Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trouble in Toryland

The problems of Britain's Conservative Party are not unique. They provide a case study applicable to major parties in many places. Which parties in which countries share these problems?

Grassroots trouble: The Tory Party’s problems with its base are part of a broader generational struggle
The members of the Conservative Association in Cheltenham, a lovely Regency town in south-west England, are a mild-mannered lot. But at a recent meeting, voices were raised against “buggery”, “the Spartans” and the coalition government’s effort to legalise gay marriage, which passed the House of Commons on May 21st. Some suspected the European Union was behind this. None liked it…

Mr. Cameron
This is not their only annoyance. Defence cuts, wind turbines, immigration and Liberal Democrats also get the members’ goat—and these views are widely held among Tories. They are not shared by David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, for whom gay rights and environmentalism are important planks of a campaign to “modernise” the party, which he launched on becoming its leader in 2005…

Understandably enraged by these provocations, a group of association chairmen dispatched a protest letter to Mr Cameron accusing him of treating the membership with contempt… Yet, setting the insults aside, it is also inevitable—and indicative of a broader battle in British society.

As in all such conflicts, there is misunderstanding, some sadness and two sides to the story. Most Tory Party members are… a bit creaky and in need of reading glasses. A collapse in membership—which has affected all Britain’s mainstream parties, but the Tories especially—has driven up the average member’s age to around 60. Naturally, most hold views they formed some time ago, when Britain was a more conservative place…

Mr Cameron… correctly divined that, having lost three elections in a row on the right-wing platforms favoured by its members, it needed to change…

What is the answer to this mismatch? One top-level Cameroon sympathises with the disgruntled members… Yet he regrets that they have not been bulldozed more thoroughly… Only, who would then deliver the campaign leaflets? The party’s youth wing is moribund.

The Tories are in a bind. Yet all the mainstream parties are to some extent beholden to Britain’s oldies: because they are most likely to vote…

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Poster of confusion

A local pub posted this on its Facebook page. It looks like a good illustration for a first assignment about the UK.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

in·ter·mit·tent

in·ter·mit·tent
Pronunciation: \-ˈmi-tənt\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin intermittent-, intermittens, present participle of intermittere
Date: 1601 : coming and going at intervals : not continuous ; also : occasional — in·ter·mit·tent·ly adverb 
Source: Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Intermittent 
Retrieved 2 December 2010

The exam is over. Graduation is near or has already happened. I'm headed off into the wilds of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Even cell phone service is limited, so I'll be out of touch with my usual sources and unlikely to post things regularly. If I run into something stupendous, I'll post it here, but mostly you're on your own for awhile.

If you find a bit of information that might be useful for teaching comparative politics, post it at Sharing Comparative or send me a note with the information.  
Remember, nearly all the 2,900 entries here are indexed at the delicio.us index. There are 78 categories and you can use more than one category at a time to find something appropriate to your needs. There's also a searchable feature here at Blogger, but it's less flexible.

Carry on the fight against ignorance.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Don't tell us what we think

Even the messengers are getting shot in Russia.

Russia Targets Pollster for 'Political Activity'
Russia's only independent polling agency said Monday it may have to close after prosecutors targeted it for "political activity" under a law spearheading President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on civil society.

Levada Center published a letter, dated last week, from prosecutors who said its polls and publications are "aimed at shaping public opinion on government policy" and demanded it cease publication until it registers as a "foreign agent" under a law passed last year.

Russia has pushed strongly in recent months to enforce the law, which requires all foreign-funded NGOs that engage in ill-defined political activities to register as "foreign agents"…

Levada receives between 1.5 and 3 percent of its funding from foreign sources, including longtime bêtes noires of Putin's foreign policy like the National Institute for Democracy and George Soros' Open Society Institute, according to center director Lev Gudkov…

The campaign has stoked public opinion against NGOs, according to a poll Levada released last week. Only 19 percent of Russians polled thought NGOs did any work of value.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fallacy Files

Looking for some good structure for teaching about logical thinking? My wife just pointed out The Fallacy Files.

Alphabetical List of Fallacies and the blog

The Taxomony of Local Fallacies
It's interactive!

How to read a poll

Because polls question only a sample of the population, there is always a chance of sampling error, that is, of drawing a sample that is unrepresentative. For instance, in a political poll, it is possible that a random sample of voters would consist entirely of Democrats, though this is highly unlikely. However, less extreme errors of the same kind are not so unlikely, and this means that every poll has some degree of imprecision or fuzziness. Because the sample may not be precisely representative of the population as a whole, there is some chance that the poll results will be off by a certain amount. Statisticians measure the chance of this kind of error by the "margin of error", or "MoE" for short…

About the author, Gary N. Curtis

I have a doctoral degree in philosophy from Indiana University in Bloomington… My dissertation concerned the concept of logical form, and touched on the subject of formal fallacies. I have taught philosophy and logic at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at I.U.B., Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis… and Indiana State University. For five years, I worked as an ontologist for the artificial intelligence company Cycorp, Inc. in Austin, Texas…

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Fortifying power

Of the hundreds of people who submitted their candidacies for Iran's presidency, none of the women and none of those independent of the rulers will be on the ballot. Surprise? No.

The headline writer for The New York Times followed Thomas Erdbrink's opening contention, but I think his contention is hyperbolic. I'll bet this result surprised no one in Iran.

