Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

AP review ideas

If you haven't seen Ken Halla's suggestions at Goggle+, they are worth looking over, WITH ONE MAJOR CAVEAT.

In his test taking strategies, he suggests that students offer more examples than they are asked for on Free Response questions.

It might be true on the US exam that incorrect examples are ignored, BUT that is NOT the case on the Comparative exam.

If students are asked for two examples and offer three or four, one or more of which are incorrect (i.e., not on the rubric), they cannot earn full credit. More harmful is offering two examples when asked for one and one of the offered examples is incorrect. In that case a student will earn no points for the example.

The test development committee explained that this scoring procedure is used to prevent students from earning points from just listing lots of examples in hopes of naming some correct ones.

Go look at the rest of Ken Hall's review and test taking ideas. They're good.

The reviewing and test taking strategies in What You Need to Know are also very good. (But you knew that I'd say that.)

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Shifting policy on birth control in Iran

During the Iran-Iraq war, the government urged people to have larger families. After that, a massive program to encourage birth control was begun to reduce rapid population growth. Now the supreme leader has decided that single-child families are not healthy. For a theocracy, that seems like quite a few seemingly pragmatic policy changes.

Iran wants citizens to say ‘I do’ in bid to spark baby boom
Twenty years ago, Iran introduced a birth-control policy that provided citizens with access to contraceptives and family planning sessions for newly-weds.

But all that has changed.

In an effort to boost the country’s population, 150,000 Iranian health officers have been deployed in a house-to-house mission to urge couples to have more children, reported The Telegraph.

Iran: Population
They are promoting the benefits of marriage and urge single-child couples to expand their families, as part of an effort to double Iran’s population, which currently stands at 75 million…

“In the marriage training course, we have focused more on the child-producing because the single-child issue has caused so many problems and provoked much debate,” [Mohammad Ismail Motlagh, general manager of the health ministry’s family, school health and population program] added in an interview with Fars news agency.

He also suggested that mothers should reduce pregnancy gaps to two years and that if pregnancy gaps exceed two years, “couples should revise their methods and make plans in this regard.”…

In 2012, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, ordered the abolition of a 15 billion dollar plan aimed to budget family planning in the country. He called for the country’s population to rise and double to 150 million…

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Monday, April 29, 2013

There are labor unions in Iran?

Well, there used to be unions in Iran. Unions supported the democracy movement in the last century. They were active supporters of the Islamic revolution. But now? Not so much.

It's worth reminding ourselves that the economy is now dominated by bonyads, those "charitable" foundations governed by clerics and managed by technocrats. They are fat sources of wealth for those who govern and run them.

Iran’s banned trade unions: Aya-toiling
DURING a Persian new year’s party (in late March) at Iran’s flagship South Pars project in the Persian Gulf, where the world’s largest known gasfield is being tapped, a labourer called on Iran’s workers to unite. Behnam Khodadadi demanded better pay and conditions, and a proper trade union. Around 1,500 workers stopped security guards from detaining Mr Khodadadi. A week later he was fired from his job at Iran Industrial Networks Development, a contractor for the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company… [D]isaffection is growing among Iranian workers as inflation outpaces wage rises and workers are laid off. At the same time attempts to organise labour are being suppressed in the run-up to June’s presidential elections…

Iran does not recognise independent unions, so workers have to make do with Islamic Labour Councils, which must be approved by employers and the security services. Reckoning that these councils are in cahoots with the government, workers tend to keep their grievances to themselves for fear of being sacked as troublemakers. Labour leaders are often imprisoned…

Despite the long history of Iran’s labour movement and the big part its oil workers played in deposing the shah in 1979, Iran’s workers have witnessed a steady erosion of their bargaining power. After the revolution, independent workers’ councils won rights to such things as a 40-hour week and lodging allowances. They got rid of people who had worked for the shah’s intelligence service. But during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) the unions’ independence was destroyed…
Tehran street sweeper

“We are at the mercy of our employers,” says Mahmud, a Tehran street sweeper on his night shift, scraping rubbish out of an open gutter with a coarse wicker brush. “We almost never get the overtime pay we are entitled to but we can’t complain because we would be fired.” A senior municipal worker admits that thousands of non-unionised street sweepers, who clean the capital by night, often go months without pay.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Reviewing British politics - 2

A pair of articles in the April 20th edition of The Economist seem to have been written with comparative politics exam-takers in mind. Recognizing the concepts and understanding how they are applied to what's going on politically in Britain would be great review techniques. The first one was a short op-ed piece. This second one is a longer analysis. Both reflect the magazine's center-right, free-market biases, but students ought to recognize those as well.

England’s two nations: Divided kingdom
IN 1951 Winston Churchill launched the Conservative Party’s general-election campaign in Liverpool. The crowd went wild. “I’m not conceited,” he later told his doctor, “but they wanted to touch me.” The Tories went on to win a majority of votes in the city.

Today such a result is unimaginable. In the 2010 general election the Conservative Party won just 19,533 votes in Liverpool. Labour won 116,285…

Over the years the Conservative Party has been expelled from most of the north of England (and almost all of Scotland). Labour has been virtually driven from the south. Margaret Thatcher once told a newspaper interviewer that economic change has the potential to alter “the heart and the soul” of a people; the double-edged sword of Thatcherism changed the hearts and souls of north and south in strikingly different ways, and with long lasting effects. The differences between them now go beyond economic circumstance—their cultural and political identities are ever more distinct. This represents a daunting but inescapable political challenge… Only in London and the Midlands do the parties seem to be in real competition…

Combining one of the most centralised systems of government with one of the starkest regional splits in party support makes England an oddity. Italy’s geographic division is deeper, economically; but right and left both have strongholds in the rich north and the poor south… America’s division between Democratic coasts and a Republican middle is relatively new… And unlike the peoples of Belgium, Spain and Germany, all of whom enjoy a federal structure, England’s halves must rub along in just one Parliament…

