Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Slavophiles win again

Thanks to Rebecca Small for pointing out this article.

The Slavophiles seem to be winning this political argument. (See also: Slavophiles and Zapadniki )

Russian anti-gay bill sets off furor
While many countries, including the United States, are fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation, Russia seems intent on intensifying it… the state Duma passed the first reading of a bill prohibiting distribution of “gay propaganda” to minors, which opponents fear would make gay pride marches, demonstrations for gay rights and public displays of affection by same-sex couples illegal. Moscow already bans gay pride parades on the grounds that they might set off public disorder…

The national bill follows the passage of similar laws in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk and three other cities, tapping into an ideology promoted by President Vladimir Putin and his circle that combines anti-Westernism, Russian exceptionalism and conservative Orthodox religious beliefs…

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Proposal to nowhere?

It's probably a good thing that I'm not an Iranian politician. I would never bother to propose to the rulers that they change a system that keeps them in power. I would never expect any positive response to such a proposal. However, looking at late 20th century history in Mexico and Russia, maybe I shouldn't be so defeatist.

Iranian politicians call for free elections
A heated debate about who will be allowed to run in Iran’s presidential election has erupted five months before the vote, stoking concerns about a repeat of the protests that followed the contested 2009 poll.

At the heart of the controversy is whether the vote will be what critics of Iran’s electoral system call “free” — that is, cast with a ballot that includes candidates from all of Iran’s various political factions and not just so-called principlists, the conservatives who are loyal to the Shiite Muslim clerical establishment that rules Iran.

The loudest calls for an open field of participants are coming from two former presidents and the outgoing one, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They are trying to ensure that their political allies are not barred from running by the Guardian Council, the powerful committee of clerics and jurists that vets the eligibility of potential candidates…

Ali Hosseini Khamenei
The challenges have sparked fiery responses from Khamenei, who accused Ahmadinejad and his fellow critics of trying to “discourage the nation.” …

The open debate is delicate for Iranian authorities, who [have]… long pointed to high voter turnout as proof of its legitimacy, and that is likely to materialize only if the ballot includes candidates from across Iran’s political spectrum.

That would mean allowing the participation of candidates allied with reformists and Ahmadinejad… He and reformists enjoy popular support, and their allies could siphon votes from establishment contenders, undermining Iran’s system of clerical rule…

“Because the reformists have no hope to win in the next presidential elections, they are using the keyword free election in the political arena of the country to make problems for the elections,” Mojtaba Zonnour, a cleric and an adviser to the supreme leader’s representative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps…

[T]he debate over free elections began with former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In an address to university students in Tehran last month, he said that “the first step for returning balance to our society is to have free, transparent and legal elections. If we do this, all the factions will accept the results of the votes and cooperate and help the government to solve the problems of the country.”…

His words last month sparked a backlash, mostly from ultraconservatives who believe elections should be open only to those most loyal to the establishment…


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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How an Idea Becomes Law in Great Britain

Ken Halla posted a link to a helpful six-minute video on the Parliament web site titled "How an Idea Becomes Law in Great Britain." (Green papers, committees, white papers, royal assent, etc. all explained.)

(Try not to be too confused by the name of Ken Halla's blog. It's "US Government Teachers Blog." He teaches Comparative as well. He hasn't gotten round to creating a separate blog for it yet.)

At the end of the video, YouTube offers links to other videos from Parliament, including a two-part "Voting: What are Elections?" and tours of the Commons and Lords chambers.

By the way, I subscribe to Ken's blog via Google+. You can do the same.

How an Idea Becomes Law in Great Britain
For those of you teaching comparative government, this video on how an idea becomes law in Great Britain, should be of help.

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Interpreting clues in China

This is just a minor example of the subtlety of the clues that are used by outsiders to figure out what's going on in Chinese politics. Don't even think of transparency. I added a bit of bold face so you won't miss the clue.

Former Chinese Leader Steps Back, Fueling Speculation
A decade after he stepped down as China’s top leader, the powerful Communist Party elder Jiang Zemin has used the death of a former rival to signal that he may allow his political shadow to recede and give the nation’s newest leader more room to consolidate his authority.

Jiang
The sign came in official accounts of mourning for Yang Baibing, a general who was pushed from office after being implicated in efforts to challenge Mr. Jiang. A report on the funeral by Xinhua, the state news agency, on Monday ranked Mr. Jiang last among a dozen party luminaries who had offered words of comfort and condolences.

As recently as late November, Mr. Jiang, 86, was placed third in rank in a similar mourning announcement, behind Hu Jintao…

For some political analysts seeking to fathom the undercurrents of power in China’s elite, Mr. Jiang’s reduced protocol ranking suggested something more: that he may finally curb any impulses to exert influence in Zhongnanhai, the party leadership’s compound in Beijing…

And some argue that Mr. Jiang, while signaling that he is ready to step away from the political fray, is doing so in a way that does not exclude renewed efforts to exert influence. “I think that everyone was amazed that at 86 he still had the ability to achieve the influence that he wielded at the 18th Party Congress,” said Joseph Fewsmith, a specialist in Chinese politics at Boston University. “Having helped put in place the leadership that he wanted, it seems likely that he will now seek a lower profile.”…
See also

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Keeping track of violence in Nigeria

The Council on Foreign Relations has posted a series of maps and charts illustrating violence in Nigeria. There's a map showing where and when violent deaths have occurred. And there are charts about total deaths over time and who the perpetrators were. These might be good teaching tools if you're using political violence in Nigeria as part of your course.

