Tag: #media

Six questions about the French elections

As France goes to the polls to elect a new president, observers are wondering if the vote will follow a populist trend that led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. The Conversation

Here are a few important things to know about the upcoming vote, as explained by Joshua Cole, an American scholar of European history.

1. How does the French presidential electoral process work?
Prospective candidates must gather 500 signatures of support from French elected officials and have their candidacy approved by the Constitutional Court. A presidential term is five years, and all citizens 18 years and older can vote. This year the first round of voting is on April 23. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, there will be a second-round runoff between the top two candidates on May 7.

2. Is president an important job in France?
The prime minister is the head of the French government, but the president outranks the prime minister and has important powers in national defense and foreign relations.

The president also chooses the prime minister from the majority party in parliament. Occasionally, the president is forced to choose a prime minister from a different party than his or her own. This is called “cohabitation.” This year, the legislative elections will be in two rounds on June 11 and 18.

3. Who are the most popular candidates for president?
Eleven candidates are running, with five seen as the main contenders. Two candidates are leading the polls: Marine Le Pen of the extreme right-wing National Front and Emmanuel Macron, a centrist and former economics minister, who is not associated with a traditional party.

Surprisingly, the candidates from the parties who have dominated presidential politics for almost 40 years – the Republicans and the Socialists – are seen as unlikely to make the second round. Republican François Fillon has been hobbled by scandal. Socialist Bénoit Hamon has found little traction among voters tired of the current socialist president, François Hollande.

A candidate from the far left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has seen his chances of making the second round improve in recent days.

4. France has been under a nationwide state of emergency since November of 2015. Is security a big issue?
Multiple terrorist attacks in 2015-2016 have made security more important than ever. Article 16 of the French Constitution gives the president the power to declare a state of emergency and then exercise executive and legislative powers simultaneously, ruling directly by decree. Given the likelihood of more terrorist attacks, this possibility has received a great deal of attention of late. A group of lawyers and jurists recently published a letter arguing that the Constitution gives too much power to the presidency and that electing Le Pen was a danger to French democracy.

5. During the 2012 election, some said then-President Nicolas Sarkozy was afraid to visit immigrant neighborhoods. How are these so-called “banlieues” playing into the election this time?

The banlieues are zones of economic and cultural exclusion, where problems of chronic unemployment are concentrated. Not all French Muslims (about 8 percent of the population) live in the banlieues, but some banlieues have large Muslim populations. Le Pen’s campaign painted the banlieues as zones of failed assimilation and a danger to France, blaming the residents for their own isolation.

6. What are the chances Le Pen will win?
Le Pen is popular among many young people, who seem not to be bothered by the National Front’s long association with racism and anti-Semitism. She is also supported by those who are opposed to European integration. Most polls say a second-round runoff between Le Pen and Macron is likely, and that Macron will win this match-up. With more than a third of the electorate saying they’re undecided on whom to vote for in the second round, the result may end up being much closer than predicted.

Joshua Cole, Professor of History, University of Michigan

Photo Credit: all3dp.com

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

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.

Can social media, loud and inclusive, fix world politics?

The Conversation Global’s new series, Politics in the Age of Social Media, examines how governments around the world rely on digital tools to exercise power.

Privacy is no longer a social norm, said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, as social media took a leap to bring more private information into the public domain.

But what does it mean for governments, citizens and the exercise of democracy?
Donald Trump is clearly not the first leader to use his Twitter account as a way to both proclaim his policies and influence the political climate. Social media presents novel challenges to strategic policy and has become a managerial issues for many governments.

But it also offers a free platform for public participation in government affairs. Many argue that the rise of social media technologies can give citizens and observers a better opportunity to identify pitfalls of government and their politics.

As government embrace the role of social media and the influence of negative or positive feedback on the success of their project, they are also using this tool to their advantages by spreading fabricated news.

This much freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edged sword.

A tool that triggers change

On the positive side, social media include social networking applications such as Facebook and Google+, microblogging services such as Twitter, blogs, video blogs (vlogs), wikis, and media-sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, among others.

Social media as a collaborative and participatory tool, connects users with each other and help shaping various communities. Playing a key role in delivering public service value to citizens it also helps people to engage in politics and policy-making, making processes easier to understand, through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Today four out of five countries in the world have social media features on their national portals to promote interactive networking and communication with the citizen. Although we don’t have any information about the effectiveness of such tools or whether they are used to their full potential, 20% of these countries shows that they have “resulted in new policy decisions, regulation or service”.