Beginning in the 1960s changing industrial fortunes drove a wedge between the manufacturing-oriented north and the services-heavy south. In the 1980s wealth generated by London’s booming financial-services industry turned neighbouring regions a deeper shade of blue. Mrs Thatcher’s monetarist reforms were accompanied by high unemployment, particularly in northern cities. She defeated the National Union of Mineworkers, accelerating the industry’s decline—many former mining towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire struggle to attract new jobs to this day. The privatisation of the steel industry had a similar effect in places like Teesside. In Wales and Scotland Conservatism was widely viewed not just as malign but as a foreign imposition…

When Labour increased public spending in the north it strengthened its position there. When the Conservative-led coalition began to cut public-sector jobs they strengthened Labour’s position there, too. (The same may yet prove true of cuts in benefits, which are a larger part of incomes in the region.)… At every election, the Liverpool offices of Unite, a trade union with some 250,000 public-sector members, become the engine room of the local Labour campaign. The possibility of the government “localising” public-sector pay, which would mean lower pay for teachers, doctors and policemen in the north, haunts those Conservatives vying for their votes…

But the preference northern voters show for Labour is not merely a reaction to who pays their salaries, or just a matter of the size of those salaries. In the south people in the middle of the national income spectrum favour the Conservatives; in the north, they lean strongly towards Labour. Indeed well-off people in the north are more likely to vote Labour than the poor are in the south…

Thus the north looks hard for the Tories to crack. Judged just by number of constituencies, Labour’s position in the south looks even worse…

The regional divide seems likely to widen, and not just because many public-sector cuts are still to come. Recent by-elections suggest that the decline in Liberal Democrat support will accentuate the gap by widening the Conservative lead in most southern seats and (to a greater extent) the Labour lead in the north. By forging a budget-cutting coalition with the Tories, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has damaged his party’s prospects in post-industrial northern towns.

The best way for a party to get into the other’s heartland may be to target the changing patterns of work that have perpetuated the split. Mr Green talks of breaking Labour’s grasp on Wirral politics by replacing monolithic provision of social services with a less statist political economy of “mutuals, co-operatives and co-production.” Other Conservatives point approvingly to the government’s moves to curb trade-union power. Labour, in turn, identifies a need to adapt to a larger private-sector workforce. Rowenna Davis, a broadcaster and Labour councillor (who has written for The Economist), points to the party’s moves to encourage companies to pay employees a “living wage” higher than the basic minimum wage...

The temptation to defer investments in opponents’ strongholds is great. But, argue the long-termists, such investments need to be made. The party which first smears its colours all over the map will be in a position to reknit England’s heart and soul on its own terms.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Reviewing British politics

A pair of articles in the April 20th edition of The Economist seem to have been written with comparative politics exam-takers in mind. Recognizing the concepts and understanding how they are applied to what's going on politically in Britain would be great review techniques. This first one is a short op-ed piece. The second is a longer analysis. Both reflect the magazine's center-right, free-market biases, but students ought to recognize those as well.

The politics of north and south: Britain’s great divide
Britain’s north has long belonged to Labour and its south (outside London) to the Conservatives, but the political divide is deeper than ever. Of the 197 MPs representing the English south beyond the capital, just ten are now Labour. The Tories hold only two seats in the north-east and one in Scotland…


This schism can partly be explained by economics. Mrs Thatcher did indeed oversee a collapse of northern manufacturing (though that process neither began nor ended with her), as well as a financial-services boom that was mostly felt in the south-east. Then Tony Blair and Gordon Brown presided over a surge in public spending, which benefited the north disproportionately. Now the Conservative-led coalition is cutting back. So the impression has taken hold that Labour squeezes the south to feed the north; whereas the Tories do the opposite…

Geography now trumps both social class and employment. Indeed, Policy Exchange, a think-tank, has worked out that northerners from the highest social class are more likely to vote Labour than are southerners from the lowest social class.

The north has wealthy suburbs, like South Wirral, west of Liverpool. They vote Labour. The south has impoverished pockets, like north-east Kent. They vote Conservative…

Most obviously, it is much harder for one party to secure a strong political mandate. Both main parties will concentrate on the Midlands, where loyalties are less entrenched, and on picking off Liberal Democrat seats; but the Tories need to win some northern seats to get a majority. Worse, the growth of regional political monocultures has a desiccating effect on national politics. Parties learn about people’s concerns by representing them. The Conservative Party now has scant direct knowledge of the northern cities. Labour is similarly clueless about people living in southern towns. And the parties sometimes take their heartlands for granted: Labour’s neglect of Scotland is one reason the Scottish National Party is thriving.

Since a large part of the problem is straightforwardly political, so must the cure be. The parties could be cannier when it comes to building a presence in hostile territory: perhaps starting with a beachhead in local government, then fighting for MPs, as the Liberal Democrats have done. More devolution would help, with local politicians being responsible for taxes as well as spending. Elected mayors, provided they have real powers, can break the monotony of regional party machines…

Britain’s first-past-the-post system for electing MPs is also a barrier. Yes, it is simple and can create strong governments, but it saps the will of parties to fight in places where they have no chance of winning. To encourage parties to contest the whole country, some MPs—about 20% would be ideal—could be elected on the basis of proportional representation by region…

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Things heating up in Nigeria?

It's not just political conflict that, from journalistic reports, is heating up in Nigeria.

Baga clashes: Nigeria army seizes heavy weapons
Nigeria's army has said it seized rocket-propelled grenades during last week's fighting in Baga - believed to have been one of the first times Boko Haram has used heavy weapons.

It says 37 people were killed, while others maintain at least 185 died.

The army says 30 members of the Boko Haram Islamist group, one soldier and six civilians died.

