Yemen is Ripe for an Explosive Civil War

By PATRICK WOOD

Yemen is a relatively new country. Only in 1990 did North Yemen and South Yemen unite to form the Republic of Yemen. With rising unemployment and poverty (more than 40% of the population earns less than $2 a day), the Yemeni people have many reasons to be angry. It’s only going to get worse.

If a country relies on a single export for 25% or more of its GDP, an explosive civil war is likely to emerge. Not only is Yemen an oil export-driven economy, but Yemen’s oil fields are expected to run dry by 2025. When this happens, knowing what the country’s new primary export will be difficult. Only 3% of the country’s land is arable, making it a poor candidate for agriculture.

A longtime hotbed for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, turbulence and terrorism already threaten Yemen’s stability. While Yemen has not yet reached a full-on civil war, current conditions suggest it is only a matter of time.

First, the religious composition of the country makes bloodshed more likely. Sectarian conflict has emerged between two insurgent groups –Sunnis in the south aligned with President Hadi and the Shia Houthi insurgents in the north (see Shia insurgency in Yemen). Over 10 years, this conflict has already cost 16,200 lives, 10,000 of which were civilians. Thousands more have been wounded or displaced from their homes.

Second, the current government has been ineffective at lifting the population out of poverty. It has not kept its people safe from terrorist attacks and drones from the West. It maintains an authoritarian regime under the façade of democracy and rebellions and coup attempts are to be expected.

However, the exhaustion of Yemen’s oil fields will very likely catalyze civil war. In this case, Yemen virtually becomes a failed state and possibly even a collapsed state. Exceedingly rare, Somalia and Afghanistan formerly met this definition as both lacked any effective central authority.

The implications of a collapsed state in the 2020s would be enormous, requiring increasingly likely international intervention. Terrorist organizations take advantage of failed or collapsed states; Al Shabaab maintains a strong presence in Somalia, and Al Qaeda and its allies controlled half of Mali up to just four years ago.

There are so many indicators of an impending explosive civil war in Yemen that if such an event does not happen, we must admit that much of our understanding of political science and international relations is false. Leading authorities on failed states and civil war, such as Paul Collier, may face harsh scrutiny or complete discredit.

1/23/2017 Composite News

Attendance at the Trump inauguration ceremony was much smaller than that of Obama, who had an estimated 1.8 million in attendance (Source). The White House Press Secretary told reporters that the media reports on the true attendance numbers were false (Source).

inauguration-crowd-photos

Photo – Reuters. Left is Trump’s attendance. Right is Obama’s attendance.

On his first “real day in office,” President Trump signed an executive order taking the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He also signed orders imposing a “federal hiring freeze” and a directive to prevent American NGOs from using federal funds for abortions abroad (Source). Many populists within both the Republican Party and Democratic Party agree with Trump’s opposition to TPP. Trump also plans to renegotiate NAFTA and meet with foreign leaders (Source).

On January 21, 2017, millions of women participated in the Women’s March and sister marches in hundreds of cities around the world (Source). Trump has stirred strong discontent due to controversial comments about women. Before Trump’s inauguration of January 20, anti-Trump riots broke out in Washington, D.C. Protesters broke windows of such establishments as Bank of America (Source). Vandalism of cars and businesses as well as property damage have been reported in the nation’s capital as well (Source).

Can We Handle the Truth?

 

By John Buterbaugh

An agenda is something that poisons the truth, and in many ways we can’t handle the truth. We accept the lie that makes us more comfortable and is consistent with our prior beliefs. If we are willing to accept cognitive dissonance, we will have to refer to a variety of sources and develop a composite that may constitute the truth. The problem is there’s a paradox — there is so much information that we end up being less informed. It is very easy to find information, and yet we don’t always have the time or skills to critically analyze it. We can only spend so much of our attention to it. Most of our attention is spent on what lies within our horizon because it is more tangible and it is more relevant to our everyday survival. This continuous experience contributes to common sense.

However, certain malevolent influences warp our sense of common courtesy and practicality. I believe this comes back to the conclusions on cultural discrepancies in antisocial behaviors. We also resort to trusting our basic instincts, which are often animalistic, because we want to avoid processing the dauntingly large body of information in the world. This seems to relate to Donald Trump’s tendency to avoid in-depth analysis in favor of his instinct. To many people, Trump’s view of the world liberates them from this existential crisis of Too Much Information (TMI) and a restoration of a simpler era. This time was comfortable and easy to understand.

There are different customs in the East than there are in the West. There are different views in urban areas than there are in rural areas. Through experiences in varied contexts and not simply research, you may attain a greater understanding of the truth.

 

The Need for Speed: Are Faster Trains the Solution?

Pictured: Amtrak train on the Acela Express service, which runs from Boston to Washington.

