

"Analysts say the orchestrated attacks show that Mexico's longstanding drug violence has entered a new phase.

"In the past, rival gangs fought over billion-dollar smuggling routes... Now, the gangs are working together to defend these routes from the federal government...

"In the last two decades, hundreds of police, soldiers and politicians have been convicted of working for the cartels.

"One entire unit of army special forces deserted in the late 1990s to form a paramilitary commando called the Zetas, who work as bloody enforcers for the Gulf Cartel...

"Calderón's reliance on the military to take on the cartels has also sparked criticism.

"In recent weeks, groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations have highlighted accusations of soldiers torturing, raping and killing civilians during their missions against drug gangs...

"Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in Mexico City earlier this month, 'The Mexican army is not made for the fight against crime.'"

See also

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Clearing the air in Nigeria

We are all probably familiar with the rule of thumb about news from far away: The farther away from you that events happen, the more dramatic they must be to reach you.

Thus, we often hear about little other than violent conflicts, disasters, tragedies, and huge scandals from places like Nigeria.

We hear about the sectarian riots, but sometimes we need to be reminded that more mundane political and policy concerns are also important. Like pollution in Kano.

As with most political, policy, and environmental situations, this one is full of complexities. How many public policy issues could your students identify in this article?

The report comes from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks.

Motorcycle Pollution Causing Health Risks in Kano City

"Motorcycle emissions in northern Nigeria's Kano city pose serious environmental health risks to residents, according to health and environmental experts, yet the government has refused to pass laws to control the pollution.

"The government insists awareness campaigns are enough to right the problem.

"At two million mopeds or 'achabas' for five million people, the number per capita in Kano exceeds that of any other Nigerian city, according to Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the Kano office of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC).

"However, it is not just the numbers of bikes on the streets that worry residents; it is the levels of pollution they emit.

"'The two million motorcycles plying the roads of Kano produce as many fumes as six million cars - too much for a city of five million people,' said Yusuf Adamu Mohmmed, an environmentalist at Bayero University in Kano...

"The collapse of public transport services in most cities has led to motorbike taxis being adopted as a means of inner-city transport, according to Ibrahim.

"The problem in Kano has been exacerbated by the 2006 government ban on commercial motorbikes in Abuja, which led operators to head to Kano, where moped use doubled in a year, according to FRSC studies.

"Commercial motorcyclists have a habit of adding engine oil to their fuel to make it denser, Ibrahim told IRIN, which means it burns more slowly over a longer period, creating more pollution. Adding the oil can stretch a full tank of petrol to 10 hours of travel as opposed to just seven...

"The density of motorcycle traffic is also increasing the number of accidents in the city, according to the FRCS's Ibrahim, who says bikes cause at least 70 percent of the city's road traffic accidents.

"Kano General Hospital has a ward called the 'achaba ward' where only accident victims from taxi mopeds are hospitalised. 'We receive [no fewer] than 20 cases of 'achaba' accidents a day,' Samira Yakubu, a nurse at the hospital, told IRIN...

"For Sunusi Suleiman, a lawyer in Kano, the solution is simple. 'The government should pass legislation putting a ceiling on the level of emissions from motorbikes... All the government needs to do is firmly enforce the legislation without giving room to cutting corners.'...

"'The government lacks the political will to tackle the problem. Legislation and sensitisation should go hand-in-hand [to curb] this ugly trend. Nothing short of this will work,' stressed environmentalist Yusuf Adamu Mohamed."

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Down with landlords! Did we say that?

The 16 February issue of The Economist offers another, and more detailed analysis of the issue of land ownership in rural China. It's not going to be resolved soon, and it's a good example to illustrate how the Chinese regime functions. And why is it so difficult for the monolithic Communist Party and the government it controls to control the situation?

This land is my land: Peasants for privatisation

"'LAND to the tiller' has been a slogan of Chinese revolutionaries since Sun Yat-sen used it in 1924. Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 with just such a promise. Now some of China's peasants want his party to make good on the pledge. Late last year groups in different parts of China began simply claiming land as their own individual private plots.

"China's constitution decrees that rural land is owned by 'collectives'. But it does not make clear who represents these collectives. This vagueness has been one of the biggest causes of rural unrest in recent years. Rural officials, eager to make money for themselves as well as their localities, often appropriate land from farmers to sell to developers. They say they are acting on behalf of the collective. The farmers disagree. If they receive any compensation at all, it is only a fraction of the market value...

"Of the handful of incidents that have come to light where peasants have taken matters—and land—into their own hands, the first was in the province of Heilongjiang. A statement circulated on the internet in December by leaders claiming to represent 40,000 peasants in 72 villages in Jiamusi prefecture called on village representatives 'to pledge to fight to the death' to protect land from seizure by corrupt officials. It said the current system of collective ownership had turned peasants into serfs...

"Isolated groups of peasants elsewhere followed suit...

"The flurry of land-rights declarations was soon suppressed...

"The central government has given a frosty response to the idea of privatising rural land. On January 30th a senior party official, Chen Xiwen, said he saw no prospect of such a move. But some state-controlled newspapers have given unusual prominence to the issue...

"The government worries that the country's food security will be jeopardised by the loss of farming land. So it is alarmed that peasants living close to cities have increasingly been behaving as if the land is theirs anyway...

"In January the central government issued a directive reminding city-dwellers that they were banned from buying village properties. But enforcement is likely to be half-hearted at best... Evicting their occupants would anger the middle classes. Their wrath frightens the party far more than the tillers'."

See also:

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Leadership coalition in Russia

Putin and his assumed successor, Dmitry Medvedev [at left], spoke in public recently. Their messages weren't coordinated. It makes me wonder about the relationship to come between ex-president/prime minister Putin and President/ex-deputy prime minister Medvedev.

