Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, April 30, 2010

Welcome to Lagos (part 3)

Here is a link to part 3 of the BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos on Solomonsydelle's blog Nigerian Curiosity.

There are also links to parts 1 and 2 if you missed them.

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Too few people

It's obvious to everyone that too many people can stretch the capacity of the environment and a state, but too few? China is beginning to deal with low birth rates brought about by its one child policy. Now forecasters are asking about the problems that Mexico will face because of a rapidly declining birth rate.

When the niños run out
FENCES, soldiers, infra-red cameras: the United States goes to great lengths to hold back the teeming masses across its southern border. But the masses are teeming less. Mexico’s birth rate, once among the world’s highest, is in free-fall. In the 1960s Mexican mothers had nearly seven children each (whereas women in India then had fewer than six). The average now is just over two—almost the same as in the United States. The UN reckons that from 2040 the birth rate in Mexico will be the lower of the two.

The fall follows a government u-turn nearly 40 years ago, when a contraception campaign replaced the previous nation-building policy…

The slowdown provides both relief and trouble for the state…

Mexicans are rapidly ageing. This trend, which took a century in Europe, has happened in three decades, Mr Welti points out. In 1980 the average Mexican was 17 years old; he is now 28…

The poor who clean windscreens and sell pirate CDs in Mexico City include a growing number of elderly people. Only about one in five of the over-75s has a pension, and today’s smaller families will find it harder to care for elderly relatives... [R]eforms are needed to defuse this social-security time-bomb, says Jorge Rodríguez of the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America. More of Mexico’s enormous black market must be brought into the formal economy, so as to get more companies to contribute to employees’ pensions…

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Alienation in the Iranian Republic

Some sophisticated technocrats in Iran are not enamored with the theocracy or the aggressive nationalism of the government. The clerical and military elites are as suspicious as they are dependent on the expertise of the technocrats. An analysis in the Washington Post highlights reasons for the fears of the Iranian governing elites.

Iranian technocrats, disillusioned with government, offer wealth of intelligence to U.S.
Iran's political turmoil has prompted a growing number of the country's officials to defect or leak information to the West, creating a new flow of intelligence about its secretive nuclear program, U.S. officials said...

Some of the most significant new material has come from informants, including scientists and others with access to Iran's military programs, who are motivated by antipathy toward the government and its suppression of the opposition movement after a disputed presidential election in June…

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have acknowledged that an Iranian nuclear scientist defected to the West in June… [He] has provided spy agencies with details about sensitive programs, including a long-hidden uranium-enrichment plant near the city of Qom…

But sources said there has been a spate of other recent defections by diplomatic and military officials, some of which have not been made public…

[An] Iranian diplomat who defected, Mohammed Reza Heydari, said in a telephone interview from Norway that he represents thousands of young, educated Iranians who are increasingly discouraged by developments in their country.

"I personally had a good situation, both in Iran and as a diplomat, but my conscience would no longer allow me to work for the regime," Heydari said. "I was upset that the regime was repressing and killing people, simply for asking the question 'Where is my vote?'"

Some observers say the Tehran government has been unnerved by the defections and point to the death of an Iranian physics professor more than three months ago as a sign that it has begun a crackdown designed to frighten would-be spies.

The professor, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, was killed Jan. 12 when a bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded as he passed nearby. Iranian officials accused Israeli and Western intelligence operatives in the killing, but news accounts indicated that Mohammadi had been sympathetic to the opposition movement and had attended anti-government demonstrations. The day before his death, Iranian intelligence agents had searched his home and confiscated documents and notes, according to a report by the the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI)…

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

London School of Economics prediction

The Monkey Cage directs us to the results of some work by people at the London School of Economics. Many more details available at that site.

Get Your UK Election Forecasting Here

Simon Hix and Nick Vivyan at LSE provide the most useful UK poll tracking and election prognoses that I’ve seen.

The dots in the figure show the results from the various polls and the shaded areas around the lines are the 95 per cent confidence intervals around the mean standings of the parties. … As of 26 April, the national standing of the parties was 33.3 per cent for the Conservatives (up 1.0 per cent from our 19 April analysis), 26.5 per cent for Labour (down 0.3 per cent), and 29.3 per cent for the Lib Dems (down 0.8 per cent).

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The rise of the Revolutionary Guard

Morris M. Mottale is a professor of International Relations and Comparative Politics at Franklin College, Switzerland. He wrote this analysis for Al Jazeera. Using historical and comparative examples, he describes the rise of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The birth of a new class
Ayatollah Khomeini's vision encompassed the notion of a political system derived from Plato's Republic and tinged with Shia Islamic values and messianic expectations.

However, 30 years after the formation of that regime, what stands out is the rise of a new ruling class… the IRGC or Revolutionary Guards - and their auxiliaries, the Basijs…

The Iranian experiment shows remarkable analogies with European experiences of totalitarian rule during the 20th century…

While Khomeini, in his last will and testament, called on the military forces to follow the guideline of non-intervention in the affairs of state, in reality the opposite took place…

In fact, Ayatollah Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini as Iran's supreme leader, came to use his position as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to expand his power.

In time, Khamenei came to appoint many Revolutionary Guard commanders to top political positions, thus blurring the line between military and civilian authority.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, Ali Ardeshir Larijani, the secretary of the supreme council of national security, Ezzatolah Zarghami, the head of state television and radio services, Mohsen Rezai, the secretary of the expediency council, and Mohammad Forouzandeh, the head of the Mostazafan Foundation, are all former members of the IRGC who were appointed by Khamenei.

Since the turn of the millennium, the Revolutionary Guards have become the dominant group in not only defence policy, but in domestic political and economic affairs…

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Guards began engaging in reconstruction and during the 1990s they developed a taste for commercial dealings, real estate speculation and the profits that came with them.

