Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Equal social development

In China, it's not just the rural-urban inequalities that give rise to dissatisfaction. Some rural areas are less equal than others. Do regional inequalities threaten unity? legitimacy? authority?

China to improve social welfare in the west: Chinese Premier
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday that the government should improve the welfare system in the country's less developed western regions.

In a conference with Vice Premier Li Keqiang and National Development and Reform Commission officials about the "Western Development" drive in 2010, he said education should be the priority of social development in west China...

It was agreed the pension and medical insurance systems would be extended to cover more people.

The government should support the animal husbandry, tourism and mining industries, which were pillar sectors of west China economies, and encourage college graduates and farmers to start their own businesses.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A sound of Nigeria

Speaking of changing culture...

Reuters did a profile of Yaw, a Nigerian radio personality who speaks Pidgin English in his show and wants to promote the dialect to his listeners.

In a country with over 400 languages overlaid with English as the official language, what would your students say about a new invented common language?




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Change technology or culture?

Esther Dyson is the chairman of EDventure Holdings and an active investor in a variety of start-ups around the world. Her interests include information technology, health care, private aviation, and space travel. She was recently part of an advisory group in Russia. She's not sure that innovation involves just investment and technology change. Her conclusions have political implications -- at least for civil society.

To Russia with Social Media
I recently was part of a US State Department/White House delegation to Russia. Our mission was to foster US-Russian cooperation, in fulfillment of the US’s policies of  “21st-century statecraft” and citizen diplomacy. That sounds high-minded, for what the Russians were most interested in was how to build their own Silicon Valley.

The Russians thought that the way forward was to give tech companies some money and put them near a great university. Presto: a new silicon valley. For their part, the American delegation assumed that you could pour in some social networking and create a civil society…

I started my discussion with Russia’s government leaders by talking about my experiences as chair of NASA’s Innovation and Technology advisory committee. The issue, I said, was not really about funding technology innovation; it is how to create a culture that rewards thoughtful innovation and considers mistakes the price of learning…

All this is harder than simply building a university and funding a few start-ups. You need to change a culture from the ground up – and then let businesses grow, without too much interference, but with protection from monopolists, bad customers, and bureaucrats…

The Russian government (like the Soviet one before it) undoubtedly regards civil society as a threat. Indeed, some NGOs are a threat. But our unspoken message was that civil society is something that should be allowed to flourish if the authorities want a Russian Silicon Valley – or even just a cohesive country.

Civil society is not just politics: it is a restaurant giving unused food to the poor. It is a for-profit company such as Twitter providing its service free to rich and poor alike (even though advertisers will focus on the rich). It is successful entrepreneurs mentoring start-up entrepreneurs, and NGOs engaging not just with the government, but also with commercial outfits to get support for activities that will address vexing social problems such as maternal and infant mortality...

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Link to Studying Comparative

In the pre-dawn hour when I posted the entry about practice FRQs for AP students, I neglected to include a link to the Studying Comparative blog.

Well, here it is: Studying Comparative.


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Loss of faith?

The Mexican army is one of the most trusted institutions in the country. (See Trust in Mexican institutions.)

But it's actions and seeming ineffectiveness threaten that position of trust. What will the government and the citizens do next?

Mexico military faces political risks over drug war
When Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels in 2006, he summoned his military to serve as the tip of the spear.

Since then, nearly 50,000 uniformed Mexican military personnel have manned roadblocks, patrolled cities haunted by drug killings and raided houses in search of traffickers and contraband.

But as doubts mount over the effectiveness of Calderon's anti-drug crusade, with its death toll of 18,000 people, so do the political risks for Mexico's military, traditionally one of the nation's most trusted institutions…

The Mexican army is increasingly a lightning rod for those who say the Calderon strategy has failed to curb a skyrocketing death toll. Human rights advocates accuse soldiers of abusing residents as they hunt drug traffickers. And there is a growing feeling that, despite the army's firepower and resources, it has been less than effective as a police force.

Street demonstrations against runaway violence in the border city of Ciudad Juarez aimed more vitriol at troops than at drug-trafficking gangs, and many residents say they would like to see soldiers called back to the barracks. As the military's presence has grown along the U.S.-Mexico border, many residents ask whether it will prove as susceptible to corruption as the police have been…

The drug war has boosted the military budget and created an opportunity for the armed forces to gain clout.

"If they win, they will be stronger politically," said Raul Benitez, a specialist in national security at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City. "They think they will win."

Yet the deaths related to drug traffickers and the government's failure to land a decisive blow against the cartels has many Mexicans questioning the effectiveness of the military-led strategy. And military leaders, who have never appeared eager to join the drug war, are concerned that they could end up bearing the blame, analysts say…

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Studying Comparative Government and Politics

Practice Questions
For those of you who are preparing for the Advanced Placement exam in comparative government and politics, I posted the first of 24 practice "free response" questions on the Studying Comparative blog this morning.



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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another bit of British class politics

I seem to be on a kick about British politics and class cleavages. Most of the time I don't choose these themes. They appear because of events and the stories that journalists want to tell. As the British campaign season gets into full swing, we'll see more about the issues that the parties want to highlight and the issues that journalists want to highlight.

This is a follow up to Social Class in the UK

"Britain’s teeming but invisible average earners will decide the coming election. Neither David Cameron nor Gordon Brown seems to understand them"


The misinterpreted middle
In America these people would be called what they plainly are: middle class. They are around the middle of the national income distribution. They have jobs of middling status, perhaps in retail or self-employed manual trades. Their nondescript semi-detached houses are neither in the inner cities (from which they, or their parents, often migrated) nor in the kind of suburbs conventionally described as “leafy” (to which they aspire to move).

In Britain, though, “middle class” has come to refer to people who are actually well off… Middle-class professions are taken to include medicine, teaching and the law… Rising school fees are supposed to be a middle-class worry, though only 7% of British schoolchildren are educated privately…

There are many reasons why it matters that elites do not recognise the real middle class. One is their sheer weight of numbers. In 2007 half the population belonged to the socioeconomic categories C1 (lower-end white-collar workers) and C2 (skilled manual workers). The top two categories, A and B, accounted for 26%; the poorest two, D and E, for 24%. British society has morphed from a post-war pyramid, with a tiny elite, a somewhat larger middle class and a vast working class, into a diamond, where the middle is fattest.

The middle classes also matter because they are natural swing voters. Unlike the rich or the poor, it is not obvious whether their economic interests should dispose them to small or big government. Unlike the residents of great northern cities, or gilded areas of the south, middling suburbia has no tribal or historical link with either Labour or the Conservatives…

But the most important reason for recognising the real middle class is that it has had a worse time of it in recent decades than is generally recognized…

Much of this is down to the loss of middle-income jobs to technology or cheaper foreign labour…

Recognising the middle class is easier than winning their votes. David Cameron’s Conservatives are struggling to match Lady Thatcher’s rapport with them. His poshness… is a handicap… His policies are skewed too. He has goodies for the rich… and for the poor… But he has no equivalent of Lady Thatcher’s council-house policy for the middle class…

When asked whether responsibility for solving economic and social problems should lie mainly with government or with people, 62% in the middle quintile said government. No other quintile was as statist. They were also most likely to say that it is the responsibility of government to reduce inequalities in society. More than half said the government should redistribute money from the rich to the poor—as many as in the lower two quintiles. The romantic myth of rugged middle-class individualism is just that…

This seems good news for Labour… If they now want social democracy, so much the better for a party of the left. But New Labour was also about addressing middle-class worries concerning crime and other social ills...