First a report on Medvedev's speech: Medvedev Pledges Reform in Russia

"The presumptive successor to President Vladimir V. Putin presented his platform... on Friday, giving a speech before business leaders in Siberia in which he vowed to continue Russia’s economic revival, but also struck markedly liberal notes...

"'Freedom is better than nonfreedom,' he said in his opening remarks, according to a transcript provided by his campaign. 'These words are the quintessence of human experience.'...

"'The talk here is about freedom in all of its manifestations: about personal freedom, about economic freedom and at last about freedom of self-expression,' he said. He added, 'Freedom is inseparable from the actual recognition of the power of law by citizens.'...

"Mr. Medvedev pressed on, issuing an implicit and broad indictment of Russia’s current state of civic affairs. He moved past the economic and political successes of Mr. Putin’s eight years in power and focused on the country’s deep and enduring problems.

"The courts, he said, are riddled with corruption, the state bureaucracy is weighted by indifference, predatory officials and bloat, and Russia’s business climate has been smothered.

"Mr. Medvedev, like his sponsor, outlined a need for more attention to social programs and health care. 'Part of the population is practically still socially comatose,' he said. 'They see neither opportunities nor prospects of improvement of their living standards. Hence, the drunkenness and a still very high level of suicide.'..."

And Putin's final press conference at president: Putin sees long-term role for himself

"In Vladimir Putin's valedictory presidential news conference, he claimed credit for Russia's rise from the ashes, accused the West of reviving Cold War fears and said he hopes for a long tenure as prime minister after he leaves the presidency in May.

"'I don't see any serious failures,' he said, speaking in the Round Hall, a cavernous Soviet-style auditorium in the cloistered precincts of the Kremlin grounds. 'All the goals that were set were reached, and the tasks fulfilled.'...

"'The premiership is not a transitional post,' Putin said. 'If I can see that in this capacity I can fulfill these goals, I will work as long as possible.'

"He strongly suggested he would govern in tandem with Medvedev. While the president sets the course for the country, he said, 'the highest executive power in the country is the government of the Russian Federation' — which he would direct as prime minister...

"As he has repeatedly, Putin declared Russia's allegiance to democracy. But then he went on to praise new laws that have eliminated all genuine opposition from parliament.

"At one point Putin contrasted what he called Russia's 'quiet' presidential contest, where Medvedev is almost certain to win over three token opponents, with the seemingly unending political turmoil in Ukraine.

"'Democracy is not a bazaar,' Putin said."

In summary, here is Vyacheslav Nikonov's op-ed piece for Project Syndicate. (Nikonov, president of the Moscow-based Politika Foundation.)

Putin and Medvedev: Teammates or Rivals?

"Vladimir Putin’s decision to serve as prime minister should Dmitri Medvedev become Russia’s next president has made their electoral success in March a virtual certainty...

"But, while Medvedev’s victory... appears assured, the important questions will arise after the ballots are counted. How will power be distributed between Medvedev and Putin?...

"Many commentators underestimate the prime minister’s powers. According to the Constitution, the prime minister is head of the executive branch, and the government is empowered to determine the main direction of domestic and foreign policy.

"Much depends on who is prime minister; heavyweight politicians holding the office can potentially eclipse the president...

"Of course, stability requires agreement between the two key actors; and there are sure to be plenty of opponents and allies trying to stir up trouble between them. But Putin and Medvedev have worked together for more than 17 years with no serious conflicts. Moreover, Putin has never made a mistake about the loyalty of the people he promotes..."

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Friday, February 15, 2008

AP workshops and summer institutes

While I was at the AP Central web site, I looked up workshops and summer institutes for AP Comparative. It's too late to go to the workshop on 15 February, in Richardson, TX, but the others might still be possible.

For details on these workshops and institutes, go to AP Central, sign in and click on the fifth (and last) green menu item on the left side of the screen, "Institutes and Workshops."

That will get you to a page where you can choose to search by course, dates, and states for workshops and institutes. When I searched for Comparative Government and Politics, here's what I found.

Now is probably the time to begin making plans for warmer weather. (There is a wide range of choices for summer institutes compared to the days, many years ago, when I tried for three consecutive summers to attend one. All were cancelled for lack of registrations. Just goes to show how long I've been involved with this.)

Comparative Workshops:
  • 3 March in Charlottesville, VA
  • 8 March in Santa Ana, CA

Combined Comparative and US Workshops:
  • 18 March and 19 March (for experienced teachers) in River Grove, IL

Comparative Summer Institutes beginning:
  • 9 June in Omaha, NE
  • 22 June in Athens, GA
  • 23 June in Little Rock, AR
  • 23 June in Falls Church, VA
  • 23 June in Northfield, MN
  • 24 June in Bellevue, WA
  • 30 June in West Seneca, NY
  • 7 July in Tulsa, OK
  • 14 July in Des Moines, IA
  • 21 July in Buffalo, NY
  • 21 July in Watertown, CT
  • 28 July in Charlotte, NC
  • 4 August in Greenwood Village, CO

Combined Comparative and US Institute:
  • Beginning 7 July in Morehead, KY

There's also an institute for experienced teachers of "Government and Politics" beginning 28 June in Taos, NM. The listing doesn't specify whether it's for Comparative or US or both. You'll have to inquire.


Finding "Simple" essay is not simple

A reader asked for help finding the essay, Comparative Politics Made Simple that I recommended a couple days ago.

What I didn't realize when I created links directly to the article, is that the AP web site is robustly secure. Making links directly to items several layers deep on the site is difficult for amateurs like me. I imagine that attacking the site or vandalizing it is even more difficult.