Nigeria Security Tracker
The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations' Africa program, documents and maps violence in Nigeria that is motivated by political, economic, or social grievances…

The Nigeria Security Tracker tracks violence that is both causal and symptomatic of Nigeria’s political instability and citizen alienation…
Weekly deaths by cause

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Rule of law with Chinese characteristics

Xi Jinping seems to be talking about rule of law but seems unable to just come out and say it. Or is this one of those translation problems? Or a problem of translating a western cultural concept into the context of Chinese political culture?

Xi Jinping vows "power within cage of regulations"
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), addresses a plenary meeting of the CPC's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 22, 2013. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), vowed to unswervingly fight against corruption… During a CPC disciplinary watchdog meeting on Tuesday, as Xi ordered enhanced restraint and supervision on the use of power, he said, "Power should be restricted by the cage of regulations."…

Xi said "the mainstream of our cadres and Party members is good. But we should soberly recognize that corruption is still prone to occur or happen quite frequently in certain areas."…

He stressed that the fight against corruption is a long-term, complicated and arduous task. Anti-corruption efforts must be consistent and will never slacken.

"We must have the resolve to fight every corrupt phenomenon, punish every corrupt official and constantly eliminate the soil which breeds corruption, so as to earn people's trust with actual results," he said…

"No exception will be made when it comes to Party disciplines and law," Xi said. "Cases will be investigated completely and no leniency will be meted out no matter who is involved."

He continued, "Party cadres at various levels should keep in mind that no one can enjoy absolute power outside of the law."

Anyone who exercises power should serve the people, be accountable to the people and consciously accept supervision by the people, Xi said.

The general secretary called for efforts to enhance supervision of chief leaders, earnestly implement democratic centralism, and improve the mechanism of publicizing governing activities so as to ensure high-ranking officials do not abuse their powers for personal gain…

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Socialism with inequality

Chinese leaders like to talk about socialism with Chinese characteristics. It seems that growing economic inequality is one of those Chinese characteristics.

Gap between China’s rich and poor can't be hidden in Chongqing
The large and growing gap between China’s rich and poor is one of the most obvious challenges facing the country’s new paramount leader, Xi Jinping, who will take over as president from Hu Jintao in March. In a signal the new leadership at least wants to start discussing the problem, the National Bureau of Statistics last week revealed the country’s Gini coefficient – which measures income inequality – for the first time in more than a decade.

As the official Xinhua newswire put it, the number “paints a far-from-rosy picture of what the country needs to do to bridge the wealth gap and make more people included in its magnificent growth story.”

The official figure of 0.474 is a belated acknowledgment that China has a serious problem. On the Gini scale, 0 is perfect equality and 1 is total inequality – any rating above 0.4 is considered to be dangerous to social stability. But the country’s chief statistician, Ma Jiantang, also made an eyebrow-raising assertion: that Chinese society has been getting more equal each year since 2008, when the Gini coefficient peaked at 0.491.

That seems at odds with the realities on the streets of a place like Chongqing, where it’s increasingly common to see luxury sports cars swerving through streets clogged by three-wheeled taxis. Indeed, a study conducted last year by the Chengdu-based Survey and Research Centre for China Household Finance concluded the Gini coefficient ACTUALLY stood at 0.61 in 2010, which would put China among the most unequal societies in the world…

From CIA World Factbook 2012: GINI Index (lower number indicates greater equality)
  • Mexico - 52
  • China - 48
  • Iran - 45
  • Nigeria - 44
  • Russia - 42
  • United Kingdom - 34
  •  
Gapminder offers the GINI Index as one of the variables you and your students can use when creating dynamic graphs. This one shows the relationship between GDP per capita and levels of inequality.



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Thursday, January 24, 2013

In memory of Bill Babcock

I learned this afternoon that Bill Babcock, an extraordinary colleague and mentor, died last month. I met Bill when we read exams on the Clemson University campus over 20 years ago. I was a rookie, he was the guy who helped me learn the ropes. We worked together at reading tables several times after that.

He was a gentleman and a scholar in the very best senses of those words. He was also a great teacher to those of us who worked with him.

About the time we both retired, he and his wife Julie, trekked across Jacksonville to take photos of a house my parents rented when my dad was stationed at Jacksonville Naval Air Station during World War II. The kindness of their gesture would not be surprising to those of us who knew Bill.

In Memory of William Nathaniel Babcock March 23, 1934 - December 19, 2012

Bill Babcock
William Nathaniel "Bill" Babcock passed away peacefully on December 19, 2012 after an extended illness.

Bill was born in Wytheville, Virginia on March 23, 1934 to Kate Anderson Babcock and Mark Babcock.

He grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Julie Cheves Babcock, his son Mark William Babcock (Laura) and grandchildren Sophie, Eva and Max, of Madrid, Spain, and his brother James M Babcock (Anita) of Tampa.

Bill graduated from Mainland High School in Daytona Beach in 1953 and served in the US Marine Corps before attending the University of Florida, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Education in 1960 and a Master of Education in 1966.

After graduation, Bill became an educator, teaching for more than 47 years, including 41 years at The Bolles School.