By John Buterbaugh

I was riding around in my parent’s car and somehow the topic of Richard Hanna, a former Republican congressman from the Utica area, came up. My dad’s support for him has grown as he has flown with him on a plane. He’s learned he is a common-sense guy who makes enough money not to owe anyone favors. He thinks he should run for Governor of New York. However, he said the only downside of him would be that he wouldn’t support funding high-speed rail construction in New York state (even though the federal government would provide most of the funding, if at all). My dad thinks this would be a cool idea, and I agree. We disagreed on how feasible it is.

Supporting high-speed rail will be met with a lot of popular opposition. First, it’s not a sexy idea — people find social justice or terrorism far more interesting. Second, people will complain that billions of their tax dollars will be wasted on a system that people won’t even use and will take too long to build. Third, people like the independence of driving around a car because they don’t have to stop for anybody and they can go exactly where they want. They don’t see the need for trains. That’s how most commuters in upstate New York and most of America like to travel. There is one thing most commuters don’t like — they generally don’t like driving to New York City and having to pay a premium for parking. It’s a pain. People in Long Island think you’re crazy if you drive into the city. The Long Island Railroad is the busiest commuter railroad in North America in large part because of its convenience.

If high-speed rail is going to happen, New York City will have to be a part of the equation. I don’t know what the number of people who would start using a train would be if it were high-speed. If high-speed rail is to work, it would have to connect the Megalopolis that is Boston through New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to Washington. These cities have enough commuters to support this system — businesspeople and government workers can travel a lot. It would make airfare cheaper between these cities due to the increased transportation competition.

But I don’t know if high-speed rail is the answer. Is our goal to get people to places faster to show we can improve our infrastructure or discourage traffic, sprawl, and parking annoyances? If it’s the former, maybe we need high-speed rail. We put a man on the moon after all. We can put pieces of metal on the ground that makes trains go faster.

However, if it’s the latter, maybe we just need to make riding a train more pleasurable and give people more reasons to ride. Perhaps free Wi-Fi would do that. Maybe having a free movie would be nice. Maybe if the trains arrived on time. If people started enjoying trains more and had some entertainment to pass the time, we might not even need high-speed rail. It would be a lot less expensive, and we could accomplish the same goal.

Simplify Healthcare – Seriously

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

Although the single-payer system may seem like a radical system, it is the system that would be most effective in simplifying the health care system and control rising healthcare costs. When hundreds of thousands of doctors want the single-payer system, the American people should listen. We have already observed the benefits of a government-financed healthcare system in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Healthcare costs in those countries are much smaller than those in the United States. There are a number of reasons why this is the case.

First, doctors don’t have to waste money determining how much a private insurance plan will cover for medical expenses. As a result, more time is spent seeing a patient and less time is spent on paperwork and other administrative costs. We would be saving billions of dollars every year doing this.

Second, people would no longer delay treatments or operations. Treating an illness or injury as soon as possible prevents the medical problem from getting worse. When an illness or injury is untreated after a long time, it becomes more and more expensive to treat it. Many people avoid going to the hospital because of the mountain of debt that might ensue. In fact, the leading reason that Americans go bankrupt is because of medical bills. In this way, a single-payer system is the most fiscally responsible system.

Third, a single-payer system means that government insurance agencies can determine true medical costs, which are often not well-defined, and negotiate based on that. Patients have less leverage in negotiating for cheaper prices. They have to accept medical costs as they are because the other option is further deterioration of their health or even death. When the government is allowed to negotiate, it has more leverage because it can make certain professionals exclusive providers of a service so long as it is high quality.

Unfortunately, a big reason why we do not have a single-payer system is because private insurers would lose business and pharmaceutical companies do not want to cut drug prices. These entities are beholden to stockholders who invest to reap dividends. Healthcare companies cannot keep stockholders investing and keep prices low. Nevertheless, with all the complications caused by the Affordable Care Act and the industry itself, it becomes necessary to reconsider the system as a whole. Every system has its benefits and flaws, and we should develop a system regardless of ideology that gives people the healthcare they need.

The Colossal Polling Errors of 1948 and 2016

1948: Dewey Defeats Truman. 2016: Clinton Will Defeat Trump. Both headlines ate crow.

Pollsters incorporate multiple factors when painting a picture of public opinion. (Try not spit in my face when you say that to me in person.) They consider race, gender, geographic location, religious affiliation, community setting, etc. They also need to consider which voters are more likely to show up. The most common method is by phone. Pollsters will hire people to call a bunch of numbers hoping that people will answer. At least a few hundred will. A lot of people don’t answer. I’ve been called by polling agencies a few times. I’ve answered and responded to questions twice.