So, here is how to find Dr. Gros' essay.
  • Go to AP Central.
  • Sign in or register using the links on the right edge of the page (just above the green accent line).
  • Once you've signed in, go to the menu on the left edge of the page and place your cursor over the "AP Courses and Exams" link (it's the second green item below the blue "Home" link).
  • A sub-menu will pop up on your screen. Click on "Course Home Pages" from that menu.
  • That leads you to a chart with links to all the course specific pages. On the left edge of the chart, fourth item down is the link to "Government and Politics: Comparative." Click on that.
  • You've finally gotten to the "AP Comparative Government and Politics Course Home Page."
  • Scroll just over half way down the page. Under a heading "Feature Articles" and a sub-head "Teaching Skills," you will find the link to "Comparative Politics Made Simple." Click on it and enjoy Dr. Gros' fine work.

If nothing else, going through the process of finding this essay should illustrate what a huge enterprise the Advanced Placement program is. If you've taught US G&P and dealt with the characteristics of government bureaucracies, you know that huge bureaucratic organizations, like the College Board and the Advanced Placement program, exhibit distinctive behaviors. Just keep that in mind the next time you are puzzled about curriculum decisions, test questions, course audit approvals, etc.

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Propaganda war in southern Mexico

Finding a real understanding of the situation and events in Chiapas is not easy.

On 10 February, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported

Chiapas rebel desertion: "Nearly 200 families have abandoned the Zapatista rebel movement in Polho, one of its strongholds, turning to the government for aid at a time when the insurgents are complaining about the loss of outside support. On Wednesday, each family received initial payments of $43 in a ceremony with Salvador Escobedo, a top official with the federal government's Social Development Ministry. The government is promising similar payments every two months, as well as a school and medical center."

On 12 February, Bill Weinberg wrote in his blog at World War 4 Report, Zapatistas "stronger" —despite paramilitary backlash.

"Refuting widespread media portrayal of the 'erosion' (desgaste) of the rebel Zapatista movement, Jorge Santiago, director of the local group Economic and Social Development of the Indigenous Mexicans (DESMI), which has been working with Maya communities in the Highlands of Chiapas for 35 years, told Blanche Petrich of the Mexican daily La Jornada that 14 years after the armed uprising, 'we are stronger, because we are linked' with social struggles across Mexico. 'Our word has to do with the words of others. The people are beginning to have confidence in themselves as builders of relations, with the local base.' He especially credits the Zapatistas' maintenance of the moral high ground—'The decision not to instigate confrontations with the local enemies, in spite of harassment and the onslaught on their territory.'

The La Jornada article cited by Weinberg is El zapatismo está más fuerte que hace 14 años

"San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis. El zapatismo llega a sus 14 años de vida con una visión del país y del mundo que le ha permitido tejer alianzas continentales y contar con una base social que se ha expandido a regiones más allá de los límites de los municipios autónomos. 'Y con una conclusión: somos más fuertes, porque estamos vinculados. Nuestra palabra tiene que ver con la palabra del otro, de la otra. En la práctica, la gente empieza a confiar en sí como constructora de relaciones, con base local. Y con algo que no se trasluce en la información pero es muy fuerte: la decisión de no confrontarse con los enemigos locales, a pesar del hostigamiento y el embate que marcan su entorno.'..."

Weinberg also reports, "Paramilitary harassment of the Zapatista communities continues unabated. At Bolon Ajaw settlement... gunmen with shotguns and rifles opened fire on community members working in the corn fields... [and] routinely set up illegal roadblocks, threatening community members and impeding access to their farmlands. [Community members] blame the attacks on the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC), which they charge is a paramilitary group loyal to the political machine of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The source of the second report is Bolon Ajaw, nuevas agresiones.

"A Bolon Ajaw (Nueve Reyes, en tzeltal) se llega a pie, por una vereda que recorre un costado de las famosas cascadas de Agua Azul. Las 47 familias que habitan este poblado son bases de apoyo del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN). Son 200 hombres, mujeres y niños, cuya vida transcurre entre disparos al aire, agresiones físicas, amenazas, insultos, quema de milpas y casas, bloqueo a la entrada de su pueblo y una serie de hostilidades protagonizadas por el grupo paramilitar Organización para la Defensa de los Derechos Indígenas y Campesinos (Opddic)..."

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

280 out of 2,200 in Iran

According to Al Arabiya, Iran's Guardian Council has reinstated some of the reformist candidates disqualified by local councils. Maybe the disqualification of Khomeini's grandson was too much bad publicity. Maybe the religious elders are sensitive to public opinion.

Iran lets Khomeini grandson run in elections

"Iran has allowed revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's grandson and some other reformists to fight parliamentary elections after initially disqualifying them, reports said on Wednesday.

"Ali Eshraghi was one of more than 2,200 mainly reformist candidates disqualified in the initial phase of vetting... but has now been reinstated by the hard-line Guardians Council.

"The Guardians Council, Iran's main vetting body, announced on Tuesday that 280 of the candidates disqualified in the original vetting were being reinstated to stand in the March 14 elections...

"The reinstatement of the candidates came after prominent conservative and reformist figures complained bitterly about the scale of the disqualifications..."

See also:

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The headline sounds dramatic

How many "things" does this article tell us about the regime and rule of law in Iran?

Iranian Judge Bans Detentions Without Charges

"The chief of Iran’s judiciary has issued a decree ordering judges not to detain suspects unless charges are pressed against them, Iranian newspapers reported Wednesday."

But the headline is temporized by this note two paragraphs later:

"It is unclear if the decree by the judicial chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, will have much impact because the country’s intelligence apparatus generally holds people without charges, and it does not consult judges."

In order to provide more context, reporter Nazila Fathi notes that:

" Ayatollah Shahroudi is a senior cleric who was appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader. He has criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the past.