The Red Cross has backed local officials who say the figure is higher but they have not been into the town…

Baga is close to the border with both Chad and Niger and a multinational force from the three countries was attacked, its commander Brig Gen Austin Edokpaye said…

Local MP Isa Lawan told the BBC Hausa service that… there were "many versions of what happened. Everyone tells his own version. So no-one is sure which version to believe…"
See also:

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Analysis of Nigeria

The editors at The Economist offer an analysis of the present state of things in Nigeria. Good summary or review.

Lurching ahead: Africa’s giant is waking up, but it still looks unsteady on its feet
Nigeria sometimes seems punch-drunk… On the whole, the country is tottering along, acclaimed as much for its massive potential as for its actual achievements. It is still a sick man all the same.

Tracts of the north are poorer than ever and ravaged by Islamist terrorism… The oil-soaked Delta in the south is anarchic, gutted by the continuing large-scale theft of oil and riddled with corruption at a level that is high even by Nigeria’s lofty standards…

Education and health care are still wretched. Electricity remains patchy as ever. The national infrastructure—especially roads and railways—is dire… Some 60% of Nigerians still live below the poverty line, while a rich elite—“the top million”, as it is sometimes jestingly called—educates its children privately (often abroad), relies on private health care and its own electricity, and is generally immune to the travails of ordinary Nigerian life…

If Nigeria goes on growing by 7% a year… it will become Africa’s biggest economy within a decade…

President Goodluck Jonathan takes as much credit as he can. “A new political culture has emerged,” he says, along with “a clear electoral process”, a reference to his victory in 2011. “Corruption and issues of governance are being vigorously tackled on all fronts.”…

But such hopeful talk has yet to be translated into improvements in the living standards of most Nigerians…

The failure of Nigeria’s vast oil wealth to trickle down is a continuing scandal…

Despite Mr Jonathan’s honeyed words, almost nobody believes corruption is being seriously tackled…

Despite his election to retain the presidency as the PDP candidate in 2011, Mr Jonathan still gives the impression of acquiring and holding the job by accident. He is increasingly seen as lacklustre, weak and beholden to various competing monied interests…

[T]he illegal bunkering of oil persists, incurring enormous losses to the national budget, the militants are plainly acting in cahoots with leading southern politicians..

Opposition to Mr Jonathan is already gaining momentum, both within and outside his own party. In February four opposition parties, with ten of the country’s 36 governors behind them, said they would merge into an All Progressives Congress to oppose the PDP in the next elections…

Perhaps more worrying for Mr Jonathan is backbiting within his own PDP, especially among northern Muslims…

could discontent ever boil over into revolution? In a society where patronage and ethnic loyalty still hold sway, that seems unlikely soon. But it cannot be ruled out for ever. “We’re sitting on a keg of gunpowder,” says Nasir El-Rufai, a former federal minister. “We have a demographic time-bomb.” Some even mutter about the return of military rule.

For the time being, Africa’s giant, under Mr Jonathan or not, is likely to stagger forward with its flawed system of multiparty democracy. Through patronage and chicanery the elite will continue to determine the lot of the masses…

2015: Northern governors may dump Jonathan
Strong  indications emerged... that the North has taken a resolute decision not to support the candidature of President Goodluck Jonathan should he decide to run in 2015.

Rather than give its blessing to Jonathan’s re-election, the north is now fine-tuning strategies to project one of its leading lights for the presidency in 2015 with Speaker Aminu Tambuwal increasingly winning the favour of some northern governors.

Vanguard learnt from reliable sources that influential Northern political leaders were deeply concerned about the deteriorating quality of life in Nigeria, particularly in the North occasioned by endless poverty and intractable security challenges that have continued to claim lives and property.

In addition, political gladiators in the region were peeved by the attempt by President Jonathan to dump the gentleman’s agreement he reportedly entered into with Northern governors in 2010 to serve for only one term of four years…

Hon. Aminu Tambuwal
It was learnt that although the Northern political leaders were united on the need to dump Jonathan and back one of their own in 2015, the major problem confronting them at the moment, was how to decide on a presidential candidate.

It was also gathered that while no fewer than five Northern governors were jostling for the presidential post, political leaders in the region were seriously mulling the idea of drafting the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, into the race…

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Details, details, trivia, details

The longer you study something, the more you learn about it (hopefully). When I began teaching about China, the Cultural Revolution was in full swing and my cousin-in-law's husband was a barefoot doctor in Anhui province. Not all that he and I learned about China in the 1960s and '70s is relevant to his international business or my attempts to help students prepare for an exam about government and politics.

I have to keep in mind that what's an interesting detail to me might well be irrelevant trivia to a student striving to earn college credit through a high stakes exam.

So, when I saw this headline, I was intrigued. In the proper context, the topic might be more than trivial for students of comparative government and politics. However, for most students, this is beyond the scope of what's necessary for success on an exam. It still might be interesting. It might offer evidence to use in responding to an exam question. And Celia Hatton, the BBC Beijing correspondent and I have added some context. See what you make of it.

China 'reveals army structure' in defence white paper
PLA assembly
China has revealed the structure of its military units, in what state-run media describe as a first.

The army has a total of 850,000 officers, while the navy and air force have a strength of 235,000 and 398,000, China said in its defence white paper…

China's defence budget rose by 11.2% in 2012, exceeding $100bn (£65bn)…

The white paper reveals details of China's military structure… The territorial army has 18 combined corps in seven military area commands… The air force has… an air command in the same seven military areas, while the navy commands three fleets…

The paper also describes the role of China's second artillery force, which contains China's nuclear and conventional missile forces.

The force is crucial to China's "strategic deterrence", and is "primarily responsible for deterring other countries from using nuclear weapons against China, and carrying out nuclear counterattacks and precision strikes with conventional missiles," the paper said…

Analysis
China's People's Liberation Army is on a fast path to modernisation. Following years of double-digit budget increases, the military has acquired submarines and naval destroyers. Aircraft carriers and Chinese-made fighter planes are in development. In 2010, technology to destroy missiles in mid-air was tested…

In its latest white paper, the defence ministry… confirms information on the military's structure that previously was only available from analysts outside mainland China: The names of the PLA's divisions and brigades and the numbers of active personnel they contain, in addition to the missile line-up.

