Tag: News

Republicans fumble ACA repeal: Expert reaction

Editor’s note: The fight didn’t last long. Moments before a scheduled vote on March 24, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act. It was a surprisingly swift defeat for a legislative priority talked up by Republicans since the day Obamacare first passed. We asked congressional scholars what the retreat means – and what comes next.

Trump legslative agenda now in serious doubt

Richard A. Arenberg, Brown University

President Trump and the Republican Congressional leadership have suffered a stunning defeat. The inability of the new president and his GOP majority to pass the American Health Care Act in the House places in question their ability to accomplish their central campaign promise of repealing Obamacare. It also creates significant obstacles for the remainder of the Trump legislative agenda, especially the planned tax cut.

The conflicting demands by factions in the health care debate have laid bare huge fissures in the Republican caucus – fissures which had been masked by apparent unity in the wake of Trump’s surprising election. Further, the failure of this first test of the Trump administration and its allies on the Hill raises serious questions about Speaker Ryan’s ability to bridge those gaps.

The bill, pulled by the Speaker before it could suffer defeat on the House floor, contained more than US$880 billion of tax reductions over 10 years.

GOP leaders have been counting on that reduction to the revenue base to permit a large tax reform bill to be passed using the reconciliation process. Reconciliation would permit the tax bill to be passed in the Senate with a simple majority, foreclosing the possibility of a Democratic filibuster.

However, in order to qualify under Senate rules, that bill must be revenue-neutral. The plan to use the tax reductions contained in the American Health Care Act was one of the main reasons that the Republican Congressional leadership convinced Trump to undertake the health care bill first.

The wisdom of that strategy will come under severe scrutiny in the White House in the days ahead.

Will the GOP ever get its act together?

Christopher Sebastian Parker, University of Washington

By now, the GOP should should be tired of this: public implosion.

Ever since the Tea Party showed up on the scene in 2009, the Republican party slips on every banana peel in sight. The fight between the party’s moderate wing and the more reactionary one, led former Senate Minority Leader, Bob Dole (R-KS), to say that neither he, nor president Ronald Reagan, could get elected in today’s GOP.

This was followed by the ouster of former House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), who was primaried by Tea Party candidate Dave Brat in 2014. Why? He was perceived as too moderate. He was the first sitting majority leader to lose since 1899.

This was followed by the GOP resignation of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in 2015 because, he, too, was perceived to be too moderate

Now this. The Freedom Caucus is responsible for the current public rift in the GOP. What’s that old saying? “Be careful what you wish for.” Well, the GOP got its wish to govern, and they’re blowing it.

Richard Arenberg, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy and Political Science, Brown University and Christopher Sebastian Parker, Professor of Political Science, University of Washington

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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London attack: Terrorism expert explains three threats of jihadism in the West

Details about the man who attacked the British Parliament on March 22, identified by London police as British national Khalid Masood, are still emerging. With four victims confirmed dead, the attack is the worst in London since the July 7, 2005 bombings on the London transport system.

A day after the attack, the Islamic State media organization Amaq released a statement claiming responsibility. The statement read: “The attacker yesterday in front of the British Parliament was a soldier of the Islamic state.”

The language of the statement can help us understand the nature of not just this attack, but the nature of jihadist attacks in the West. Based on 10 years of research on the topic, I have identified three categories into which this attack is likely to fall.

Directed attack

The first and least probable scenario is that the attack in London was planned and directed by individuals within the IS hierarchy. In such a situation, the attacker would be part of a wider IS network.

Those types of attacks, such as the ones conducted by IS in Paris and Brussels (the anniversary of which was also on the same day as the London attack) in 2015 and 2016, respectively, are usually deadlier and more sophisticated than what we saw in London. The crude nature of the killings, in which Masood used a car as a battering ram before rushing police officers with knife, suggests that this act falls into one of the two following categories.

Inspired attack

This may have been a so-called “inspired” attack. This refers to a terrorist act undertaken by someone with no known ties to IS or other jihadist groups. These individuals see themselves as part of the wider global jihad movement after consuming jihadist propaganda and interacting with like-minded individuals online. They plan the attack alone, with no input from a terrorist organization.

The last such “inspired” incident in London was the killing of British Army soldier Lee Rigby in May 2013. The attackers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were inspired by al-Qaida and used a similar tactic to that seen in the Parliament attack, ramming their target with a car before stabbing him repeatedly.