By the time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, the Guards had come to oversee many sectors of the Iranian economy, including oil, construction, agriculture, mining, transport, the defence industry and import-export companies…

It is estimated that one-third of the Iranian economy is controlled by the IRGC and its leaders…

The recognition of the Revolutionary Guards has come to be the most sought after form of patronage in Iran for those seeking political or economic benefits - a patronage that is coming to match, if not displace, that of the clerics themselves…

The relationship between the Revolutionary Guards and the ayatollahs has become a symbiotic one. The protection of the regime was given to the Guards in exchange for status, prestige, and economic wellbeing that, in turn, was increasingly linked to neo-patrimonial bureaucratic structures based on kinship and marriage...

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immigration as a political issue in the UK

As the US Congress debates issues surrounding immigration, the issue arises in the British campaign. In a population a fifth the size of the US population, there's more fear among some people about high levels of immigration diluting cultural traditions than in the US. And just as much racism.

On the Sceptred Isle, Immigration Is an Issue Fit for Whispers
[I]n this election, more than in any other in memory, popular anxiety about the rapid rise in immigration in the 13 years of Labour rule is the ghost at the banquet. It is a political reality strong enough, according to opinion polls, to influence votes in dozens of constituencies, but one that the major parties can afford to address only in the most modulated of keys, and then, usually, only when others raise it on the campaign trail…

Small wonder, then, that the prime ministerial contenders trod warily when a nonwhite woman in the audience raised the issue at the second of three televised election debates on Thursday.

To nobody’s surprise, each of the three emphasized the need to curb migrant inflows. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat, urged an amnesty for the million or so illegal immigrants estimated to have lived in Britain for 10 years or more, to “get them out of the hands of criminal gangs,” balanced by stricter border controls; Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for Labour, said new identity cards for foreign residents and a points system for immigration applicants had begun to cut the numbers; David Cameron, the Conservative, advocated a cap on entrants from outside the European Union, “to get it down radically.”

But their competing policies were less notable than the care the three took to avoid any shade of prejudice. “The first thing to say,” Mr. Cameron said, “is that we have benefited from immigration; and people who come here and live legally, we should be incredibly warm and welcoming and hospitable and build a strong and integrated country. I think it’s really important to say that, first up.”…

What has given the issue new political weight is the scale of immigration during Labour rule. Extrapolations from government figures suggest that looser regulations adopted in Tony Blair’s early years as prime minister have led to a net inward migration of about two million people since 1997, with a peak of 330,000 in 2007. Many new arrivals have come legally from East European nations in the European Union, notably Poland. But by far the most non-Europeans have been Muslims, who historically have been slower to assimilate than other immigrants…

The official estimate of the foreign-born population — 11 percent — contrasts with the 1 percent historians give as the average for 1,000 years before major immigration from the Caribbean began in the 1950s...

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What do you get if no one wins a majority?

Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, is Professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University, offers this analysis of the prospects for a hung parliament. Since he wrote this, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said if no party won a majority, he'd negotiate first with the party that won the most seats.

Britain’s No-Win Election?
With Labour trailing the Conservatives slightly in opinion polls, the British election on May 6 could well produce a “hung” parliament, in which neither major party obtains a majority and the Liberal Democrats hold the balance of power…

[T]he Great Recession... keeps Labour in contention, particularly in the light of the Conservatives’ pledge to start cutting public spending the moment they take power.
This makes people anxious for their jobs. Most people… are instinctive Keynesians, even if they have never heard of John Maynard Keynes. At some level, they understand what Keynes called the “paradox of thrift”: if households and firms are forced to reduce their expenses, and the government simultaneously cuts spending, unemployment will rise, because one person’s spending is another’s income, and the outcome will be less spending and less income all around…

Public spending cuts come more naturally to Conservatives, and they have – despite their lack of candor – attempted to make a virtue out of this necessity. The Conservative manifesto ‘An Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’ is merely a grandiloquent way of saying that under a Conservative government the people will have to look after themselves.
Labour, by contrast, argues that immediate spending cuts would wreck the recovery – that the hole in the economy, not the government budget deficit, is the problem needing most attention...

[N]either major party can afford to blurt out the awkward truth: how much deficit reduction any government can achieve will depend on what happens to the economy over the next five years, and no one can say anything for certain about that.

So the main parties vie with each other in their promises not to cut public services. Labour will not cut spending on unspecified “front-line services.” The Conservatives will not cut spending on health, international aid, and defense, similarly leaving unclear just where the cuts will be made. Only the Liberal Democrats are committed to a big cut: scrapping Britain’s nuclear submarines...

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Post-materialist political culture?

Kevin James, who teaches at Albany High School (Albany, California), pointed out an article that I had skimmed over in The Economist. It describes the growing gap between the political culture in Mexico City and the political culture in most of the rest of Mexico (especially the north).