A Founder of the Revolution Is Barred From Office, Shocking Iranians
The decision on Tuesday to bar the presidential candidacy of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of the revolution and a former president, shocked Iranians…

The exclusion of Mr. Rafsanjani and another thorn in the conservatives’ side, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, could foreshadow even greater repercussions, analysts and commentators said.

Since its founding in 1979, the Islamic republic has been characterized by opposing power centers competing constantly and often publicly…

Barring further surprises, the winner of the June election will now be drawn from a slate of conservative candidates in Iran’s ruling camp, a loose alliance of Shiite Muslim clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders. That would put the last major state institution under their control — the first time since the 1979 revolution that all state institutions were under the firm control of one faction.

Analysts have long speculated — and some conservative clerics have confirmed — that the ruling faction is determined to abolish the office of president, which has served as a locus of opposition…

At the very least, the anti-climactic election campaign seems likely to further reinforce the alienation of the urban classes, which make up a large portion of the electorate and mostly gave up on politics after the suppression of the 2009 uprising…

Mr. Rafsanjani’s disqualification appeared to mark the end of their aspiration to bring change through the ballot box rather than through street protests…

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Diversity, economics, and politics

Is ethnic diversity a cause of economic and political conditions? Or are there other factors that cause diversity?

This is one of a series of explorations of data by the Wasington Pots's Max Fisher that could become the basis for discussion and research in a comparative politics classroom.

A revealing map of the world’s most and least ethnically diverse countries
Most diverse
Ethnicity, like race, is a social construct, but it’s still a construct with significant implications for the world. How people perceive ethnicity, both their own and that of others, can be tough to measure, particularly given that it’s so subjective. So how do you study it?…

There are a few trends you can see right away: countries in Europe and Northeast Asia tend to be the most homogenous, sub-Saharan African nations the most diverse. The Americas are generally somewhere in the middle. And richer countries appear more likely to be homogenous…

Here are a few observations and conclusions:
  • African countries are the most diverse.
  • Japan and the Koreas are the most homogenous.
  • European countries are ethnically homogenous.
  • The Americas are often diverse.
  • Wide variation in the Middle East.
  • Internal conflicts appear to be more common in countries with high diversity.
  • Diversity correlates with latitude and low GDP per capita.
  • Strong democracy correlates with ethnic homogeneity.

Here’s the money quote on the potential political implications of ethnicity:
In general, it does not matter for our purposes whether ethnic differences reflect physical attributes of groups (skin color, facial features) or long-lasting social conventions (language, marriage within the group, cultural norms) or simple social definition (self-identification, identification by outsiders). When people persistently identify with a particular group, they form potential interest groups that can be manipulated by political leaders, who often choose to mobilize some coalition of ethnic groups (“us”) to the exclusion of others (“them”). Politicians also sometimes can mobilize support by singling out some groups for persecution, where hatred of the minority group is complementary to some policy the politician wishes to pursue.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We'll do it our way, thank you

Liberalizing the economy and strengthening democratic centralism seem to be the goals of the new leadership in China. Can it be done? Oh, and by the way, they'll not have any Chinese Khrushchevs or Gorbachevs there.

China Warns Against ‘Dangerous’ Western Values
Mao
The Chinese Communist Party has warned officials to combat “dangerous” Western values and other perceived ideological threats, according to accounts on Monday of a directive that analysts said reflects the top leader Xi Jinping’s determination to preserve top-down political control even as he considers economic liberalization…

The central document, “Concerning the situation in the ideological sphere,” has not been openly published… But what did come to light in the local summaries exuded anxiety about the party’s grip on opinion…

The Chinese government has confronted demands for democratic reform from activists emboldened by Mr. Xi’s vows to respect the law. In recent days, some activists have cited rumors that the party issued a warning against seven ideas that are considered anathema, including media freedom and judicial independence…

Officials must “fully understand the dangers posed by views and theories advocated by the West,” said the account from Chongqing, which said they must “cut off at the source channels for disseminating erroneous currents of thought.”

“Strengthen management of the Internet, enhance guidance of opinion, purify the environment on the Internet, give no opportunities that lawless elements can seize on,” it said…

Stalin
Mr. Xi has accompanied such signals of [economic] change with the messages defending party tradition and control. In December, he said China must absorb the lessons of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he blamed on political ill-discipline and ideological laxity under Mikhail Gorbachev.

More recently, Mr. Xi told officials that the Chinese Communist Party may not have survived if it had disowned Mao Zedong in the same way that the Soviet Union condemned Stalin, a party newspaper, the Guangming Daily, said last week…

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Background for clueless teachers

If, like me, you don't have direct exposure to Hispanic culture or you never had a Hispanic student in class to clue you in, here's a thoughtful and guilt-free explanation of why the Mexican president is  called Enrique Peña Nieto or the previous president was called Felipe Calderón Hinojosa or why the jailed head of the Mexican teachers' union is called Elba Esther Gordillo Morales.

And it will help you make sense out of non-Hispanic media who sometimes refer to President Nieto and other times refer to President Peña.