Bill began his career at Bolles in 1966 and retired in 2007. He taught many subjects during his tenure at Bolles – including history, economics, and AP levels of US and comparative government. He served as chairman of the Social Studies Department until 1997 and was then named chair emeritus. As Director of Student Activities, Bill was also an instrumental mentor and inspiration to students in the National Honor Society and the Student Council. He was the first person to be named The Henrietta Donovan Chair of American Studies and was one of four teachers citywide selected for the Gladys Prior Award for Career Teaching Excellence in 2002.

In addition to his work at Bolles, Bill served the Advanced Placement Program of the College Board as a Grader, Table Leader, and Consultant in the subject of Comparative Government from 1988 to 2005... 

Intimidation from afar

Peter Whitehouse, who teaches at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, FL, sent me a link to an article about how the Iranian powers-that-be try to intimidate journalists and confuse their online readers.

He suggests that, "It would make a useful addition to a comparison of how Russia, China, and Iran approach the media, compared to the UK, Nigeria, and Mexico." This could be the beginning of a great comparative case study. How about six groups within a class, each becoming the authority on a country's government-media relationship?

Thanks, Peter.

Iran creates fake blogs in smear campaign against journalists in exile
Iran has been conducting a smear campaign designed to intimidate Iranian journalists living in exile, including apparent death threats. Cyber-activists linked to the Islamic republic have fabricated news, duplicated Facebook accounts and spread false allegations of sexual misconduct by exiled journalists, while harassment of family members back in Iran has been stepped up by security officials.
Iran's smear campaign against journalists in exile includes a fake version of the BBC's Persian website, right. The real BBC site is on the left. Photograph: BBC
The staff at the BBC's Persian service in London are among dozens of Iranian journalists who have been subjected to what appears to be an operation sponsored by the authorities and aimed at discrediting reporters in the eyes of the public in Iran.

It is not the first time the Iranian authorities has resorted to such tactics, but Sadeq Saba, head of BBC Persian, told the Guardian that the number of incidents and level of harassment has increased in the last few weeks.

"In comparison to previous round of harassment, this time the language they were using in Iran [against the family members] was more threatening," he said. According to Saba, members of journalists' families have been summoned to the intelligence service headquarters for questioning. One journalist whose parents were interrogated several times said they were told he should stop working for the BBC or risk being killed.

In recent weeks, the pro-regime activists have set up a number of fake Facebook accounts and blogs, purporting to belong to BBC journalists or their Iranian colleagues…

[T]he pressure has escalated after the broadcast in early December of Forced Confessions, a documentary by the Iranian film-maker Maziar Bahari. The documentary tells the story of Bahari and a number of other Iranians who were forced to confess under duress in Iran's prisons…

Although loathed by the Iranian government, BBC Persian is popular inside Iran and is watched by millions through illegal satellite dishes on rooftops…

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Vanguard party and democratic centralism

Yesterday I got a question from a colleague about some details that are relevant to at least three of the countries included in the AP comparative course.
Why, I thought, should I not share this with lots of people? Some of you might have similar or identical questions. I've tried to anonymize things to encourage more questions.

Here's the original question:
As always thanks for all that you do for us and the Comparative Government course.  I'm having difficulty clearly explaining the difference between democratic centralism and the idea of the vanguard party.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.
I just realized the question was only implied. But I answered as if the question had been direct:
Oh, you guys who still teach. You ask the most obscure questions.
Okay, here's my free response.
Marx
A vanguard party is an organization devoted to achieving a revolution. Democratic centralism is a method it uses.
Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx presented the concept of the vanguard party as solely qualified to politically lead the proletariat in revolution; in Chapter II: "Proletarians and Communists" of The Communist Manifesto (1848), they said:
"The Communists, therefore, are, on the one hand, practically the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat."
Engels
From the Wikipedia entry for "Vanguard Party" accessed at 1:00pm, CST, 23 Jan 2013
Democratic Centralism is one of the methods used by a vanguard party to organize and foment revolution and later to rule.  The basic idea is that there is supposed to be open discussion within the party after which the truest of the true believers organize the disparate and disorganized ideas of the masses into a party line which is harmonious with the official ideology. Then they go back and teach that party line to the masses.
Lenin
In a large bureaucratic party, that means that the topmost leaders (standing committee of the politburo central committee?) eventually tell those below them in the hierarchy what the policy is and they tell those below them, etc., etc. Somewhere along the way down are those who are to implement the policy and they are to do that as the "truth" goes out.
As Lenin described it, democratic centralism consisted of "freedom of discussion, unity of action."[1]
1. Lenin, V. (1906). "Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P." Retrieved 2008-08-09.
Based, in part, on the Wikipedia article on "Democratic Centralism," accessed at 1:10pm CST, 23 Jan 2013
I have confidence in those Wikipedia articles because they match what I know and those Marxists are great ones for ensuring that good information is posted on those relevant Wikipedia pages. They tend to quickly jump on people's mistakes.
Khomeini
It's good to note that other revolutionaries use these Marxist ideas.
I think the Iranian revolutionaries are the best example, even if the vanguard party is hard to identify. The rather informal hierarchy of ayatollahs who have political ambitions (not most of the ayatollahs) and the true believers among the officer corps of the Revolutionary Guard are probably the best group to call the vanguard party. But the system is set up to facilitate democratic centralism. That's why there's conflict between the supreme leader and the president when there is disagreement about the party line. 
 Hope that helps.