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Labour campaign

Last week, we saw the Conservative Party's big promises. Here's Labour's version.

Gordon Brown reveals five key general election pledges
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the economic recovery is top of his list of five election pledges, as he hailed Labour as the "people's party"…

He pledged to use the internet to measure how pledges are met and publish an annual contract for ministers...

Mr Brown's other pledges were to raise living standards, protect frontline services, strengthen community fairness and build a hi-tech economy...

He promised new ways of measuring progress against the pledges online, and said cabinet ministers would have to sign up to public, annual contracts outlining what they were expected to deliver...

He also said the head of the civil service, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, would be asked to "performance manage" departments' top civil servants against their delivery of the pledges…


Brown and Party Show Signs of Life
The latest opinion polls have shown a marked swing toward Labour with less than six weeks to go before the expected election day, May 6. Many forecasts now are for a neck-and-neck race that could produce a squeaking Labour victory, or a “hung Parliament” in which neither major party achieves a majority. In that event, the Conservatives, even with more Commons seats than Labour, would probably have to accept a minority government formed by Mr. Brown and Labour with the support of the left-leaning Liberal Democrats, Britain’s other major party…

One of the country’s most widely respected pollsters, YouGov, just published a new opinion survey showing that Labour had drawn within two percentage points of the Conservatives, Labour’s best showing in two years…

The YouGov poll was not the only one to shake the Conservatives’ confidence. Another survey, by Ipsos MORI, showed that a core Conservative strategy for the election… is faltering. Like the YouGov poll, the survey also showed a fall in national support for the Conservatives to a 4 percent lead over Labour. Even The Daily Telegraph, a strong supporter of the Conservatives, said that thin margin would make it impossible for Mr. Cameron to win a commons majority.

See also:
Bad news before an election
Bad news before an election, part 2
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Corporate foreign policy

Corporations that do business in more than one country must have a "foreign policies" -- even if it appears as a passive acceptance of the law within countries. What makes those foreign policies different from the foreign policies of nation states? What distinguishes those corporations from the nation states? Do corporate foreign policies infringe on the sovereignty of nation states?

While the thrust of this article is more about international relations than comparative politics, it does raise some good questions that students of comparative government should give some thought to.

Google Searches for a Foreign Policy
When Google announced last week that it would shut its censored online search service in China, it was doing more than standing up to a repressive government: it was showing that, with the United States still struggling to develop a foreign policy for the digital age, Internet companies need to articulate their own foreign policies...

For Internet companies, that choice has been sharpened by the fact that the World Wide Web is no longer just a force for freedom and diversity but also a tool for repression…

"What forces Google to have a foreign policy is that what they’re exporting isn’t a product or a service, it’s a freedom," said Clay Shirky, who teaches at New York University and writes about the Internet’s social effects…

If the folks at Google were diplomats instead of “digirati,” one might say their view of the Internet had evolved from Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic notion that independent countries tend toward democracy to the realpolitik understanding that their interests simply differ from your own…

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

To scroll or not to scroll

This might not be an issue with e-book readers where we turn pages, but it does suggest that some of our students might be disadvantaged by electronic documents. (Thanks to Dr. Timothy Lim for pointing this out to me.)

Students Retain Information in Print-Like Formats Better
A study at Arizona State University has found that students had lower reading comprehension of scrolling online material than they did of print-like versions.

The report, "To Scroll or Not to Scroll: Scrolling, Working Memory Capacity, and Comprehending Complex Texts," described how two groups, of 20 students each, wrote essays after reading materials in either in print-like or scrolling formats. Those given the scrolling versions to read had poorer comprehension of the material.

It is harder to keep track of where information is located within an online document versus the more-apparent page markers in a print-style text, said Christopher A. Sanchez, a co-author of the study. He is an assistant professor of applied psychology at Arizona State...

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Summer session at Oxford

Alan Carter, in response to the posting about social class in the UK, wrote with this invitation.

There is a wide variety of courses and they're appropriate for students soon to enter university or college. (One of the courses is SAT prep.)

(I'll add that one of the best summers I had involved a seminar at Oxford (St. Edmund Hall). Part of the "best" was just being in Oxford with an international group of teachers. I really wish I hadn't waited until I was in my 30s to take advantage of the opportunity.)

Come see the real thing
Hello,

There are still places left on our summer course. Details here

best regards,
Alan.



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Social Class in the UK

If you're looking for an interesting little article to accompany what your textbook says about social class cleavages in the UK, this one's a good candidate.

Together with some economic statistics from something like the CIA World Factbook, this article can illustrate, especially for American students, some aspects of the class divide in Britain.


The photograph that defined the class divide


By 1937 Eton and Harrow had been playing each other at cricket for 132 years. Their annual match was, and remains, probably the oldest regular fixture in a game that has the richest and longest traditions of any team sport played with a ball. It lasted two days and attracted big crowds…

Male spectators wore toppers and tails, and women their summer hats and frocks. The Harrovians and Etonians themselves came in their most formal outfits – "Sunday dress" as Harrow called it…

On the morning of Friday 9 July 1937, Peter Wagner and Thomas Dyson stood dressed in this way outside Lord's. They were Harrow pupils, aged 14 and 15, and this was the opening day of the match… Local boys, porters for the day, unloaded wicker hampers from spectators' cars and carried them into the stands…

The Eton-Harrow match declined as a social occasion in the years after [World War II]. Hardly anyone goes now apart from the pupils, some very reluctantly, and the dress code is "smart casual": if a photographer wanted to re-create Sime's picture, he might be faced with five boys dressed much the same, in jeans and brand names. Giving a superficial impression of equality, the picture would be even more of a lie than before…

As I was writing this piece, the government's National Equality Panel suggested that Britain's widening divide between the rich and the poor "may imply that it is impossible to create a cohesive society"…

Nearly 70 years have passed since Picture Post protested at exactly this state of affairs. What picture accompanied the Daily Telegraph's report in January 2010? Sime's, of course; the same as Picture Post had published in January 1941. There they were again: Wagner, Dyson, Salmon, Catlin and Young, doomed for ever to represent our continuing social tragedy.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The change that is not to be

If Westerners hoped for democratization to come with market reforms in China, some Chinese officials are convinced that it won't.

Official in China Says Western-Style Democracy Won’t Take Root There
A Chinese legislative official has said that China will not adopt Western-style democracy, marking a rare instance in which a member of the government here openly rejects Western-style liberal political reforms.

The official, Li Fei, said in an interview published Saturday on the Web site of China Daily that “different countries have different election rules and a socialist China won’t follow Western election campaigns.”…

Mr. Li told China Daily, an official English-language newspaper, that while some people wanted to expand direct elections, he believed that the priority was to improve on the so-called election system now in place...

[T]here are times when an official states outright that people should not expect Western-style reforms in China. In March 2009, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, said China would never “copy” the systems of Western nations by adopting multiparty democracy.

Mr. Li’s interview with China Daily was the latest instance of such blunt talk…

In criticizing Western democracy, Mr. Li asserted that the Western system of elections simply benefited the wealthy and was warped by capitalism.

“Western-style elections, however, are a game for the rich,” he said. “They are affected by the resources and funding that a candidate can utilize. Those who manage to win elections are easily in the shoes of their parties or sponsors and become spokespersons for the minority.”...