Metrosexuality: As the capital grows more liberal, conservatives are rallying elsewhere
BLOOD streaked the faces of the scores of young men dragging heavy wooden crosses up a hill in Iztapalapa, a suburb of Mexico City, on Good Friday. Looking on at this annual re-enactment of the crucifixion were tearful crowds of blue-veiled “town virgins”—and on a billboard in the background, a giant, nearly-nude model, advertising condoms with a wink. Religiosity and militant secularism have long rubbed along together in Mexico City and in the country as a whole. But the gap in attitudes between the freewheeling capital and deepest Mexico is widening, stoking culture wars of the sort more familiar north of the Rio Grande…

As Mexico City liberalises, much of the rest of the country is moving in the opposite direction. Since the 2007 abortion reform [in Mexico City], more than half of the country’s 31 other states have preventively amended their constitutions to define life as beginning at conception. Last year four states went further, introducing laws that double the penalty for abortion if it is found that the woman is of “ill repute”. Prison sentences can be lengthy: some states treat abortion as murder. And even when abortion is permitted, such as in cases of rape, the cumbersome authorisation required often makes it impossible…

Paradoxically, one reason for the rude health of social conservatism is the spread of political liberalism. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ran Mexico for seven decades until 2000, persecuted the church with varying vigour and imposed secularism. Divorce was notoriously free and easy… It is an irony that “the dismantling of an authoritarian regime has led to the emergence of intolerance” regarding homosexuality, reproductive rights and religious minorities, notes Soledad Loaeza, a political scientist at the Colegio de México, a graduate school…

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Political disunity

In Nigeria, the cleavages are many and practically none of them are about ideology or policy.

What does that predict about politics in Nigeria?

And when leaders cobble together a political party large enough to be dominant, what happens when a vital element of that grand coalition (like a president's health) fails?

And what does all that mean for the coming presidential election?

Ruling Party in Nigeria Is Fractured by Infighting
An outbreak of public infighting within Nigeria’s governing party this week has exposed how confused the country’s politics remain in the wake of the recent shaky transfer of power at the top, analysts contend.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party, or P.D.P., suspended 19 prominent members this week for challenging the party’s leadership over a lack of openness in selecting candidates for political office and for what one member called a “total lack of internal democracy.”

The squabble hints at the power struggles to come in advance of the wide-open 2011 presidential election. Factions in the all powerful P.D.P. are challenging the rule of the acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, who took over in February from President Umaru Yar’Adua…

Analysts echoed the view that the party dominating political life in Nigeria was an imperfect dispenser of democracy. “The P.D.P. itself lacks internal party democracy,” said Kabiru Mato, a political scientist at the University of Abuja. “They don’t subject themselves to electoral practices.”

Motivating the movement for reform is discontent over the sway that the country’s state governors, over three-quarters of whom are in the P.D.P., hold over the loosely organized party. The dissidents contend that the state governors have become so powerful that they have overtaken the party machinery, a view echoed by some analysts.

“They have their own network of patronage,” Peter Lewis, director of African studies at Johns Hopkins University, said of the governors. “They run independent fiefdoms.”

Mr. Lewis said that the reformers and party establishment both wanted to preserve the party’s power, but he said the latter seemed intent on doing so through traditional means like “manipulating elections” and “increasing patronage.”

The would-be reformers have not suggested giving up. But analysts were skeptical that their movement could change the P.D.P., given its immense patronage machine and well-established electoral machine…

See also:
As Members of Reform Group Insist On Change PDP Suspends Masari, Nnamani, Odili, Wabara from This Day (Lagos)
Ogbulafor, PDP Leaders' War Heightens from Vanguard (Lagos)

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Welcome to Lagos

The BBC produced a documentary about Nigeria's biggest city. Not everyone in Lagos or Nigeria was happy with the result, but you can now see it and decide for yourself. It's broken into 10-minute segments, some of which would be great teaching tools. Thanks to Solomonsydelle for putting the links on his blog Nigerian Curiosity.


Watch Part 2 (Video)

He promises to add a link to Part 3 when it is aired by the BBC.

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History for the old folks

It's probably not vital for understanding Chinese government and politics today, but for some of the old folks in the audience of China watchers, this is intriguing. It's almost the anniversary of the beginning of the 1989 demonstrations in China that caused so much trouble and created so much confusion. Premier Wen Jiabao has good things to say about the man whose death inspired the initial public demonstrations.

Confusion about the implications of Wen's statement illustrate how difficult it is to make sense out of an opaque political system.

Chinese Premier Offers a Tribute to a Reformer
[T]ens of thousands of Chinese took note on Thursday when a long and emotional tribute to Mr. Hu Yaobang— written by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao — was published Thursday in Renmin Ribao, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, otherwise known as People’s Daily

Mr. Wen’s flattering and public remembrance — splashed not just on the pages of People’s Daily, but on a clutch of popular national Web sites — appeared to some experts to nod not just to Mr. Hu’s legacy as a man of the people, but perhaps to the party’s now-quiescent band of liberals…

Once viewed as the most likely successor to Deng Xiaoping as China’s leader, he was forced out of power by party conservatives who claimed his “bourgeois” leanings threatened the country’s stability...

Analysts poring over that and other parts of Mr. Wen’s text were divided over their meaning. Some suggested it was an opening salvo in the political jockeying to choose China’s next generation of leaders, who will take office in 2012. Others saw in the essay a veiled jab at China’s current ruling elite, which has come under increasing fire for economic policies that, in some minds, favor the rich over average people.

The article could also be viewed as a calculated effort by China’s leadership to placate intellectuals, journalists and some retired party officials who still regard Mr. Hu as a reformist unjustly shunted aside by more risk-averse bureaucrats…

Analysts agreed that Mr. Wen’s eulogy was certainly screened and approved by the party’s top hierarchy…

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nigerian cleavages in the UK

The divisions between people in Nigeria extend beyond the national borders. Thanks to Jeremy Weate and his Naijablog for the link.

The candidate, by the way, is running as a Conservative.

Kemi Adegoke for parliament
As you know I'm running for parliament in the 2010 UK general elections for Dulwich & West Norwood. The race is very tight…

In a recent BBC interview, a caller insulted me because I'm Yoruba. I was very disappointed that a Nigerian woman who claims to have lived in London for 45 years has issues with me being Yoruba than with my political views…

For regular updates, please join my fan page here

-Kemi Adegoke

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What is a state? a nation-state? a country?