Social media can be an effective tool to trigger changes in government policies and services if well used. It can be used to prevent corruption, as it is a direct method of reaching citizens. In developing countries, corruption is often linked to governmental services that lack automated processes or transparency in payments.

Can new technologies increase government accountability? India was ranked 79th on 176 countries by Transparency International in 2016.
Nirzardp/Wikimedia, CC BY

The UK is taking the lead on this issue. Its anti-corruption innovation hub aims to connect several stakeholders – including civil society, law enforcement, and technologies experts – to engage their efforts toward a more transparent society.

With social media, governments can improve and change the way they communicate with their citizens – and even question government projects and policies. In Kazakhstan, for example, a migration-related legislative amendment entered into force early January 2017 and compelled property owners to register people residing in their homes immediately or else face a penalty charge starting in February 2017.

Citizens were unprepared for this requirement, and many responded with indignation on social media. At first, the government ignored this reaction. However, as the growing anger soared via social media, the government took action and introduced a new service to facilitate the registration of temporary citizens.

Shaping political discourse

Increasing digital services have engaged and encourage the public to become more socially responsible and politically involved. But many governments are wary of the power that technology, and most specifically smart media, exert over how citizens’ political involvement.

Popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are being censored by many governments. China, South Africa and others are passing laws to regulate the social media sphere.

Availability of Youtube.com as of May 2016. May be incomplete or incorrect due to lack of information.
SurrogateSlav/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

The dominance of social media allows citizens to have quick access to government information – information whose legitimacy may not be validated. As this happens, the organic image formed in their minds will be affected and changed and an induced image, whether negative or positive, will be formulated.

For example, the top trending topics on social media right now are related to a tweet from Wikileaks claiming that CIA can get into smart electronics – like iPhones and Samsung TVs – to spy on individuals. This series of revelations led Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to see his internet access cut off, allegedly by the government of Ecuador, in October 2016.

Julian Assange in 2014.
David G Silvers- Cancillería del Ecuador/Flickr, CC BY-SA

For his supporters, this step jeopardizes what they perceive as the voice of truth. WikiLeaks usually spread a mass of sensitive and reliable information into the public domain about politics, society and the economy.

Others state that confidential information should not be published in social media because it might endanger life and could be misinterpreted.

In 2011, social media played a crucial role in the direction of the Arab spring in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, enabling protesters in those countries to share information and disclose the atrocities committed by their own governments. This ignited a “domino effect” that led to mass revolts.

Governments reacted by trying to impose draconian restrictions on social media, from censorship to promoting fake new and propaganda against them.

Social networks played a vital role in initiating Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
Essam Sharaf/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

The dissemination of uncensored information through social media has precipitated a wave of public shows of dissatisfaction, characterized by a mix of demands for better public services, changes in the institutions and instating a socially-legitimated state. Citizens use social media to meet up and interact with different groups, and some of those encounters lead to concrete actions.

Where’s the long-term fix?

But the campaigns that result do not always evolve into positive change.

Egypt and Libya are still facing several major crises over the last years, along with political instability and domestic terrorism. The social media influence that triggered the Arab Spring did not permit these political systems to turn from autocracy to democracy.

Brazil exemplifies a government’s failure to react properly to a massive social media outburst. In June 2013 people took to the streets to protest the rising fares of public transportation. Citizens channeled their anger and outrage through social media to mobilize networks and generate support.

The Brazilian government didn’t understand that “the message is the people”.
Though the riots some called the “Tropical Spring” disappeared rather abruptly in the months to come, they had a major and devastating impact on Brazil’s political power, culminating in the impeachment of President Rousseff in late 2016 and the worst recession in Brazil’s history.

As in the Arab Spring countries, the use of social media in Brazil did not result in economic improvement. The country has tumbled down into depression, and unemployment has risen to 12.6%.

The movement #Blacklivesmatter has grown immensely on social media.
The All-Nite Images/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Extremism, fake news and hate speech

Social media is also used to propagate “fake news” in order to destabilize an organization or a country. The spread of disinformation through social media shows how governments can use the art of communication to channel specific facts to their own citizens – or to the world.