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stage 3 of transition in Nigeria

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, after firing the cabinet of his predecessor, has begun naming replacements. It's another step in the presidential transition. It suggests that Yar'Adua is not coming back.

The first report is from This Day (Lagos), the second is from the BBC, and the third is from the New York Times.

Aganga, Daggash, Yar'Adua's Son Make New
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan pulled a major surprise yesterday in the ministerial nominee list he sent to the Senate for confirmation.

He retained only seven ministers from the old 42-man cabinet and nominated 18 new ones - a week after dissolving the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF).

A notable newcomer on the list is Mr. Olusegun Aganga, a Managing Director of Goldman Sachs International, who is expected to man the finance portfolio.

Another notable inlcusion is Alhaji Mutallab Yar'Adua, son of late General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, elder brother to President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.

The list was submitted to Senate President David Mark about 3.45 p.m….


Goodluck Jonathan's cabinet choices surprise Nigeria
Nigeria's senate has named 33 ministerial nominees submitted by acting leader Goodluck Jonathan a week after he sacked the cabinet.

The list contained some surprise names, such as Olusegun Aganga, a banker who works for Goldman Sachs in the UK.

The list, which still needs to be approved by the senate, contained just nine ministers from the former cabinet…

Mr Jonathan is battling to fill a power vacuum that has been plaguing Nigerian politics since Mr Yar'Adua fell ill...

His choices have to balance the interests of 36 states and a wide range of interest groups, and approval of the new cabinet could take weeks.


Nigeria Acting Leader Names Cabinet Nominees
Nigeria's acting president has nominated the country's former junior oil minister and a Goldman Sachs banker to be in his new cabinet, according to a list of 33 nominees read out to the Senate for approval on Wednesday.

The list of names -- which did not give portfolios -- consisted of nine members of the outgoing cabinet, including former junior oil minister Odein Ajumogobia, and new figures including Olusegun Aganga, a London-based managing director at Goldman Sachs…

Jonathan sacked all government ministers last Wednesday in a bid to assert his authority a month after assuming executive powers, and the fast appointment of a new team could ease political uncertainty in Africa's most populous nation…

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bad news before an election, part 2

Can claims of class privilege counter the problems caused by scandal in the politics of the UK? Sir Nicholas Winterton seems to be willing to test that hypothesis.

Election Looming, Tories Put Posh Foot in Mouth
Sir Nicholas Winterton at a beer festival in Macclesfield, England, in 2006. Public revelry is not what he is best known for.
What could be more embarrassing for a party trying to change its elitist image than the existence of someone like Sir Nicholas Winterton? A Conservative member of Parliament for the last 39 years, Sir Nicholas wandered disastrously off message recently when he decided to share his thoughts on why legislators should be allowed to travel first class to avoid exposure to the common man.

“They are a totally different type of people,” Sir Nicholas declared in a radio interview, speaking about the relative ghastliness of people in standard-class train cars. “There’s lots of children, there’s noise, there’s activity…"

[Conservative Party leader] Mr. Cameron, whose party is leading Labour in the most recent polls, has made it his mission to drag the Conservatives — kicking and screaming, if necessary — away from their old chilly image as a stuffy bastion of the elite, the mean-spirited, the entitled and the clueless.

All this matters because many Britons, when confronted with privilege, are still deeply ambivalent about whether to mistrust, envy, celebrate, despise, aspire to or undermine it...

Mr. Cameron has done a good makeover job in some ways, starting with himself. Answering to “Dave” and wearing jeans and open-necked shirts, Mr. Cameron comes across as modern, sympathetic and approachable.

He supports gay and minority rights, changes (or claims he does) the diapers of his young children and rides a bicycle around town (although his limousine was once spotted being driven behind his bicycle, carting his briefcase).

At the same time, Mr. Cameron cannot overcome the fact that his own background of easy privilege fits the classic Tory stereotype, Mike Savage, director of the Center for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester, said. Among the most obvious issues, Mr. Savage pointed out, are that “he speaks with a posh accent and comes from the most elite school in the country.”…

In the eyes of many Britons, the Tories’ traditional social elitism is tied to another form of elitism — what they perceive as the callous policies of the haves toward the have-nots in the Thatcher era. That was when the Conservative government cut social spending and pursued an anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-union agenda.

Mr. Cameron’s efforts to move past that, too, have been thrown off track by the financial crisis. Reacting to Britain’s deficit last fall by preaching fiscal austerity, the Tories found themselves once more in the position of grim spoilsports eager to cut government programs...

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Bad news before an election

Like some of the Tories in '97, some of Labour's elite sought to cash in on their positions of power and influence. This adds to the likelihood that the election in 2010 will see the same kind of change the election of 1997 brought.

Four Suspended From Labour Party in U.K. Scandal
Caught by concealed cameras as they offered to trade influence for cash, three former government ministers were suspended from Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party, setting off a new political furor Tuesday as Britain nudges toward elections…

Caught by concealed cameras as they offered to trade influence for cash, three former government ministers were suspended from Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party, setting off a new political furor Tuesday as Britain nudges toward elections….

After a brief surge in the polls last month, Labour is again trailing the opposition Tories badly in most opinion surveys, and televised scenes showing an apparent readiness to sell their influence by three former Labour ministers, all of them among the highest-ranking cabinet figures under the former Labour leader, Tony Blair, seemed likely to compound Labour’s woes…


Tories Keep Lead, Lib-Dems Gain in Britain



The opposition Conservative Party maintains a steady level of support in Britain, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 39 per cent of respondents would support the Tories in this year’s election to the House of Commons.

The governing Labour party is second with 26 per cent, followed by the Liberal Democrats with 21 per cent. 15 per cent of respondents would vote for other parties. Support for the Lib-Dems increased by three points in a week...

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Labour Party campaign

In the run up to the election in the UK, the Labour Party has begun to announce the themes it will run on.

Brown promises big changes to House of Lords
Britain's House of Lords, normally a sleepy and little-noticed chamber of privilege and wealth, has exploded into the heart of an undeclared but close-fought election with a proposal by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to abolish the 700-year-old institution and replace it with a U.S.-style elected Senate.

If the election promise were carried out, it would make Canada part of a dwindling group of nations, most of them small island states, that still have completely appointed upper legislative chambers…

“The time has now come to make it legitimate in the only way that a legislative assembly can be legitimate in the modern world, which is to be elected,” declared Lord Andrew Adonis, the government's Transport Minister, who would lose his appointed seat in the new scheme...

The proposal calls for a 300-seat house modelled after the U.S. Senate, except that members would be elected through a proportional-representation vote by the public. Seats would be up for election every three parliamentary terms, which means senators would typically sit for 12 to 15 years…

A poll by ICM for the Sunday Telegraph found the Conservative lead narrowing to 7 points for a vote expected to take place May 6, with 38 per cent of voters saying they'd cast their ballots for the Tories and 31 per cent for Labour. That result, like most polls in the past two months, would give the Tories a “hung” or minority Parliament for the first time in four decades...

Britain's third-place party, the centrist Liberal Democrats, have already promised to introduce an elected Senate. This is significant because a minority Parliament could result in a coalition between the LibDems, as they are known, and one of the major parties...

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Democratic political culture

What elements of political culture are necessary for democratic or republican government? Is prosperity needed? Does a state have to have great capacity? Does national security have to be secure? How about the practice of compromise and the reality of win-win conflict resolution?

Iraq may not be one of the AP6, but this example has important ideas to offer.

