Category Archives: Government and politics

Demand Question Time

It may seem strange but some Americans are asking for their politics to be a little more like ours.

This does not mean that they want their own expenses scandals with Americanised versions of moats and duck houses paid for by the tax payer.

But the Demand Question Time campaign is trying to get the cut and thrust of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) to be a part of US political life.

It follows a recent open question session between President Obama and Republican Congressmen at the GOP House Issues conference in Baltimore which featured the sort of tough questions and frank answers that don’t normally happen in front of the TV cameras in US politics.

While PMQs are often criticised in Britain for being formulaic or the worst example of yah-boo politics, they are a hit with political junkies from other countries and at least offer a regular opportunity for political leaders to cross swords and be held to account.

The Demand Question Time campaign has garnered support from left and right in the States, although the online petition has only garnered some 15,000 signatures – a similar number to those on the 10 Downing Street e-petitions website asking the government to “stop criminalising live music” in small scale venues like schools, hospitals and pubs.

It remains to be seen whether the Demand Question Time campaign will be successful or not – but a Sky News campaign for US style leaders debates in the upcoming British general election made it and their online petition had a remarkably similar level of support.

Intute features more Internet resources on Government and Politics.

Iran goes to the polls

The Iranian presidential elections have led to rise in blogging activity – but what does it look like?

Interactive Persian blogosphere map

A project at the Berkman Center for Internet and Democracy has been following the Iranian blogosphere and has produced an interactive map illustrating the various types of blogs and blogging activity.

It’s part of a wider programme of research that has been Mapping Iran’s Online Public for some time, that is looking at the effect of the Internet in the Arab world – but a quick look at the snapshot above shows a mixed picture, with the key surprise being the importance of poetry!

Follow the news about the Iranian election and see whether President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets re-elected or whether Mir Hosssain Mousavi can force a run-off if no candidate secures 50 percent of the vote.

There is a BBC News: Special Report on Iran elections 2009 plus similar updates from Radio Free Europe and the Al Jazeera English site.

More on the academic background is available from Centre for Iranian Studies at Durham University or the Keele Guide to Middle East Government and Politics section in Iran.

Intute features more Internet resources on Iran, Elections in Asia and Islamic Studies.

Charge that Green Book to expenses

The MPs expenses controversy has made many references to the Green Book – but it’s not the only green book that Intute users should be aware of.

While many politicians were repeating the mantra of “it was within the rules” more and more people have been wanting to know what those rules actually were.

The Green Book is the guidance issued by the House of Commons authorities to Members of Parliament, that supposedly tells them what can and cannot be claimed for as part of their expenses.

The Daily Telegraph obtained unredacted details of the claims made by MPs and has been entertaining / shocking the nation with tales of claims for moat drainage, hanging baskets and the “flipping” of second homes.

While chasing up these links, I noticed that there are plenty of other Green Books, that may be of interest – for example:

The Green Book by Colonel Gaddafi is a 3 volume tract from 1975 that outlines his views on political theory, the nature of government, economic theory and social administration. It would be of interest to those studying politics, international relations or the Middle East.

The Green Book is also the name of another UK government publication – this time from HM Treasury that offers guidance to the public sector on spending public funds in the most beneficial and efficient way – one for students of the public finances and government spending.

Not to be outdone, the Department of Health also has it’s own Green Book, although it goes under the rather more formal title of Immunisation against infectious disease – last updated in 2006, for those examining health services and public health topics.

The Little Green Data Book is produced by the World Bank and is their comprehensive annual guide to environmental statistics, using information from the World Development Indicators and would be of interest to those studying environmental economics or development economics.

Indeed the Wikipedia Green Book disambiguation page lists a veritable smorgasboard of other Green Books – the one that I found most entertaining was the BBC guidance to comedy writers / producers from 1950 that contains warnings against mentions of:

Marital infidelity
Good taste and decency are the obvious governing considerations. The vulgar use of such words as ‘basket’ must also be avoided.

… along with suggestive references to fig leaves, lodgers or animal habits – which makes you wonder why you would bother writing comedy, when official guidance like this is often funnier than anything that a hard pressed writer could come up with!

Intute features a number of references to green books and more on MPs expenses.

Twittering the Budget

How will you be keeping track of the Budget?

It’s pretty unlikely that you would have been following it on Twitter this time last year – but that’s one of the ways that you can follow the Chancellor’s statement later today – via the HMTreasury Twitter channel.

treasurytwitterApparently they will be providing links to background material, supporting documents and other items while Alastair Darling is speaking – sounds like a great use of the real-time commentary benefits of Twitter.

… or you can track the reaction from the rest of the Twitter-verse by following the Budget via the Twitter search engine – although early indications are that it will be a hot topic and you may have difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff – in the time it’s taken to write this blog post – there have been over 450 new Tweets about the Budget!

For the political angle the 10 Downing Street Twitter channel is pointing users to a “live debate on the Budget” at their website – which is making use of Cover It Live – a nice way of producing live reports of an event that does not lead to a huge number blog posts.

Although there may not be as many Government Social Media experts contributing as there could be – unless they are very good at multi-tasking! Alas the Budget is clashing with the OpenGov event which Andy Powell is covering over at the eFoundations LiveWire blog.