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Good thing the next election is two years away

No wonder PM Cameron is trying to attract some of the UKIP supporters with his promise of a referendum on British membership in the EU.

Labour Ahead, Tories at Lowest Level Since 2010 Election in Britain
(01/14/13) The Labour Party remains the first choice for voters in Britain as the governing Conservative Party has reached its lowest level since its electoral victory in 2010, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found...

In the online survey… 42 per cent of decided voters and leaners (unchanged since late November) would support the Labour candidate…

The Tories are a distant second with 27 per cent, followed by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with 11 per cent and the Liberal Democrats with 10 per cent…

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Post-materialist politics in China

Edward Wong, writing in The New York Times, makes a good anecdotal case for the emergence of some post-materialist politics in China. Will that change the political culture?

In China, Widening Discontent Among the Communist Party Faithful
Barely two months into their jobs, the Communist Party’s new leaders are being confronted by the challenges posed by a constituency that has generally been one of the party’s most ardent supporters: the middle-class and well-off Chinese who have benefited from a three-decade economic boom…

For years, many China observers have asserted that the party’s authoritarian system endures because ordinary Chinese buy into a grand bargain: the party guarantees economic growth, and in exchange the people do not question the way the party rules. Now, many whose lives improved under the boom are reneging on their end of the deal, and in ways more vocal than ever before…

Few are advocating an overthrow of the party. Many just want the system to provide a more secure life. But in doing so, they are demanding something that challenges the very nature of the party-controlled state: transparency.

More and more Chinese say they distrust the Wizard-of-Oz-style of control the Communist Party has exercised since it seized power in 1949, and they are asking their leaders to disseminate enough information so they can judge whether officials, who are widely believed to be corrupt, are doing their jobs properly…

Some Chinese say that they and their compatriots, especially younger ones, are starting to realize that a secure life is dependent on the defense of certain principles, perhaps most crucially freedom of expression, and not just on the government meeting material needs…

Any official commitment to transparency, though, could be fragile. After Hu Jintao and Mr. Wen took charge of the state in 2003, they opened up reporting on the SARS virus, which raised expectations for a more liberal administration. But the leaders dashed those hopes by enacting conservative policies…

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Theory

Recently, I was revising the political science theory section of my book for its 5th edition (coming about March 1).

(Theory is a neglected part of the AP course. Except for distinguishing between empirical and normative statements, when has the exam asked about theory?)

About the same time, Rebecca Small, who teaches at Oakton High School in Virginia, sent me links to two articles she'd read in The New York Times.

I'd seen both articles and decided not to post them on this blog.

This conjunction of events led me to think about what political science and pedagogical theories I use to choose what to post here. Why had I decided not to post the articles?

I choose to post articles that I think
  • are more than just current events
  • are relevant to the comparative study of government and politics -- especially relevant to the Advanced Placement course
  • illustrate important features of one of the six countries in the AP course
  • illustrate important concepts in comparative political science
  • offer opportunities for comparison and analysis
  • would be useful in creating teaching plans

But, my approach to the course is decidedly not historical. I suspect that most teachers who teach the course come to the project with backgrounds in history, not political science. And I think it's important for successful teaching that each of us teach from a perspective that makes the most sense to us. Thus, when I see articles like this one that Rebecca sent me, I'm likely to be skeptical about its value to a political science course like comparative government and politics.

China Says It Will Overhaul Sprawling System of Re-education Through Labor
China will start overhauling its draconian system of re-education through labor in the coming year, according to the state news media, signaling the incoming leadership’s determination to alter one of the government’s more widely despised cudgels for punishing petty criminals, religious dissidents, petitioners and other perceived social irritants.

The brief announcement… lacked details, but legal advocates… were hopeful that the five-decade-old system for locking up offenders without trial would be significantly modified, if not abolished altogether…

Established by Mao Zedong in the 1950s to swiftly neutralize political opponents, re-education through labor has evolved into a sprawling extralegal system of 350 camps where more than 100,000 people toil in prison factories and on farms for up to four years. Sentences are meted out by local public security officials, and defendants have no access to lawyers and little chance for appeal…

When I first read the article, I saw it as more a history lesson than a comparative politics lesson. Reading it again, I think I was wrong. I recently posted an article about the re-education camps, Efficient law enforcement, and this second article offers good context for the first one.

There's only one paragraph about history, and that one is wonderfully relevant.

The second article Rebecca suggested, was about the recent kerfuffle over censorship of a newspaper editorial in southern China.

Protest Grows Over Censoring of China Paper
Hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of a newspaper company in southern China on Monday, intensifying a battle over media censorship that poses a test of the willingness of China’s new leadership to tolerate calls for change.

The demonstration was an outpouring of support for journalists at the relatively liberal newspaper Southern Weekend, who erupted in fury late last week over what they called overbearing interference by local propaganda officials…
I passed on this article because it didn't explain things well to me. I chose to post the BBC article on the episode because I understood it better than The New York Times version.

I guess that illustrates another bit of theory I use in choosing what to post here. I want clear explanations with enough context that make sense to me. I expect the articles to be comprehensible to AP students, even those just beginning the course in January and February.

Let me know what you think. Use the "Post a Comment" link at the bottom of each blog post.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Progress of reform

As a case study, the reform of education law in Mexico might be a window into the process of change. The new law has made it to a second stage. Implementation is now the issue.