Of course, the PLA is far from an open book; a great deal of information is still classified. However, the bid to come across as a modern, professional military with nothing to hide marks a change from times past…
More context
The PLA is the largest military force in the world, with about 2.3 million people on active duty. In comparison, the U.S. military has 1.4 million people on active duty in the military and another 850,000 people in reserve units.

Russia has just over 1 million active duty personnel. The UK has nearly 200,000; Iran has over 500,000 military personnel on active duty and 1.5 million paramilitary (basij); Mexico has over 250,000 people on active duty; and Nigeria has about 80,000.

When it comes to military spending, the USA leads the rest of the world.
  • US $682 billion (4.4% of GDP)
  • China $166 billion (2.0% of GDP)
  • Russia $91 billion (4.4% of GDP)
  • UK $61 billion (2.5% of GDP)
  • Iran $7.5 billion (1.8% of GDP)
  • Mexico $4.9 billion (0.5% of GDP)
  • Nigeria $1.7 billion (0.9% of GDP)

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Quick quiz

Dr. Nick Hayes, professor of history who holds the university chair in critical thinking at Saint John's University in Collegeville, MN, while writing about Chechnya in MinnPost today said that "Grozny is the Potemkin village of Putin’s Russia…"

Do your students know what he was saying about Grozny?

Do your students know why the Potemkin Village meme keeps showing up in discussions of Russian politics?

Could your students use that phrase when answering a free response question on the exam next month?

Grozny, Chechnya

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No corruption for you!

While the PRC leadership makes loud noises about stemming corruption and punishing corrupt officials, people have to know that only the officials are allowed to decide what should be stemmed and who should be punished.

What do they think this regime is? A democracy?

China Expands Crackdown on Anticorruption Activists
Chinese authorities have detained six anticorruption activists in recent days, expanding their crackdown on a citizen-led campaign that, on the surface at least, would appear to dovetail with the new leadership’s war on official graft.

The detained activists, who include seasoned dissidents and a prominent rights lawyer, had been demanding that senior Communist Party officials publicly disclose their personal wealth…

1952 Anti-corruption poster: "Fight against the 3 Evils and 5 Evils"
The campaign, begun late last year with a petition drive that garnered thousands of signatures, has attempted to piggyback on a pledge by President Xi Jinping to clean up the endemic corruption he says poses an existential threat to the ruling Communist Party…

The arrests have both infuriated and disappointed reformers and human rights advocates, who say the crackdown bodes ill for Mr. Xi’s widely trumpeted war on graft. “The party promised to publish officials’ assets 30 years ago, something it has yet to do,” said Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer and founder of the New Citizens Movement who is being held under house arrest. “Clearly the government is afraid of this demand.” …

Analysts say the crackdown on dissent, coupled with newly announced media restrictions and the absence of any new anticorruption initiatives, are gnawing away at any hopes that Mr. Xi will embrace the rule of law and clean government.

“These arrests do nothing to dispel the widely held opinion that public office is in essence a way to accumulate illegal wealth,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong…

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Wealthy Putin?

Rumors have floated around political and journalistic circles inside of and outside of Russia about President Putin's fabulous wealth. Given the wealth of many of the insider oligarchs and politicians surrounding him, none of those rumors seem unbelievable.

However, evidence is slim to invisible. It's too bad that Business Insider couldn't come up with more evidence than what appears to be very expensive watches on Putin's wrist. Does that offer "plenty of reason to doubt Putin's official claims"?

Why You Should Take Vladimir Putin's Official Income Of $187,000 With A Pinch Of Salt
Russian President Vladimir Putin has released documents that appear to show he had an income of almost 5.8 million rubles (about $187,000) in 2012.

That figure was included in tax reports uploaded to the Kremlin's website earlier this week — part of a transparency obligation for Russian officials that began last year.

However, there's plenty of reason to doubt Putin's official claims.

According to the documents, Putin lives a relatively spartan life. The Russian president owns a plot of land, an apartment and a garage. He is in possession of three cars — two Soviet-made Gaz cars and a Niva SUV. His rarely-seen-in-public wife, Lyudmila, is said to own no property and have an income of less than $4,000.

To put that in context, the salary for the job of U.S. president is $400,000. Barack Obama's net worth was estimated to be between $2.8 million and $11.8 million in 2010.

Putin's own wealth has long been a subject of speculation. Some reports of his net worth are incredibly high, with one suggesting it may be an enormous $40 billion…

Putin and wristwatch
His lifestyle certainly seems more akin to that of a richer man. He is said to have access to a fleet of vehicles worth $1 billion, has been spotted wearing watches worth at least $687,000 at retail, and he is rumored to have been building a private palace on the Black Sea worth $1 billion since 2006…

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, the government's spokesperson on the economy, revealed he had a huge income of 448.4 million rubles ($14.4 million), AFP reports. He has been forced to issue a statement explaining that none of his wealth breaks the law.

Nice work
GUESSING at the supposed—and secret—personal wealth of President Vladimir Putin is a favourite pastime for Russia-watchers, with much talk (and few facts) about opaque beneficiary companies, Swiss bank accounts, and intermediary oligarchs...

But a new report... has taken a simpler approach. Boris Nemtsov... and Leonid Martynuk... have scrutinised the palaces, jets, yachts, and watches that Mr Putin uses in the course of his duties. Mr Putin clings to power, they write, in part because he is loath to part with the “atmosphere of wealth and luxury” to which he has become accustomed. Why bother with private bank accounts when you have public funds at your disposal, they ask.