Hispanic Last Names: Why Two of Them?
One of the most misunderstood characteristics of Hispanic culture is the use of our last names…

Most Hispanic people use two last names? How can that be? How can you have two of the "last" thing? Well, in Spanish a last name is not called a last name (último nombre would be the literal translation of last name and it is meaningless in Spanish). In Spanish, the last name has a name of its own, it is called apellido. The proper translation to English is surname, a term that is seldom used in the U.S. Surname (or apellido) does not mean "last." So, when you talk about someone's last name you talk about their apellidos (surnames) since there are two of them. The two surnames are referred as the first apellido and the second apellido. Also, we refer to our first name by just name, and the middle name is referred as second name instead of middle. But I will focus on the last name issues…

In general in the US, the family as a group is addressed by the last name of the husband. In Hispanic circles, the family is addressed by the combination of the first surname of each of the partners in the marriage, which is the same of the surnames of the children of the marriage…

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Uninvited civil society

Most textbooks make a point of arguing that Communist Party control of Chinese civil society is key to maintaining the party's power position. What if civil society is not controlled?

Social Media in China Fuel Citizen Response to Quake
The rapid grass-roots response to the [April 20 earthquake] reveals just how far China’s nascent civil society movement has come since 2008, when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Wenchuan, not far from Lushan, prompted a wave of volunteerism and philanthropy. That quake, which claimed about 90,000 lives, provoked criticism of the government for its ham-handed relief efforts…

2013 Lushan earthquake
Like the government, which honed its rescue and relief efforts after the Wenchuan earthquake, the volunteers and civil society groups that first appeared in 2008 gained valuable skills for working in disaster zones. Their ability to coordinate — and, in some instances, outsmart a government intent on keeping them away — were enhanced by Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like microblog that did not exist in 2008 but now has more than 500 million users.

“Civil society is much more capable today compared to 2008,” said Ran Yunfei, a prominent democracy activist and blogger, who describes Weibo as a revolutionary tool for social change…

Although [Li Chengpeng, a sports commentator from Sichuan turned civic activist] acknowledges the government’s importance during such disasters, Mr. Li contends that grass-roots activism is just as vital. “You can’t ask an NGO to blow up half a mountain to clear roads and you can’t ask an army platoon to ask a middle-aged woman whether she needs sanitary napkins,” he wrote in a recent post…

Analysts say the legions of volunteers and aid workers that descended on Sichuan threatened the government’s carefully constructed narrative about the earthquake. Indeed, some Chinese suspect such fears were at least partly behind official efforts to discourage altruistic citizens from coming to the region…

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Friday, May 17, 2013

A one-man interest group

So, who is going to reform political culture in African countries?

How a billionaire is cutting Africa’s ‘big men’ down to size
Mo Ibrahim is working the room. Tossing off his jacket, rolling up his sleeves and prowling the convention room’s stage with microphone in hand, the Sudanese billionaire banters with Macky Sall, the President of Senegal. Suddenly he urges the audience to interrogate Mr. Sall, promising that nobody will be arrested or shot for impudent questions…

Mo Ibrahim
Perhaps only this remarkable philanthropist can get away with such irreverence toward an African ruler, yet he wants such candid discussion to become the norm. The traditional “big men” of African politics should be neither feared nor worshipped, he says; they should be accountable to their fellow citizens in free and open debate.

It’s not just a distant dream. With his vast wealth and inexhaustible energy, Mr. Ibrahim is shaping a new generation of African politicians…

After cajoling his audience into firing questions at the President, Mr. Ibrahim takes a few minutes over an espresso to reflect on his campaign against Africa’s old guard of corrupt and dictatorial leaders. “It’s a new world,” he says, speaking as rapidly and passionately as he did onstage. “We have some wonderful leaders now. We still have dinosaurs – but you know what happened to dinosaurs.”

It has been less than seven years since he used the billions he earned as a pioneering entrepreneur in mobile phones to create the London-based Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Its purpose is to foster good governance and to administer a $5-million prize “for achievement in African leadership” – the world’s most lucrative annual award.

As a result, he says, it is no longer “taboo” to talk about leadership. “Because of the prize, there’s a lot of noise around this. Once people start to talk, … that’s what will change the game. We have to get out of the assumption that leaders are some kind of pharaohs. They are just human beings like us.”

As well as the annual search for a model politician – someone of great achievement who has left office democratically – Mr. Ibrahim is promoting reform with an independent index to measure the successes and failures of African governments…

The prize is an incentive, promoting clean, honest leadership, and Mr. Ibrahim helps to defuse politicians’ authoritarian streak by using a deft mixture of praise and criticism to nudge them toward a genuine conversation with their citizens…

Today, at the age of 67, he uses his carefully crafted irreverence to break down the barriers between the rulers and the ruled. Onstage, he addresses Senegal’s top officials as “brothers and sisters,” and explains to the audience: “I prefer this over ‘Your Highnesses.’ All of you are important. We’re all in the same trench, fighting for good governance and human rights.”…

He has no patience for politicians who bully the media. “The media are a mirror,” he says. “If you look in the mirror and you see something ugly, maybe you’re ugly.” The audience laughs and cheers.

Nor does he have any patience for Africa’s reverential attitude toward its former liberation movements, such as South Africa’s ruling African National Congress. He notes that the ANC has introduced a secrecy law to tighten controls on state information – the kind of law it would have fought in the apartheid era…


See The Mo Ibahim Foundation

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Marxist Mysticism

If the bribes are paid and the clients loyal, what else must a Chinese official do to ensure success?

