Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Results of the German National Elections, Sunday, September 27, 2009

The German national elections, held every four years, were held yesterday, Sunday, September 27, 2009.

There were some changes, but in stable Germany, such changes are seldom earth-shaking, even if the currently ruling grand coalition of the left and the right was deposed.

As written by Geir Mouslon and Kirsten Grieshaber of the Associated Press (AP) in Merkel vows quick deal on German coalition:
"Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Monday to have a new center-right German government in place by the time Germany marks 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9. She said tax cuts were possible in 2011, but rejected spending cutbacks that might strangle an incipient economic recovery.

Voters on Sunday ended the conservative Merkel's right-left "grand coalition" and gave her a comfortable center-right majority — thanks to a strong performance by her new government ally, the business-oriented Free Democrats."
Prior to this election, a compromise-necessitated grand coalition (grosse Koalition) of the right-wing Christian Democrats (CDU and CSU) and the left-wing Social Democrats formed the German government with Angela Merkel of the CDU as the German Chancellor.

However, because the grand coalition joined up Germany's two largest political parties in the national government - even though they sometimes had diametrically opposed policies, the grand coalition was a coalition of political expediency rather than a merger of ideas. That has changed somewhat since yesterday.

In Sunday's elections, the Christian Democrats (CDU and CSU, the right-leaning party/parties) obtained 33.8% of the vote (down 1.4% from the year 2005), the Free Democrats (FDP, the centrist liberal party, business-friendly) garnered 14.6% of the votes (up 4.7% from the year 2005), the more left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD) obtained 23% of the vote (down 11.2% from the year 2005), the Left Party (die Linke) obtained 11.9% of the vote (up 3.2% from the 2005 vote) and the Green Party 10.7% of the vote (an increase of 2.6% over the 2005 elections). The voter turnout of 72% was the lowest since the establishment of the Federal Republic.

What Sunday's vote means in practical terms is that the right-leaning Christian Democrats are able to abandon their grand coalition with the left-leaning Social Democrats and form a government with the more centrist Free Democrats (FDP).

Although their raw combined vote tally is less than 50%, Germany has a threshold level of 5% of the vote for any party to enter Parliament. When the total national vote is cleansed of parties who obtained less than the 5% barrier, then the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats in fact obtained enough votes to form a majority government, with a projected 332 to 290 seat advantage over the opposition parties.

See a video at Deutsche Welle - DW-WORLD.DE on how the German voting system works, explaining the impact of this voting system on the determination of the number of party representatives in the German Bundestag.

See also ACE - The Electoral Knowledge Network - where Michael Krennerich cogently explains the German mixed member proportional voting system:

More info on the election at:
New York Times - Merkel’s Party Claims Victory in Germany by Nicholas Kulish
New York Times - A New Star in German Politics by Nicholas Kulish and Judy Dempsey

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Statement by President Barack Obama on the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh

Statement by President Barack Obama on the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh:
"Michelle and I look forward to welcoming world leaders to the wonderful city of Pittsburgh on September 24th and 25th and we thank the people of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania for opening their city as a showcase to the world.

The Pittsburgh Summit is an important opportunity to continue the hard work that we have done in confronting the global economic crisis, and renewing prosperity for our people. Together, we will review the progress we have made, assess what more needs to be done, and discuss what we can do together to lay the groundwork for balanced and sustainable economic growth. Pittsburgh stands as a bold example of how to create new jobs and industries while transitioning to a 21st century economy. As a city that has transformed itself from the city of steel to a center for high-tech innovation—including green technology, education and training, and research and development—Pittsburgh will provide both a beautiful backdrop and a powerful example for our work. [emphasis added by LawPundit]

It’s important to note how far we have come in preventing a global economic catastrophe. A year ago, our economy was in a freefall. Some economists were predicting a second Great Depression. Immediate action was required to rescue the economy. In the United States, we passed an historic Recovery Act that quickly put money in the hands of working families, and is putting Americans to work all across the country—including in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. That includes companies like East Penn Manufacturing, a third-generation family business which is now building batteries for the hybrid, energy efficient vehicles of the 21st century. That includes Serious Materials manufacturing plant outside of Pittsburgh that was shuttered last year, which is now rehiring the workers who lost their jobs and giving them a new mission: producing some of the most energy-efficient windows in the world. And at medical laboratories in Pittsburgh, scientists are making advances in tissue regeneration, which will help people across the globe, including our troops wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The steps that we have taken to jumpstart growth have also been coordinated with our partners around the world. Industrial production throughout the G20 has either stabilized or is growing. Global trade is expanding. Stresses in financial markets have significantly abated and our financial institutions are raising needed capital.