Putin's plane?
The president has 20 residences, from the Constantine Palace outside St Petersburg, a Tsarist-era estate restored in 2003 for tens of million of dollars, to the Dolgiye Borodi residence on Lake Valdai in northwest Russia... His fleet of planes includes a Russian-made Ilyushin with a $75,000 toilet and ornamentation crafted by artisans from the monastery town of Sergiyev Posad. Systematic surveys of the presidential wrist reveal a watch collection worth more than $680,000, the authors reckon. Of the four yachts in Mr Putin’s collection, the authors allege, one was a gift from Russian businessmen. All of this adds up, the report’s authors say, to a lifestyle worthy of a “Persian Gulf monarch or a flamboyant oligarch.”...
See Putin's Plane for more photos reportedly from the Russian president's primary airplane.


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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Study on Facebook

Seriously.

There's a Facebook page for Comparative Government and Politics where anyone can ask a question or  for an explanation.

It's at AP Comparative Government and Politics: What You Need to Know"


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Friday, April 19, 2013

Protecting their turf and income

The Mexican union for teachers has seen its leader jailed and its authority constitutionally restricted. People don't normally concede political power, especially when its linked with income. Some teachers are conceding neither.

Mexican president faces teachers' revolt
[T]eachers marched by the thousands through the streets… some masked and brandishing metal bars and sticks in an escalating showdown over education reform that's become a key test of President Enrique Pena Nieto's sweeping project to reform Mexico's most dysfunctional institutions.

Teachers protest
The fight is dominating headlines in Mexico and freezing progress on a national education reform that Pena Nieto hoped would build momentum toward more controversial changes…

Pena Nieto's first major legislative victory after taking office in December was a constitutional amendment eliminating Mexico's decades-old practice of buying and selling teaching jobs, and replacing it with a standardized national teaching test. That's heresy to a radical splinter union of elementary and high-school teachers in Guerrero, one of the country's poorest and worst-educated states. The teachers claim the test is a plot to fire them in mass as a step toward privatizing education, although there is little evidence the government plans that…

The 20,000-member group walked out more than a month ago, turning hundreds of thousands of children out of class. Then it launched an increasingly disruptive string of protests.

On Wednesday, the protesters won support from a wing of the armed vigilante groups that have multiplied across poor Mexican states in recent months. On Thursday, they blocked the main highway from Mexico City to Acapulco for at least the third time, backing up traffic for hours. On Friday, they shut down entrances to some of the biggest stores in the state capital…

Now the president finds himself facing unexpectedly tough resistance from rural teachers in straw hats and plastic sandals in his first direct conflict with the Mexican far left, a diverse and fractious group encompassing student activists, militant unions, anarchists and the remnants of indigenous guerrilla groups…

The conflict is fueled by the importance of teaching jobs for the poor mountain and coastal villages where the dissident union is strongest. Teaching jobs in Guerrero with lifelong job security, benefits and pension pay about $495 and $1,650 a month, depending on qualifications and tenure, well above average in rural areas, according to teachers and outside experts. They said the price to get such as job can cost as much as $20,000, usually going to the departing teacher, with cuts for union and state officials…

Teachers at schools that in Guerrero this week told The Associated Press that they agreed for the need for reform, but pointed to a host of problems unrelated to teacher qualifications, including class sizes of up to 40 students per class, curricula that promote rote learning over engagement and a lack of state money for maintenance that forces parents to contribute a mandatory $25 fee so that schools can pay for costs like classroom fans and fixing sports fields…

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Post-exam elections

Okay, the Iranian election won't take place until a month after your students take the AP exam. The election might even take place during summer vacation.

But this election guide from the BBC might help students make sense of Iranian politics and offer examples they could use when freely responding to exam questions. And, who knows, they might be interested in things Iranian that they understand after the exam and after the school year ends.

Iran presidential poll: Issues and divisions
The outcome of the last election in 2009 was hotly disputed, leading to mass protests against the results. Four years later, two of the candidates are still under house arrest, hundreds of political activists are in prison and hardly any of those behind the killing of dozens of protesters have faced investigation or trial…

For the Islamic Republic, which is governed under a mixed clerical and parliamentary system, the elections are seen as key affirmation of the system's legitimacy, however flawed the process may be…

FACTIONS: This is the first time in almost two decades that, instead of two main conservative and faction reformist faction, at least four factions will compete for the presidency…

FOREIGN POLICY: Nuclear program… and negotiations with the US…

PUBLIC OPINON: Public opinion is divided over the upcoming election. Commentators regularly refer to the following five groups, though it is difficult to know their proportions among the population…

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Available candidates

Iranian politicians are beginning to put their names forward as candidates to be candidates for the presidential election. Which ones will be approved? Does it really make a difference? To whom?

Final decisions on who gets to be a candidate come in May.

Field of Iranian presidential candidates takes shape
Iran’s political landscape has become increasingly divided during controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second and final term. But as a diverse array of candidates to replace him takes shape, nearly all the contenders seem united on one thing: attacking the president’s legacy.,,

In Iran… the biggest election issue is the sagging economy, and most among an emerging list of about 20 candidates argue that it has been harmed as much by Ahmadinejad’s tenure as by international sanctions…

Iran’s traditional conservative factions — known as principlists for their loyalty to the founding principles of the Islamic Republic — make up the largest number of expected candidates… Reformists… are lining up against the president.

The president and his voter ID
Among them is the lead nuclear negotiator under Khatami, Hassan Rowhani, who announced his candidacy on Thursday. The entrance of Rowhani, a cleric and one of the few moderate voices still prominent in Iran’s ruling system…

Three conservative former members of Ahmadinejad’s cabinet… are also running on anti-Ahmadinejad platforms….