China Officials Seek Career Shortcut With Feng Shui
As Marxist ideology has faded in China, ancient mystical beliefs once banned by the Communist Party are gaining ground…

This mystical revival is attracting devoted followers in that most forbidden of realms: the marbled, atheistic halls of Chinese officialdom. Besieged by a meddlesome public at the gates and political rivals amid their ranks, the country’s ambitious civil servants are increasingly — if discreetly — seeking supernatural shortcuts to wealth and power, much to the dismay of party ideologues and campaigners against corruption.

From rural township party chiefs to the nation’s disgraced former rail minister, Chinese government officials are increasingly making budgetary decisions to fulfill their own personal prophecies, according to experts, state news media reports and seasoned soothsayers.

In all this mysticism ordinary Chinese see little but corruption in drag…

Such was the case with Liu Zhijun, the former railway minister. While building the world’s largest high-speed rail network, Mr. Liu reportedly consulted a feng shui master who chose auspicious dates for breaking ground on major construction projects…

Fired in 2011, Mr. Liu was charged last month with corruption and abuse of power. In addition to the charges of taking $157 million in bribes and maintaining a harem of 18 mistresses, he is accused of an especially profane crime: “belief in feudal superstitions.”…

Citizens furious over officials dabbling in publicly financed mysticism have found an unlikely ally in the Communist Party… Though the government has taken a more laissez-faire approach to spirituality since the bloody persecutions of the Cultural Revolution 40 years ago, the authorities remain suspicious of competing dogma…

According to a 2007 report by the Chinese Academy of Governance, 52 percent of the nation’s county-level civil servants admitted to believing in divination, face reading, astrology or dream interpretation…

Feng shui, in fact, provides useful opportunities for businesspeople to curry favor with influential bureaucrats. To avoid exposure, officials often use business contacts to introduce them to a clairvoyant and pay for the consultation, which can be pricey. Mak Ling-Ling, 46, a Hong Kong feng shui consultant who frequently travels to the mainland, charges $16,000 for an hourlong presentation on auspicious real estate investing…

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Nigerian state of emergency

Things are as bad as some people feared.

Goodluck Jonathan declares emergency in states
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in three states after a series of deadly attacks by Islamist militant groups.

The military will take "all necessary action" to "put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists" in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, he said…

In a pre-recorded address broadcast on Tuesday, President Jonathan said: "What we are facing is not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity."

Referring to recent attacks on government buildings and killings of officials and other civilians, he said that "these actions amount to a declaration of war".

"We will hunt them down, we will fish them out, and we will bring them to justice," the president said…

It is not the first time that the president has declared a state of emergency, but this is a clear admission that far from being weakened by the army offensive, the threat of the Islamist militants is growing, says the BBC's Will Ross in Lagos.

And it is the first time that Mr Jonathan has admitted that parts of the country are no longer under central government control, says our correspondent…

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Cross posting: Hints for success

For all the Advanced Placement students out there, this is a duplicate of what I posted on "Studying Comparative" this morning.

Three years ago, Mr. Frank Franz, who teaches in Virginia offered a list of great suggestions that will help you write better responses to FRQs.

I posted them then, two years ago, last year, and here they are once again.

I think these ideas are excellent. The only thing I’d add to the list would be to paraphrase the question as an introduction. In the last few years some rubrics have insisted that responses have introductions that label what is being discussed.

Here's what Mr. Franz wrote:

Here's the strategy I place on every FRQ I give my students. I believe it helps them focus on the questions and will help them earn as high of a score as possible. Some of these ideas are my own and some are from colleagues who have served as readers and table leaders.

Free Response Strategy
    •    Mark-up the question.
    •    Count up how many points you are trying to earn. (Look for number references, count the verbs)
    •    Write as many sentences as there are points.
    •    Write simple, declarative sentences.
    •    Answer the question asked. Nothing else.
    •    Answer every part of the question.
    •    Look for time references, patterns, and passage of time.
    •    Do not argue with the premise of the prompt.
    •    Skip a line between parts, but do not label.


Go ahead and thank Mr. Franz.



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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The politics of PEMEX

It's not just about government revenue and international trade, the future of PEMEX (and the Mexican economy) might be dependent upon constitutional reform.

To power Mexico forward, Peña Nieto looks to energy reform
It has been 75 years since President Lázaro ­Cárdenas seized the country’s ­foreign-dominated petroleum industry and placed every drop of oil under the everlasting domain of the Mexican people.

But while it once was a source of national pride, the state-run monopoly he created — known as Pemex — has become a dinosaur, sapped by debt, sagging output and dated technology. The Mexican government siphons off the company’s revenue to cover about one-third of the federal budget, leaving insufficient funds for what has become a critical task: finding more oil.

… the company lacks the technology and know-how to drill for the vast stores of tougher-to-reach deposits that are thought to exist beneath Mexico’s deserts and seas…

Fixing the company, formally known as Petroleos de Mexico, has become a top priority for Mexico’s new president…

At issue is whether Mexico will embrace the prosperous state-managed model adopted by countries such as Norway and Brazil — where national oil companies can partner with foreign firms and sell shares to investors…

For those pushing for change, the challenge is as much political as it is technical. The Mexican constitution essentially blocks the country from forming joint-venture partnerships with outsiders, and analysts say such restrictions will need to be scrapped if the country wants to attract foreign drillers…

Lifting the restrictions on foreign oil companies through a constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority in Mexico’s Congress and the endorsement of more than half of the country’s state governors. Peña Nieto is expected to face considerable political wrangling from the powerful oil workers union, left-leaning lawmakers and interest groups, which are content with their slice of the status quo, even as overall production has slipped…

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Coming next: A Russian version of "The Daily Show?"