"Although he is a conservative, Ayatollah Shahroudi has issued several decrees in recent years calling for judicial reforms."

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Comparative Politics Made Simple

Here's a suggestion for Advanced Placement teachers. You've probably heard this before. Monitor the resources available on the AP Central Comparative Government and Politics pages. (That link probably won't work unless you're already logged in at AP Central. You'll have to go to the main AP Central page and register or log in.)

This morning, I checked in at AP Central to see what was new, and found something wonderful I hadn't seen before.

Jean-Germain Gros' essay, Comparative Politics Made Simple. (That link probably won't work either unless you're already logged in at AP Central.)

Gros, teaches in the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and has a fine skill at essay writing. He really doesn't make comparative politics simple, but he certainly packs a lot of important ideas into 15 paragraphs.

Look at this list of concepts discussed and defined in the essay: method of study, field of study, secondary sources, primary sources, normative, positive (empirical), theory, nation-state, units of analysis, levels of analysis, economy, state, political institution, ideology, culture, civil society, international environment, multinational government-sanctioned institutions, multinational, privately-owned corporations, international nongovernmental organizations, political economy theory, modernization theory, and dependency theory.

And he includes all that information in a flowing narrative that never seems like a list of dictionary definitions.

This essay can help students. It would probably be overwhelming as an introduction to a course, but it would make a great basis for a summary or review activity. You could ask students to supply examples for the concepts Gros discusses.

As Gros concludes, "... comparative politics is about serious issues... its raison d'être is quite simple: the world is diverse, not monolithic. Furthermore, the world is getting smaller... [and] knowledge is the sine qua non (precondition) for success in an interdependent... world."

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Good news for the Mexican president

Will approval ratings translate into policy-makng power?

Opinion Poll Shows Pickup In Approval Of Mexico President Calderón

"The approval rating of Mexican President Felipe Calderón rose in January as negative views about the economy diminished from October, according to an opinion poll published Tuesday by Mexico's El Universal newspaper.

"Calderón's approval rating rose last month to 66% from 57% in a poll taken in late October, El Universal reported.

"The Ipsos-Bimsa nationwide poll, conducted Jan. 26-30, was based on 1,000 interviews and had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.

"El Universal stressed opinions about the country's economic performance in explaining the change. It noted that while a similar number of people - 14% - thought there had been an improvement, fewer people - 24% compared with 29% in October - thought the situation had deteriorated from a year earlier.

"Of those interviewed, 32% thought the economy was doing well, up from 25%, and 28% said it was doing badly, down from 31% in October..."

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Purchase texts, books, and videos

Since Rebecca reminded me of Century of Revolution and I just recommended it, I thought it prudent to update the web page with links to purchase textbooks, supplementary books, and videos related to comparative government and politics. It is updated.

Now, I'm looking for recommendations of things to add to that page, so it's easier to find helpful teaching materials.

Add a comment below or e-mail your suggestions to me.


Newly re-available video on China

Rebecca Small mentioned this morning that her comparative class "just watched a chilling PBS clip on the cultural revolution in China. It always makes for a silent classroom!"

I asked her which video was so powerful, and she replied that it was "PBS' The Mao Years. It is out of print, but some are able to find old copies for sale on Amazon."

It turns out that The Mao Years was part of a 6-hour documentary series produced in 1997, and it was out of print until last July. It's now available on DVD at Amazon and from the producer, Zeitgeist Films.

I have not seen The Mao Years, but I have seen other segments and they are well-done and good teaching materials. If you have time in your course for a good history documentary, The Mao Years or Born Under the Red Flag about the two decades after Mao's death would be good ones to use.

Product Description from the Zeitgeist web site:
"China: A Century of Revolution is a six-hour tour de force journey through that country s most tumultuous period. First televised on PBS, this award-winning documentary series presents an astonishingly candid view of a once-secret nation with rare archival footage, insightful historical commentary and stunning eyewitness accounts from citizens who struggled through China s most decisive century.

"China in Revolution charts the country s most violent era where decades of civil war and foreign invasions led to the bloody battle for power between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. The Mao Years examines the turbulent era of Mao s attempts to forge a new China from the war-ravaged and poverty-stricken nation. Mao s death begins Born Under the Red Flag, which follows the country s new leadership of Deng Xiaoping and its unlikely transformation into an extraordinary hybrid of communist-centralized politics with an ever-expanding free market economy."

The prices are $31.00 at Amazon or $35.00 at Zeitgeist.

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Another interpretation of Iranian politics

Rebecca Small who teaches at Herndon High School in Virginia recommended this Washington Post article after I had clipped it out to recommend to you. Great minds (I hope) thinking alike, and all that. Thanks, Rebecca.

Thomas Erdbrink, writing in the Washington Post offers a slightly different interpretation of Iranian politics than the reformist vs. conservative paradigm that is most often seen.

In the version described by Iranian analyst Mehrdad Serjooie, the important political cleavages are between generations and between clerical and non-clerical leaders.

Iran's Clerical Old Guard Being Pushed Aside

"After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's followers toppled a U.S.-backed autocracy in Iran, he brought to power a coterie of politically engaged clerics who sought to create the world's first Islamic republic. Nearly 30 years later, a new generation of politicians is sweeping aside those clerics, many of whom had become proponents of better relations with the West and gradual steps toward greater democracy.

"The newcomers are former military commanders, filmmakers and mayors, many younger than 50 and only a few of them clerics. They are vowing to carry out the promises of the revolution and to place Iran among the world's leading nations...

"Analysts say the purging of those clerics strengthens President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most prominent leader of the new generation, and will result in a smaller political class that is more beholden to the supreme leader and less tolerant of even internal dissent.