I used to use a lesson that asked students to determine the differences between and similarities among countries and multi-national corporations. It was a thought-provoking exercise.

Similarly, the editors at The Economist ask us to think about what we mean when we say "country." It's a reminder of why political science asks us to be precise in our terminology. It's also a reminder of the ambiguity involved in comparative politics. (Remember Ambiguity and nuance?) So, what is your definition of a country? a state? a nation-state? a nation?

In quite a state
How many countries in the world? The answer to that question is surprisingly difficult

APPLY online for visa-free entry to the United States and the Department for Homeland Security offers 251 choices for “country where you live”. The wide but rum selection includes Bouvet Island, an uninhabitable icy knoll belonging to Norway in the South Atlantic; South Yemen (which stopped being a state in 1990); and the “Neutral Zone”—a diamond-shaped bit of desert between Saudi Arabia and Iraq that vanished after the 1991 Gulf war.

That is the trouble with such lists. Places that are not real states at all end up on them. And places that approximate a bit more closely to countries (at least in their own eyes) may be absent. America’s list, for example, excludes Abkhazia and South Ossetia, self-proclaimed states that broke away from Georgia with Russian backing…

Private-sector lists are just as odd as those compiled by governments. Hotmail offers 242 “countries/territories” from which you can register an e-mail account. Web-savvy penguins may be pleased that Bouvet Island is on the list. But human beings in Kosovo (recognised by 65 states) and Western Sahara (more than 80) will search in vain for their homeland.

Any attempt to find a clear definition of a country soon runs into a thicket of exceptions and anomalies. Diplomatic recognition is clearly not much guide to real life…

If diplomatic recognition is not the main thing that marks out a country, what does? Is it the ability to issue passports that are of some use to the holder, or simply actual control of a stretch of land? Again, the picture is cloudy. Legitimacy, physical control and the capacity to issue documents that other people accept don’t always coincide. For example, lots of countries that do not recognise Kosovo accept travellers bearing its passports...

[P]resence or absence from the UN is [not] much help to anyone seeking clarity. Israel joined the world body in 1949, but 19 of its 192 members do not accept the Jewish state’s existence…

A German thinker, Max Weber, defined statehood as “the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence”. That may be a practical approach but it doesn’t end the confusion. Chaotic Somalia spectacularly fails to meet this criterion, yet still counts as a sovereign state…

How far a populated patch of land qualifies as a country is ultimately a subjective question for politicians; it will never be settled by lawyers in a way that everybody accepts. And the fact that there are degrees of recognition—ranging from full diplomatic ties to virtually denying a state’s existence—gives governments a calibrated set of tools which can be used to reward good behaviour and penalise bad.

And whatever diplomatic theory says, life goes on. Taiwan is celebrating a friendly resolution from the European Parliament, and dishing out aid to Haiti. Kosovo rents dialling codes from Monaco and Slovenia. A football championship for teams from unrecognised countries is due to start next month in Malta. And a delegation of senior politicians from Somaliland had a friendly meeting at the White House on April 3rd. Presumably they had squared things with immigration control.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blip or big change?

The first televised debate among the parties in the UK, brought Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, to many people's attention. The latest poll shows how much.

Liberal Democrats Tie Conservatives in Britain

The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats are tied as Britons ponder their choices in next month’s General Election, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 32 per cent of respondents would support the Tories, while 32 per cent would back the Lib-Dems.

The governing Labour Party is third with 24 per cent. 12 per cent of respondents would vote for other parties. Support for the Lib-Dems increased by 10 points in a week, while backing for the Tories fell by six points...

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Crackdown on dissent gets serious

The Iranian government has taken steps, that seem more substantive than before, to suppress the opposition.

Iran Mutes a Chorus of Voices for Reform
The Iranian authorities on Monday suspended two prominent opposition political parties, banned a newspaper and handed down prison sentences to three reformist political figures, in the latest sign that the country’s hard-line rulers aim to crush any official political representation by the reformist movement.

The opposition parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujahedeen of the Islamic Revolution, were told to suspend all activities… The move was widely understood as a precursor to a full legal ban…

The government also banned the reformist newspaper Bahar, accusing it of spreading doubts about last June’s presidential election and questioning Iran’s Islamic system of government, according to the reformist Web site Parleman News. Bahar had started publishing only three months ago, after a government ban on the popular reformist daily Etemad.

The three politicians, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Davood Soleimani and Mohsen Mirdamadi, each received six-year prison sentences and a 10-year ban on all activities related to political parties or the news media… They were arrested last summer in the wake of the post-election protests and convicted in a mass trial of opposition supporters on charges of conspiracy and propaganda against the Iranian government…

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Crunch time in Mexico City

Daniel Wilson, writing in the blog Under the Volcano: Notes on Mexican Politics, highlights the tasks remaining for the Mexican legislature.

Congress moves into final weeks of legislative session
With just six sessions remaining until the April 30th recess, Congress is expected to vote on a number of pending reforms and other legislation.

Competition law reform and a new national security law are measures likely to come to a vote.

The government is pressing for movement on political reform, but its fate seems uncertain without a consensus in the legislative commissions. 

In an op-ed, PAN party president César Nava said that the political reform should have at least five key elements: cut public financing for parties in half; reduce the size of Congress; give the federal electoral institute and federal electoral tribunal responsibility for organizing and adjudicating state and local races; allow independent candidates; and permit immediate re-election of congressmen and mayors.

Original reports in El Universal, April 18; El Universal, April 19; and Excelsior.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Why the election matters

The editors at The Economist believe that the upcoming British election will be important no matter which way it turns out.