What is the point of all this? Some of it is intended to feel the pulse of the nation — to see what Americans really want. Of course, a lot of it is to fuel the horse race that is an election. The media cites polls left and right. Some of it ends up influencing people’s votes. People are biased toward winners. FiveThirtyEight rose to prominence as being a polling agency. In 2008, they said Indiana and North Carolina would go for McCain, if I remember correctly. They went for Obama instead. In 2012, their presidential forecast was spot on. A lot of this is that they adjusted their model. They realized that the polls didn’t tell the whole story. There are other factors like the economy and the fact that pollsters can’t reach certain people by phone. They’ve had difficulty reaching Latino voters and people who may not have a phone at all.

In 2016, the polls could not have been much more wrong. FiveThirtyEight had a projection of about a 71.4% chance of Hillary Clinton winning, one of the more conservative estimates. People were betting money on PredictIt.com that Hillary would win, giving her better odds. The LA Times had one of the more accurate predictions. To have the final outcome be off by 3% or even 4% is not uncommon. That’s the margin of error for a lot of these polls. The polls showed Hillary Clinton leading by 4%. She is currently winning the popular vote by only 2%. However, even that lead doesn’t win the presidency. The “how do I explain this to a five-year-old child” system of the Electoral College chooses the victor. FiveThirtyEight was predicting a comfortable win in the electoral vote, maybe even a landslide. They predicted that Clinton would win all the Obama 2008 states except for Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio – 322 electoral votes in total.

Not only were the polls wrong in some of these states, they also had no idea that Donald Trump would steal states from the Democrats. Results in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania showed that Hillary Clinton didn’t just have an Iowa and Ohio problem, she had a Rust Belt problem. The last time a presidential candidate only won two states in the Midwest and won the presidency was 1884. How could the polls be so wrong in states that hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since the 1980s? One theory is the “shy Trump” voter avoided expressing support for Trump for fear of judgment by the pollster, but this is crap because this wasn’t a factor in the primaries. What is more likely is that Trump supporters were less likely to answer the phone. Knowing Trump’s impatience, you can see why his supporters would be reluctant to talk to some stranger on the phone for 10-15 minutes. Another issue is that pollsters vastly underestimated the number of working-class whites turning out to vote. Trump ended up winning with 306 electoral votes.

Let’s compare that to 1948. All the polls were saying that the suave Governor Thomas Dewey of New York would defeat the fiery incumbent president Harry Truman. Truman’s own staff members left for other jobs because they didn’t even think he could win. Gallup had Dewey winning the popular vote by 5%. He ended up losing it by 4.5%. In terms of the popular vote, that is clearly a greater upset than the 2016 election. I don’t have much to compare the electoral vote results of 1948 and 2016 as state polling for 1948 is hard to find.

A similarity between both elections is that a swing of 1.25% in three states were all that were needed to change the results. In 1948, those states were Ohio, Illinois, and California.  In 2016, those states were Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (alternate being Florida). Both elections would result in one party controlling the presidency and Congress. Additionally, polls in both elections showed a tightening race. In 1948, Dewey lost a double-digit lead, but experts still wouldn’t hedge their bets on Dewey. In 2016, FiveThirtyEight showed Hillary dropping from a 7% advantage to a 3.6% advantage.

FiveThirtyEight appeared to hedge its bets more than other predictions did and much more than most firms did in 1948. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that the polls did not capture the whole picture of what was going on the Rust Belt. The site even argued that 2016 probably wouldn’t be a repeat of 1948, and that Trump shouldn’t “bank on a massive polling error.” Earlier this year, polls showed Hillary Clinton winning Michigan’s primary over Bernie Sanders. Bernie ended up taking the state. So, a polling error in the Michigan is not without precedent. It’s almost as if we were supposed to see this coming, but we didn’t. Life goes on. We live and learn.

(Seriously, 2016 though. If I could go back in time, I would put money on DiCaprio, the Cavs, the Cubs, and Trump. How else could I become a millionaire?)

“Closer” – 2016’s Answer to “Somebody That I Used to Know”

If we look “closer,” we notice that these two hit songs have striking similarities.

Structurally, “Closer” parallels “Somebody That I Used to Know” closely. The male singer sings the opening verse and the first chorus by himself. Then, the female vocalist sings the next verse by herself. Together, they sing the second chorus.

Lyrically, both songs allude to a breakup between the singers. Gotye laments the fact that the girl “changed her number” and the Chainsmokers sing that for four years there were “no calls.” In “Somebody That I Used to Know,” both singers express how badly they felt about the situation and don’t want to see them ever again. In “Closer,” the male singer doesn’t want to see the girl’s friends ever again. However, in the chorus of that song, the vocalists request from each other another passionate encounter. They want to put all the past stuff behind them and reconnect, at least for one more time.

Harmonically, both songs both make use of similar chord progressions, albeit in reverse order and in different keys. If both songs were done in E minor (which they weren’t), Gotye’s chorus would go from Em to D to C. On the other hand, the Chainsmokers would go from C to D to Em.