In Iraq, Even a Vote Hints at Violence
There is an Iraq that is rightly celebrated these days: images that have almost become clichéd of millions heading to the polls to elect leaders who have so far fallen far short of the ambitions in choosing them. There is the reality, too: a country that still hews to an older notion of politics in which, in the words of one politician, there are “absolute winners and absolute losers.” Eloquent rules are noisily broken, in a milieu infused with an impetus toward intolerance. The threat of violence, and often violence itself, is the discourse of politics, sometimes even celebrated as a means to an end in dividing spoils.

When in doubt, the rule goes, intimidate.

Before the elections, more than a hundred figures were killed along fault lines in Baghdad, Nineveh and Diyala. During the campaign, a coalition of retired bureaucrats intoned with youthful rage, “We will not permit our exploitation.” As the vote was tallied last week, everyone from Ayad Allawi, the secular standard-bearer and possible prime minister, to tribal Sheik Saadoun al-Aiffan's colleagues in Anbar declared that violence would be the consequence of fraud, a word that has become somewhat synonymous with faring poorer than expectations. And when the count was in, voters had placed an unpredicted confidence in loyalists of Moktada al-Sadr, whose militia was blamed for some of the war’s worst sectarian slaughter…

The roots of political violence run deep in Iraq, long a turbulent frontier between Romans and Persians, Ottomans and Safavids and, now, Americans and Iranians...

“There is a desire for open politics,” said Joost Hiltermann, a director at the International Crisis Group. “But there is a tendency to intolerance that is deeply ingrained by the former regime and by the reality of opponents fighting that regime.”

“It’s very much the political culture inculcated by the former regime,” he added…

A far milder version of uncompromising politics was on display last week during the count of last week’s votes. Several leaders warned fraud would unleash violence, and in a hint of the unease, rumors of assassination attempts were rife. Others threatened to declare the results illegitimate. Everyone seemed to contest rules that not everyone knew.

Perhaps it was simply maneuvering, but politicians’ words invariably echo in still-scarred streets. In one working-class neighborhood of Baghdad, a merchant insisted darkly that a victory for Mr. Allawi, the secular candidate, would, in his words, be refused.

“The militias would return to the streets,” he told me…

Sami al-Askari, a lawmaker and candidate with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said: “It’s a culture. The history of this area, most of the time, goes to the winners. It’s become part of the society, part of the culture. It’s not easy to take this society out of this mess. We need time, time to adapt ourselves to the new reality.”...

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Unintended consequences

When some things change and others don't, a planned system begins to break down. That's what's happening with the household registration system in China. Here's one of the consequences.

Millions of Chinese rural migrants denied education for their children
Chinese children are entitled to a state education, but not all of them get one. And the tens of millions born to migrant workers… are among the most vulnerable, owing to a registration system that divides the country's citizens into rural and urban dwellers, and dictates their rights accordingly…

The contradictions of the hukou system, designed for a 1950s planned economy, become more painful with every year of China's development. About 140 million rural migrants are now working in the cities, where average incomes are more than three times than those of the countryside. Migrants have fuelled the country's spectacular growth but not reaped the benefits. And once they become parents, they face an unpalatable choice.

Fifty-eight million children are left behind in the countryside by parents who hope that relatives will raise them lovingly. Another 19 million remain in the cities – where they are, in effect, second-class citizens. Both groups have poorer academic performance and more behavioural problems than their peers…

State schools receive no funding for migrant pupils, so often claim to be full. Others charge illicit "donations" of as much as 6,000 yuan (£590) a term, said Zhang Zhiquan, from the Friends of Migrant Workers group…

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Persian vs Islamic

While the Islamic strains of Iranian culture seem dominant at the moment, they are not the only cultural forces in existence. This report offers a minor, but telling example.

Shun Persian fire festival: Ayatollah Khamenei
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that Iranians should shun next week's Persian fire festival as it is un-Islamic and creates "a lot of harm."

Chaharshanbe Soori, an ancient Pagan festival, is held on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar year. This year the ritual falls on the night of March 16…

The festival is a prelude to Nowrouz, the Persian New Year which starts on March 21 and marks the arrival of spring…

Iranians celebrate the fire festival by lighting bonfires in public places on the night before the last Wednesday and leaping over the flames shouting "Sorkhiye to az man, Zardiye man az to (Give me your redness and I will give you my paleness)."

Leaping over the flames symbolizes the wish for happiness in the new year and an end to the sufferings of the past year.

Several casualties are reported from the event every year and many participants suffer burn wounds, including from accidents with firecrackers linked to the event.

Some clerics see the ritual as heretical fire worshipping, although it has been marked in Iran for centuries and, like the Persian New Year itself and some other ancient rituals, has survived the advent of Islam...


Iranian police arrest 50 people at traditional festival
Iranian police say they have arrested 50 people during clashes between opposition supporters and police in Tehran during a new year festival.

The Feast of Fire comes on the eve of the Persian new year, but religious leaders had told Iranians celebrating it was "un-Islamic".

There were a number of clashes between young people and the police across the capital, a Tehran police chief said...

The BBC's correspondent Jon Leyne says there is no sign these clashes will widen into a bigger political protest.

The clashes were more a show of defiance against demands from religious authorities that Iranians refuse to celebrate the festival, our correspondent says…

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ask pertinent questions

The protests by Nigerian women of the government's failure to prevent or stop the violence in Jos offers some context to the article (remember, this article is from Kano in the Muslim north) asking why women are politically marginalized in Nigeria. You and your students could just as well ask the same question about any of the countries they're studying.

Plateau Women Storm Abuja, Protest Killings
HUNDREDS of Plateau women, yesterday, staged peaceful demonstrations in Jos and Abuja against Sunday's mayhem at Dogon Nahawa where hundreds, mostly women and children, were murdered...

The women who were dressed in black as a sign of mourning also displayed gory pictures of women and children hacked down during the attack. In Jos, they converged on ECWA headquarters from where they marched to the state House of Assembly and the Government House.

They repeated allegations of inaction against security agencies when distress calls were made to them and called for a thorough investigation of the attack…

The women who had come under the aegis of Plateau Women Development Association carried various placards condemning the killings asking that those that were involved be punished...



In the Shadows of Men - Women's Political Marginalisation
Ten years after Nigeria returned to civil rule women still play second fiddle in the male-dominated politics of Africa's most populous nation, women politicians and activists say.

Since this West African country of 140 million people broke from military rule and embraced uninterrupted multi-party democracy in 1999, men have been calling the shots while women, who constitute more than half of voters (54 percent), only hold marginal elective offices…

Between 1999 and 2003 a total of 15 female parliamentarians, were elected. This figure marginally improved from 2003 to 2007 and there are currently 26 women are in parliament...

Social, cultural and religious factors are largely responsible for the marginalisation of women in politics in Nigeria, particularly in the Muslim-dominated part of the country where politics is seen as men's exclusive preserve…

Women in Nigeria are not as economically empowered as men. In most communities women are economically dependent on their husbands who control family income. Even where women are allowed to engage in money-making ventures, their husbands control the purse. Mairo Usman, a politician in northern Nigeria's Kano city, said women's weak economic base contributes to their political domination by men…

Politicking is time-consuming with politicians travelling far and wide and often staying overnight in hotels far from their homes during political rallies. Such political rallies are often rowdy and at times violent with political thugs taking centre-stage, hurling insults and brandishing assortments of locally made weapons. Given such scenarios, women politicians are generally seen as promiscuous in a society that believes women's role should be confined to domestic management.