"'The newcomers don't have the same power base as the old guard,' said Mehrdad Serjooie, a political analyst and former journalist. 'They have no reputation dating from the time of the revolution, no direct access to oil money and no important supporters.'...

"The struggle began almost four years ago with the surprise election to parliament of a majority representing the newcomers, and it continued with Ahmadinejad's presidential victory and the subsequent replacement of tens of thousands of experienced government managers...

"Ahmadinejad's faction, which calls itself "principalist," consists of newcomers who say they want to act according to the principles of Islam and the revolution. Many members are former commanders in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a force created after 1979 to protect the revolution. Members of another, more technocratic group have similar ideals and backgrounds but are at odds with the government on how to implement those principles..."

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Radio news on Russian politics

Juliette Zener who teaches at Newton Country Day School in Massachusetts recommended this bit of reporting from yesterday's Morning Edition on National Public Radio. If you'd like a bit of audio to accompany a textbook or supplementary reading on the politics within the Russian political elite, this is good.

Russian Clans Drive Kremlin Infighting

The NPR web site describes this 5-minute report this way: "To many outsiders, the Kremlin seems like a monolithic power base controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin. But some observers see the Russian government as increasingly split by internal rivalries."

See Also:

BTW, Happy birthday (February 12, 1809) to A. Lincoln and C. Darwin.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

What's liberal, again?

The Economist takes a liberal, free-market stance on economic and political issues, but even the editors there recognize limitations of the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal survey of "Freedom of the World."

The Economist analysis would be a good article to use with students when introducing economic restructuring. It's even better for teaching critical thinking. There are many important concepts in this little essay (e.g. liberal, liberalisation, freedom, monetary, fiscal, rights) and lots of logical connections (e.g. "To close the gap with high- and middle-income countries, they must do more.").

What assumptions can your students recognize? What limitations on those assumptions can they describe? What critiques do The Economist editors make of the survey? Are the critiques substantial? Are they substantiated? What would Nigerian, Mexican, Russian, or Iranian officials say about this survey. Would those opinions be better grounded in empirical data than the survey results? And what about political culture? Does the survey take local political culture into account? Should it?

Not liberal enough: African economies suffer from a lack of liberalisation

"Claims by some donor groups and international lenders notwithstanding, African countries have made negligible progress liberalising their economies in recent years. To close the gap with high- and middle-income countries, they must do more.

"Liberalisation of African economies in recent years has been overstated, according to the 2008 Freedom of the World report published by a US-based think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, and the Wall Street Journal. While the average economic freedom index improved some 5.7% between its launch in 1996 and 2004—the peak year for Africa—little progress has been apparent in the past four years...

"[In the survey] countries are assessed in terms of ten freedoms, with index scores out of 100. Africa’s lowest scores are for corruption and property rights, while its economies are most free in terms of the size of government, and monetary and fiscal freedom. Nonetheless, only six African countries rank in the free, mostly free and moderately free categories, while just over half the world’s mostly unfree economies are in Africa—as are nine of the world’s 24 repressed states.

"Freedom matters, the Heritage Foundation says, because there is a very strong correlation between the level of economic freedom and the prosperity of the people... Equally, inflation rates tend to rise as economic freedom falls...

"This underscores that fact that the correlation between economic freedom and income per head tends to break down in resource-rich states...

"[T]he report is gloomy about overall Sub-Saharan prospects, noting that the region ranks last in eight of the ten economic freedoms. Ironically, the single freedom for which the region scores higher than the world average—size of government—is more a reflection of weakness than strength..."

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sectarian disharmony in Nigeria

One of the final sentences in this Al Arabiya news story should be a grim reminder to us. It read, "Tension between Christian and Muslim communities is particularly high in the north of Nigeria and periodically flares up into violence."

It's one of the facts we need to remember when teaching about political culture in Nigeria.

Prophet caricature sparks fatal riots in Nigeria

"Students of Government Secondary School Sumaila, some 76 kilometers (47 miles) south of the northern city of Kano, went on the rampage late Thursday, after a Christian student suspended for two weeks returned to the school.

"The student had been suspended for having drawn a caricature of the Prophet and posted it on a wall inside the school...

"This is the second time in a week in the mainly Muslim northern Nigeria that an allegation of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed has sparked violent protests and an attack on the police.

"On Thursday last week police shot dead one rioter during rioting irate Muslim youth in the city of Yana (Bauchi state) over alleged blasphemy by a Christian woman..."

See also:

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Another academic resource

And here's another academic course web site that you might find useful.

Dr. Josip Dasovic is teaching several courses this year at the University of Richmond in Virginia, including introductory comparative politics and introduction to international relations.

His blog, Clouds, Clocks and Sitting at Tables is more than just interesting to read. I know it's only a supplement to his teaching, but for me it's a place I have learned some things and been reminded of others.

(The blog reminds me of the course diary I kept in the days before blogs, which often became the prompt for the next class. I'd reflect on what went on in class and write down those ideas that popped into my head after the fact. Sometimes those ideas were great places to begin the next day.)

One entry in Dr. Dasovic's blog for today emphasizes the realist view of Condoleeza Rice's international relations thinking. Another uses William A. Callahan's ideas as an example of constructivist theory. Yesterday, Dr. Dasovic described Lebron James' basketball behavior as an example of rational choice theory.

By now you're asking, "What about comparative politics?"

Yesterday, Dr. Dasovic prepped his class for an upcoming lesson on political economy that will compare welfare states in industrialized nations. It's the kind of lesson you could adapt for your class. (There's a historical lesson on that topic, Lesson 12: Social Welfare Policies in Western Countries, in the Center for Learning unit for AP Comparative Government and Politics.)

If you go back to his first semester entries, you'll find more things interesting and relevant to your comparative course.

The big one I've found that might be helpful is My Intro to Comparative Politics Final Exam -- Fall 2007.