Political competition within the top Kremlin leadership is once again visible.

Vladimir Putin's former 'cardinal' forced out of government: Vladislav Surkov, known as grey cardinal, was said to be behind Russia's system of 'managed democracy'
Surkov and Putin
The mysterious Russian politician credited with building Vladimir Putin's particular brand of governance – masking tight control with pseudo-democratic institutions – has been forced out of government after publicly arguing with the country's increasingly powerful political police…

He was considered one of Russia's most deft politicians, crafting Russia's system of "managed democracy" and steering its powerful propaganda machine, mainly via control over state-run television.

Yet his star had been steadily falling since Putin returned to the presidency last year, choosing a path of open repression over the cunning manipulation favoured by Surkov…

The news came one day after Izvestia, a newspaper loyal to the Kremlin, ran a column by Vladimir Markin, spokesman of the Investigative Committee, a body that answers only to Putin and has led a widespread manhunt against the Kremlin's perceived enemies, including opposition activists. Markin attacked Surkov for criticising the Investigative Committee during a recent talk at the London School of Economics…

The investigative committee, rather than the general prosecutor's office, has led investigations into opposition leaders such as the corruption activist Alexey Navalny, as well as less publicly known protesters who now face charges of orchestrating mass unrest…

Surkov's departure was widely seen as a win for the increasingly powerful investigative committee and hardliners inside Russia as well as a blow against relative liberals such as Medvedev, who continues to battle rumours of impending departure…

Surkov, 48, was one of the most colourful politicians in Russia, even while he kept a low profile. In the 1990s he worked with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Russia's richest man and now Russia's most famous political prisoner. Even after joining the Kremlin, he wrote rock lyrics and plays under a pseudonym. He was known to be a fan of the rapper Tupac Shakur and once recorded a reading of Allen Ginsberg's beatnik masterpiece Howl.

There was much speculation in Russia as to what Surkov, once one of Russia's most powerful politicians, would do next. Speaking to the magazine Russian Pioneer, where he sometimes wrote a column, Surkov on Wednesday said: "There are some plans – a political comedy based on real news is ripening."…

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Not everyone is intimidated

Recent news reports have concentrated on government efforts to stifle opposition. Andrew E. Kramer, writing in The New York Times, reports on a large protest in Moscow. Is the government less powerful than it sometimes appears?

Thousands in Moscow Rally Against New Trials
Thousands of people turned out Monday for a protest here that was intended to draw attention to what organizers said was the return of political prosecutions in the Russian courts…

Organizers said nearly 30,000 people attended the rally on Monday, close to their expectations and the limit allowed under the permit for the gathering. Interfax, a Russian news agency, said turnout was closer to 8,000…

Aleksei A. Navalny
“It’s understood that something powerful and something frightening to some has come out on the street,” Aleksei A. Navalny, a prominent opposition leader who is on trial… told the crowd. “I am part of that frightening thing. It is enormous. It is the people.”

Mr. Navalny, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, said he would not be intimidated. “I will go on speaking the truth” to create a better Russia, he told the crowd. “I don’t have another country or another family or another people except you.”…

Gennady Gudkov, an opposition leader and former member of Parliament, said at the rally that the turnout showed that Russians will not succumb to fear. “Arrests and prosecutions are their means of scaring people…

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Other-worldly concerns? Not so much.

Iran's political and spiritual ultimate power has concerns other than governing and believing.

This example is a reminder of the power of the bonyads in Iran. See Bonyad. (This Wikipedia article seemed accurate when I reviewed it May 4th.)

What implications does this report have for how Iran is governed?

Does the description “These gentlemen… came to see me and offered to buy out my shares… " make anyone else think of a scene from a Hollywood mob movie?

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei embroiled in BMW dealership row
The head of Nouriyani Enterprise, “which for 80 years was the exclusive trade partner between Iran and Germany’s car making and printing industries,” said he was forced to sign over his share in its nationwide car dealership to a charity run by Khamenei’s office…

Shah Abdulazim shrine in Rey
“These gentlemen from the Shah Abdulazim Religious charity came to see me and offered to buy out my shares and work with my enterprise,” Ali Nouriyani, the managing director of Nouriyani Enterprise told the Fararu news website.

“As I was interested in helping charities I accepted their offer and gradually reduced my level of working with them as they had by then virtually taken over most of the responsibilities…

The report also stated that the Rey Investment Co., a holding company run by Khamenei’s Shah Abdol Azim charity, now claims to be the “sole representative of BMW in Iran.”

Khamenei, like most Iranians, views BMW and Mercedes-Benz automobiles as the ultimate signs of wealth and status…

Meanwhile, Rey Investment Co. also boasts significant stakes in various other businesses, including oil, gas, food, construction, insurance and transport.

As well as targeting private companies… there have been regular claims that Khamenei and his son have amassed a fortune running into billions of dollars.”

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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Queen's Speech 2013

The BBC has a recording of the Queen's Speech, given earlier today. A chance to review basics of the British regime.

Queen's Speech: Pomp, ceremony and the government's plans
The speech came as part of the pomp and pageantry of the State Opening of Parliament

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Measuring violence

I've been reading sensationalized accounts in the Nigerian press about terrorism in northern Nigeria and about allegations of reactive terrorism by the Nigerian army. They seem to be third-hand accounts written in the newsrooms of Abuja and Lagos. This report by Adam Nossiter in The New York Times, seems to be based on reporting in Maiduguri, the center of Boko Haram activity.