A spirited election season with high voter turnout has always been the preference of Iran’s ruling clerics, who consider participation as proof of popular support for their system. But a major concern of principlist and ultra-conservative hardliners is that a high turnout might favor their adversaries…

With the principlists fielding the most candidates so far, there is a growing possibility that they will split each other’s votes, opening an easier path to victory for either a reformist or one of Ahmadinejad’s allies…

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani appears to rule out candidacy for Iranian election
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the embattled former president of Iran, has finally spoken openly about the rift between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In a meeting with former state governors from the reformist and moderate camps, Rafsanjani is reported to have put to rest any speculation that he might declare his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election, saying that he did not foresee a situation in which he and Khamenei could work together...

At the meeting with the ex-governors, Rafsanjani is reported to have said "the leader no longer trusts me, though I acted as a brother toward him"...

Rafsanjani also reportedly lashed out at the Revolutionary Guards during the meeting, criticising the military organisation's vast economic and political influence. The Guards became a significant economic force during Rafsanjani's presidential tenure, when he exerted great sway over them. He apparently underplayed this point in his talk, saying that during his presidency the extent of the Guards' activity was limited to its engineering corps and projects such as national road building. "Now," he said, "they control the economy as well as domestic and foreign policy and they will not be satisfied with anything short of the entire country."...

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More on grass-roots law enforcement

Back in February, vigilantes in rural Mexico made news by turning suspected criminals over to the government. They are in the news again because in at least one place, they've turned to politics.

Worry grows over Mexico vigilante movement
Debate is intensifying over armed vigilante patrols that have sprung up in crime-plagued sections of rural Mexico, particularly in the state of Guerrero, where some patrols joined forces this week with a radical teachers union that has been wreaking havoc with massive protests, vandalism and violent confrontations with police.

The two groups, on the surface, would appear to have little in common. The vigilante patrols, typically made up of masked campesinos, are among dozens that have emerged in the countryside in recent months, purporting to protect their communities from the depredations of the drug cartels. The state-level teachers union, meanwhile, has taken to the streets to protest a sweeping education reform law backed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto…

The groups took part in their first joint demonstration this week in Chilpancingo, the capital of the southern state, which is home to the well-known resort city of Acapulco…

[T]here is concern that an already-volatile series of political protests may take on a violent edge.

In general, the idea of aggrieved campesinos taking up arms and demanding justice resonates deeply in the national mythos, and the vigilantes have been embraced in some quarters…

There have been problems, however. In February, a group in the Guerrero community of Las Mesas shot and injured two tourists… In March, federal authorities announced the arrest of 34 members of a self-defense group… alleging they were connected to the drug cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion…

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Any way to confirm this?

Xinhua, the Chinese government news bureau, reports on progress in narrowing the rural-urban income gap. Are the figures reliable?

Rural residents' incomes grow faster than urbanites: green book
Incomes for rural Chinese grew faster than those of their urban counterparts for the last three years, according to a green book published Wednesday by Social Sciences Academic Press.

Wages for rural residents jumped 16.3 percent year on year last year, helping to boost incomes, as the number of farmer-turned workers and their month salary continued to grow, according to the green book.

Rural residents earned 7,917 yuan (about 1278.6 U.S. dollars) in per capita net income in 2012, marking a 13.5-percent increase compared with 2011.

Rural residents' per capita expenditures on food reached 2,324 yuan last year, up 10.3 percent year on year.

[The] Chinese Academy of Social Sciences… released… the "Green Book of Rural Area: Analysis and Forecast on China's Rural Economy (2012-2013)" in Beijing, capital of China, April 10, 2013.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Can the Tories save money on social welfare?

We'd think that if anyone can reform the British social welfare system to save money, the Conservative Party could. But they don't have a charismatic leader (like Mrs. Thatcher) and they do have coalition partners (the Lib Dems) who don't share all the Tory goals.

The dole in the UK is more complex and resistant to change than the welfare and unemployment system in the USA is. This article offers some ideas about the system and attempts to change it.

Chipping away
SEVEN decades ago Britain’s welfare state arrived, with trumpet accompaniment. William Beveridge, whose 1942 report laid its foundations, pledged a war on the “giant evils” of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. The National Health Service that sprang up a few years later is still reflexively praised. But few people feel warmly about much of the remainder of the welfare edifice.

Can they reform the aging of the population?
Overall spending on benefits, including pensions, is now three times bigger in real terms than it was in the late 1970s (see chart). When he became prime minister in 1997, Tony Blair lamented “rising welfare bills combined with increasing poverty and social division”. Labour did much to reduce poverty, but little to stop the growth and sprawl of the welfare state.

A thicket of entangled benefits has sprung up... Receipt of some allowances makes people eligible for others. Some of the more esoteric ones have grown quickest. Housing benefit will amount to almost £24 billion ($36 billion) in the 2012-13 fiscal year, and disability benefits to £25 billion. Unemployment benefits are comparatively cheap, at £5.3 billion. Claimants can be snared in poverty traps, avoiding full-time work in order to retain their housing allowance, for example.

The Conservative-led coalition government is chipping away at welfare. On April 1st a benefits cap was introduced, to ensure that no household receives more than the average working wage… The criteria for disability claims will be tightened, while child benefit—hitherto paid to all, regardless of income—will be means-tested.

People living in social housing (owned by councils or non-profit associations) will have their housing benefit docked by 14% if they have a spare bedroom, rising to 25% for two spare rooms…

The government’s reforms are less radical than some. Countries with contributory social security systems have adjusted them to emphasise that welfare should be an insurance against hardship, not a way of life. Denmark has moved to treat claimants more generously if they previously worked, and offers extra incentives for those prepared to retrain. Germany has slashed entitlements for those who linger on benefits and refuse low-paying jobs.

Britain’s welfare system, which is paid for largely out of general taxation, is more resistant to radical change. As a result, a few want to change the system itself…

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Friday, April 12, 2013

The politics of memory

While many people have been making a point of saying nice, or at least kind things about Margaret Thatcher, others have been working to point out how divisive she was as a political leader.