This would be a great as a review exercise. Go through the questions one by one with your students. The first 20 items on Dr. Dasovic's exam are similar to the first FRQs on the AP exam.
  • First ask your students which of those 20 items might legitimately appear on the AP exam and which ones wouldn't. (At first glance, I'd guess that 12 of them might be AP-like questions.)
  • Then ask them why the ones that probably would not appear on the AP exam wouldn't. (Some of them ask about topics that are not even hinted at in the course outline.)
  • Finally, I'd ask students to prepare rubrics for the answers to the questions that might appear on the exam. (They might have to look beyond their own text book to do that, and that would be a valuable lesson.)

The "Part A" short essays are probably not relevant to most AP courses, but they do offer an interesting glimpse of concept-based questions.

The short essay questions in "Part B" are very appropriate for the AP exam. Would your students want them revised in any way to make them more appropriate? How would they answer them? (You could ask them to write answers or rubrics for these questions.)

Remember, if you use any of his idea, thank Dr. Dasovic


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Rule of law or rules of law?

Kathy Green, who teaches at Benilde-St. Margaret's in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, alerted me to this BBC report on a complex issue that would make a good debate topic for a class.

A thoughtful discussion is going on in the dignified press in the UK over the role of Sharia in Britain. The journalists would like the discussion to be more contentious, since that's what attracts customers.

For academic purposes, there are some important basic ideas involved in this discussion, and they are worth talking about. This report from the BBC mentions several.

Sharia comments trigger criticism

"The Archbishop of Canterbury has come under fire after appearing to back the adoption of some aspects of Sharia law in the UK...

"Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said such moves would create 'social chaos.'...

"Gordon Brown's spokesman said the prime minister 'believes that British laws should be based on British values'...

"Shaista Gohir, a government advisor on Muslim women and director of Muslim Voice UK, said she did not believe there was a need for Sharia courts because 'the majority of Muslims do not want it'...

"Shadow community cohesion minister Baroness Warsi... said: 'Dr Williams seems to be suggesting that there should be two systems of law, running alongside each other, almost parallel, and for people to be offered the choice of opting into one or the other. That is unacceptable.'

"Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said... 'Equality before the law is part of the glue that binds our society together. We cannot have a situation where there is one law for one person and different laws for another.'

"Trevor Phillips, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the 'implication that British courts should treat people differently based on their faith is divisive and dangerous'...

"Under English law, people may devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process.

"Muslim Sharia courts and Orthodox Jewish courts which already exist in the UK come into this category..."

See also:

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Another professor's web site

While I'm recommending academic web sites as resources for teachers, I'll repeat myself.

Another valuable resource is Dr. Timothy C. Lim's web site at California State Univerversity Los Angeles.

(Personal bragging sidelight here: my daughter teaches in the Cal State system, too. She teaches physics at Cal State East Bay, formerly Hayward.)

Dr. Lim is currently teaching Foundations of Comparative Politics, and has a considerable number of resources available on his course web site.

I've recommended his site before, but that was in September '06. That's almost long ago enough to call this a new recommendation.

What you'll find are Dr. Lim's syllabus, lecture materials (including Power Point presentations), online readings, and research hints.

For AP teachers, Dr. Lim's course and his book are especially good on comparative theory.

Once again, if you use this resource, drop Dr. Lim a thank you.


Resource for teachers

More complexity, if you can stand it.

Back to the course web site, Lisa Van Gemert recommended. That's the second prize.

Dr. Paige Johnson Tan's course web page at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is indeed good. The course is Politics and Government in Global Perspective. It appears to be a combination of comparative politics and international relations.

The lectures Dr. Tan has posted are more than mere outlines, they are nearly scripts. There are many good things that you could "borrow" for your own classes.

Please, please, remember to credit your source when you do.

Here are the complex details:

Dr. Tan is teaching about Britain, France, Russia, China, India, and Saudi Arabia. She's also teaching about democratization, ideologies, terrorism, asymmetrical conflict, negotiations, the Middle East conflict, war crimes, genocide in Rwanda, and global warming. (Whew! I get tired and anxious just typing all that.)

There is a lot of good information about all those topics and lectures about most of them on the site.

(For those of you who despair of meeting all the demands of the AP curriculum in a semester, Tan is doing all that in a semester, and her students take their final exam on May 6. The course began on January 10 and meets twice a week for 75 minutes classes.)

Thanks for the recommendation, Lisa.

And thanks to Dr. Tan for the wonderful resource.

If you make use of that resource, e-mail Dr. Tan a note of thanks.


Resource for researching elections

Lisa Van Gemert wrote from Texas with a simple recommendation that I have turned into two complicated blog posts.

Thanks, Lisa, this is great.

I've tried to keep the vital information at the top where you can easily get at it.

Here's the first part of my complex story. It's probably more complex than it needs to be, so here's the prize right up front.

IFES maintains an Election Guide. It's one of the sites your students should consult if they're doing research on elections. (See below for another.)

There's an interactive map displaying upcoming elections and profiles of elections going back to 1998.

The profiles include (sometimes) an overview of the stakes and participants, results, explanations of details, and links associated with the site. I have to say "sometimes" because, for instance, the results of last year's legislative elections in Nigeria are not online yet (8 February 2008).

Here's the complexity, if you're interested. If not, you can return to what you were doing.

I found out about the IFES Election Guide when Lisa Van Gemert wrote to say that Paige Johnson Tan's course web page at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is a valuable resource.

Lisa says she has found the lectures there useful. (More about that in the next entry, which in the perverse logic of the blog appears above this one.)

I was looking at that site and found the link to the IFES site mentioned above. It's a great addition to my usual source for election information, Election World.

