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Twitter: The ‘Forest Gump of International Relations’

Weighing Twitter trust / screenshot: Twitter search

Weighing Twitter trust / screenshot: Twitter search

This is just a tiny, tiny word of caution to remember as we take in the Twitter feeds, YouTube videos and other user-generated content from Iran.

First, although it’s invigorating to see the amount of info being passed on Twitter, I think there may be a quantity vs quality issue going on. I won’t go as far as Kara Swisher and call it the ‘Forrest Gump of International Relations’, but some of the tweets I’m seeing are…well…if not exactly Forrest Gump material, then maybe that of his long lost cousin who made it out of Savannah, Georgia before he did.
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Honesty is the Best Policy

Two boys at a cafe, Makassar, Indonesia / photo: Mo Riza, flickr

Two boys at a cafe, Makassar, Indonesia / photo: Mo Riza, flickr

What do you do when you’re number 126 out of 180 on Transparency International’s corruption perception list? What do you do when prosecuting mid- and high-level officials for corruption doesn’t seem to be doing enough to curb the corrupt tendencies rampant in society?

Well, if you’re Indonesia, you start with the basics. In an ingenious move aimed at teaching people the value of honesty, Indonesia’s attorney general and his provincial counterparts have kick-started a national campaign that aims to open 10 000 so-called ‘honesty cafes’ all over Indonesia by the end of the year. The idea- intuitive and inventive at once- is that instead of paying a set amount to a cashier (someone who is, in effect, employed to enforce morality in a low-level commercial transaction), customers pay an ‘honest amount’  into a clear, unsupervised  box.

In effect they pay what they think they should pay and pay because they know it is the right thing to do (and because others watch them pay). If I ever saw an interesting social experiment on a society-wide scale, this must be it.

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Lessons in Leadership: Problem Solving

Two clips, two different approaches to problem solving. Vladimir Putin was recently filmed putting a pesky oligarch in his place (in this instance for shutting factories and denying workers their salaries). His performance makes for great agitprop. The last line in particular is a charm.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, President Obama finds that he too is struggling to make sense in a world turned upside down. The cause of his headache? A pesky fly.

Two very different problems. But both resolved with a certain ruthlessness.

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European Elections: What went wrong?

European Union flag / santacrucero, flickr

European Union flag / santacrucero, flickr

Instead of celebrating a landslide win in the European Parliament elections last week, social democrats all over Europe see themselves confronted with one question: What went wrong? In an economic downturn, social democratic parties usually gain appeal to voters. Not so this time. The results of last weeks elections show devastating losses for social democrats, especially in Britain, France and Germany. The British Labour Party only got 16% of the vote and came in third place. In France, the Parti Socialiste returned with 16.5% of the vote (12 percentage points less than five years ago). The Social Democratic Party in Germany had its worst result since World War II with less than 21%.

With the Labour Party embroiled in an expenses scandal, their result didn’t come as much of a surprise. In France, however, the opportunity couldn’t have been any better with President Nicolas Sarkozy struggling with his reforms and dealing with an approval rating as low as 32%. But instead of taking advantage of the momentum, the Party Socialist got caught up in a nasty fight over power between Ségolène Royal and now party leader Martine Aubry. Issues were to be discussed at a later stage.

A similar thing happened in Germany. Admittedly, Chancellor Angela Merkel is not an easy adversary to take on. This is no reason, though, to get carried away with endless discussions about coalition building followed by an internal mud-slinging session. Again, policy debates had to be postponed.

It might be somewhat premature to announce the decline of social democracy, as some already do. With all this in mind, however, it should not surprise anybody that voters don’t believe the social democrats can lead Europe out of the economic slump.

For further reading, check out the links below:

Sarkozy on top: A good result for the centre-right, a bad one for the main opposition parties

Left out: How the far-right stole the working class

What’s really going on in Iran?

Rioters and police in Tehran / photo: vipez, flickr

Protester and police in Tehran / photo: vipez, flickr

In the wake of a vehemently challenged election in Iran last Friday, the blogosphere and mainstream media outlets are on fire today.

With talk of a totally rigged election (and we’re not talking some lost ballots here), complete with rigged software counting the ‘votes’ of children and dead people, locals, bloggers and journalists are all weighing in on what happened in Iran and where we might go from here. The wildest, and to many the only acceptable, scenario involves the re-scheduling of the entire election due to massive fraud. But how likely is the hardline leadership in Iran to admit its mistake (or rather its crime) and allow for a rerun of the whole process? What happens if the results are allowed to stand? Are we witnessing a hardline ‘soft coup’, as our Tehran correspondent argued in an article published on 11 June, or is there still enough fire in the opposition movement to put the hardline plans under such pressure that they will have to cave in, one way or the other?

Here are some of the best sources for information and opinions on the topic:

  • Our Tehran correspondent, Kamal Nazer Yasin, has written an update, titled Days of Rage for the ISN, detailing the aftermath and likely outcomes of the current stand-off between Ahmadinejad and the opposition forces. The article gives unparalleled insight into the mood, news and events  in Tehran as they unfold on the ground.
  • A blogger on Global Voices has posted Youtube videos of the protests as they unfolded last Friday and Saturday. This gives more insight into how the protests proceeded on the streets of Tehran. The chanting is loud and passionate and the crowds are massive.
  • Michael Tomasky, head of the Guardian’s America bureau has posted an impassioned blog on the election, detailing reasons for why he believes that the elections were rigged. In the Analysis section, the Guardian has also provided some more insights, showing just how muddy the statistics are in terms of vote counts.
  • Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty of the Washington Post urge caution and remind us that opinion polls three weeks before the election gave a 2 to 1 margin for Ahmadinejad, indicating that the results could be correct.
  • The Meedan site provides more information on the debate over the election results- both a case for and a case against, as well as supporting sources and links.
  • Some striking pictures, courtesy of the Foreign Policy Passport blog, from Tehran on Monday. The opposition forces, it seems, are still alive and well (and growing).
  • Alan Taylor of the Boston Globe has put together a fascinating slideshow on the protests. Please be warned that the last three images contain graphic content.

What do you think?

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