There's an organized attempt to get enough people to buy the song, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead," so it will be played on the BBC radio Top 40 countdown.

Will anyone in Russia do anything similar when Gorbachev dies? Was there any protest when Mao Zedong died?

BBC to play Ding Dong in chart show despite anti-Thatcher Facebook push
THE Wicked Witch
BBC Radio 1 is planning to play "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead," the Wizard of Oz track being bought by anti-Thatcher protesters in the wake of the former prime minister's death, on its chart show on Sunday.

However, in what is thought to be a first for the BBC chart show, the corporation is considering having a Newsbeat reporter explain why a song from the 30s is charting to Radio 1's target audience of 16- to 24-year-olds – none of whom will remember Margaret Thatcher's controversial premiership…

The Official Charts Company said on Thursday morning that "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" was on course to reach number four, up from 10 the previous day…

Radio 1 insiders said if the song does make it to the top five, there would be no reason not to play the track.

Lady Thatcher
However, it is understood The Official Chart Show presenter Jameela Jamil might have to invite a reporter from Radio 1's Newsbeat to explain to listeners why a track they are unlikely to be familiar with has charted.

"Among the 16- to 24-year-olds, a lot of people are saying they are not 100% sure who Thatcher is. Even though this seems extraordinary, they may not understand who that song would chart," said a BBC source…

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Another review of change in Mexico

I've read two or three articles like this one about the programs of Mexico's new president. They've all expressed reserved optimism and a "wait and see" attitude. They all also agree that things look different than they used to.

Working through a reform agenda
[T]he past few months have seen Mexico’s legislators jolted awake. Enrique Peña Nieto, who became president on December 1st, has set a furious pace, pushing through reforms designed to correct some of his country’s long-standing structural weaknesses…

Enrique Peña Nieto
Before last July’s presidential election [his] party did its best to block the proposals of Felipe Calderón (who in any case proved to be inept at constructing consensus). After Mr Peña’s victory this changed, with the passage of a labour reform that the PRI had previously blocked. An education law in February claws back control of teachers’ hiring and firing, previously the preserve of the teachers’ union. The new president sent a powerful signal to dissenters when the union’s leader, Elba Esther Gordillo, once a leader of the PRI, was arrested on charges of embezzling more than $150m of union funds (an allegation she denies).

Next came a shake-up of telecoms and television, passed by the lower house in March and expected to be passed by the Senate soon…

The proposal amounts to “a very good reform on paper”, says Agustín Díaz-Pinés, a telecoms expert at the OECD, a Paris-based rich-country think-tank… But Mr Díaz-Pinés warns that effective implementation will be vital. Regulators have hitherto been bossed around by the firms they were meant to keep in line…

Behind these reforms lies a “Pact for Mexico” struck between the PRI and the two main opposition parties in December. The Pact unites Mexico’s political parties against the unelected interests that have long defied them…

A bigger test of the Pact will come after the elections, when Mr Peña is due to publish his next proposal, a combined fiscal and energy reform designed to realise the enormous potential of Mexico’s oil and gas reserves. The country does not make the most of these: half its oil is in deep waters, of which Pemex, the state-owned oil and gas monopoly, has little experience. The state’s milking of Pemex’s profits has left it unable to invest in the necessary technology. To wean itself off oil revenue the government will have to raise taxes, probably applying value-added tax to food and medicine. The PRI changed its party constitution last month to allow this. But polls show overwhelming opposition to taxing those essentials…

Another test is security. Mr Peña has helped to shift attention to Mexico’s perky economy rather than its gruesome violence… The murder rate is about a quarter lower than at its peak in the summer of 2011; in February it registered a three-year low. But killings remain nearly twice as common as six years ago; extortion and kidnapping are an everyday menace…

But if he comes up with a clearer plan to reduce violence, and achieves an energy reform worthy of the name, Mr Peña will have had an impressive first year.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Catching up

Mexico's economy is globalized. One bit of infrastructure needs some major work. Can the government lead the way? Rachel Levin, reporting for al Jazeera in this 2-minute video offers one perspective.

Mexico aims to close the digital divide
Mexico wants to be recognised as high-tech, but 70 percent of country lacks computer or internet access.

Mexico wants to be recognised as a high-tech nation competing against countries like China and India with manufacturing jobs and foreign investment.

Mexico has signed more free-trade agreements than any other country in the world, and its economy is currently out-pacing Brazil, but there is one thing that could threaten its potential - that is the digital divide.

Around 70 percent of Mexicans have no access to either computers or the internet. As Mexico's economy roars towards the future, much of its success will depend on how many people get the skills necessary to participate in the boom.
See the video report

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Factional politics in Iran

In some countries, political competition is spread across a wide spectrum. In Iran the scope of political competition seems to have shrunk to tiny proportions (especially since 2009).

When the president, once the hero of defenders of the faith, becomes the moderate opposition, we have to begin discussing factional politics: competition for power among groups without major policy differences. China is a good example. Iran appears to be another. Can your students identify other similarities between Chinese and Iranian politics? Differences?

Power Struggle Is Gripping Iran Ahead of June Election
With only three months to go in his second and last presidential term, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised a series of controversies intended, experts say, to reshape his public image and secure the support of dissatisfied urban Iranians for his handpicked successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. It is all part of a power struggle ahead of the June election between Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction and a coalition of traditionalists, including many Revolutionary Guards commanders and hard-line clerics…

Mashaei and Ahmadinejad
Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters have emerged in the unlikely role of the opposition. They are now fighting the traditionalists who, among other things, take a tougher line in negotiations with the West on Iran’s nuclear program and would like to abolish the presidency — a locus of opposition to their power…

Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights… In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,” or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism…

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s maneuvering is all about his legacy, experts say, an effort to preserve both his political power and his allies…

“In effect, the president has created a new current in Iran’s political establishment,” said Reza Kaviani, an analyst at the Porsesh Institute, which is aligned with Iran’s former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate opponent of Mr. Ahmadinejad…

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s support of Mr. Mashaei… is a particular stick in the eye for the conservatives, as well as a subtle appeal to more progressive Iranians. In messages filled with poetic language, Mr. Mashaei repeatedly propagates the importance of the nation of Iran over that of Islam.