Sweeping education reform approved in Mexico
A plan to overhaul Mexico's public education system has been ratified by 18 of the country's 31 states, allowing it to be enacted by President Enrique Pena Nieto, officials confirmed Wednesday.

The law, which is backed by Pena Nieto and was approved by Congress in December, calls for creation of a professional system for hiring, evaluating and promoting teachers without the "discretionary criteria" currently used in a system where teaching positions are often bought or inherited…

Gordillo
The plan, which has multi-party support, will move much of the control of the public education system to the federal government from the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers, led for 23 years by Elba Esther Gordillo. Under the old law, she hires and fires teachers…

The overhaul was Pena Nieto's first major proposal since taking office Dec. 1 and is considered a political blow to Gordillo, who has played the role of kingmaker for many Mexican politicians. She was conspicuously absent from the announcement.

Pena Nieto is expected to sign the reform into law in about a week, Romero Hicks said.

See also: Heading into uncharted waters

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Will the EU issue do to Cameron what it did to Thatcher?

The Conservative Party includes a powerful contingent of politicians who desire a unique, negotiated relationship with the EU, not membership. Especially not in the monetary union.

The rising popularity of the UK Independence Party in response to the recession pushes some Tory politicians even farther away from the EU.

This is the issue that brought about the downfall of PM Thatcher in 1990. She preferred that the UK join the North American Free Trade Area rather than join the EU without special concessions by the EU.

Lord Heseltine attacks David Cameron's EU strategy
Lord Heseltine
Lord Heseltine has criticised the prime minister's European strategy, saying an "ill-advised" referendum would jeopardise the UK's business prospects…

The Tory peer also warns the policy would "drive away inward investment". [Inward investment is that which comes from outside the UK.]

Mr Cameron is expected to announce this month that the Tories will offer a referendum after the next election...

While Lord Heseltine is known for being pro-European, many Conservatives are not, and are pressuring the government to commit to a referendum on the question of whether the UK remains in the EU - a so-called "in-out vote".

Lord Heseltine said: "To commit to a referendum about a negotiation that hasn't begun, on a timescale you cannot predict, on an outcome that's unknown, where Britain's appeal as an inward investment market would be the centre of the debate, seems to me like an unnecessary gamble"…

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the prime minister should take Mr Heseltine's comments "very seriously"… "If you're an investor thinking about putting your money into Britain, you're not going to be doing that if you think Britain's about to leave the European Union."…

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Found t-shirt

Saw this t-shirt online. Forgot where.


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Friday, January 18, 2013

Changing political values in Russia

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project recently asked people in seven countries about their governmental preferences. The results might mean that Russian political values (and political culture) are changing. Compare these results with what your textbook has to say on the topic.

Democracy
Should we rely on a democratic form of government or a leader with a strong hand?


Which is more important, a good democracy or a strong economy?
 

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

A big delay and a little more

Lisa Schalla, who teaches at The American School of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, sent me the link to a great article from the Project Syndicate site. She sent it to me a month ago. I lost track of it.

Sorry, Lisa.

Then again, as I read the position paper by Tony Blair, former UK PM, I realized that the issue of Britain's membership in the EU was just now coming to a head.

Wouldn't it be great, I thought, to pair Blair's position with that of the present PM, David Cameron.

Well, Cameron was scheduled to give a big position speech today (Friday) in Holland.

Events in North Africa have caused the Prime Minister to postpone his speech. When he does make it I'll add a link to it as a comment on this post.

Then you'll be able to use the political debate in the UK as a case study in what some of the issues that separate the Conservatives from Labour.

Thanks again, Lisa.

Britain’s European Destiny
By Tony Blair
The toughest challenge in politics right now is resolving the tension between the best long-term policy and the best short-term politics. Nowhere is this tension clearer than in Britain’s debate over Europe.

Tony Blair
Europe has disturbed and divided British politics for years. But this time is different. Now mainstream politicians from the governing party are openly making the case for Britain leaving the European Union, or at least radically changing its relationship with it – which may amount to the same thing – with the sympathy of some of our nation’s leaders and far wider support among the public.

The reason for this resurgent skepticism and hostility toward the EU is not hard to fathom. Europe is in crisis…

The short-term politics is clear: being anti-Europe is today popular. But leadership is not about conceding to short-terms politics. It is about managing short-term politics in the pursuit of the right long-term policy.

“Europe is in crisis, therefore leave” may win a majority in an opinion poll. But, in the leap to “therefore” lies a chasm of error. I believe that such a policy would be politically debilitating, economically damaging, and hugely destructive for Britain’s true long-term interests. Our country faces a real and present danger by edging toward exit. The correct policy is to engage with Europe, to make it clear that Britain intends to be a strong participant in debates about Europe’s future, to build alliances, and to shape an outcome that is consistent with the right way forward, not just for Britain but for Europe as a whole…

The case for the EU today is that member countries, including Britain, need its heft in order to leverage power in economics, trade, defense, and foreign policy, as well as to address global challenges like climate change. The EU gives Britain a weight collectively that it lacks on its own.