In 2014, Russia spread conspiracy theories and fake stories, both during the Crimea crisis and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 , to hide its military involvement in Ukraine. More recently, the Kremlin (or its agents) manipulated social media to spread “fake news” and pro-Trump messages during the American presidential election. The objective of this digital disinformation campaign was to shake the American political system, rather than to change the results of the election.

Social media also provide a powerful platform for extremism and hate speech, citizen activities that should compel government action.

Social media may have been used for extreme purposes, to topple presidents, spread calumny, and meddle in internal affairs of foreign countries. But it remains a potent technological tool that governments can use to capture and understand the needs and preferences of their citizens, and to engage them, on their own terms from the very beginning of the process as agencies develop public services.

Government typically asks “how can we adapt social media to the way in which we do e-services, and then try to shape their policies accordingly. They would be wiser to ask, “how can social media enable us to do things differently in a way they’ve never been done before?” – that is, policy-making in collaboration with people.

Rania Fakhoury, Chercheur associé à LaRIFA, Université Libanaise

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

Draining the swamp: A guide for outsiders and career politicians

What do Ron Paul, Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump have in common? They’ve all promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics. The Conversation

These ambitious “hydraulic engineers” rely on a phrase that is deeply mired in our political discourse. The metaphor gets its clout from the notion that Washington was built in an actual physical swamp, whose foul landscape has somehow nourished rotten politics.

The assumption is just plain wrong: Washington was never a swamp, as I’ve discovered in exploring its first two centuries.

Establishing a capital

George Washington knew exactly what he was doing in early 1791 when he led the three-member commission that Congress had authorized to pick the site for the nation’s capital. There was never much doubt that the new federal district and city would be near the head of navigation on the Potomac River, adjacent to the thriving port town of Georgetown and well away from the squishy margins of Chesapeake Bay. Washington knew the region intimately as a nearby landowner and resident, and the site for Washington looked much like his home at Mount Vernon – a rolling riverside terrain of old tobacco fields.

Like many other early American cities such as Philadelphia and Cincinnati, Washington was built on a firm and dry riverbank. The land sloped steadily upward away from the Potomac between Rock Creek and the Anacostia River, then called the Eastern Branch of the Potomac.

The spurs of land that extended northward from the main river were immediately obvious to Pierre L’Enfant, the French immigrant who mapped out the streets and squares for the new city. He picked one high point for the presidential mansion and one for the houses of Congress. After all, it’s Capitol Hill, originally called Jenkins Hill, not Capitol Slough.

Flowing between the Capitol and White House was Tiber Creek, a perfectly respectable watercourse whose route took it southward, roughly along North Capitol Avenue, skirted the future Union Station Plaza and turned west where Constitution Avenue now runs. The western part of the creek was turned into the Washington City Canal in 1815. The canal was pretty unpleasant by the 1840s, but that was because of inadequate sewers, not because of inherent swampiness.

‘City of Washington from Beyond the Navy Yard’ Library of Congress/G. Cooke and W.J. Bennett.

Pictorial panoramas of the city proliferated during the 19th century as ways to instill national pride in Washington, and are one of the best sources for understanding early Washington. Leaf through the images in the Library of Congress and you’ll see a dry landscape with buildings that would not have survived to the present had their foundations been sunk in muck. The Smithsonian Castle, for example, has been standing straight since the late 1840s.


Map from Harper’s Magazine, 1852.
Library of Congress, CC BY

Early maps show the same. In 1826, Anne Royall, possibly the first female professional journalist in the United States and author of “Sketches of History, Life and Manners, in the United States,” described “the elevated site of the city; its undulating surface, covered with very handsome buildings.” She continued her inventory of the city without mentioning a single swamp and concluded, perhaps with too much enthusiasm, that “it is not in the power of imagination to conceive a scene so replete with every species of beauty.”

Visitors, especially from Britain, enjoyed needling the new city, but it was the manners and pretensions of its inhabitants that were the lightning rod for criticism, not the landscape. In 1830, English visitor Frances Trollope, usually happy to criticism anything American, wrote: “I was delighted with the whole aspect of Washington, light, cheerful, and airy; it reminded me of our fashionable watering-places.”