They're off! Why the campaign will count in a contest that matters
THE election date had been an open secret for so long that its announcement this week might have come as an anticlimax…

For this is a contest that matters greatly. The next government must deal with a woeful inheritance of vaulting public debt. It must chart a new way forward for the economy and finance after the old model has foundered so spectacularly. It must rebuild trust in politics following a scandal over parliamentary expenses that has soured the public mood. And after a decade of sending overstretched armed forces to fight foreign wars, it must either provide them with adequate resources or settle for a more modest role in the world...

If Mr Brown wins, it will be a record-breaking fourth consecutive victory for Labour and make the prime minister the Lazarus of latter-day politics. If, on the other hand, David Cameron delivers victory to the Conservatives, it will be with the biggest swing to the party from Labour in the past 60 years (see chart). And if neither big party manages to get an absolute majority, it will mean the first hung parliament since February 1974, and only the second since 1929…

The main front will be the economy, now uppermost among the issues worrying people. Both the main parties are vying to present themselves as best able to secure the recovery. Public services such as the National Health Service are next in importance when people decide how to vote, they tell pollsters…

More than any past election, this one will be about leadership, pitting a young pretender against an old hand. That will also make the televised debates of the three main party leaders—a first in a British general election—a crucial part of the campaign. They will give unusual prominence to another Young Turk, Mr Clegg, thus perhaps benefiting the Lib Dems the most.

Some campaigns matter; others don’t. In 2005 voting intentions changed little in the run-up to the election, whereas in 1970 and February 1974 they changed fundamentally. With so much uncertainty about the outcome, in this election the campaign could well make the difference.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

CNN Interview with Goodluck Jonathan

Solomonsydelle, in his blog, Nigerian Curiousity, has posted a number of excerpts from Goodluck Jonathan's interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN. They are good glimpses into the Acting President. Go to the blog for links to the videos.

While in the US, Jonathan gave an interview to Christiane Amanpour. Below are a few excerpts. I am very happy that Jonathan took the time to clarify that the violence in Jos is not simply a religious issue as I continue to find the foreign media's simplification of that regional problem disturbing. Might I confess that I like how he handled the questions. He was calm, confident and to the point, unlike some other now-former political figures who have left much to be desired when being interviewed in the international press. He was diplomatic when responding to sensitive questions about Yar'Adua's absence and failure to meet with politicians. Again, I am impressed by the way he handled himself...

Jonathan must also be reminded that following Yar'Adua's example of giving important interviews to the foreign press instead of speaking to the Nigerian people, is misguided. The acting President's aspirations, be they to create improvements or potentially run for political office in the future, will be aided by expressing key ideas about Nigeria to Nigerians first. That will go a long way to reinforce that his priorities are in line with the citizens he represents and not international interests.

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Televised debate in the UK

The leaders of Britain's three major parties debated each other on television in the run-up to the election in May. It was a first. It got good reviews. Of course, these candidates have an advantage over most American politicians: Question Time.

Britain's debate: lively, substantive, revealing
People overseas often lament the Americanization of their politics, but Thursday's introduction of presidential-style debates in Britain ought to put some of those complaints to rest. The first televised debate in the history of British election campaigns was lively, substantive and revealing…

The election is one of the most closely contested and important in Britain in many years -- polls suggest it could result in a hung Parliament….

[I]n Thursday's debate, Clegg [Lib Dem] broke through in ways that neither of his two rivals could. In the short-term, he will be the story of the campaign…

Brown's [Labour]… expertise showed on Thursday. He was in command of his brief through much of the debate…

The youthful Cameron [Conservative] has a more natural style on television than Brown and sought to stay positive in the face of Brown's attacks…

Clegg's performance was reminiscent of Ross Perot in the first general election debate in 1992 as he took advantage of the platform the debates offered. Throughout the night, he cast himself as the antidote to the old politics and as the candidate who represents the clearest change. His party is more centrist than the other two…

Instant polls showed Clegg the clear winner. Three-fifths of those questioned by Populous for The Times newspaper declared him the victor, compared to 22 percent for Cameron and 17 percent for Brown. A YouGov poll for the Telegraph showed that 45 percent said he won, with 41 percent calling Cameron the winner and Brown far behind with 14 percent.

There are two more debates, on consecutive Thursdays, in advance of the May 6 election...

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Keep them at home

Solomonsydelle wrote in his blog, Nigerian Curiousity, that the legislature is considering a bill to require the children of public officials to attend Nigerian schools. As he writes, that's no guarantee that the schools will improve. What is the government to do? Why are the schools in such tough shape? What will improve them? Oh, and why is that most comparative textbooks say that Nigeria has such a well-educated population?


Nigeria's education system is in disarray with schools closed for months on end as a result of strikes and underdevelopment in the education sector. Given these conditions, Nigerian students have left the country for education abroad… Nigeria's House of Representatives is considering a bill to ban the foreign education of all public officials in the country…

If formally made into law, it would require public officials to educate their children at Nigeria's primary and undergraduate institutions. In order to educate their children abroad, all public holders would have to obtain a waiver from the Minister of Education…

In 2009, Nigerian Universities were shut down for 5 months, affecting an estimated 10 million students. It was no surprise then, that 2009 saw some of the worst exam results for Nigerian students…

However, one can only wonder if banning the foreign education of the children of public officials is  going to help solve the nation's educational woes… Besides, this bill appears to simply be a move to appear populist by legislators who fail to focus on the real issue - the education of Nigeria's children.

Adequate funding for Nigeria's dilapidated education sector would have been a better indication that legislators intend to tackle the problem…

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still no words

In a brief interview with a BBC reporter, Acting President Jonathan says he has not spoken to President Yar'Adua.

