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.

map-yemen-2015-01-15-wiki
Fig. 1

First, the religious composition of the country makes bloodshed more likely. Sectarian conflict has emerged between two insurgent groups –the Sunni-aligned Hadi in the south and the Shia-aligned Houthi in the north (Fig. 1). This conflict has already cost 16,200 lives, 10,000 of which were civilians.

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.

Unity

ICYMI: The debate night started out with Trump being rather calm but then Hillary and Trump went back and forth between policy positions and personal attacks. I thought Chris Wallace was respectable as the moderator, giving each candidate a chance to defend their records. He also mainly focused on broad policy questions, but he wasn’t able to get better economic answers from them.
That being said, I am not only looking forward to November 8th, I am also looking forward to November 9th. These are the two least liked presidential candidates in modern American politics. I’m hoping the division spawned by this campaign will turn to unity. Personally, I believe that whomever we elect will face an American populace that will rooting for them to fail. The next president’s first term will be brutal. I believe this election should force us to reconsider our electoral system and how we go about choosing our leaders. We want a leader who will unify us because we are tired of the country being torn apart.
We need to spend less time on wedge issues and start discussing things we actually agree on. Although I’m sure the media would prefer insulting soundbites over statesmanlike conduct which the focus groups don’t find interesting. What does that say about our culture? We have to be entertained 24-7? I’m heartbroken. America has done so much good for the world, and we’ve done it as a team. We’ve built spectacular skyscrapers, put a man on the Moon, and invented so many great things. And yet, we are forgetting those achievements. Instead we often live a culture of hate disguised as brutal honesty and greed disguised as rugged individualism. We idolize people who write lyrics that insult women, and we prefer short Tweets as opposed to profound, thought-provoking words. The next time you say #YOLO, it better be for a cause as in “I supported my local community by helping people achieve success in life #YOLO.”
There is a world bigger than any single individual. That makes me feel big, and anyone reading this should feel the same way. We are capable of doing such amazing things. We can start anytime we want. Do something good. I know many of you already do. But please remember that love is still real; there is still good in the world. We just have to remember to let it guide our lives. That is what I try to do in my job every day. I don’t see myself as a teacher. I see myself as doing the often challenging job of lifting people up. I believe we are all here to do that actually.
So, what are you going to do to lift up the lives of others?

The Problem with Donald Trump’s Words

By JOE McMAHON

Donald Trump has recently come under fire, yet again, for appearing to suggest that supporters of the 2nd amendment should take matters into their own hands and “stop” Hillary Clinton. While much of the country was, unsurprisingly, outraged by his comment, the Trump campaign tried to paint it in a less threatening light. Spokesperson Jason Miller claimed that the quote was just supposed to encourage people to vote in order to prevent Clinton from becoming president in the first place. On CNN, Trump’s aide Paul Manafort argued, “Most people did not see it as a threat.” Which, honestly, is probably the case. The problem is, Paul, what about the people who did?

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Trump might have meant exactly what Jason Miller said he did. Like most of Trump’s comments, this one was beautifully vague and ambiguous. The fact is, though, that it doesn’t matter what he meant.

While much of the media attention has been on the intent of Trump’s words, the far more important thing to consider is how those words were perceived by his audience. More importantly, how those words were perceived by the darker, more impressionable subset of his audience. The angry, down-on-their-luck audience, perhaps with violent tendencies just looking for someone to blame for their misfortune. Because, believe me, Mr. Trump, that audience did not hear that and think “Well, darn, I better show up in November and vote.” No. What they heard was a man they idolize cavalierly validating those dark thoughts in the back of their minds. What they heard was a man of incredible influence and power making them think that maybe those violent ideas weren’t as wrong as society made them out to be. Maybe, after listening to Donald Trump, they decided that they did have a right to do something about the “Clinton problem.”

The thing that you need to learn, Mr. Trump, is that you cannot choose your audience. You cannot make a dangerous claim and then defend it by saying that you intended it in a different way. Because that doesn’t change how people interpret it. That didn’t stop the racists in this country from jumping all over your incendiary remarks about Mexicans as validation of their racist thoughts. And it’s not going to stop your violent, angry, gun-toting supporters from interpreting your recent comments in a way that could lead to tragedy.

Now, I’m not saying that politicians need to make sure that their words have no dangerous interpretation. That would obviously be possible. But Donald Trump has made a habit of saying intentionally vague and ambiguous things and then hiding behind the excuse of “That’s not what I meant” while watching the world tear itself apart fighting over it. Donald Trump loves saying things that have both a benign interpretation that can protect him and an incendiary interpretation that can capture headlines. His entire campaign has been built on saying things that enrage half the country and excite the other half, while riding the resulting tension and strife all the way to political stardom.

But this time, he’s gone too far. This time, an obvious interpretation of his comments wasn’t just racist or sexist or Islamophobic. This time it was dangerous. This time, the possible repercussions are much more severe. Maybe Trump doesn’t care. Maybe he likes the idea that millions of people interpreted his remarks as a violent threat against Hillary Clinton that could put her life in danger. But hopefully that’s not the case. And if Donald Trump has even one moral bone in his body, that will be the last time he ever makes that kind of a statement.

The bigger picture of a shrinking world.