But all of us must remember that our work is far from complete—not when our people are still looking for work. As the leaders of the world’s largest economies, we have a responsibility to work together on behalf of sustained growth, while putting in place the rules of the road that can prevent this kind of crisis from happening again. To avoid being trapped in the cycle of bubble and bust, we must set a path for sustainable growth while steering clear of the imbalances of the past. That will be a key part of the G20 agenda going forward and the Pittsburgh Summit can be an important milestone in our efforts.

In a place known as the city of bridges, we can come together to advance our common interest in a global recovery, while turning the page to a truly 21st century economy.

By working with our friends and partners from around the world, the U.S. is ready to help lead this effort in Pittsburgh and beyond."

Pittsburgh G-20 Summit Takes Place Today and Tomorrow (September 24 & 25, 2009)

The Pittsburgh G-20 Summit of the world's leading economies takes place today and tomorrow (September 24 & 25, 2009) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (the G-20 - chaired in 2009 by the UK - consists of 19 nations and the European Union - i.e. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, and the EU).

The Pittsburgh G-20 Partnership (see the photos at that page):
"will welcome world leaders visiting for the Pittsburgh Summit with a diverse array of locally crafted gifts -- many of them hand-made. Unveiled today at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside, the gifts represent the vitality of the Pittsburgh cultural landscape and convey the key role it plays in our region's high quality of life." [emphasis added]
Some eyebrows have been raised about the fact of the Obama administration choosing Pittsburgh as the venue for the summit, but it is definitely one of the most interesting cities in the United States which has made great strides in last decades, marked keenly by the Pittsburgh Steelers as reigning Super Bowl champions.

Gary Shapiro headlines at the Huffington Post that Pittsburgh Model Dramatizes Lessons for G-20 Summit and writes inter alia:
"A recent article in The Economist tracks Pittsburgh's rise from depressed steel town to innovation center. Jobs in the growing fields of bio-science, electronics and nuclear engineering have replaced manufacturing jobs so effectively that Pittsburgh's unemployment rate is nearly two percentage points lower than the national average.

Pittsburgh's experience offers a road map for American cities adjusting to manufacturing downturns and the new realities of the modern global economy. Pittsburgh experienced its manufacturing collapse sooner and more suddenly than the rest of the country, and has had more time to adapt to the new economic reality and thrive." more...

As written at the Wikipedia about Pittsburgh:
"In 2007, Pittsburgh was named "America's Most Livable City" by Places Rated Almanac.[13] Furthermore, in 2009, Pittsburgh was named most livable city in the United States and 29th-most-livable city worldwide by The Economist.[14] ...

The characteristic shape of downtown is a triangular tract carved by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, where the Ohio River forms. The city features 151 high-rise buildings,[8] 446 bridges,[9] two inclined railways, and a pre-revolutionary fortification. Pittsburgh is known colloquially as "The City of Bridges" and "The Steel City" for its many bridges and former steel manufacturing base."
During my student days as an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska and before I went on to Stanford Law School, I spent my 1966 summer working in Pittsburgh and residing in the Pittsburgh suburb of Shadyside, so it is nice to see what was actually a "sunny" Pittsburgh neighborhood in "Shadyside" rise to the top of the world scene.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Education and Politics in the United States : The Obama Motivational Speech to American Students and the International Ranking of Universities

Education is the most important undertaking of any country and so it is admirable of President Obama to offer a motivational speech to American students across the nation. If I were a student today - I would be honored to have the U.S. President want to talk to ME.

Those same students today can hear the well-meaning but sometimes misguided opinions of their self-important parents or local officials and gurus at any time - so give the President this one shot to reach a student where others have failed.