Nigeria - Goodluck Jonathan 'not spoken to Yar'Adua'
Nigeria's Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has told the BBC he has not seen or had "sustained discussion" with the ill president in about five months…

"I've not seen the doctor. I have had - on about three occasions - discussions with his wife," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"And I've had discussions with some of the other aides…

You can see the interview if you go to the BBC article.
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New Nigerian cabinet

Acting President Jonathan has named a new cabinet and taken control of the most contentious ministry himself. This sounds like an act of political bravery but we must remember that the power ministry has been one of the most corrupt and the source of incredible wealth for a few people.

Jonathan Takes Over Ministry of Power
No substantive minister of power would be named for the time being following the decision of the Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to take charge of that critical sector.

This comes as the Acting President hinted during the swearing-in ceremony of ministers yesterday that they would sign a performance agreement to help monitor their progress in office…

During the swearing-in of 38 new ministers at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Jonathan stated that they will be expected to deliver on their jobs in addition to being made to sign a performance agreement.

The Acting President said as part of efforts to measure the performance of the ministers, he would in the next two weeks work with them to determine and agree on ministerial goals and targets, which would form the basis for measuring and assessing their performances.
See also Ministers - the Profiles

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Firing a candidate

In Nevada, at last check, some Republican leaders were politely asking Senator John Ensign to resign in the wake of his admitted extramarital affair and attempts to pay his paramour's family to keep quiet.

Compare that with how the Labour Party dealt with a less than perfect candidate. What does that tell you about the differences between the party system here and the one there?

Tweet this: You're fired, Brown tells UK candidate

Britain's governing Labour Party says it has dumped a candidate in the national election after he made offensive comments about political foes on Twitter.

Stuart MacLennan, who was running in the Moray district in northern Scotland, made obscene attacks about rival parties and labeled elderly voters as "coffin dodgers."

The 24-year-old MacLennan -- who wasn't expected to win the seat -- is the first scalp of Britain's election campaign, which began Tuesday and ends with a May 6 poll.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose Labour Party trails the Conservatives in opinion polls, said Friday that MacLennan's Twitter comments were "unacceptable" and demanded he resign. MacLennan said he "been stupid and rightly paid a high price."

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Monday, April 12, 2010

The other war in Mexico

The war of the government against the drug gangs goes on apparently without slowing the drug flow to the USA. The other war, between drug gangs, might be winding down in one area of the country. Is that a threat to the government and the regime?

AP Exclusive: Sinaloa Cartel Takes Ciudad Juarez
After a two-year battle that has killed more than 5,000 people, Mexico's most powerful kingpin now controls the coveted trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez. That conclusion by U.S. intelligence adds to evidence that Joaquin ''El Chapo'' Guzman's Sinaloa cartel is winning Mexico's drug war...

The twin border cities of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas, are a primary crossing point for drugs smuggled into the United States. Control of drug routes in Chihuahua, the state along New Mexico and West Texas where Juarez is located, is vital to Guzman's efforts to grow his massive drug cartel's operations.

Already, the Sinaloa cartel is the world's largest, and Guzman last year made Forbes magazine's list of the world's top billionaires…

The Sinaloa cartel has grown steadily more powerful since Guzman escaped from a Mexican federal prison a decade ago by hiding in a laundry truck, even as successive Mexican governments -- including that of Calderon -- have faced accusations that they have not pursued the Sinaloa cartel as aggressively as other gangs…

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Difficult policy choices in Iran

Iran's government faces economic realities -- maybe. The politics are complex, but even though revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said, "Economics is for donkeys," present-day leaders have to step up and become donkeys, at least for a little while. How well will the leaders deal with basic economic issues?

Ayatollah Supports Bid to Sharply Cut Iran Subsidies
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered a crucial gesture of public support Monday for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s effort to enact a sweeping economic reform plan that would sharply curtail the country’s long-established system of state subsidies.

After Mr. Ahmadinejad issued his latest call for Parliament to support his proposal, Ayatollah Khamenei, speaking at a meeting of cabinet ministers and other senior figures, urged all parties to help Mr. Ahmadinejad’s administration in “facilitating” passage of a subsidies reform bill.

Lawmakers approved $20 billion in subsidy cuts in January, fearing that deeper cuts would set off uncontrolled inflation — and public anger.

Slashing Iran’s state subsidies, which cost the government an estimated $100 billion a year and encourage overconsumption, has been a goal for decades. Mr. Ahmadinejad clearly hopes to succeed where attempts by previous presidents have sputtered or failed.

He has repeatedly demanded a broader bill to remove $40 billion in subsidies, and lashed out at Parliament for refusing to go along. But many economists say the government lacks the technical expertise to modify the subsidies in the right way, or even to identify those who would receive financial help under the proposed law.

Lawmakers across the political spectrum have warned of catastrophic price shocks if supports are eliminated.

For instance, the price of gasoline would instantly quadruple, and the resulting effects could result in similar increases for basic goods and an inflation rate of 60 percent or more, according to the Majlis Research Center, the research arm of Parliament, which is run by a conservative lawmaker, Ahmad Tavakoli…

Still, it is far from clear how the Parliament will proceed with the reform bill, which has provoked anxious debate across Iran for months. There are few precedents for such a broad legislative measure, and despite Ayatollah Khamenei’s open support and Mr. Larijani’s conciliatory words, it is far from clear that the issue will be resolved quickly.

See also: Iran Considers Cutting Subsidies, But At What Cost?

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Corruption fighter to return?

The newspaper Next reports that Nuhu Ribadu has been asked to come back to Nigeria to advise Goodluck Jonathan. Given the history of Ribadu's career, his return would be good news for good government -- as long as his return doesn't escalate the infighting among the ruling elite.

Thanks to Jeremy Weate at naijablog for pointing out this story.