Washington’s waterfront

The truly muddiest episode in Washington’s development came in the mid-19th century. After the Civil War, decades of farming in the Potomac River hinterland led to erosion that sent masses of silt down river. As the Potomac slowed below its last rapids – where the river entered the District of Columbia – the silt precipitated into massive mudflats on the city side of the river.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Corps of Engineers began to reshape the flats into the Reflecting Pool, Tidal Basin and hundreds of acres of adjacent park lands for presidential memorials and blossoming cherry trees, creating a riverfront park that nobody today would associate with the word “swamp.”

None of this is to say that the capital lived up to George Washington’s vision of a comprehensive metropolis with commerce and culture to rival or surpass Philadelphia. The Erie Canal with its boost to New York certainly put a crimp on Washington’s ambitions, but it was the aggressive growth of Baltimore that made Washington an also-ran in Mid-Atlantic commerce. English commentator James Bryce wrote in “The American Commonwealth” that the United States was the only great country without a true capital, but that was a dig at New York as much as at Washington.

It might be time to retire the metaphor and quit trying to pull the plug on Washington.

Politicians who have spent any time in Washington (hey, Nancy Pelosi) should know better. After all, the city is filled with neighborhoods with names like Friendship Heights, Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Crestwood, Washington Highlands and “fine view” (Kalorama).

Having summered in Washington, I’m not writing to defend the climate. But a steam bath does not make a swamp. I don’t expect the facts of Washington’s historical geography will fully undercut a catchy bipartisan slogan, but take it for what it is – a facile phrase without an anchor in the city’s history.

Carl Abbott, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, Emeritus, Portland State University

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

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

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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.

The art of a speech: President Trump’s speech to Congress

By Robert J. Garrison

Last night President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress. Here are a few of the observations that I precieved from the speech. 

First, this speech was meant to position President Trump to higher ground. What do I mean by higher ground? I mean, that President Trump gave the Democrats two options.

  • Work with President Trump to rebuild America on the few issues that they themselves agree on such as immigration reform, renegotiating trade deals, and infrastructure spending or
  • Come out and fight with him on everything.

The Democrats being so predictable, chose to come out and instead of saying while we disagree with President Trump on XYZ but we agree with him on ABC, choose to come out and fight with President Trump on everything! 

Last night I heard Sen Minority leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi come out and say that President Trump called for gutting education. Where the hell did they get that from? President Trump spent about 5 minutes on education and didn’t mention anything that could be perceived as “gutting education”. In fact, President Trump called education

…the civil rights issue of our time!

He also called for congress to pass an education bill that includes school choice to help disadvantaged children. Seems like more spending than gutting to me. 

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The American people are sick and tired of a do-nothing congress (See Gallup graph below). President Trump extended an olive branch to the Democrats and pleaded with them to work with him to find common ground. However, the Democrats have a big problem – the far left progressives.

approval-rating-congress-2017

The far left progressives are the loudest, most vocal wing of the Democratic party and they have made their intentions clear. They refuse to work with President Trump on anything and will fight him on every front. The Democratic party is being held hostage to a point that if any Democrat even says a compliment about President Trump they are raked over the coals for it. 

To be fair, this is the same climate that the Republicans also had during the Obama administration. However, there is one big difference, President Obama was a liberal ideologue (source?) and refused to work with Republicans on any form of compromise (source). President Trump is far from an ideologue. President Trump is a deal maker willing to give both sides what they want to work out a deal and that’s a huge difference.

Finally, the optics of the speech were excellently produced. You saw President Trump at his best. He came across as Presidential, powerful, and willing to work with both sides of the aisle. Also, the way he worked the guests into his speech was masterfully done. The one thing I noticed during the speech was how President Trump would clap with the rest of the chamber, which is something one rarely sees in a State of the Union.

The highlight of the night was when he spoke about the men and women of the military. When President Trump introduced  Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, the camera turned to her and showed her with tears in her eyes as she looked up to the heavens.

Then something magical happened. The President of the United States went on to call him a hero and state that his name would be etched into eternity; and with a pause, he looked up to Carryn Owens and said: 

Thank you. Thank you.

The chamber broke into one of the longest standing ovation in the history of the State of the Unions. It was a touching moment.    

Below is the full video of President Trump’s address to congress.

Robert J. Garrison is a political and religious writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, or catch up on his articles in the Archives

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Photo Credit: The Moderate Voice

 

 

 

 

 

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