Bodies Pour In as Nigeria Hunts for Islamists
Large numbers of bodies, sometimes more than 60 in a day, are being brought by the Nigerian military to the state hospital, according to government, health and security officials, hospital workers and human rights groups — the product of the military’s brutal war against radical Islamists rooted in this northern city.

The corpses were those of young men arrested in neighborhood sweeps by the military and taken to a barracks nearby. Accused, often on flimsy or no evidence, of being members or supporters of Boko Haram — the Islamist militant group waging a bloody insurgency against the Nigerian state — the detainees are beaten, starved, shot and even suffocated to death, say the officials, employees and witnesses…

From the outset of the battle between Boko Haram and the military, a dirty war on both sides that has cost nearly 4,000 lives since erupting in this city in 2009, security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and broad, often indiscriminate roundups of suspects and sympathizers in residential areas.

The military’s harsh tactics, which it flatly denies, have reduced militant attacks in this insurgent stronghold, but at huge cost and with likely repercussions, officials and rights advocates contend…

“Mostly they bring the corpses from Giwa Barracks, the J.T.F.,” said one hospital worker. Most of the young men died “from beating, bullets, maltreatment,” he added. “You can hardly see a corpse here from sickness. Sometimes it is up to 120 corpses they bring.”

His colleague at the hospital, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said: “Every day. An average of 14 to 15 bodies a day. They accumulate. Some are swollen. Almost all are emaciated. Some they bring in with their handcuffs still on.”…

Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the military’s joint task force, acknowledged detentions at the barracks, saying that “many confirmed commanders of Boko Haram have been arrested, and many of their camps have been destroyed,” actions that he said aided the “restoration of law and order.”

But he rejected accusations of widespread killing or torture…

Boko Haram has shown few signs of giving up — militants suspected of belonging to the group attacked a northern town on Tuesday, killing scores, Reuters reported. The military has not shown signs of relenting either, officials said. There has been “a very high increase in the number of corpses,” said one of the state’s top health officials. “It was not this bad” several years ago, the official said. “In the last year, it has become so bad. It has escalated.”…

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Reviewing China

Want to review Chinese government and politics? Al Jazeera offers a 4-part video report.

China Rising: A four-part series that gives a rare insight into the country on the move, with history in tow.
In just 30 years, China has risen from long-standing poverty to being the second largest economy in the world – faster than any other country in history.

From angry farmers to weary migrant workers, powerful politicians and everyone in between, what China says and does, has become of undeniable importance to the entire world.

After centuries of western dominance, the world’s centre of economic and political weight is shifting eastward.

In just 30 years, China has risen from long-standing poverty to being the second largest economy in the world – faster than any other country in history.

From angry farmers to weary migrant workers, powerful politicians and everyone in between, what China says and does, has become of undeniable importance to the entire world. Episode 1 - The Dramatic Rise

Although no other country in history has risen so quickly from poverty to prosperity as China has, for many in the world's most populous nation, those advances have come at a price.

The economic reforms that made the People's Republic's rise possible have also led to a harshly divided China. Divisions whose impacts could easily spread from disenfranchised individuals to threaten the economic growth contemporary Chinese society has come to be based upon.

In the opening episode of this four-part series, we tell the stories behind these divisions, from the rising urban middle class to impoverished rural areas and the precarious existence of hundreds of millions of migrant workers on the fringes of some of the world's fastest growing cities.

You can go directly to the first video at this link.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

These are not the crimes you are looking for

The Russian president is adamant: no one is prosecuted for their political views.

Putin denies dissent crackdown as trials test legal system
President Putin
While one Russian court imposed heavy fines on the country’s only independent election-monitoring group and another heard contentious testimony in the trial of a top opposition leader, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday defended himself against accusations that he is cracking down on dissent.

In a nationally televised call-in session lasting nearly five hours, Mr. Putin said: “People aren’t put behind bars for political reasons. People get sentenced not for their political views or actions, but for abusing law.”…

But the fairness of Russia’s laws and legal system were at the heart of two prominent court cases taking place the same day…

The measure is seen by many as a move to limit critics and undermine their credibility. Critics say its definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against almost any NGO and say the term “foreign agent” tars groups’ images.

The law was passed in the wake of the major anti-Putin demonstrations that broke out in December, 2011, and continued through his inauguration…
Russia cracks down on U.S.-linked NGOs
Two months ago, a civic-minded history professor in the picturesque city of Kostroma invited a U.S. diplomat to take part in a roundtable about Russian-American relations. The event was open, the conversation spirited — and Monday the professor’s organization goes to court, accused of being a foreign agent.

The Kostroma Center for the Support of Public Initiatives has run afoul of a new law requiring organizations that receive funds from abroad and engage in political activity to register as foreign agents.

The center’s chairman, and civic activists across Russia, says his group is neither political nor in the pay of foreign governments.

The law, they say, is being used to silence advocacy groups and frighten supporters, and it reminds some of the Cold War era, especially since many of the targets have U.S. connections.

“You know, Kostroma is a small city,” said Nikolai Sorokin, the historian, “and everyone’s talking about this, and everyone’s shocked by what’s going on. Some people say we shouldn’t even talk to foreigners, it’s dangerous. It’s like in Soviet times when you could go to jail for that.”...