Back in ancient times when the World Wide Web was just a baby, i.e. 1995-96, Wilfried Derksen started a project called Election World. It was a catalog of elections and results. It also became a catalog of political parties. It was a valuable and useful source of information.

Election World grew and grew and grew, and I suspect it became unmanageable for Derksen. At some point a few years ago, it became part of Wikipedia. Derksen is managing editor of the Election World section of Wikipedia. The catalog is still there and more complete than the IFES site.

So, Election World is another site your students should consult when researching elections.

Since we need to be skeptical of all our sources (not just Wikipedia), one of my first questions about the IFES Election Guide is, "What is IFES?"

IFES describes itself as "a nonprofit democracy development organization that works to give people a voice in the way that they are governed." But it's not easy to find that information. In fact, I had to go to a different web site, the IFES site to find out this much.

On their web site IFES says its name "used to stand for the International Foundation for Election Systems when we were dedicated exclusively to elections. While we remain the world’s premiere technical elections assistance organization, now we also provide a more comprehensive menu of democracy building services."

Those services are funded by U.S., British, Canadian, Swedish, and Finnish government grants, private contributions, and contracts with the United Nations and countries to which IFES is a consultant.

IFES describes five main areas of activity:
  • Civil Society programs:
    IFES works to strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to mobilize citizens to participate in democratic politics in a constructive and effective manner. Our civil society programs encourage citizens to develop civic initiatives, advocate for change and demand governmental accountability. We also offer civic education to citizens and CSOs around the world to increase their knowledge of and ability to affect their political systems.
  • Election Services:
    Emerging democracies often lack the institutional capacity and political will to manage elections or educate their citizens about democratic politics. To meet these needs, IFES provides comprehensive assistance to governments, political parties and civil society organizations in election planning and administration, electoral law development, and voter education. IFES seeks to bring transparency to elections by involving civil society in the process (in observer training, negotiations with national election commissions, etc.) and by incorporating anti-fraud mechanisms, such as political finance instruments, transparent ballot boxes, or inking voters’ fingers.
  • Governance programs:
    IFES helps to improve the transparency and efficiency of government institutions by building the management capacity, independence and professionalism of public officials in order to enable them to better serve their constituents.
  • Rule of Law work:
    The global experience and guiding philosophy of IFES supports the view that an independent judiciary, an independent media, and an informed and engaged civil society are crucial to achieving the Rule of Law. IFES' Rule of Law programs include multidisciplinary initiatives designed to promote more demand for reform as well as best practices in a number of inter-related areas, including judicial independence, judicial enforcement, transparency, accountability, open government, access to information, whistle blowing, coalition building and human rights.
  • Research:
    Current trends in research on democracy and civil society revolve around abstract or theoretical issues, examining the ideas that lie behind democracy building. Much of the work on the ground in democracy and civil society must focus on tangible realities and obstacles of day-to-day work in challenging environments. By bridging theory and practice with its nearly two decades of experience in both fieldwork and research, IFES seeks to balance the discussion and create appropriate democratization policies and strategies that are valuable to policy, academic, NGO, and donor communities.

That list and descriptions of IFES project areas would make the foundation of a good exercise with students. Give each area to a small group and ask them to explain, in theoretical terms, why and how the activities described promote democratic governance. Then ask them how Russian policies for the upcoming presidential election or Iranian policies for the upcoming legislative elections are in conflict with those principles.

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Another take on election observers in Russia

And here's another way to write up the story about international observers and Russia's presidential election.

Could it be that Russians are reacting to monitoring in the same way than some Americans reacted to the suggestion that international observers should monitor U.S. elections?

This article was in The New York Times.

Russia Rebuffs Election Watchdog

"Russia said on Thursday it would not bow to ultimatums from Europe's main election watchdog in a dispute over monitoring next month's presidential vote.

"The monitoring issue has caused friction between Western governments, which want reassurances the vote will be free and fair, and the Kremlin which has rejected what it calls foreign interference in the election.

"Warsaw-based watchdog the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has said it may pull out of monitoring the election unless Russia eases restrictions it imposed on the scope of the observation mission.

"Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters he regretted the stance of the OSCE body in talks with Russia.

"'ODIHR has been making public statements, the essence of which is that it has made its demands and if these are not met ODIHR will not come,' Lavrov said.

"'Let's put it this way -- in Russian, as well as in any other language, this is called an ultimatum. A country which respects itself accepts no ultimatums. We regret that this approach prevailed in ODIHR's stance.'...

"Western governments view ODIHR's verdicts as the best yardstick of whether elections in ex-Soviet states are fair. The European Union has urged Russia to remove what it called 'significant restrictions' on the monitoring mission.

"Officials in Moscow say they believe the watchdog is being manipulated by Western governments who are using it as a tool to attack Russia over its rights record..."

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Not a good sign of electoral legitimacy

How would your students explain how international observers increases the probability of domestic and international acceptance of elections? And, on the other hand, how would they explain the emphatic refusal of the US to accept international observers for its elections?

Could they explain what factors probably led to the OSCE's decision not to bother going to Russia?

OSCE to boycott Russian election

"Europe's main election watchdog says it will boycott Russia's presidential election on 2 March.

"'We regret that circumstances prevent us from observing this election,' said Spencer Oliver, head of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly.

"The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has been arguing with Russia over the size and scope of the observers' mission.

"The watchdog rejected concessions by Moscow aimed at averting a boycott."

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Reminder: Gapminder

Lisa Van Gemert, who teaches at Lamar High School in Arlinginton, Texas, recommended Hans Rosling's talk at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference in 2006. She wrote, "Rosling is a professor of world health at a university in Sweden, and he has done amazing research and developed the software to deliver the data in an extraordinarily fascinating way."

I agree and if you haven't seen it, it's worth the time to sit down and watch it. It's online at the TED web site.