For those who are more reflective then the Budget 2009 microsite and the more formal HM Treasury Budget page will have all the supporting documentation, data and figures, where you can make-up your own mind on what the Budget means to you.

Heather Dawson, our Politics and Government editor has already produced a nice round-up of links to some Budget information and coverage over at the LSE Library website and we will be rounding up some of the post-Budget reaction once the media have produced their soundbytes and there’s been some real analysis of the figures.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on Macroeconomic Policy, Public Administration of the Economy and Economics plus you can follow Intute: Economics on Twitter for all our blog posts and new Internet resources.

Are MPs Mostly Pontificating online?

It appears that politicians are forgetting the Social part of Social Media.

A new report from the Hansard Society – MPs Online: Connecting with constituents – has found that while most politicians are now using the Web, it is “often in passive ‘send’ mode with few MPs exploiting their full interactive potential” ie they are using new technology, to communicate in an old way, top down, broadcast style, rather than in a social or conversational manner.

So while some of the raw statistics in the report show that things are heading in the right direction:

  • 92% of MPs use email
  • 83% of MPs have a personal website
  • 23% of MPs use social networking
  • 11% of MPs blog

… how politicians are using these services, becomes the crucial question.

TweetMinister the directory of twittering politicians has issued a rapid rebuttal of the report, highlighting that Twitter is being used by 4% of MPs and yet was not mentioned by the report once.

There are some potential lessons for MPs from those in government, where the use of Social Media appears to be on the rise.

The 10 Downing Street site is greatly improved – compare via the Wayback Machine.

The London Summit website is getting good reviews, but alas seems to be struggling to cope with the attention.

The Power of Information Taskforce Report encouraged public comments by publishing a Beta version of the report online.

… and the recent Digital Britain report didn’t have an easy way of offer comments online, so one was set-up through unofficial channels instead.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on political communication or follow Intute: Politics on Twitter.

Guest Post: The Obama in-tray: find articles in IBSS

In the first of what will hopefully be a series of guest posts on the Intute: Social Sciences blog, we welcome Tom Carter, Assistant Manager of the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences.

Tom takes a break from writing over at the IBSS Blog and joins us to look at the challenges facing Barack Obama. He outlines how IBSS can help researchers, academics and students, tackle the subject.

Obama’s in-tray: find articles in IBSS by Tom Carter

Running with the theme of the Obama inauguration in the spotlight on the Intute Social Sciences blog, the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS) can be used to find peer-reviewed academic articles on some of the pressing issues ahead for the new president. IBSS is a specialist social sciences database that indexes 2,900 current social science journals in politics, economics, sociology and anthropology. The database includes almost 2.5 million bibliographic references to articles, book reviews, monographs and selected chapters from multi-authored volumes dating back to 1951.

Obama’s historic election victory, discussed recently on IBSS’s own blog, was to a large extent based on his ‘change’ rhetoric. However, the ‘hope’ of the country that he carries on his shoulders needs to be tempered in face of the enormous task that awaits him.

The most immediate problem is surely the global economic crisis that has recently taken a firm grip on domestic policy in the United States. The way in which Obama deals with this has consequences for the rest of the world and the increasingly deteriorating American economy has become the number one priority.

The US automobile industry is an area that Obama has marked out for urgent attention under his administration. A search on IBSS using the search terms ‘automobile industry and economic crisis‘ offers 32 results covering studies of many of the major international manufacturers’ responses to economic crises past and present. Similarly, a search on ‘mortgages, credit and U.S.A.’ returns 14 records (applying a limiter of articles published after 2007) that focus on the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage crisis that appeared to trigger the current recession.

That the economic crisis is now a global issue is beyond question and recent academic research is sure to expand quickly on advice for how to deal with such a problem. To date, a search for ‘recession and world economy‘ returns 12 records since 2007 in IBSS, but it is surely only a matter of time before this figure leaps.

Following on from the domestic and world economic agenda will be how to move American foreign policy forward. In this respect, it is worth looking at how the Bush years were defined by its foreign policy, with on-going conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea.

A simple search of ‘George W. Bush and foreign policy‘ in the subject fields of IBSS currently returns 126 journal articles and 24 monographs. A wider search on the ‘War on terror‘ returns almost 1,700 records – with the Bush Presidency lasting 2,922 days that makes one article for less than every day and a half of his leadership!

Combining ‘War on terror’ with Afghanistan as a geographic search returns 89 results ranging on analyses of the ‘Just war’ theory through to the management of military operations and the impact on Afghan society. Similarly, ‘War on terror’ combined with Iraq returns 312 results.

The underlying justification for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were American national security. A search based around this – ‘national security, defence policy and U.S.A.‘ – and using the date limiter to include all articles since January 2000 returns 13 focused results on the policy of striking pre-emptively at perceived threats to the United States, labelled the Bush Doctrine.

Finally, ex-presidents always have an eye on how they will be viewed by the public once they have passed the mantle on to the next leader. A wide search on ‘presidents, public opinion and U.S.A.‘ gives us 17 records, across the spectrum of recent American heads of state, such as Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. Amending this to ‘George W. Bush and public opinion‘ gives us 26 results; the higher figure may testify to the low standing in which Bush has left office and the high level of criticism that his policies have received.