Any school or individual that prohibits a student from hearing a message directed to him or her by the President of the United States is practicing a form of tyrannical paternalism that would warm every tyrant's heart. Anyone disagreeing with the content of that message is free to inform the student(s) personally of contrary opinions. That is the American way. Squelching the opportunity to hear is un-American and violates free speech guarantees. Content-chilling thuggery by parents or local or regional school officials is not democracy.

As a political centrist, it is difficult for the LawPundit to understand - as reported by the New York Times - the partisan political stir caused by U.S. President Obama's plan to deliver a motivational speech to American students to start the school year. There is precedent for such a speech, as President George Bush made such a speech in 1991.

There is no excuse for partisan politics here.

The newest results in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that there is room for improvement of American education starting in elementary school. For example, let us take a look at the ranking of mathematics scores of fourth-grade students by participating country in 2007, the most recent published data (500 is the TIMSS "scale average"), where the U.S. is not even in the top 10.
"1. Hong Kong SAR - 607
2. Singapore - 599
3. Chinese Taipei - 576
4. Japan - 568
5. Kazakhstan - 549
6. Russian Federation - 544
7. England - 541
8. Latvia - 537
9. Netherlands - 535
10. Lithuania - 530
11. United States - 529
12. Germany - 525
13. Denmark - 523
14. Australia - 516
15. Hungary - 510
16. Italy - 507
17. Austria - 505
18. Sweden - 503
19. Slovenia 502
20. Armenia - 500
21. Slovak Republic - 496
22. Scotland - 494
23. New Zealand - 492
24. Czech Republic - 486
25. Norway - 473
26. Ukraine - 469
27. Georgia - 438
28. Iran, Islamic Rep. of - 402
29. Algeria - 378
30. Colombia - 355
31. Morocco - 341
32. El Salvador - 330
33. Tunisia - 327
34. Kuwait - 316
35. Qatar - 296
36. Yemen - 224
Nevertheless, showing that the hearts of the elites of the country are in the right place, the United States has the best education in the world at its top universities, but the rest of the educational system is subject to improvement. You can read as much at Education in the United States at the Wikipedia. We quote Mary Faler at Suite101.com in her posting, The State of Education in the United States: Why America is Behind Other Countries:
"In 2002, UNICEF compared public education in twenty four nations around the world: the US ranked 18. Forty years ago America had the highest graduation rate: now America is ranked as the 19th. US 4th grade math grades have remained the same since 1995, while other countries have improved....

American students are holding their own at the elementary level, but as they progress through the system, they fall behind their international counterparts....

To fix the problem political leaders should stand up and pay attention – getting involved goes a long way
.
"
Well, that is what President Obama is doing - standing up, paying attention and getting involved.

As far as university education goes, America leads the world by a massive margin, as proven by an Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) conducted objectively in Shanghai, China, where Harvard, Stanford and Cal Berkeley in the USA rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the world with Cambridge in the UK in 4th place, followed by MIT, Caltech, Columbia, Princeton, and Chicago in the USA 5th through 9th and finally Oxford in the UK 10th. The top 25 are rounded out by the universities at Yale, Cornell, UCLA, San Diego, Penn, Washington (Seattle), Wisconsin (Madison), San Francisco, Tokyo, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, University College of London, Kyoto, ETH Zurich and Toronto (tied). :
"The Academic Ranking of World Universities [1] is compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The ranking compared 1200 higher education institutions worldwide according to a formula that took into account alumni winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10 percent), staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20 percent), highly-cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories (20 percent), articles published in Nature and Science (20 percent), the Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index (20 percent) and the per capita academic performance (on the indicators above) of an institution (10 percent). The methodology is set out in an academic article by its originators, N.C. Liu and Y. Cheng[2]. Liu and Cheng explain that the original purpose of doing the ranking was to find out the gap between Chinese universities and world-class universities, particularly in terms of academic or research performance.”[3] The rankings have been conducted since 2003 and then updated annually."
There are also special lists there, by the way, for the Top 100 North & Latin American Universities, Top 100 European Universities and Top 100 Asia Pacific Universities.

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