The return of Ribadu
Nuhu Ribadu [left], the former chief of Nigeria's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has accepted an offer from Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, to be his special adviser on anti-corruption, good governance and sundry matters…

Mr. Ribadu is, at the moment, winding up a plum fellowship at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a think tank in Washington D.C. dedicated to international issues of development…

The former anti-corruption czar, for the past two years, had been in a running battle with the Umaru Yar'Adua led government, culminating in Mr. Ribadu's exile and the decision to take up fellowship offers, first at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and then CDG in the US…

Last week however, the federal government indicated its desire to withdraw its case against Mr. Ribadu at the Code of Conduct Tribunal last week, admitting that it had no case against the former EFCC boss...

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

One analysis of Nigerian politics

Nasir El-Rufai (a senior policy advisor to President Obasanjo and an administrator of several of his programs) offers us this analysis of the crisis in Nigerian government and politics. How well could your students identify his biases and the counter arguments of other Nigerian politicians?

Time for a New Nigerian President
The return of Nigeria's long-absent President Umaru Yar'Adua to the capital city of Abuja in late February has thrown the West African country into a dangerous existential crisis. The president is still apparently incapacitated, but his cadres are certainly not -- and they are doing all they can to remain in power. Yar'Adua's henchmen now threaten not only the constitutional succession process… but also Nigeria's very stability…

Yar'Adua's inner circle has shown itself quite adept at spreading falsehoods -- misinforming and misleading Nigerians into mass violence if necessary -- to preserve its hold on power. Since the crisis began, the presidency has been framed as if it were a rotating office, traded every eight years between the supposedly Christian South and Muslim North…

[U]ntil their firing last week when Jonathan dissolved the cabinet, Yar'Adua's ministers were fighting tooth and nail to stay in office, clinging to the rents and patronage that came with their posts…

There is also a more direct human cost to all this; look no further than Jos, where the perpetrators of the recent violence took advantage of the power vacuum presented by the current political struggle…

The political mayhem and the ethnic tensions fomented by the Yar'Adua faction have pushed Nigeria closer than ever either to a repeat of the country's 1967-1970 civil war… or the return of military intervention… Military leaders resolutely believe in the integrity of the Nigerian state, so if the country were to approach the brink of disintegration, they would likely step in. Goodbye, Nigerian democracy...

What's needed now is a clean sweep of the administration to remove potential troublemakers, which Jonathan has begun with his cabinet shuffle…

But we all need to use a fresh lens when looking at Nigeria. Backroom deals in which political elites negotiate the fate of Nigeria's 150 million people are a relic of the past -- or they should be. The North-South power rotation, or "zoning" arrangement, that pretends to offer stability to Nigeria's ethnically diverse population has morphed into a convenient justification for self-centered politicians.

Nigeria is too big and has too much going for it to be allowed to fail. Despite the political crisis, the green shoots of real democracy are appearing across the country. Some state governors, such as Raji Fashola of Lagos and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers are beginning to deliver services to the people. Civil society is stronger than ever, empowered through new technologies, including text-messaging and social-media organizing. The international community must respond to what Nigeria could be -- and not remain captive to memories of its recent past. Nigerians must not be constrained by those who have a vested interest in the old way of doing business.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

UK election

No surprises yet.

Gordon Brown calls 6 May general election
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has confirmed that the UK general election will be held on 6 May…
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative leader David Cameron, and Liberal Democratic party head Nick Clegg.
He said Britain was on the "road to recovery" and urged voters not to put it "at risk".

But David Cameron said the Conservative Party offered a "fresh start", while Lib Dem Nick Clegg said only his party offered "real change"…

It will... be the first campaign to feature live television debates between the three main party leaders. BBC, Sky and ITV announced the first 90-minute debates would be on ITV on Thursday 15 April, the next on Sky on 22 April and the last on the BBC on 29 April…

The three main parties - along with a host of other smaller parties - will be fighting for 650 seats, four more than currently exist because of constituency boundary changes…

To secure an overall majority, a party must win at least 326 seats. If no party succeeds in doing so, the result will be a hung Parliament.

After 13 years in power, Labour enters the election with a notional majority of 48 seats, meaning that a loss of 24 seats would see them lose their overall majority…

Parliament will not be officially dissolved until Monday 12 April - MPs will spend this week getting remaining legislation, that the parties can agree on, through Parliament - a process known as the "wash-up"…

Opinion polls timed to coincide with the announcement all suggest a Conservative lead over Labour, by differing margins.

An ICM survey for the Guardian indicates the Tory lead has dropped to just four points, with the Conservatives on 37%, Labour on 33% and the Lib Dems on 21%.

However a YouGov poll in the Sun and another by Opinium for the Daily Express suggest the Tories have opened up a 10% lead - the margin David Cameron is likely to need in order to win an outright majority on 6 May. The Sun has the Tories on 41%, Labour on 31% and the Lib Dems on 18%. The Express reports a 39/29/17 split.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Ambiguity and Nuance

One of the themes of What You Need to Know is ambiguity. I use the concept to emphasize that for many questions in comparative politics, the best answers are contingent upon context (often comparative theory).

I was reading an article this morning about Snopes.com. that emphasized that theme.

Debunkers of Fictions Sift the Net
For the Mikkelsons [David and Barbara, authors of Snopes.com], the site affirms what cultural critics have bemoaned for years: the rejection of nuance and facts that run contrary to one’s point of view.

“Especially in politics, most everything has infinite shades of gray to it, but people just want things to be true or false,” Mr. Mikkelson said. “In the larger sense, it’s people wanting confirmation of their world view.”…

Even though the AP exam is full of questions with right and wrong answers, many of the answers have "infinite shades of gray." Take a look at the responses that have been submitted to practice questions 4 and 5 at Studying Comparative. As almost any AP exam reader will tell you, it's very rare to evaluate a student's response without thinking carefully about its validity.