Rosling uses Gapminder software for his presentation, and that creates part of the impact of his presentation. His enthusiastic explanations are also key.

I wrote about Gapminder and other graphic presentation software last November in an entry titled, Seeing Statistics. Check it out if you missed it.

And here's a reminder that you can see the categorized index of over 800 teaching comparative blog entries at the blog's del.icio.us site. You can view the index as an alphabetical list or as at Tag Cloud, which is another intriguing way to portray data.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Complications in Mexico

The cliché is that the devil is in the details. As this report from the San Diego Union Tribune suggests, the devil in changing Mexico's political system is in the culture. Things are rarely as straightforward as we'd like them to be.

In Mexico, a gain for Indian civil rights is a loss for some women

"SANTA MARIA QUIEGOLANI, Mexico – Women in this Indian village high in the pine-clad mountains of Oaxaca rise each morning at 4 a.m. to gather firewood, grind corn, prepare the day's food, care for the children and clean the house.

"But they aren't allowed to vote in local elections, because – the men say – they don't do enough work...

"Eufrosina Cruz has launched the first serious, national-level challenge to traditional Indian forms of government, known as 'use and customs,' which were given full legal status in Mexico...

"'For me, it's more like abuse and customs,' Cruz said as she submitted her complaint in December to the National Human Rights Commission. 'I am demanding that we, the women of the mountains, have the right to decide our lives, to vote and run for office, because the constitution says we have these rights.'...

"In Mexico, many local governance rules date to before the Spanish conquest and weren't given national legal recognition until a 2001 Indian rights reform was enacted in the wake of the Zapatista rebel uprising in Chiapas.

"The law states that Indian townships may 'apply their own normative systems ... as long as they obey the general principles of the Constitution and respect the rights of individuals, human rights, and particularly the dignity and well-being of women.'

"Despite this specific protection, about a fourth of the Indian villages operating under the law don't let women vote, putting human rights groups in a dilemma: Most actively supported recognition for Indian governance systems, and few have therefore taken up the women's cause..."

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Draft the protesters

Peter Finn's report in The Washington Post makes it sound like Putin's government is serious about suppressing dissent and perhaps paranoid about it.

Journalists have interpreted repressive policies like this in Iran as signs of political weakness. Does that interpretation hold true for Russia as well?

Kremlin Uses Military Draft To Curb Foes, Activists Say

"For two years, Oleg Kozlovsky [being arrested at left] has been a fixture at anti-Kremlin street demonstrations, confronting riot police and just as often getting arrested...

"Late last month, Kozlovsky was picked up by police, taken to a military conscription office and quickly shipped to a military base to serve a year in the army...

"Authorities are increasingly using the threat of the draft to intimidate the small but hard-nosed community of young activists who oppose President Vladimir Putin, according to opposition and human rights activists...

"Russia will elect a new president March 2, but opposition groups have pledged to take to the streets to protest what they see as Putin's determination to allow no challenge, however marginal, to the election of his chosen successor...

"The group Citizen and the Army, which opposes the draft and wants a volunteer army in Russia, said that in the past year it has documented dozens of cases of young political activists being taken to conscription offices...

"'Illegally drafting people is not new, and it's happening all over the place. But the political motivation is a new tactic,' said Maxim Burmitsky, head of legal defense at Citizen and the Army..."

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Pressures on Iranian policy makers

My wife sent me the link to Michael Slackman's New York Times story on what he describes as a mounting crisis in Iran. She recognized the relevance of this article to the study of comparative politics. That's a tiny bit of what she's learned from living with me and editing my books. Put these pressures together with the selection of candidates for the March elections and you have ingredients for real problems.

But, remember, the Chinese character for "crisis." It's made up of two other characters: one meaning "danger" and the other meaning "opportunity."

A Frail Economy Raises Pressure on Iran’s Rulers

"In one of the coldest winters Iranians have experienced in recent memory, the government is failing to provide natural gas to tens of thousands of people across the country, leaving some for days or even weeks with no heat at all. Here in the capital, rolling blackouts every night for a month have left people without electricity, and heat, for hours at a time.

"The heating crisis in this oil-exporting nation is adding to Iranians’ increasing awareness of the contrast between their growing influence abroad and frailty at home, according to government officials, diplomats and political analysts interviewed here.

"From fundamentalists to reformists, people here are talking more loudly about the need for a more pragmatic approach, one that tones down the anti-Western rhetoric, at least a bit, and focuses more on improving management of the country and restoring Iran's economic health...

"There are increasing signals, however, that the government is not interested in hearing other voices and is geared instead toward maintaining power by silencing critics. For the parliamentary elections, so far about 70 percent of all reform candidates have been disqualified...

"For years it seemed that Iran was evolving away from a state defined exclusively by revolutionary ideology. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, himself a father of the revolution, emphasized pragmatic economic ties. His successor, Mohammad Khatami, eased up on social restrictions and called for a 'dialogue of civilizations.'

'Then came Mr. Ahmadinejad, who rose from a new generation, a class of men who fought in the eight-year war with Iraq, and who have since moved to roll back Iran to a time when revolutionary ideology defined the state...

"President Ahmadinejad so changed the direction of the state that it has led many to assert that three decades after the revolution, Iran remains a place defined by individuals, not institutions.

"Nearly everyone seems to recognize that one of the biggest problems is the nature of the political system — divided as it is among multiple factions, each striving for access to power. It is not one devised to build compromise, and the internal fighting can send confused messages to the outside world...

"At least two views exist about where this is leading. One view is that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his radical allies needed to come to power to see that ideology cannot be a successful guide to running a modern state like Iran...

"Another view holds that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his ideologically driven allies will not give up power, and will not be driven from power..."

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