The roundtable dragnet also swept up the Kostroma chapter of the Soldiers Mothers, which defends draftees. Irina Reznikova, the chairwoman, attended the roundtable and not long after got a call at home from prosecutors who wanted to examine all records.

Soon deemed guilty of political activity, the group got off with a warning: Do it again and you’ll be fined. Its crime — some of the Mothers had served as election observers in December 2011, and small grants have been received from the National Endowment for Democracy...

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Reviewing for an exam

Nearly 20,000 people will take an Advanced Placement examination for Comparative Government and Politics next week. Some of them read this blog. These links are for them.

Russia profile from the BBC

Russian Politics from The Economist

The Executive Branch of The Russian Government

President of Russia


Chinese Politics from The Economist

China Profile from the BBC

Understanding China's Political System (a Congressional Research Service Report and a .pdf document)

The Central People's Government of The People's Republic of China


Nigeria Profile from the BBC

Nigerian Politics from The Economist

Adisa Adeleye's op-ed: Nigeria's Political System and the People

The Federal Republic of Nigeria

Government in Nigeria from The Commonwealth Network


UK Profile from the BBC

British Politics from The Economist

UK Politics

Welcome to Gov.UK

Parliament and Government


Mexico Country Profile from the BBC

Mexican Politics from The Economist

Mexican Politics

Mexican Government Structure

Presidency of Mexico


Iran Profile from the BBC

Iranian Politics from The Economist

Iran Government from Pars Times

The Iran Presidency

The Office of the Supreme Leader

The Parliament of Islamic Republic of Iran


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Review of Iranian politics

Jason Rezalan, writing in The Washington Post, offers a retrospective analysis of Iranian politics and how things have changed since the last presidential election.

I suspect his final paragraph(s) were edited out of this version of the story, because there seems to be no conclusion or summing up.

Maybe that would be a good thing for your students to write.

Iran’s protest movement seems sidelined heading into June elections
As Iran prepares to elect a new president, the anti-establishment energy that drove violent protests four years ago has disappeared, quashed by the heavy-handed crackdown in 2009 that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection.

The unlikely leaders of that opposition movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, have been under house arrest since 2011, and most of the student leaders and activists who helped organize the rallies are either in prison or living abroad, removed from the daily realities of a country whose focus on an economic crisis bears little resemblance to the struggles of four years ago…

The elections are June 14, but there are few indications of the excitement and anticipation for change that animated the prior contest and fueled the months of protests that followed…

In some ways, it is Ahmadinejad who is now fighting the clerical establishment, but the election battle is shaping up along a fairly narrow spectrum, with little indication thus far of candidates who might rattle conservative leaders…

The four candidates in that election were representative of the Islamic republic’s ruling establishment, although their allegiances varied wildly.

Ahmadinejad, the incumbent, had the support of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, as well as key clerics, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The most conservative candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, had commanded the Revolutionary Guard for 16 years, including throughout the Iran-Iraq War.

And the two men that became the unlikely faces of the post-election opposition were Mousavi, former prime minister of eight years, and Karroubi, a cleric in his 70s who served two terms as speaker of Iran’s parliament. The two echoed the sentiments of many Iranians who believed Ahmadinejad’s first term had tarnished the country’s international image and isolated the country diplomatically and economically.

Although both were considered reformists, neither questioned the legitimacy of the Islamic republic — including after they said the election was stolen from them — making them unlikely to usher in real change, even according to many who joined the protest movement.

By the end of the summer of 2009, countless Iranians involved in the protests seized any opportunity they could to leave the country…

Iranians who remained in the country after the election say that those 2009 protests, known as Iran’s Green Movement, included two very divergent strains — those who believed that the election was tainted and those who sought the end of the Islamic republic…

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Friday, May 03, 2013

Practice FRQs

If you're not involved in the Advanced Placement Comparative Government and Politics course, you may ignore what follows.

On Monday, I'll begin posting sample Free Response Questions (FRQs) for student practice on the Studying Comparative blog.

Unlike the questions that appear on the AP exam, I have made these questions up all by myself. I don't have a test development committee, evaluation experts, or statisticians to validate the questions' reliability (like the College Board does). I cannot guarantee they are realistic representations of the questions that appear on Advanced Placement exams.

Nonetheless, I think they're good for practice.

If you're a student who would like some feedback, you can post your "free response" as a comment and I'll try to play the role of reader (as I did for a dozen years for the College Board) and compare your response to my rubric.

If you're a teacher, you're welcome to use these questions for review and practice for your students. You can make your own personalized rubric or ask for an outline of mine.

And if you're impatient for Thursday and Friday's "Country Context" questions, you can look back at the questions from previous years by scrolling down the blog (back in time, as it were) and look at them, the responses submitted, and the evaluations I made.

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Legitimacy

Nation states sometimes have trouble maintaining the legitimacy of their governments and regimes. It's even more difficult for a supranational organization like the EU.

To me it's distressing that the dangers of emotional nationalism that inspired the creation of the EU are apparent now as threats to the survival of international cooperation. Do your students of European history recognize history repeating itself?

Crisis for Europe as trust hits record low
Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historically low levels in the six biggest EU countries, raising fundamental questions about its democratic legitimacy more than three years into the union's worst ever crisis, new data shows.