David Mikkelson talks about "nuance." Keep your mind alert for nuances. They're almost everywhere -- especially in comparative government and politics. Students can make their teachers crazy by pursuing nuances, especially when they're nearly irrelevant or non-sensical. Teachers can make their students better students by insisting on the consideration of more than black and white analyses.

Oh, and if you don't know about Snopes.com.. Now's the time to get familiar with it. If only for fun and Barbara's smart alec sign offs.

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Another Woodrow Wilson?

There are several reports of a trustworthy witness who met with Yar'Adua. (The question has to be asked: "To whom is he trustworthy?") It's not an encouraging report. Yar'Adua appeared propped up on one side by his wife and on the other by his assistant. The imam couldn't hear the man speak (from 10 feet away), but thought he was responsive to prayer. Does it prove anything except that the man is still alive?

BBC reporter Caroline Duffield, offers a short bit a analysis in a sidebar to her report.

From Vanguard (Lagos): The Yar'Adua We Saw - Abuja Chief Imam
The Chief Imam of the National Mosque in Abuja, Ustaz Musa Mohammed has said that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua could not speak coherently when he led two other Islamic clerics on a visit to the President at the Presidential Villa in Abuja weekend…

"We met him sitting down with his wife while his ADC stood behind him. Although we could not hear what he said, from where we sat we could see his mouth saying Amen together with us when we prayed for him.

"In fact contrary to rumours that he was seriously ill, we saw that he had improved tremendously and we believe he could be able to resume work any moment from now.

"When we were ushered in, we met the President and his wife seated side by side while his ADC standing, to his left side.

"He shook hands with each one of us..."

When the BBC asked Ustaz Mohammed why they did not try to talk to the President, he said they were not politicians and that as Islamic clerics; they were there to pray for him and to see with their eyes the President whose state of health had generated so much controversy in recent times…

"For now," [a family] source said, "he will only meet with friends and associates as he recuperates from his illness. He has decided not to meet with any state official in an official capacity for now…"

Nigeria clerics meet ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua
Senior Nigerian clerics have told the BBC they have met the country's ailing President, Umaru Yar'Adua, saying he had difficulty speaking…

Ustaz Musa Mohamed, chief imam of the Abuja National Mosque, said the president had sat next to his wife, with an aide close by, at the Presidential Villa on Thursday evening.

He did not stand up or move about but shook hands with the clerics, raised his hands to join them in prayer and moved his lips to try to speak…

Nigerian president 'meets clerics'
Ustaz Musa Mohammed, the chief imam of the Abuja National Mosque… met Yar'Adua at the president's palace and prayed with him on Thursday.

Mohammed said Yar'Adua did not stand for the five-minute visit, though the president could pray aloud and raise his hands when "communicating with Allah"…

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(If you don't understand the Woodrow Wilson allusion, check your U.S. history textbook. Look for information about Wilson's wife.)

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Fearing artistic license

China fears an old man who is neither Confucius nor Mao Zedong.

China blocks Bob Dylan gigs
Aged 68 and almost half a century past the zenith of his angry, protest-song youth, Bob Dylan must almost have forgotten what it was like to be deemed a threat to society. But it seems at least one place still sees him as a dangerous radical.

Dylan's planned tour of east Asia later this month has been called off after Chinese officials refused permission for him to play in Beijing and Shanghai, his local promoters said. China's ministry of culture, which vets planned concerts by overseas artists, appeared wary of Dylan's past as an icon of the counterculture movement, said Jeffrey Wu, of the Taiwan-based promoters Brokers Brothers Herald.

Dylan fans denied the chance to see their hero might also blame Björk, who caused consternation among Chinese officials two years ago by shouting pro-Tibet slogans at a concert in Shanghai, Wu told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post...

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Retreat from federalism?

Does the governors' approval of a plan to replace local police forces amount to a retreat from federalism? or just an attack on corruption?

Thanks to Daniel Wilson at the blog Under the Volcano.

Governors back abolishing local police in favor of new state forces
The National Governors’ Conference (Conago) backed the Government’s proposal to establish one state-level police force for each state. Most municipal police would be transferred to new state-level forces, after undergoing background checks and additional training. Municipal governments would retain responsibility only for traffic enforcement… Establishing the new state-level forces requires amendment of the federal Constitution.

The original is from Reforma.

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Lagos: 5th worst?

Some rankings are based on pretty solid statistics (GDP per capita). Others are based on collections of perceptions (corruption Index). Others seem based on mysterious criteria (Global Liveability Report). Solomonsydelle takes exception to the identification of Lagos as one of the 10 worst cities in the world because of the vague criteria.

The folks at The Economist created a list of the best and worst cities to live in. Based on an exacting and rigorous process, they decided that Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, is the 5th worst city out of 140 featured in a 2010 Global Liveability Report. On this list, Lagos was only surpassed by the 4 following cities - Ports Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Algiers, Algeria, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Harare, Zimbabwe…

But, it is no matter. Although Lagos is indeed a growing metropolis struggling to accommodate the influx of Nigerians and non-Nigerians seeking opportunities, those who know and appreciate Lagos know that despite the cities issues, this is also Lagos -…

While it is clear that much more work is needed to transform Lagos into a truly modern and cosmopolitan city, the facts indicate that it is well on its way…

Unfortunately, Lagos's problems cannot be ignored and they no doubt weighed heavily in determining its rank. From inconsistent electricity supply to incongruous traffic jams and a high disparity between the haves and the have nots...

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