"We are seen largely as lose women because we are politicians who, by the nature of politics, stay out late at night attending political meetings and rallies and sometimes sleep in hotels far away from our homes," female politician Maryam Jari told IPS.

"Politics involve intermingling between men and women and our culture and religion strongly abhor mixing between the two sexes which is viewed as indication of lewdness," she added...

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New presentation tool at Google

It took me four months to mention the earlier new tool from Google. Now, Gapminder has my attention. Here's the latest from the Gapminder/Google affiliation. This has the potential to be a valuable teaching tool or a way to improve student presentations.

Google launches Data Explorer
Google Public Data Explorer, a new powerful visualization tool that lets you explore, visualize and share data in a “Gapminder-like” manner, was launched by Google [the week of March 8].

The new tool lets you explore data from a number of data providers such as World Bank, EuroStat, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statisitics and U.S. Census Bureau through “Bubble-charts”, maps, bar- or line charts, that you can share on your blog, web page or other media.

Three years ago, Google acquired Trendalyzer – the technology behind Gapminder World – from Gapminder. Since then, they have launched Motion Chart (a gadget that lets you make charts from you own data) and a public data search function that make it easier to find public data in a normal google search.

The new Public Data Explorer is still a Google Labs-project, which means that it is till work in progress. We hope that more data providers will make their data available through this technology to increase the use of data in the general discussion about the world.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Russian version of an iron triangle

The Economist editors this week are asking whether modernization in Russia is possible, whether technology and economics can be changed without changing the political culture, and whether any change is possible in the face of an iron triangle of vested interests (the bureaucracy, the security forces, and the oligarchs).

There are many assertions for your students to evaluate.

If you don't subscribe, check the library's copy or maybe you can use the library's identification to access the online version.

Try to forgive the headline writer for borrowing a label from China, but there was no handy title for Peter the Great or Joseph Stalin's reforms in Russia.

Another great leap forward?
Modernisation was the slogan proposed by Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, in an article last September called “Russia Forward!”, published on a liberal website. “Should we drag a primitive economy based on raw materials and endemic corruption into the future?” Mr Medvedev asked rhetorically. While admitting a vast array of problems, from economic weakness to alcoholism, he painted a picture of a Russia with nuclear-powered spaceships and supercomputers. In short, if Russia managed to modernise, it would once again become a world leader…

Liberal critics quickly pointed out that modernisation in Russia is impossible without political liberalisation and institutional change. A country with weak property rights and a rent-seeking bureaucracy, they argued, can invent new ways of extracting bribes and robbing businesses, but not of creating intellectual wealth. Most recently Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, said modernisation was impossible without democratic reforms.

Yet the experience of Mr Gorbachev’s perestroika—which started with talk of technological renewal but ended in the collapse of the Soviet system—has persuaded the Kremlin to define modernisation strictly within technological boundaries…

In Russian history, it is Peter the Great and Stalin who are considered the great modernisers rather than Alexander II, who abolished serfdom, or Mr Gorbachev, who opened up the country. Brutality trumps mild liberalization…

[A] problem is that the modernisations of both Stalin and Peter the Great were driven by clear military goals. It is much harder, in an innovative economy today, to tell scientists what they should be inventing…

Russia’s ruling elite, which consists of a corrupt bureaucracy, the security services and a few oligarchs, lives off the rent from natural resources or administrative interference in the market. Competition and the rule of law undermine this arrangement. Corruption (see chart 2) holds it together, and ensures the loyalty of the bureaucracy.

The conflict between real modernisation and the vested interests of this bureaucracy is summed up in the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and now its most famous political prisoner…

Nonetheless, an unprecedented public discussion has now started about what the country’s priorities should be. Under cover of that debate, the Institute of Contemporary Development, a think-tank close to Mr Medvedev, has published an essay calling for the restoration of regional elections, respect for the constitution, and the elimination of state-affiliated companies and the federal secret police…

The main question for Russia, however, is not how to achieve that. The problem is that to vaunt modernisation, which implies that technological successes will make Russia a great world power again, is to set the wrong priority. Learning to live as a post-imperial state according to its means, rather than its ambitions, and learning to show more care for human life and dignity, are more important to Russia’s renewal than winning a geopolitical race…

See also: Anniversary of peristroika
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Shutting down the opposition

The gradual removal of any opposition to the military-religious complex that rules Iran continues.

Iran says it bans key opposition party
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hard-line government said yesterday it has banned Iran’s largest pro-reform political party in a new strike against an opposition movement that has largely been swept from the streets since last year’s postelection turmoil…

Deputy Interior Minister Solat Mortazavi said the judiciary has stripped the party of its authorization to conduct political activity, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported. The party disputed that, saying there was no such court ruling, though it was forced to cancel its annual meeting on March 11.


Iran Plans to Execute 6 Arrested in Protests
Six people arrested in December protests will be put to death, Iranian authorities announced Monday, in what appeared to be strong warning to the opposition ahead of a traditional annual celebration…

The six people whose sentences were announced Monday were among nine convicted of waging war against God by demonstrating during the commemoration...

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A new arena for fighting corruption in China

Anti-corruption measures are always big news during sessions of the National Peoples Congress, and now the courts are directly involved in promising more honest operations.

China vows to clean up judiciary after conviction of supreme court vice president
China's Chief Justice Wang Shengjun said Thursday that courts will take actions on judicial corruption to prevent abuse of judicial power after a former vice president of the supreme court was jailed for life two months ago.


Wang Shengjun, President of the Supreme People's Court, delivers the supreme court's work report during the fourth plenary meeting of the Third Session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 11, 2010.

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) will "strengthen capacity building and act as a model for local courts," Wang, SPC president, told nearly 3,000 lawmakers at the annual parliament session when delivering a work report…

Courts at all levels should "learn a lesson from the case of Huang Songyou" to find out rooted problems on the management of judges and supervision of power, he said.

The SPC has appointed discipline supervisors in its 14 departments and more than 27,700 supervisors are watching over nearly 3,000 courts nationwide, Wang said…

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Mexico's 2012 presidential race

Early polling (really early polling) shows the PRI and the governor of the state of Mexico far ahead of rivals for the presidency in 2012.

Thanks to Daniel Wilson at the blog Under the Volcano for pointing this out and translating.

Poll: View towards 2012 is all PRI
A Mitofsky survey looking toward the 2012 presidential race shows the PRI leading voter preferences with 40%, compared to 16% for the PAN and 12% for the PRD.


In answer to who would you like to see as president, Mexico state governor Enrique Peña Nieto was far ahead of all others. When priistas are asked about their preferred candidates, Peña Nieto is followed by Veracruz governor Fidel Herrera and party leader Beatriz Paredes. Panista preferences are for Senator Santiago Creel, congressional leader Vázquez Mota, and Jalisco governor Emilio González. Among perredistas, AMLO tops Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard by 2:1.

Source: Consulta Mitofsky

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Monday, March 15, 2010

PRI reform proposals

Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones, in an op-ed piece in El Universal, outlined the fifteen political reforms that the PRI advocates. Thanks to Daniel Wilson at the blog Under the Volcano for pointing this out and translating.

The PRI/Beltrones political reform package
The PRI submitted their own political reform package in February. This summary is taken from Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones‘  exposition of the package in an op-ed in El Universal:

1. Give the Secretary of Government the authority to exercise Executive power, in the absence or incapacity of the President...