After financial, currency and debt crises, wrenching budget and spending cuts, rich nations' bailouts of the poor, and surrenders of sovereign powers over policymaking to international technocrats, Euroscepticism is soaring to a degree that is likely to feed populist anti-EU politics and frustrate European leaders' efforts to arrest the collapse in support for their project…

The findings… represent a nightmare for Europe's leaders, whether in the wealthy north or in the bailout-battered south, suggesting a much bigger crisis of political and democratic legitimacy…

EU leaders are aware of the problem, utterly at odds over what to do about it, and have yet to come up with any coherent policy proposals addressing the mismatch between the pooling of economic and fiscal powers and the democratic mandate deemed necessary to underpin such radical policy shifts.

José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, said… the European "dream" was under threat from a "resurgence of populism and nationalism" across the EU…

Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk… [said] "We can't escape this dilemma: how do you get a new model of sovereignty so that limited national sovereignty in the EU is not dominated by the biggest countries like Germany… "

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Some socialism is more acceptable than others

May 1st was International Workers Day. Do NOT discuss in China.

China’s version of Google marks Worker’s Day by banning discussion on Marx, ‘labor,’ ‘strikes’
Baidu HQ
It’s one of the great ironies of present-day China that the world’s largest and arguably most successful socialist state, a “people’s republic” ruled by a supremely powerful Communist Party, can at times be quite hostile to socialism and communism…

[May first] is International Worker’s Day, marked around the world every year by labor and socialist movements. That should ostensibly be a cause of tremendous celebration in officially communist China. But not on China’s most popular Web site, Baidu…

According to Fei Chang Dao, a blog that monitors free speech issues in China, Baidu users are blocked from entering or starting chat threads tied to… “proletariat,” “workers” and even “socialism.” Yes, in the world’s largest communist state, socialism is too hot to discuss.

Despite the seeming contradiction here, this is actually quite consistent with Chinese Web censorship practices. Anything that might inspire public gatherings or be used to encourage them is a top target for Web censorship in China. Since the 1989 student protests that culminated with a military massacre of civilians near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Chinese government has shown extreme caution edging into paranoia about any politically tinged public gatherings…

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Oops!

There's been a bit of stumbling on the march toward new politics in Mexico. It seems that old PRI habits have tripped up the new PRI president.

Mexico vote-buying scandal threatens president's agenda of reforms
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Tuesday faced the most serious political crisis of his young government, an explosive dispute with rival parties over electoral dirty tricks that could imperil his ambitious reform plans.

Veracruz, center of corruption?
Peña Nieto's highly touted Pact for Mexico, a kind of blueprint for his administration's agenda that had seemed to have won consensus from most major political groups, was on the verge of collapse after fresh reports of vote-buying by the president's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

The government was forced to cancel a series of public events under the auspices of the Pact for Mexico to avoid the embarrassment of a boycott by the main opposition factions…

The detonating dispute centers on audio recordings in which PRI elected officials can be heard discussing ways to use a government anti-poverty program to win votes in upcoming local elections.

The recordings involve officials in the coastal state of Veracruz and were made public by the rival National Action Party, or PAN, which held the presidency until Peña Nieto's election last year.

In one recording, a PRI official says citizens who get aid from the program, including food and stipends, must be immediately registered to vote so they feel obliged to support the party. Another official appears to be conditioning the distribution of government-supplied wheelchairs and dentures to party fealty. In another recording, the officials appear to be discussing ways of purging the social programs of non-PRI participants.

The shenanigans described are a throwback to tactics used throughout the seven decades the PRI held near-absolute power in Mexico. Peña Nieto has insisted that the party, which spent 12 years in opposition until regaining the presidency last year, is changed, having become more democratic and transparent. But the recordings cast doubt on such claims…

The boycott by the conservative PAN was seconded by the other major opposition force, the leftist Democratic Revolution Party…

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Rewards for loyal service

Mr. Medvedev looks like he's on the way out in Moscow.

Putin criticism leaves Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev bruised
Ever since he meekly stood aside after just one term and allowed Vladimir Putin to return to the presidency, Dmitry Medvedev has been in political trouble.

When his plans for re-establishing the principle of elected regional governors were undermined things looked bad.

When the Investigative Committee, Russia's equivalent of the FBI, began a series of overtly political prosecutions against members of the opposition his plan to defeat "legal nihilism" appeared to be in tatters.

When a professionally-made online documentary uploaded in January accused him of treason he was clearly under attack by political opponents.

But however bad things had been behind the scenes, Prime Minister Medvedev has rarely had a week in which his reputation was so publicly undermined as this one…

President Putin… said "How do we work? The quality of the work is deplorable. Everything is done superficially and if we work like this, we'll never get bloody anything done.

"If we work more persistently, more professionally, with an understanding of what needs to be done - we'll accomplish this," he went on.

"If we don't manage to do this, we'll have to admit that either I don't work effectively, or you all are working poorly and you will have resign. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that currently I am leaning towards the second option."…

[T]hings got even worse. Officers from the Investigative Committee, which answers directly to Mr Putin, turned up at the Skolkovo Foundation… Skolkovo is Mr Medvedev's pet project. Vast sums have been poured into the technology scheme, which was intended to be Russia's version of Silicon Valley.

The Investigative Committee is looking at allegations that billions of roubles were misappropriated.

Misuse of budget money is common in Russia, but the investigators usually only turn up when someone is in political trouble…

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