Amaq’s announcement is instructive when it states that the attacker was acting “in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations.” This is likely a reference to the repeated announcements by IS members, most notably the group’s now deceased former spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, for Western IS sympathizers to use any means at their disposal to conduct terror operation in their home nations. In addition, IS usually refers to such individuals as its “soldiers” only when the group had no direct role in the attack.

These inspired acts are often referred to as lone-wolf attacks. While the term is widely used, recent research shows that few attacks in Europe are genuinely conducted by lone actors. For example, one study found that out of 38 IS-linked plots in Europe between 2014 and 2016, only six “were based on inspiration only.” However, even then the authors of the study concede that the plotters “usually had contacts in extremist circles, albeit not IS-related.” Such findings suggest that true lone-wolf attacks are in fact much rarer than many assume.

Remote-controlled attack

The final possible category of attack the London incident falls into is “remote-controlled.” This represents something of a hybrid of the two other forms of jihadist terrorism in the West. This occurs when a radicalized Westerner receives encouragement, and often direct instruction, from an IS member over the internet. These individuals, who my colleague Seamus Hughes and I refer to as “virtual entrepreneurs,” in a recent report are often based in IS-held territory and have built up respected reputations within the IS online milieus.

As IS has spread its influence over social media, and its virtual entrepreneurs have made use of a wide range of encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, Surespot and WhatsApp, this has become one of the main ways the group plans attacks in the West. In the same study cited above, researchers found that 50 percent of the 38 IS-linked plots in Europe between 2014 and 2016 were found to have involved “online instruction from members of IS’ networks.”

This phenomenon is also apparent in the United States.

My colleague and I discovered that out of 38 IS-inspired plots and attacks in the United States between March 1, 2014, and March 1, 2017, eight involved digital communication with virtual entrepreneurs. This includes the attempted shooting in Garland, Texas in May 2015. One of the attackers, Elton Simpson, was receiving encouragement and direction via encrypted chats with Junaid Hussain, a British IS member based in Syria. Virtual entrepreneurs have also been involved in at least six other terrorism-related cases, including helping Americans intending to travel to join the Islamic State. This brings the total number of U.S. terrorism cases linked to IS virtual entrepreneurs to 14.

Based on what we know so far, and after analyzing recent trends and the latest research, it is likely that the man who killed three people in London was acting either in the name of IS without any direct links, or was in possible contact with a virtual entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, the only certainty is that this will not be the last such attack in the West. As IS loses ground in Iraq and Syria, it will do all it can to retain an ability to strike in the West. While their key aim is to inspire attacks like those in Paris and Brussels, they will be increasingly difficult to conduct. This is due both to its dwindling resources and the increasing readiness of European security agencies who will be learning from recent attacks.

Lone actors, while rare, will continue offer IS a cost-free method of attack. Meanwhile, virtual entrepreneurs will be doing all they can to help their Western contacts plot and execute mass killings from afar.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Research Director of the Program on Extremism, George Washington University

Photo Credit:Tony Burgess

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The latest bump in the road of Turkey’s quest to join the EU: European ultra-nationalism

The rift between Turkey and Europe is growing. From a Turkish perspective, Ankara’s long and winding quest to join the European Union, which began in 1987, has never been less likely than it is today.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invoked Nazism in his criticism of his European counterparts. And a recent dispute between the Turkish government and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte over Turkish ministers campaigning in Rotterdam cast a shadow over the March 15 Netherlands election.

This is only the latest in a long history of self-defeating conflicts between Turkey and EU leaders. But this time around, the diplomatic crisis goes beyond European anti-AKP sentiments toward Turkey’s ruling party. It relates also to social and political transformations underway in the EU itself.

Turkey’s EU bid

After positive early signs, Turkey’s EU accession process stalled in 2006 when an additional protocol, related to the division of Cyprus, was implemented to the opening of Turkey’s ports and airports to trade with Cyprus.

Cyprus was partitioned in 1974, divided between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. Greek Cypriots have been integrated into the EU since 2004 as the sole representatives of the whole island, while Turks there live under isolation in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara.

In 2011, the EU Commission proposed a positive agenda for Turkey’s accession to the EU. But thanks to growing European fatigue over the enlargement of the bloc and the numerous economic and political crises it was then facing, the process again quickly ground to a halt.