2. Senate ratification for all cabinet officers...

3. Eliminate proportional representation seats in the Senate, and reduce the size of the Chamber of Deputies to 400–300 direct election seats, and 100 proportional election seats.

4. Allow for the immediate re-election of federal and state legislators…


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Sunday, March 14, 2010

If it's not reported, did it happen?

Rebecca Small in Virginia also caught this article about media in Mexico. We have to ask whether the forces of intimidation will extend to limiting political reporting and whether reporting is vital to civil and political society.

Fearing Drug Cartels, Reporters in Mexico Retreat
REYNOSA, Mexico — The big philosophical question in this gritty border town does not concern trees falling in the forest but bodies falling on the concrete: Does a shootout actually happen if the newspapers print nothing about it, the radio and television stations broadcast nothing, and the authorities never confirm that it occurred?

As two powerful groups of drug traffickers engaged in fierce urban combat in Reynosa in recent weeks, the reality that many residents were living and the one that the increasingly timid news media and the image-conscious politicians portrayed were difficult to reconcile...

Traffickers have gone after the media with a vengeance in these strategic border towns where drugs are smuggled across by the ton. They have shot up newsrooms, kidnapped and killed staff members and called up the media regularly with threats that were not the least bit veiled…

[T]he current news blackout along the border has only amplified fears, as false rumors of impending shootouts circulate unchecked, prompting many parents to pull their children from school and businesses to close...

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Anniversary of peristroika

Thanks to Rebecca Small, I got to read this op-ed by Mikhail Gorbachev in the New York Times. I completely missed it when I read the paper this morning.

There is some valuable reflection here. It will help explain those few sentences about the sclerotic Soviet system and perestroika. There is also some challenging analysis of the present state of government and politics in Russia that students can evaluate.

Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its collapse in 1991. This article was translated by Pavel Palazhchenko from the Russian.

Perestroika Lost
PERESTROIKA, the series of political and economic reforms I undertook in the Soviet Union in 1985, has been the subject of heated debate ever since…

We introduced perestroika because our people and the country’s leaders understood that we could no longer continue as we had. The Soviet system, created on the precepts of socialism amid great efforts and sacrifices, had made our country a major power with a strong industrial base. The Soviet Union was strong in emergencies, but in more normal circumstances, our system condemned us to inferiority...

[T]he achievements of perestroika are undeniable. It was the breakthrough to freedom and democracy. Opinion polls today confirm that even those who criticize perestroika and its leaders appreciate the gains it allowed: the rejection of the totalitarian system; freedom of speech, assembly, religion and movement; and political and economic pluralism...

[Today] stabilizing the country cannot be the only or the final goal. Russia needs development and modernization to become a leader in an interdependent world. Our country has not moved closer to that goal in the past few years, even though for a decade we have benefited from high prices for our main exports, oil and gas. The global crisis has hit Russia harder than many other countries, and we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Russia will progress with confidence only if it follows a democratic path. Recently, there have been a number of setbacks in this regard.

For instance, all major decisions are now taken by the executive branch, with the Parliament rubber-stamping formal approval. The independence of the courts has been thrown into question. We do not have a party system that would enable a real majority to win while also taking the minority opinion into account and allowing an active opposition. There is a growing feeling that the government is afraid of civil society and would like to control everything.

We’ve been there, done that. Do we want to go back? I don’t think anyone does, including our leaders.

I sense alarm in the words of President Dmitri Medvedev when he wondered, “Should a primitive economy based on raw materials and endemic corruption accompany us into the future?” He has also warned against complacency in a society where the government “is the biggest employer, the biggest publisher, the best producer, its own judiciary ... and ultimately a nation unto itself.”

I agree with the president. I agree with his goal of modernization. But it will not happen if people are sidelined, if they are just pawns. If the people are to feel and act like citizens, there is only one prescription: democracy, including the rule of law and an open and honest dialogue between the government and the people...

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Voting in Russia

Rebecca Small, who teaches in Virginia, pointed out this article before I even got around to looking at the news this morning. This is from the Washington Post. Thank you, Rebecca.

It's hard to imagine that Medvedev and United Russia are in any danger of failing this "mid-term test."

Russian regional vote is mid-term test for Medvedev
Millions of Russians voted in regional elections on Sunday [today] in a mid-term test of President Dmitry Medvedev's pledge to loosen the Kremlin's grip on the political system.

Regional and municipal votes across the country were set to gauge the popularity of the ruling United Russia party amid anger at rising prices and unemployment after the global crisis abruptly ended 10 years of rapid economic growth...

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another Nigerian voice

Time for a generational shift in Nigeria?

Tolu Ogunlesi works as Features Editor with Next, a daily newspaper based in Lagos, Nigeria. He was awarded the Arts and Culture prize in the 2009 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards. He writes a weekly column, Ongoing Concerns, for Next, and regularly contributes to online and print magazines inside and outside Nigeria.

We will fight for the soul of Nigeria
Last Sunday the world woke to news of ethnic and religious violence in Jos, central Nigeria… It was the second time this year that Jos would be making breaking news on CNN.

On both occasions, while Jos burned, Nigeria's corridors of power battled their own "fires": A series of intrigues that raged as insiders struggled for power in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who in November 2009 traveled abroad for medical treatment and has not been seen in public since...

Nigeria is a strange country, a veritable laboratory of ironies. We are simultaneously one of the world's most corrupt and most religious countries.

We are Africa's biggest producer of crude oil, and one of the top 10 in the world, and at the same time one of the world's biggest importers of refined petroleum products (simply because none of our refineries is in working condition.)

A few years ago we were adjudged the world's happiest people, despite occupying a land teeming with frustrations. The award was a commentary on our genius for refining our angst, partly into apathy, and partly into happiness…

But if Nigerians imagined that the arrival of democracy in 1999 would enable them to sheathe their swords and allow their poets to take a well-deserved break from writing about blood, bullets and handcuffs, they were hugely mistaken. A decade of democracy has now convinced us that if care is not taken, new oppressions are always waiting in the wings, eager to replace conquered ones.

Our civilian governments have taken us for granted too often over the last 10 years, over-promising and under-delivering. One example: Today, Nigeria generates roughly the same amount of power as it did a decade ago, despite the billions of dollars spent on power infrastructure over the years. South Africa, with a population much less than half of ours, generates more than twelve times as much power as we currently do.

It is a pathetic story…

The real story is of how young Nigerians, who grew up hearing themselves addressed as the "leaders of tomorrow," have realized that it is time they rose to take their destinies into their hands, if they want to stand any chance of witnessing that much-touted "tomorrow."...

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Not Oversimplified Analysis of violence in Jos

Solomonsydelle offers an op-ed analysis that is anything but oversimplified. It's certainly worth your time if you're going to use Jos as a case study in Nigerian politics.

JOS: BLAME GAMES, SPONSORS & NIGERIAN DISTRACTIONS
A recent rash of fighting near Jos left a death toll now numbering 500 and growing. Women, children and the elderly were the main victims and according to reports, most of the dead are Christians. The governor of Plateau State (of which Jos is the capital), has laid the blame for the violence and resulting massacre on Nigeria's military, but who is really to blame?