It really is that simple. I admire the idealism of Europe’s early founders, but the rationale for Europe today has nothing to do with idealism. It is brutal Realpolitik. In a world in which China and India both have populations 20 times that of the United Kingdom, Britain needs the EU in order to pursue its national interest effectively. With it, we count for more; without it, we count for less…

Europe is a destiny that Britain will never embrace easily. But doing so is essential to remaining a world power, politically and economically. It would be a monumental error of statesmanship to turn our back on Europe and abandon a crucial position of power and influence in the twenty-first century.


Cameron postpones big speech on Europe
Cameron had been due to warn his fellow European leaders that British membership of the EU could be put at risk unless its membership terms are changed. "If we don't address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit," Cameron was due to say in the speech to an audience of business leaders in Amsterdam.

PM David Cameron
"There is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems.

"People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent."…

Cameron was due to declare that he will demand the repatriation of some powers if he wins an overall majority at the next election. The new terms of British membership would then be put to the people in a referendum, possibly around 2018.

Cameron was planning to tell the business audience in Amsterdam: "There is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems. People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.

"More of the same will not secure a long-term future for the eurozone. More of the same will not see the European Union keeping pace with the new powerhouse economies. More of the same will not bring the European Union any closer to its citizens. More of the same will just produce more of the same – less competitiveness, less growth, fewer jobs. And that will make our countries weaker, not stronger," Cameron was due to say…

The prime minister was due to say that he supports British membership of the EU and that his aim is to stabilise support in Britain by addressing concerns about power amassed in Brussels. He wants to use a major revision of the Lisbon treaty, which may take place after the European parliamentary elections in 2014, to table his demand for the repatriation of social and employment legislation.

Cameron planned to identify the three major challenges facing Europe as the eurozone crisis, weak European competitiveness, and a lack of democratic accountability. Failure to address these would increase support among those who want to leave, though he was due to say that is not his preference. "I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it."

Another post on this issue will appear on Monday.


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Confusing story out of China

The story and the situation are confusing. Check back in the "Comments" section for updates as journalists learn more about how much, if any, the Chinese newspapers gained and how much, if anything, the government gave up. But really, advocating constitutional rights? What should you expect?

By the way, the Chinese news agency, Xinhua has published nothing about this.

China censorship row: 'Deal' at Southern Weekly
Reports from China suggest journalists at a newspaper embroiled in a censorship row are returning to work after an agreement was reached.

Staff at Southern Weekly had demanded that a top propaganda chief step down after a New Year message was changed.

Reports said that the provincial Communist Party chief, high-flier Hu Chunhua, had intervened to defuse the situation…

The row began when a New Year message in the paper - a well-respected publication also known as Southern Weekend - that had called for guaranteed constitutional rights was changed by censors prior to publication.

On Tuesday, an editorial from the state-run Global Times blaming the incident on "activists outside the media industry" was republished on multiple news sites - the result, according to reports, of a government directive.

But several major news portals carried a disclaimer saying they did not endorse the piece and a number of newspapers did not run it, in an apparent show of solidarity…

Beijing News promoting southern porridge
[O]nline reports citing microblogs suggest the row may have widened to include a well-known daily, Beijing News

[A] careful reading of the Beijing News fuels speculation that something is afoot at the paper. The main page of its website features a story on the wonders of warm rice porridges from southern China that can soothe the soul in the depths of winter.

"During social disturbances, we should really cherish warmth and this bowl of porridge," the article reads.

Correspondents say that it could be interpreted as a show of support for Southern Weekly

China Said to Crack Down on Censorship Protests
People across China have been detained or questioned in recent days by security officers for publicly supporting the journalists at the Southern Weekend newspaper who have been protesting strict censorship, according to a human rights group and online posts discussing the plights of some detainees...

Chinese Human Rights Defenders said about two dozen people have been detained by security officers since Jan. 8...

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Keeping up with Mr. Putin

Trying to keep track of the methods by which Russian legislators are elected is as difficult as keeping track of how regional administrators are selected. In the early years of the Russian Federation, half of the Duma was elected proportionally and half from single-member districts. Then in 2003, the system was changed so that all members of the Duma were elected proportionally. Now, it seems, that for the next elections at the end of 2016, the original system of half proportional and half single-member districts will be used.

For those of us in the USA, these changes are baffling. After all, the last major change in elections was 1914, when U.S. Senators had to face voters directly. That change required a Constitutional amendment. For all the grousing about the Electoral College, no changes have been made. So, Russia changes its electoral system on whims or the exigencies of contemporary politics?

My questions center around "What changed?" What changed between 1999 and 2003 to make proportional elections more attractive to the ruling elite? What changed between 2003 and 2013 to make proportional elections less attractive?

Putin Orders Change in Election Rules
President Vladimir V. Putin has ordered a major change in the rules for parliamentary elections, a move that could help solidify his power and influence toward the end of his current term and insulate him from dwindling public support for United Russia, the party that nominated him and currently holds a majority in Parliament.

United Russia logo
At Mr. Putin’s direction, half of the 450 seats in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, would be filled using a proportional system based on votes for parties, with each party then filling its allotted seats. The other half would be filled by direct election of individual candidates, creating a potential opening for independent campaigns.

The new system, which the Central Election Commission is expected to unveil in the next several weeks, replaces a system of strict party-list voting. It would be the second major change to the parliamentary voting process in less than a decade and essentially amounts to a return to a system that had been in place through 2003…

But while the prospect of individual candidacies suggests a liberalizing of a political system often criticized as heavily tilted in favor of Mr. Putin and the governing authorities, history shows that they can actually have the opposite effect.