Leading ayatollahs and commanders say that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been “bewitched” by the tall, beardless 52-year old, whom they have called a “Freemason,” a “foreign spy” and a “heretic.” They accuse Mr. Mashaei of plotting to oust the generation of clerics who have ruled Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and of promoting direct relations with God, instead of through clerical intermediaries…

The factional wrangling may well be a preview of what could unfold in Iran over the coming months…

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Not a good sign

You recognize, of course, the normative title here. But when the Nigerian government arrests journalists because of a story they published, it's not a sign of rule of law, press freedom, or liberal democracy. That's not good by my lights.

Stay tuned to see what comes of this.

This report comes from Leadership, the newspaper directly involved in the case.


Jonathan Orders Detention of Four Leadership Editors
The Goodluck Jonathan administration yesterday came down hard on the media: it arrested and detained some senior journalists working for LEADERSHIP, in a move seen as coming from an "oga at the top".

The four journalists… were summoned to the Force Headquarters following a story this newspaper published on a "presidential directive" to attack key opposition political parties' leaders.

LEADERSHIP learnt that, after the senior editors had written their statements as demanded by the police, they were told that they would not be released until they disclosed the source of the said story…

Prior to the arrest and detention of the four journalists, officers from the Force Headquarters had been visiting the newspaper's corporate office and demanding for the reporters of the story. They gave the impression that they only wanted to find out the source of the story, a directive, they averred, came from the presidency…

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Back to a more recent past

Putin seems to be leading Russia "back" to a Soviet or Tsarist future. A discredited former president suggests that Russia's future lies in a less distant past.

If Gorbachev's ideas make sense outside of Russia, why are they dismissed in the country?

An Ailing Gorbachev Makes a Fierce Attack on Putin and His Restrictions
Gorbachev
Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the first and last president of the Soviet Union… [was nimble enough to deliver] a sharp poke in the gut to President Vladimir V. Putin and the Kremlin [in a speech at the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency].

“Politics is more and more turning into an imitation,” Mr. Gorbachev said. “All power is in the hands of the executive. The Parliament only seals its decisions. Judicial power is not independent. The economy is monopolized, hooked to the oil and gas needle. Entrepreneurs’ initiative is curbed. Small and medium businesses face huge barriers.”

Mr. Gorbachev, invoking “perestroika” — the Russian word for “restructuring” and the brand name of his reforms that brought about the fall of communism and helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize — called for yet another renewal of the Russian political system.

His prepared speech, posted later on the Internet, was even tougher than the remarks he delivered. In it, he wrote that by curtailing freedoms and tightening restrictions on civil society groups and the press, Mr. Putin had adopted “a ruinous and hopeless path.”

While he is still revered in the West for his role in ending the cold war, Mr. Gorbachev has largely faded into insignificance in Russia. He is remembered far more for the chaos and deprivation of the 1990s that followed him than for delivering the citizens of the Soviet Union from tyranny.

Nonetheless, his speech… quickly drew angry and dismissive responses from the Kremlin…

Sergei Neverov, the deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament and a leader of United Russia, the party that nominated Mr. Putin for president, said, “Mikhail Sergeyevich has already been the initiator of one perestroika, and as a result we lost the country.”…

Aleksei Pushkov, a member of United Russia and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the lower house… said, “it was the worst possible result: the collapse of the country and gangster capitalism.”…

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Monday, April 08, 2013

The Iron Lady died

Margaret Thatcher died.

If you want an opportunity to review recent political history and a major turning point in British politics, look for the retrospective articles about Lady Thatcher and her career.

But don't neglect following that up with a review of Tony Blair and the changes he brought as well.

Ex-Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher dies, aged 87
Lady Thatcher
Former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher has died "peacefully" at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke, her family has announced…

Lady Thatcher was Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990. She was the first woman to hold the role…

Lady Thatcher, born Margaret Roberts, served as MP for Finchley, north London, from 1959 to 1992.

Having been education secretary, she successfully challenged former prime minister Edward Heath for her party's leadership in 1975 and won general elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987.

Lady Thatcher's government privatised several state-owned industries. She was also in power when the UK went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982…

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described Lady Thatcher as one of the "defining figures in modern British politics", adding: "She may have divided opinion during her time in politics but everyone will be united today in acknowledging the strength of her personality and the radicalism of her politics."…

Margaret Thatcher Dies; Remade Britain
Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of British politics who pulled her country back from 35 years of socialism, led it to victory in the Falklands war and helped guide the United States and the Soviet Union through the cold war’s difficult last years, died Monday. She was 87…

Lady Thatcher was the first woman to become prime minister of Britain and the first to lead a major Western power in modern times. Hard driving and hardheaded, she led her Conservative Party to three straight election victories and held office for 11½ years — May 1979 to November 1990 — longer than any British politician in the 20th century.

The tough economic medicine she administered to a country sickened by inflation, budget deficits and industrial unrest brought her wide swings in popularity, culminating with a revolt among her own cabinet ministers in her final year…

At home, Lady Thatcher’s political successes were decisive. She broke the power of the labor unions and forced the Labour Party to abandon its commitment to nationalized industry, redefine the role of the welfare state and accept the importance of the free market.

Abroad, she won new esteem for a country that had been in decline since its costly victory in World War II…

“Margaret Thatcher evoked extreme feelings,” wrote Ronald Millar, a playwright and speechwriter for the prime minister. “To some she could do no right, to others no wrong. Indifference was not an option. She could stir almost physical hostility in normally rational people, while she inspired deathless devotion in others.”

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