It is a shame that instead of springing to action, Nigerian officials choose to blame each other and underperform…

[E]ducation, jobs, and a way out of poverty will go a long way to increase peace across Nigeria. And, a key solution to this and many other of the problems Nigeria faces is accountability. Those responsible must be proven to have been complicit and they must be identified prominently, regardless of their station or connections…

Accountability and its sister justice are key elements of every society and particularly the democratic ones. Until Nigerians are armed with the facts that created this situation, they will not be able to adequately respond. And if they do not have an opportunity to constructively respond, the stage will be set for bad blood and retaliation to spur a future repeat of the massacre that just happened in Jos. Only, the onslaught might not limit itself to Jos alone.

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Exam readers for AP Comparative Government and Politics still needed

The College Board issued a second appeal for exam readers for the Advanced Placement exam in Comparative Government and Politics.

Details at the College Board web site.

Other information in the March 3rd announcement.



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Dangerous politics

This op-ed by Abdulsalam Muhammad in Vanguard (UK) suggests that the political infighting in Nigeria is more dangerous than it might seem to outsiders. I think the comment about "reversing contracts" might be the real key to the conflict. If government contracts (and the opportunities for corruption) are directed to southerners, the northerners will lose 5 to 6 years of "profits."

Why North is Skeptical of Jonathan's Acting Presidency
Going by recent development in the polity,there is no doubt that the on- going power play at Aso rock over the plight of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has angered the Northern elite who were convinced of 'hi_tech conspiracy' to rig the Hausa/Fulani dominated conservative region out of power through the back door.

The emotions are high, and one can smell the hatred on the streets and cities of the Northern region. The reasons are not far fetched. It is borne out of the fear founded on what the Northern elites have come to identify as a 'false start' by the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who was conferred with presidential powers by the federal legislatures some weeks ago…

It appears that there is an orchestrated plan by the northern elites to mobilize the average man in the region to join in the emerging war against the Jonathan Presidency...

Alhaji Yakasai who was former Liaison officer toformer president Alhaji Shehu Shagari explains that the North is bent on maintaining every tenet of agreement that gave the South the Presidency for 8 years under Obasanjo...

He accused the South of exploiting its vast media resources to unleash a war on a region that out of magnanimity conceded power to a Southerner in the interest of a united and strong nation…

Despite the submission by Yakasai, an average man in the street believes that Jonathan Presidency is a return of Obasanjo to power through back door…

Idi Mamuda, National President of the Northern Youth Progressive in a chat with Vanguard… stated that it is unbelievable that the man we expected to be fair to all unleashed his anger on the region by reshuffliing cabinet ministers and reversing contracts commissioned by his living boss…

As it is stands today, the North is unified against Jonathan's acting Presidency, and may employ the services of reactionary elements within the larger group to prosecute the war...

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Speaking of statistics

The Washington Post has published a chart showing the numbers of women in world legislatures. If you want to begin exploring the extent of the gender gap in politics, this data would be a terrific place to begin.

Women in world parliaments and congress


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"New" on Google

An entry on the Gapminder blog, informed me about a new presentation of data available on Google. Well, it's new to me. Turns out the announcement was made last November. Editorial aside: For all the effort Google makes to look attractive when presenting itself and its search results, the blog reporting these added features is incredibly ugly and hard to read.

You or your students can embed comparisons in presentations in such a way that they will be updated whenever new data becomes available. What a great idea. Of course, if new data negates a point you're trying to make, maybe it's not such a great idea.

[Editorial comment: If you don't know about Gapminder yet, now's the time to find out.]

World Bank public data, now in search
When we first launched public data on Google.com, we wanted to make statistics easier to find and to encourage debate based on facts rather than intuition. The day after we launched, a friend who worked at the World Bank called me, her voice filled with enthusiasm, "Did you know that the World Bank also just released an API for their data?" Excited, I checked it out, and found an amazing treasure trove of statistics for most economies in the world. After some hard work and analysis, today we're happy to announce that 17 World Development Indicators (list below*) are now conveniently available to you in Google search.

With today's update, you can quickly access more data with a broad range of queries. Search should be intuitive, so we've done the work to think through queries where public data will be most relevant to you. To see the new data, try queries like [gdp of indonesia], [life expectancy south africa], [rwanda's population growth], [energy use of iceland], [co2 emissions of iceland] and [gdp growth rate argentina]…
Clicking on [a] result will bring you to an interactive chart where you can compare the [country you're researching] with other regions around the world. We've also added a new feature to enable you to embed these charts in your own website or blog by clicking on the "Link" button in the upper right-hand corner of the chart page. You have the option to either embed the chart with static data, or you can also set the chart to update dynamically when new data becomes available...

[Here's the] complete list of World Bank indicators currently available: CO2 emissions per capita, Electricity consumption per capita, Energy use per capita, Exports as percentage of GDP, Fertility rate, GDP deflator change, GDP growth rate, GNI per capita in PPP dollars, Gross Domestic Product, Gross National Income in PPP dollars, Imports as percentage of GDP, Internet users as percentage of population, Life expectancy, Military expenditure as percentage of GDP, Mortality rate, under 5, Population, and Population growth rate.


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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Practicing for the AP exam

I have now written practice FRQs for students preparing for the AP exam (3 May) and for teachers looking for practice questions for their students.

I will begin posting them, one a day, at Studying Comparative on March 29. In a rather random order I will post 15 Short-Answer Concepts questions, 3 Conceptual Analysis questions, and 6 Country Context questions.

They will be as realistic as possible.

If you don't want to wait for the end of the month, you can look at the blog archives for questions from 2009 (27 questions) and 2008 (45 questions). Some of the older questions might be out of date, but you can update them and practice with them.

Use the Comments section to ask questions or submit answers for public evaluation. No contest this year as there was in '08 (there were too few entries).


I've noted pages and sections of What You Need to Know related to each question.


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Redefining China's Families

Rebecca Small, who teaches at Herndon High School in Virginia, pointed out a wonderful multi-media site from the Washington Post, titled "Redefining China's Family."

It includes links to articles by correspondent Maureen Fan from the last 3 years, an introductory video, videos on women, the elderly, and migrant workers and a Q&A section on "China's Families."

It well worth your time to check it out.



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History and analysis of Nigerian politics

Chris Kuberski, who teaches in Chicago, sent me a link to a source I didn't even know existed. He was pointing out a good, clear op-ed explanation and analysis of the presidential situation in Nigeria.

This little essay from The Root would be a great update to what's in your textbook even though none of the specifics will appear on the AP exam. Details from this situation could be used as examples when answering FRQs if they're appropriate.

Nigeria and Democracy Inaction
How did we get here? In 1999, after years of military rule which followed Nigeria’s independence from Britain and failed experiments in democracy, the country finally embraced civilian rule and the democratic process. However, the self-serving attitude and actions of a supposedly democratic leadership, which often seems to be no different from that of the former military rulers, continues to prohibit Nigerians from fully reaping the fruits of democracy and from having the country run at full capacity.

Let’s be clear what “not running at full capacity” means. It means that Nigerians are now used to power outages that can last months. They have become used to sitting for hours in traffic on roads with gigantic pot holes and no road signs in which innumerable vehicles, people and perhaps even a random animal jostle for space. They have become used to the corruption that has become a part of the fabric of everyday life, and the incredible gap between the poor—who can live on top of each other in shacks—and the rich—who live close to them in compounds and mansions. They have become used to substandard education and universities that spend half of the year on strike. They’ve become used to their leaders enriching themselves out of the pockets of the people who they are supposed to serve...