Melodically, the prechorus in this song is similar to the verse that Kimbra sings before the second chorus in “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

Commercially, both songs peaked at #1 in the U.S. and have both been covered by Walk Off the Earth. In a YouTube search, the top three covers include these two songs. Walk Off the Earth also covered Adele’s “Hello,” which is incidentally another song about the aftermath of a breakup.

On Trump Winning

First of all, I would like to congratulate Mr. Trump on his victory. It was a tough, brutal campaign, and I am glad that process has come to an end. I am faithful in the legitimacy of the votes, and I am thankful that we will be having a peaceful transition of power.

For months on end, we have viewed Hillary Clinton and/or Donald Trump as a tough pill to swallow. I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and tepidly supported Hillary Clinton in the general election. I was still absolutely shocked to see that Trump was winning in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

However, this was a huge wake-up call to the Democratic Party. I will admit that my party deserved to lose because we did not do right by the people of these states. We have spent so much time trying to win the votes of wealthy, educated suburbanites that we have taken the working-class citizens of our great country for granted. We have abandoned our progressive roots by supporting unbalanced trade deals and cozying up to big corporations.

My hope is that Trump will adopt a positive and cooperative tone. I hope he will resolve the issues caused by ObamaCare (about which people on both sides of the aisle have complained). I hope he will reform federal education law regarding Common Core and allow schools to do what they do best.

I hope he bridges the deep divides in our country. I have never defriended anyone for being a Trump supporter. If you are a good person who cares about others, that is good enough for me. I hope he cracks down on sexual assault to show that he is serious about his self-professed respect for women. He could also do much of what his daughter Ivanka said he would do at the RNC this summer.

All I have left to say is good luck, Mr. Trump. You are our president-elect now. The world is watching.

Our Real Problem? The Moderate Always Loses

By PATRICK WOOD

In 2010, one midterm election was enough to unseat half of the so called “Blue Dog Democrats” (more moderate/conservative Democrats) from Congress. This statistic is pretty amazing for a few reasons. One, as an advantage of incumbency, members of Congress have extremely high reelection rates. They are reelected roughly 90% of the time. Second, this happened when there wasn’t even a presidential election occurring. People generally don’t give a damn about these elections, voter participation is lower than it is during presidential election years, and one would think this would boost the incumbency advantage for members of Congress.

But 2010 saw blue dog after blue dog fall.

In 2012, the Republican Party flirted with more extreme conservative candidates before nominating Mitt Romney, who struck many as a much more vanilla, centrist choice. Romney was initially perceived as a wise pick, as it was thought he had the greatest chance of appealing to voters who identified as anything other than “very conservative.” Romney ended up losing his bid to Barack Obama, and in truth, the contest wasn’t that close.

This was reminiscent of 2004 when the Democrats did the exact same thing with John Kerry, who mounted an unsuccessful bid to defeat George Bush. “Boring,” “lackluster,” “flip-flopping,” “calculating,” centrist Kerry lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote to a vulnerable incumbent president.

So, who does win elections? Extremists, populists, hard party-liners, and those who appeal to the party’s base. People like Donald Trump. Why? They’re exciting. They bring out their supporters on election day.

For moderates, like Kerry and Clinton, this is much harder to do. Soaring ideals are simply more inspiring than calculating pragmatism.

While more people might align more closely with a moderate and not care for the more extreme candidate, these people need an additional reason to come out to the polls. Their emotions and passions are not stirred by vanilla establishment candidates.

Meanwhile the extreme, populist/demagogic, or hyper-partisan candidate enjoys the advantage of soaking up most of the media attention. We have to concede they’re exciting, and we’re hanging on every word.

So what does this mean? – It’s bad, bad news.

The level of partisanship in Washington is only going to get worse. To illustrate this, take this year’s senatorial elections. The Democrats managed to unseat two Republican senators. Maggie Hassan just barely eeked out a win over Kelly Ayotte, a somewhat moderate Republican from New Hampshire. The only blowout against an incumbent Republican was Tammy Duckworth’s victory over Illinois senator Mark Kirk, the most liberal Republican in the entire Senate.

The moderate always loses in the USA. Senator Kirk had a strong record on LGBT rights, reviled Donald Trump, and voted with the Democrats on numerous issues.

With Kirk gone, are any remaining Republicans going to compromise and work with the Democrats? It seems very unlikely. The Democrats have eliminated their only friend from across the aisle. Expect countless strict party-line votes once the new Congress begins.

While Kirk was defeated, a senator in Wisconsin managed to defy the expectations of forecasters and hold on to his seat in Congress. This man is Ron Johnson, who defeated progressive darling Russ Feingold in the purply/blue state of Wisconsin after suggesting that impeachment motions should be brought immediately if Clinton were to win the presidency.

The extremist wins, the moderate loses, and the country suffers.

The bigger picture of a shrinking world.