By 2015 Turkey’s EU process had been revitalized while refugee migration to the EU was on the rise. However, in 2016 the EU Parliament proposed a temporary freeze on talks.

Loss of faith

Today’s EU is not as same as the one Turkey first sought to join. For Turkey, the European ideal has deteriorated as some European countries have increasingly embraced xenophobia, islamophobia, and anti-immigration sentiments.

All of these issues – which are in one way or another associated with Turkey – are discussed in the context of Turkish accession to the block. Europeans are also raising concerns about Turkey, especially after the state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the July 15 failed coup attempt.

The EU is of the view that some of the measures taken during the state of emergency pose problems for freedom of expression and rule of law in Turkey. Europe wonders whether the country is experiencing a democratic backlash.

Meanwhile, Europe’s weak response after the failed coup was disturbing for Turkish policy-makers and for President Erdoğan.

Many European leaders stayed silent during the event and in its immediate aftermath. EU officials’ later condemnation of the attempted coup was ambiguous, and they waited two months to visit Ankara.

Additionally, the failure of some EU countries to uphold European values in the context of the Arab Spring and the refugee crisis have exposed the limits of EU’s capacity to adapt itself to shifting domestic, regional and global conditions.

Turkish leaders have said several times that the refugee problem is a humanitarian crisis, warning that the EU perception of refugees as a security threat is not a solution.

Although it is true that the EU turned its eyes to the refugee crisis only when it started to be directly affected, some European countries, namely Germany, were the first to open their borders and integrate refugees. Therefore the main problem is not about a common European anti-refugee sentiment but rather the lack of a jointly undertaken, systematic European response to a crisis that’s banging up against the union’s door.

The image of a declining EU weakened by its institutions and threatened with post-Brexit disintegration seems to be growing in Turkey.

The “other” and ultra-nationalism in Europe

For Turks, this is further complicated by European foreign policy that has long perceived Turkey as the “other” in its backyard.

During the period of positive relations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this stance was largely publicly disavowed. But more recently some EU leaders have used Turkey as a political instrument, building their strong rejection of its possible accession to the EU on this view.

The domestic and regional challeges Turkey faces – and more importantly the EU’s perception of them – have hampered the possibility of building a stable relationship with the EU and creating a new roadmap for Turkey to join the European bloc.

Another piece to this “otherness” puzzle is the rise of ultra-nationalist parties in Europe, from the National Front in France and Alternative for Germany to the Freedom Party in the Netherlands.

Opposing Turkish membership of the EU has become a useful posture for some European capitals in mustering domestic support in the age of right-wing populism. Take, for example, the dense debates on Turkey’s EU campaign during Brexit vote, and the Dutch and Austrian elections.

This anti-Turkey discourse is likely to reinforce European ultra-nationalist parties in terms of obtaining more votes from the euro-sceptical, anti-Turkey electorate. But catering to nationalist instincts also makes it harder for the EU to defend its democratic credentials and to cast judgment on Turkey’s democracy.

Finally, it is damaging the institutional and formal character of relations between a candidate country, Turkey, and an international organization, the EU. A political schism among member states prevents the EU from acting as a unified, coherent potential partner.

Countries that, like Turkey, are engaging in institutional relations with the EU, must now deal with many different leaders, all of whom represent not only the EU but also the various domestic shifts in their own countries.

A rational common ground

Derailing Turkey’s accession process is counterproductive. It distances Turkish society from European societies and cuts off existing societal, historical and cultural ties between the two sides. Today, what remains of the progressive relation between the EU and Turkey is a loose network of institutions.

This does not serve the interest of either party. It is in the direct interest of Turkey to put the progressive relations of the past back on track and draw a renewed framework based on the shared value of democracy within the EU bloc. Both parties should also boost mutual understanding by searching the possibilities of further inclusion, rather than by playing on xenophobia and exclusion.

In the short term, a renewed Turkey-EU cooperation could help Europe to manage better the consequences of the Syrian crisis.

For the EU, then, a stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey in its neighborhood acts as something of a guarantee to its members’ own economic development, security, and democracy.

And in the long term, perhaps more importantly, such rational cooperation would bring new life to the belief in internationalism in an era marked by the rise of nationalism and populism.