After his resounding victory in November, Obama starts with strikingly high popular support, but it is clear that the task facing the new US president is not for the faint-hearted. Not only the American people, but the entire world need to be realistic in their expectations of hope and change.

IBSS is available free to UK HE and by subscription to other institutions and if you want to find out more there’s detailed information on how to access IBSS.

Obama Inauguration

barackobamaofficialportraitWith the inauguration of Barack Obama only a few days away it will be interesting to see how various Web 2.0 sites will handle the it.

Thus far I’ve spotted:

Flickr has set up an Inauguration 2009 Group for members to share their images of the day

Twitter has a channel set up by the Change.gov team to get updates about the day

Facebook has a blog post from Congressman Mike Honda on the Obama Inauguration

Delicious has a plethora of websites to choose from under the tag inauguration

YouTube has a inauguration channel already set-up which will feature closed captioning

One innovation has already taken place – as the picture that you see above is the first official Presidential portrait to be taken using a digital camera!

Get all the official news and updates the from the Presidential Inaugural Committee website that will be bringing some of this content together.

There will be plenty more innovations in terms of coverage of the swearing in of Barack Obama and if you spot any more then why not leave a comment.

And finally … if you can’t wait to hear the Inaugural Speech, then why not generate your own!

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the issue of Presidential Government.

Frost nipping at your toes?

David Frost and Richard Nixon

It’s been a pretty busy few weeks for Watergate watchers and Nixon scholars and the upcoming UK release of Frost/Nixon, means that the machinations of the 37th President of the United States will be in the news again.

While David Frost has very sensibly kept tight control of his interview footage over the years, we are at last seeing major releases of the recordings that Nixon made himself – with nearly 200 hours of audio made available just before Christmas.

The excellent Nixontapes.org will help explain some of the issues behind the tapes and includes themed releases of transcripts / recordings – for example those pertaining to Nixon advisor Charles Colson and the 1972 Presidential election.

Perhaps the most interesting data release was the one from the National Security Archive that provides a comprehensive archive of the Kissinger “Telcons” from the Nixon and Ford years – from the archives of the former Secretary of State.

Finally the death of Mark Felt, otherwise known as Deep Throat, the key source for some of the information used by Woodward and Bernstein in their Watergate investigations – brought some perhaps predictable discussion of whether Felt acted in the national interest or not – try this NY Times multimedia presentation for some perspective.

Some might say that the role of Felt in bringing down the Nixon administration was as overblown as that of Frost in terms of helping Nixon redeem himself, but it seems as though we will still be talking about both of them for some time yet.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the topics of Richard Nixon, Watergate and Presidential Government.

US Election latest link round-up

DSC00098 What’s unusual about this photo?

Not an awful lot at first glance – seeing an Obama 08 sticker on a lamp post is probably a very common site.

Except this photo was taken a couple of streets away from where I live (by me).

Unless Barack is running for Bristol City Council as a back-up in case he loses, I can’t see it swinging too many votes.

After all the data from If The World Could Vote seems pretty much in his favour!

Here’s a run down of the latest links relating to the US Elections:

[audio:http://www.tanosokolow.com/YesWeCan.mp3%5D

Tomorrow – a small slice of American pie!

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the US Election.

Landslides, post-mortems and tightening races

This time next week … yep, the finishing post is in sight and there’s just one more week of hard campaigning left before we get to the fun part where we get to count the votes. But isn’t it already over and the in-fighting already starting or is there a genuine tightening of the race?

In general the candidate that is ahead at this point should go on to win the Presidency, but that does not mean a late surge cannot happen or has not happened in the past. The Gallop Poll takes us through some examples from history and looks at how Late Upsets are Rare but Have Happened perhaps most famously in 1980.

Talk of landslides is really ridiculous – try perusing this timeline of US Presidential Election maps and see that there will have to be a major implosion of the Republican vote to be in the same ballpark as the virtual Electoral College wipeouts of 1984 or 1968.

While post-mortems in to the McCain campaign are probably premature, the question of damage limitation is important in terms of stopping Democratic momentum that could lead to a filibuster proof margin in the Senate, if they secure 60 seats – the Republican cause has not been helped by the conviction of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens on corruption charges.

The narrative from the McCain campaign appears to be that the race is tightening, but this does not seem to be backed up by the polls. It has been pretty much dismissed by Nate Silver at 538.com and my own examination of the poll of polls data at Electoral-Vote.com shows the gap growing rather than tightening in the last week.

Getting back to how the campaign is playing out on the web – TechCrunch reports on a make-over for Politics.com which seems a little late in the day and Mashable highlights a few election poll and projection sources, which should be largely familiar to long time readers of this blog.

If 2004 was the blogging election, then it could be argued that 2008 is the YouTube election – or at least the election where online video came to the fore. TechPresident ponders How Much YouTube is Worth to Obama and McCain? before coming to the conclusion that it could be millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of free video views.

Intute: Social Sciences features more Internet resources on the issue of the US election.