This is because individual candidates endorsed by the majority party tend to have a huge advantage in name recognition and resources in local races, and because candidates who run locally as independents can often be enticed to join the majority party when the new Parliament is formed, using perks offered by the presidential administration…

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Are shopping malls indicators of middle class success?

Andrew E. Kramer, writing in The New York Times, argues that the building of malls around Moscow is a sign of a growing middle class in Russia. Will the middle class succeed? Will its success change politics? If so, how?

Malls Blossom in Russia, With a Middle Class
Mega Belaya Dacha
Shoppers who find that 250 stores aren’t enough can go ice skating, watch movies or even ride a carousel, all under a single roof.

While it sounds like the Mall of America, this mall is outside Moscow, not Minneapolis…

Instead of bread lines, Russia is known these days for malls. They are booming businesses, drawing investments from sovereign wealth funds and Wall Street banks, most recently Morgan Stanley…

As American malls dodder into old age, gap-toothed with vacancies, Russia’s shopping centers are just now blossoming into their boom years, nourished by oil exports that are lifting wages…

The mall boom illustrates an extraordinarily important theme in Russian economics these days. The growing crowds at malls, and the keen interest in Russian malls on the part of Wall Street banks, are signs that the emerging middle class that made up the street protests against Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow last winter is becoming a force in business as well as politics…

“Over the past 10 years, Russia has turned into a middle-class country,” Charles Slater, a retail analyst at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate consulting firm, said in an interview…

At the core of the attraction for investors is the rising disposable income of Russians, nudged along by policies favoring the middle class, lest their challenge to President Putin’s rule intensify.

Russia has a flat 13 percent income tax rate. Most Russians own their homes, a legacy of post-Soviet privatizations, and so pay no mortgage or rent. Health care is socialized…

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Northern Ireland cleavages are not just historical

Recent events in Belfast seem to threaten a replay of the 1970s. Does the economy (then and now) have anything to do with the protests and violence?

Belfast long way away from solving sectarian struggles
Northern Ireland’s leader,First Minister Peter Robinson, is warning that the recent violence in Belfast is taking a heavy toll on the city’s economy and shows that the province is far from resolving its sectarian struggles.

“The peace process in which we are involved was never going to be some straightforward linear progression to peace. There were always going to be bumps along that route,” said Mr. Robinson. “And anybody who simply closed the chapter and thought that was the end of the story I think is wrong. There is still a lot of work yet to be done.”

Belfast has been gripped by almost daily protests for more than a month, with images of masked men throwing rocks and firebombs at police broadcast around the world…

The protests started after Belfast city council, led by Catholic republicans, voted to fly the British flag atop city hall only on 18 days per year instead of every day. Catholics argued the decision was a fair compromise because the Union Jack is a divisive symbol. But Protestants saw the move as a rejection of 103 years of history and a slap in the face. Many have been protesting ever since.

“I can understand that a lot of people [around the world] will be scratching their head and finding it difficult to understand,” said Mr. Robinson, whose position is akin to a provincial premier [in Canada]. “The flag encapsulates the identity of a community and we had a very peaceful Belfast city council for many decades.” A Protestant, he blamed republicans councillors for provoking the issue. “Nationalists and republicans decided to poke unionists in the eye by pulling down the flag simply because they could, and that has had consequences – consequences that you’ve seen on the streets.”

But he also acknowledged there are bigger issues at play, in particular the growing disconnect between working-class Protestants and their political leaders. Many believe Mr. Robinson and others are out of touch and too complacent. And some are turning to a new radical group called the Ulster People’s Forum that is leading the protests…

So far, there is little indication anything is quelling the fury. The protests have battered Belfast’s economy, which was already struggling with a recession. Business at some downtown shops and restaurants has been down as much as 40 per cent since the protesting started and foreign investors have started to become wary of investing in the city…

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Bad Rankings and a disagreement

More serious rankings are probably important for political scientists, but anthropologists and sociologists might appreciate these more than political scientists.

But if people lose confidence in the country, isn't that part of the political culture? What are the Belgians to think?



Nigeria Ranked 20th Saddest Nation
Nigerian people are known for many things; but calling them sad has not gone down well with most citizens.

Despite the widely spread belief that Nigerians are one of the happiest in the world based on their resilience and ability to smile even in the face of hardship, Forbes has ranked Nigeria as the 20th saddest country…

Taking the first position on the list is the Central African Republic followed closely by the Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

Sudan takes the 18th position, Mozambique the 19th and Nigeria the 20th.

Among the world's happiest countries, Norway ranked first, Denmark ranked second and Sweden ranked third.

Canada took the sixth position, United States of America the 12th and United Kingdom the 13th among the world's happiest countries…




Nigeria: No Way!
ACCORDING to a report that was recently published in the Washington Post newspaper, Nigeria is the worst country in the entire world to be born in.

The report, based on a study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), examined 80 countries and used a scoring system comprising 11 variables to determine "which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead."…

I used to be a Copy Editor at the EIU's London office when I was younger and I developed a deep affection for the organisation - which was widely respected - then. But everyone makes mistakes from time to time and the authors of this study have definitely gotten it wrong on the Nigerian front.