Emel Parlar Dal, Associate Professor of International Relations, Marmara University; Ali Murat Kurşun, Research Assistant, Marmara University, and Hakan Mehmetcik, Assistant researcher, Marmara University

Photo Credit: Middle East Monitor

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scotland heads towards a second independence referendum

The seemingly inevitable prospect of a second referendum on independence was finally confirmed in a speech by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. The Scottish government will begin preparing for a referendum sometime in late 2018 or early 2019, as Brexit negotiations unfold.

A second referendum became likely the moment the result of the EU referendum was confirmed. The devolution settlement that has endured since 1999 was always going to be put under considerable strain when Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, while the UK as a whole voted to leave.

In her speech, Sturgeon was at pains to point to out that, despite attempting to engage and persuade, the UK government had more or less dismissed her appeals for Scotland to be allowed to stay in the European single market after Brexit. Such a prospect was never likely anyway, but the incorrigible nature of the UK government’s position on the matter has, according to Sturgeon, left the Scottish government with no choice.

From the point of view of the Scottish government, a referendum on independence should now be held towards the end of the Brexit negotiations. That would, it is suggested, give the people of Scotland the chance to weigh up their options with the maximum amount of information available before the UK actually leaves the EU.

Sturgeon said she will ask the UK government to push a section 30 order, which would hand Scotland the right to hold a referendum. There is clear precedent for this: the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement between the UK and Scottish governments, which set out the broad terms of the 2014 referendum, preceded the official approval of the section 30 order in February 2013.

There is nothing to suggest that the technical process of holding a second referendum will be any different this time around. Politically, there may well be some stumbling blocks – though it would be counterproductive for the UK government to block a referendum entirely.

The UK government was accused last time of giving the Scottish administration carte blanche to decide when the referendum would be held and set the question on the ballot. That said, wise counsel would suggest too much interference in the second referendum could simply boost support for independence.

Is everyone ready?

When it comes to campaigning, the pro-independence movement is in a far healthier position than its opponent. Some elements have never ceased activity. Groups such as Common Weal and Women for Independence are still very active campaign organizations. The new media scene has also grown since 2014, with outlets such as CommonSpace now playing a key role in Scotland’s media landscape. It won’t take long for the pro-independence movement to return to full capacity again.

The pro-UK side, however, is in a different situation. Scottish Labour was badly tarnished by its role in Better Together, the campaign that was on the winning side in 2014. Since then, Scottish Labour has been absolutely decimated as a political force in Scotland and its poll ratings ahead of local elections in May are abysmal. Better Together Mk.II has some serious thinking to do about how to organize and who to select as its figurehead.

The polls have shown a slight increase towards Yes since the last referendum. However, the latest poll of polls still puts No in the lead with about 52%. That’s well within the margin of statistical error, so for all intents and purposes, the current state of play is neck-and-neck. This is very encouraging for the pro-independence movement since it started from a much lower base last time around. However, it remains to be seen if it can persuade enough women and older voters to back independence – two groups that voted No in 2014.

What’s changed?

The Brexit vote has transformed the independence debate in a number of ways. Whereas staying part of the UK was framed as the safe, stable choice last time around, the same can no longer be said with any real conviction. The decision to leave the EU has triggered all kinds of uncertainties and unknowns.

On the other hand, there are still serious questions around the fiscal and economic case for independence. The drop in the price of oil and the subsequent collapse in revenues to an estimated £60m as a result has left Scotland with a very high estimated fiscal deficit, were it independent today, of over 10%, compared to the UK’s fiscal deficit of 4%. The Scottish economy has also been significantly lagging behind the UK economy for quite some time. Any vote for independence would require serious and stark choices to be made on public expenditure in Scotland.

What’s more, the Scottish government will have to make plans for the future of its currency in the event of independence. Assuming it wants to remain a member of the EU, Scotland will have to sign up to the EU’s exchange rate mechanism in anticipation of the adoption of the euro. In the meantime, it would probably have to adopt its own currency and set up its own central bank. That process is perfectly possible but would probably have significant implications for the country’s credit rating when borrowing funds on international markets.

What to expect now

Last time, there was an official campaign period in the run up to the referendum. In reality, however, the campaign started a couple of years before that. Whatever your constitutional preferences, Scotland is back in campaign mode and the referendum to come will unquestionably dominate public life once again.

Meanwhile, the Brexit process will occur simultaneously. The future is therefore extremely uncertain, although once the Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the EU get properly underway there may be greater clarity as to what sort of impact that is having on opinion in Scotland.