If there is indeed anything to be gained from what has been going on, it is that Yar’Adua’s absence has sparked an outrage in Nigerians. For the first time in years, people have not just been talking about what’s going on, but taking action. Protests and newspaper articles are part of that. Many organizations dedicated to change have sprung up, including the nonprofit Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI), of which I am a member. NLI is made up of Nigerians, both inside and outside of Nigeria, who are dedicated to transforming leadership and values for the benefit of the Nigerian society...


The author, Lola Adesioye, is a black British sociopolitical writer of Nigerian descent. The Root, published by Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive, is a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives. The publlisher is Donna Byrd and the editor-in-chief is Henry Louis Gates.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Not as simplistic

If the journalists writing about the awful violence and bloodshed in Jos can only emphasize the religious cleavages there, Imnakoya, a Nigerian-American writing in the blog Grandiose Parlor, elaborates the issues to avoid oversimplification.

JOS: a crisis triggered by inequality
It is now clear that the violence-igniting problem in JOS is far from solved. Not after more than 500 were killed again over the weekend in what appeared a sequel to an equally bloody incident in January.

The common denominator in the Jos crisis — as in most sectarian crises in Nigeria — is traceable to the deep inequalities in the society. The elements of religion and geography are just mere facilitators in the conflict…

It is ironic that this extent of bloody encounters have occurred in Jos, a city which is an acronym for “Jesus our Savior”. Perhaps, the origins of the Jos — a former enclave for colonial missionaries, and its geographic location — aptly described by some as a “de facto fault line separating Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north from its mainly Christian south”, is partly responsible for the mishaps… However, the fact remains that the gory events in Jos can be reproduced almost anywhere in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a nation of natives and settlers; the Nigerian constitution even empowers this ethnic affiliation by giving credence to the of “state of origin” status...

This inequality is made even more potent at the state levels, and the crisis in Jos is not immune to the “state of origin” contraption: the Christians are the natives, while the Muslims are the settlers; the natives feel entitled to largess but not the settlers…

That the two are on the opposing sides of the religion divide certainly does not help. The cumulative effect of these factors — the aftermath of cultural and societal inequality — is what has been happening in Jos over the years: an intractable bloody violence…

Millions of executive committees could be commissioned to investigate, and international agencies called in to pontificate and and proffer solutions, but not until the inequalities in the societies are addressed would there be sustainable peace. Bending the inequality curve will demand will power and sincerity from the political lords of the land and sacrifice from the various stakeholders, unfortunately, these are very scarce items in present day Nigeria.

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Governing lab

When local governments are able to legislate, they can become sites for experimentation in governance. While Anna-Marie O'Connor, writing in the Washington Post headlines the culture war theme, comparativists should be paying attention to the scope and limits of local government in Mexico. [Thanks to Rebecca Small who teaches at Herndon High School in Virginia for suggesting I take a second look at this article.]

With same-sex marriage law, Mexico City becomes battleground in culture wars
The Mexican wedding may never be the same.

On Thursday, this sprawling megalopolis will catapult to the front lines of gay rights in Latin America when a city law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption goes into effect.

The prospect of gay marriage has… spotlighted the power of Mexico City's center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) leaders to advance a liberal agenda that contrasts with provincial traditionalism.

Mexico allows the federal district of Mexico City to pass its own laws, and the metropolis of more than 20 million people has become a major battleground in the culture wars playing out across the Americas.

In recent years, the city's PRD-dominated Legislative Assembly has recognized civil unions and no-fault divorce, legalized abortion in the first trimester and given terminally ill patients the right to refuse treatment.

The Legislative Assembly passed the gay marriage act by a broad majority in December… Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD leader, signed the bill into law -- a first in Latin America...

Mexico's ruling party does not want the Mexico City law to be the catalyst for a domino effect.

The attorney general filed a challenge with the Supreme Court, arguing that the law violates the constitution…

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Monday, March 08, 2010

The Un-legislature?

Don't count on much besides interference if you get elected in China without the blessing of THE Party.

Making sure that China’s supreme legislative body is toothless
YAO LIFA, a primary schoolteacher who in 1998 became one of the first legislators in China to be elected without the backing of the Communist Party, is wearily resigned to frequent summons by the police. As China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC) [opens its annual session] jittery authorities are stepping up surveillance of Mr Yao and others they fear might use the occasion to air grievances about the party’s grip…

As usual, China is preparing for the... parliamentary meeting with a propaganda blitz about the session’s importance as a conduit for public opinion. Online opinion polls seek votes on the topics of most interest at the meeting. Corruption, income disparities and soaring house prices rate highly. But internal directives suggest that in recent years the party has been keeping tight control on the legislature in an effort to minimise embarrassment to the party leadership…

In 2008 leaders met party officials in the NPC to stress the importance of securing resounding endorsements for the party’s choices for top national posts. This included the re-election of President Hu Jintao and the prime minister, Wen Jiabao. Apparently to prevent critical comments from leaking to the press, the internal bulletins circulated among the delegations to keep them informed of each others’ discussions were banned from mentioning what delegates said about official appointments. Such comments were to be relayed directly to the party leadership. Until the voting, even the names of the officials up for election were to be kept secret. Since 2007 each delegation has had to name a secrecy officer to enforce such rules. That year foreign journalists were barred from any meeting taking place next to a room being visited by a senior leader. The party did not want leaders buttonholed...

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

They're at it again

The rivals in Jos are killing each other again. And the journalists are framing it as a religious conflict again. Do your students know why that oversimplification makes it difficult to understand what's going on?

Clashes Kill Dozens in Central Nigeria
Clashes between Islamic pastoralists and Christian villagers killed more than 100 people near the central Nigerian city of Jos Sunday, where sectarian violence left hundreds dead in January, witnesses said…

Villagers in Dogo Nahawa, just south of Jos, said Hausa-Fulani pastoralists from the surrounding hills attacked at about 3 a.m. (9 p.m. EST), shooting into the air before slashing those who came out of their homes with machetes…

Four days of sectarian clashes in January between mobs armed with guns, knives and machetes killed hundreds of people in Jos, the capital of Plateau state…

Jonathan deployed hundreds of troops and police to quell January's unrest, in which community leaders put the death toll at more than 400. Official police figures estimated the death toll from the clashes two months ago at 326…

The tension is rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.

The instability underscores the fragility of Africa's most populous nation as it approaches the campaign period for 2011 elections with uncertainty over who is in charge...

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Learn from Lei Feng Day

A reminder from Jeremiah Jenne in Beijing. Don't forget to check out the great poster collection on Stefan Landsberger's web site.

Learn from Lei Feng Day!

On this date in 1963, Mao Zedong launched the “Learn from Lei Feng” campaign…

The fact that the diary was fictitious and a product of the propaganda department doesn’t necessarily rob Lei Feng of his significance — hey, it’s nice to be nice to others — and as political campaigns go, urging people to help each other and be frugal definitely has its merits. So, today let us all learn from Lei Feng: Help your fellow citizens, assist the elderly whenever possible, and, for goodness sake, watch out for large falling objects…



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Smilence

I've already posted far above my quota for the day, but I couldn't resist Mark MacKinnon's headline in the Globe and Mail.

'Smilence' is golden in China's parliament
It is known as the period of “smilence” – the 10 days of fixed smiles and silent agreement that are the once-a-year sitting of China's rubber-stamp parliament. Though its job, theoretically, is to safeguard the constitution, proposals put forward by the ruling Communist Party are almost never rejected by the 2,987 legislators who make up the National People's Congress...


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