OK so Nigeria is nowhere near Paradise, thanks to the Boko Haram menace and many other dysfunctions, including the fact that it is riddled with various forms of oppression. Furthermore, nothing works well enough in Nigeria. Then there's the constant, never-punished sexual harassment of women by men who have the power to make or break them; and the paralysing cronyism, rigged elections, chronic corruption, awful schools, deadly hospitals; and so on.

But - trust me! - Nigeria is like heaven on earth compared to some of the alternative locations I have found myself in over the years. Nigeria is, for example, considerably less grim than Poland, considerably less frustrating than The Gambia and considerably less boring than Belgium!…

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Why lobby the public?

While the nationalistic wing of the Conservative Party in the UK continues to argue that the United Kingdom is NOT part of Europe and only loses sovereignty and pride as part of the EU, one of the main lobbying groups in the country argues the other side.

Why is it that the CBI does its lobbying in public and not behind the closed doors of ministries or Downing Street?

Britain must carve out new trade role in world: CBI leader
John Cridland
Britain must carve out a new global trading role for itself as part of a new, rapidly-changing European Union (EU), John Cridland, director-general of the Conferderation of British Industry (CBI), urged on Monday…

In his message, he said a historic U.S. deal [between the EU and the USA] is vital to creating long-term, sustainable economic growth and job creation in Britain and the EU. It would eliminate tariffs, liberalize goods and services, harmonize regulation, promote investment and set benchmark standards for trade in the 21st century.

Britain could not afford to "miss out on opportunities to use the EU to help rebalance the economy towards exports and create new trade deals based on its world-class reputation - in particular in financial and professional services; pharmaceuticals; and creative industries."

The message comes as the CBI kickstarts a major project in the New Year to flesh out how the UK's global role should look in a new Europe. It will examine how the UK can remain a leading location to do business globally - expanding export markets particularly for high-growth small and medium-sized firms, without losing access to the Single Market. It will report in mid-2013…

"We need global trade deals to drive growth and create jobs, especially when the domestic economy is growing more slowly than required. Businesses don't want the baby thrown out with the bathwater - not with 50 percent of our exports heading to Europe."

See also: UK must stay in Europe to boost business success

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Subscriptions

It's been so long since I've been aware of a problem, that I'd forgotten that many of you subscribe to these blog posts.

There are a couple ways to subscribe. Check your options in the right hand margin at the top of the blog page.

I got an e-mail today from a former Comparative teacher who was unable to unsubscribe.

After fumbling with the controls for a bit, I was able to find his email address on the list and remove it.

If you have problems with your subscription to this blog, send me a note and I'll see if I can figure out how to resolve things. No guarantees, but I'll try.

In the meantime, if you're just beginning the course (or just about to), have a great time.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Party realignment in Nigeria?

When one party is dominant, it makes little sense for six other parties to compete with each other. Can they come together enough to contend for the presidency?

This story comes from This Day.

Opposition Set to Float New Party March
Bukar Abba Ibrahim
Ongoing talks among the opposition parties may lead to the formation of a new political party by March, a leading member of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, has said…

"Before March 2013, we are all going to reach an accord on this merger, that is the deadline for the merger materialising. From all indications, the parties are looking forward to forming a totally new party where all the opposition parties will come together as one entity," he said.

Speaking on the activities of the contact committee, Ibrahim said the members had toured the North-central and South-east zones, during which they consulted with party members on the merger plan.

According to him, the committee is about to start reaching out to the South-south, South-west and North-west zones to rally support for the merger…

He said the merger talks between the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), CPC and ANPP were being widened to include the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and some elements in the Labour Party (LP)…

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

No disagreements in government

The Iranian president has a lot of battles to fight and he isn't about to put up with criticism from within his own government. Not even, or not especially, from the only woman who has ever served in the Islamic Republic's cabinet.

Iranian Leader Fires Woman From Cabinet
Iran’s president on Thursday dismissed his health minister, the only woman to serve in the cabinet since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, after she publicly criticized the government’s response to acute shortages of medicine imports, an indirect consequence of the Western sanctions imposed on the country.

Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi
Accounts in the state-run news media of the dismissal of the minister, Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, did not provide an explanation for it…

Dr. Vahid-Dastjerdi, a gynecologist, was appointed in 2009 and is considered an advocate of women’s rights in Iranian society. She spoke out last month, apparently angering the president, by saying that an allocation in the budget of foreign currency needed to purchase medicines abroad was inadequate…

The medicine shortage in Iran has become an urgent problem because many Western-made drugs are increasingly hard to obtain. Under the sanctions, a broad Western ban on many financial transactions with Iran has dissuaded many foreign companies from doing business with the country, even though medicines are among items exempted from the sanctions…

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

CB Teacher Community for Comparative

Now that second semester is underway or about to begin, many more people will be teaching comparative classes.

I was just looking at the Teacher Community for Comparative Government and Politics maintained by the College Board and its AP program.



Andrew Conneen is the moderator and has done a good job getting the online community set up.

Remembering how valuable the communication links on the old "list serve" were, I want to point out that's one of the things the "community" is replacing. There have been only a couple messages since November. That's expected, but now is the time to use the service to ask questions and offer your experiences to other teachers. You can subscribe to the discussion board.

In addition, libraries of resources and curricula are being built. I've begun to transfer resource descriptions and links from the "Sharing Comparative" group, and you can add your own discoveries of valuable web sites, videos, articles, books, and lessons.

Please do.

See you there.

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