Craig McAngus, Lecturer in Politics, University of Aberdeen

Photo Credit: Lukasz Stefanski

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lessons from Samsung and South Korea in cracking down on corruption

South Korea’s scandal-plagued president, Park Geun-hye has been forced from office. Park was impeached by the country’s constitutional court over accusations that she helped a friend win bribes from Samsung and other South Korean conglomerates. The Conversation

The impeachment follows swiftly on from the arrest of Lee Jae-yong, the de-facto head of Samsung, the country’s biggest conglomerate. He is on trial for a string of corruption charges, including bribery and embezzlement, linked to Park’s impeachment. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors allege that Lee donated 41 billion won (US$36m) to non-profit organizations linked to Park’s close friend and advisor, Choi Soon-sil, to secure government support for a merger that would help him to the top of the Samsung group.

Choi, meanwhile, is in detention, accused of using her personal ties with the president to meddle in state affairs and encourage local firms to also donate millions of dollars to non-profit foundations under her control.

All parties deny having done anything wrong. But for a country that ranked the 37th least corrupt out of 167 nations in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2015, this is a major blow. And South Koreans are up in arms – hundreds of thousands have protested over the reports of corruption and called for Park’s impeachment.

The mechanics of corruption

Extensive conflicts of interests, intricate webs of connections and widespread clientelism – where goods or services are exchanged for political support – are the distinctive features of corruption. And they are all too common in the political world across the globe.

In the absence of proper regulations and corporate governance measures, intimate relationships between economics and politics can lead to corruption. The mechanics is simple and intuitively understandable: through the exchange of favors between business and government, the former can distort political outcomes as a result of the undue influence of their vast wealth.

Besides the devastating effects that corruption may produce on the poor and the economic growth, the distortion of political outcomes may also exert a series of adverse effects on daily business practice. The advantages that a company may gain from a corrupt political system can harm competition. Not only is it bad for competitors, it tends to harm consumers too, as lack of competition typically drives up prices.

Culture change

To counter a distorted relationship between business and government, it is not enough to wait until criminal prosecutions are possible. Not least because there is a whole grey area in which businesses can legitimately influence politics – through lobbying.

Instead, we need to change the way in which companies operate and enhance a culture of anti-corruption. For instance, it could be possible to impose on corporations a transparency rule where they must publicly declare if they or their lobbyists, directly or indirectly, have on the payroll former politicians or public officials’ close relatives.

The way that corporations are structured is also an important factor in how open they to corruption. Most companies are organized according to a military model, which is incredibly hierarchical. They adopt a logic of control, which encourages loyalty and obedience to superiors and the company as a whole, but dissuades individualism. These kinds of tyrannical structures foster a culture that passively accepts misconduct.

A recent example of this is Rolls Royce, which recently paid £671m to settle bribery claims that dogged the company for years. An investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office into the company revealed that it had an extremely hierarchical and disciplined structure, which ensured high levels of internal confidentiality and facilitated corrupt practices for several years.

If this is true, the particular corporate structure of Samsung could well have played a role in the present scandal. Samsung is a business conglomerate characterized by the concentration of economic power. In fact, in South Korean culture it is called a chaebol, which means dynasty.

Chaebols have been central to the success of South Korea’s development and economy today. Each one is controlled by a founding family that, although typically holds only a small portion of the total equity, exerts an unchallenged power within the group. The chairmen are absolute rulers and key managerial posts are almost always given to their relatives. It is this kind of culture of unswerving loyalty that research indicates makes it easy for a company’s top management to be enmeshed in corrupt practices.

If we want really to fight corruption in the business world we must also have the courage to transform the internal structure of big companies. Their efficiency must be safeguarded, but the individualism and accountability of employees must be enhanced at the same time.

Costantino Grasso, Lecturer in Business Management and Law, University of East London

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How our morals might politically polarize just about anything

When news breaks about wrongdoings of our favorite politician, the other side inevitably argues that we have a scandal on our hands. We like to think that our superior grasp of logic is what enables us to reason through and reject the other side’s concerns. The Conversation

But, a series of three studies I recently published suggest such decisions are not just the result of reasoning. Rather, feeling moral aversion toward political opponents compels us toward positions that help our team “win.” This is true even if it means adopting positions with which we’d otherwise disagree.

Here’s the effect in a nutshell: Imagine that you walked into an ice cream shop on Election Day. You discover that the shop is filled with supporters of the presidential candidate you oppose, and you find supporters of that candidate morally abhorrent. When you get to the front of the line, the worker tells you all of the other customers just ordered red velvet – normally your favorite flavor.

My studies demonstrated that when asked to order, you are likely to feel an urge to stray from your favorite flavor toward one you like less, politically polarizing an otherwise innocuous decision.

Whatever they think, think the opposite

Can you read this?
Emily Costello/flickr, CC BY-SA

To understand what’s meant by “urge” here, it helps to understand the Stroop effect. In this classic experiment, people see a single word and are asked to name the color in which the word is printed. When the color and the word match – for example, “red” printed in red – the task is easy. When the color and the word are incongruent – for example, “red” printed in blue – the task is harder. People feel an impulse, or “urge,” to accidentally read the word. This urge interferes with the task of naming the color, and what should be a simple task becomes oddly difficult.

A theory of morality put forth by Jonathan Haidt suggests that morals “blind” people to alternative viewpoints such that even considering the other side’s opinions is taboo. With that theory in mind, I thought that moral aversion might be a social cause of unproductive urges similar to urges experienced in the Stroop task. That is, just as people in the Stroop task feel the impulse to incorrectly read the word, I thought that strong moral beliefs might cause people to feel impulses to make decisions that maximize their distance from people they believe have different morals.

How the test worked

Here’s how I tested it:

I first had people do several Stroop trials to make them aware of what that urge to make an error feels like.

Next, I asked people six fairly trivial consumer choice questions, such as preference for car color (forest green vs. silver) or vacuum brand (Hoover vs. Dirt Devil).

Here’s the twist: After answering each question, participants were told how a majority of other participants answered the same question. The identity of this majority group was random. It could be either a group that everyone belonged to (for example, Americans) or a more politically charged group (for example, Trump supporters, Clinton supporters or white supremacists).

Finally, I showed participants the set of questions a second time, and asked them to simply state their previous answer a second time. I also asked participants to rate their urge to change their answer – similar to the urge to make an error in the Stroop test.

This should have been straightforward.

Participants were not asked to evaluate the majority answer or reconsider their opinion in any way. Still, just like the interference felt in the Stroop task, knowing the majority response caused people to feel an urge to give the wrong answer.

When participants belonged to the majority group, they reported heightened urges to make an error when they had previously disagreed with the majority. Despite just being asked to repeat what they said a moment ago on a fairly trivial opinion question, they felt a conformist urge.

Similarly, when participants had strong moral distaste for the majority group, they reported heightened urges to make an error when they agreed with the group. In other words, participants’ initial responses were now morally “tainted,” and, even for these rather inconsequential questions, they felt an urge to abandon that response and distance themselves from their opponents. This urge made the trivial task of stating their opinion again slightly more difficult.

‘Hive mind’ and passive effects

As America is more ideologically divided now than any other point in history, these results illuminate two things about the psychology behind political polarization.

First, people might think they are able to use their reasoning to decide whether, say, a minimum wage increase will have positive or negative consequences. However, moral impulses have likely already nudged people toward disagreeing with their opponents before any deliberative thinking on the issue has begun.

Second, the effects observed here are likely a passive process. Participants did not want to feel urges to make an error in the Stroop task, and they likely did not want to feel urges to contradict their own opinions in my studies. The urges just happen as a result of a morality-driven psychology.

These results suggest that efforts to bring those on the fringe closer to the middle will likely fall on deaf ears. A more optimistic interpretation is that polarization might have its roots in unintentional partisan urges. While there is no shortage of moral issues that lead to polarization, polarization does not necessarily result from the malice of those involved.

Randy Stein, Assistant Professor of Marketing, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Photo Credit: Donkey Hotey

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How South Sudan’s warlords triggered extreme hunger in a land of plenty

A man-made famine? That question has been on the lips a lot in recent days after it was declared in South Sudan. The last time this happened in Africa, or anywhere, was in Somalia in 2011. The Conversation

The classification of a famine as man-made is applied to severe hunger arising from a set of foreseeable, and therefore avoidable, circumstances. According to criteria set down by the United Nations a famine is declared in an area when at least 20% of households are viewed as being exposed to extreme food shortages, 30% are malnourished and deaths from hunger has reached two persons a day for every 10,000.

Famines can result from natural or man-made causes. Natural causes include droughts, plant disease, insect plagues, floods and earthquakes. A prolonged drought is behind the recent warning of potential famine in Somalia by the World Food Program.

The human causes of famine include extreme poverty, war, deliberate crop destruction and the inefficient distribution of food. South Sudan’s predicament falls square under this category. There have been no major droughts, flooding or other natural catastrophe reported. Instead a three year conflict that has engulfed the country, combined with high food prices, economic disruption and low agricultural production has resulted in UN and the government of South Sudan declaring a famine in the country.

According to the head of the World Food Program, the avoidable conflict between the main political protagonists is solely to blame. Years of conflict have created a situation in which many women, children and the elderly are suffering needlessly and have no access to food or water.

High food prices, economic disruption and low agricultural production have resulted in the large areas becoming “food insecure”. The situation could not have come at a more difficult time. Years of conflict have crippled the economy and hammered the value of its currency. Severe inflation has seen the value of its currency plummet 800% in the past year alone. This has made food unaffordable for many families.

Despite the deteriorating situation the government of South Sudan has been using its limited resources to buy weapons, increase the number of states, pay military wages and wage war on civilians.

Conflict sows seeds of hunger

Significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years. But the impact of conflict on food production and citizens ability to feed themselves is often underestimated. This was highlighted in a study that found that

“civil wars and conflicts are detrimental to food security, but the negative effects are more severe for countries unable to make available for their citizens the minimum dietary energy requirement under which a country is qualified for food aid”

This is true of South Sudan, which can feed itself in peace time. Just six months ago, many parts of the country were bustling with agricultural activity, producing enough food for the local populations.

The medium sized town of Yei is a good example. Locals report an inability to cultivate their land since the recent escalation of fighting. A town once seen as a place where coffee bean production was on the rise is now a place where farmers no longer venture out.

It’s also likely that Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia, could declare a famine in the next few months. It’s no coincidence that those countries are also embroiled in widespread or localized armed conflict.

Deteriorating situation

More than 100,000 people in two counties of Unity state are experiencing famine. This number could rise as an additional one million South Sudanese are on the brink of starvation. Central Equatoria state, traditionally South Sudan’s breadbasket, has been hit by ethnically targeted killings that have disrupted agricultural production.

Between 40%-50% of South Sudan’s population are expected to be severely food insecure and at risk of death in the coming months. Over 250,000 children are severely malnourished according to UNICEF and these are number where UNICEF has access to.

Yet the government does not seem to want to address the underlying causes of the famine. In fact it’s unclear what its overall plan is.

It is relocating by air internally displaced people through Juba into Malakal. The Dinka-controlled government’s strategy is not entirely clear. But some of my informants claim that the objective is to rid the capital of rival ethnic groups that could pose a direct threat to the seat of government in Juba.

Adding to this, the new Special Representative for South Sudan has raised concerns over some 20,000 internally displaced people on the West bank of the Nile in the Upper Nile region as a “real problem.” These fleeing civilians are victims of government efforts to consolidate power centrally and push certain ethnic groups who are not aligned to the government away from the center.

Food aid restricted

The UN has repeatedly warned that government forces are blocking the delivery of food aid to affected areas.

South Sudan’s government wouldn’t be the first to have done this. In 2012 the Rohingya in Myanmar who were left to starve amidst sectarian violence with local Buddhist communities. In 2011 it was Sudan starving its people in the Nuba mountain region. More recently in Syria the government was allegedly targeting bakeries, hitting civilians waiting to buy food.

According to the Geneva Convention treaty on non-international armed conflicts a government can legally restrict food access for a short-term period if it is militarily necessary. This is a very narrow exception. It cannot and should not be used to punish civilians for their affiliation to the conflict and it cannot be used on a biased basis. And such restrictions must not result in starvation of the civilians.

Famine and political unrest

The situation in South Sudan is likely to get worse. The ongoing conflict is likely to escalate as the number of smaller armed groups rises on the back of more localized self-militias being set up. In the light of this government military action will escalate.

This new dimension in South Sudan’s conflict increases in the chances of further political turmoil and further narrows the window of peace for the world’s youngest nation.

Andrew Edward Tchie, Conflict Advisor, Ph.D. candidate and Associate Fellow, University of Essex

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.