The tax bill passed by the Senate in the wee hours of Dec. 2 will – if it becomes law – widen the gap between the rich and the poor at a time when income inequality is already approaching historic heights.
Initially, most U.S. households are likely to experience a modest tax cut under the Senate plan. However by 2027, the average family earning less than US$50,000 would pay about $250 more in taxes under the Senate plan, while the average family earning more than $1 million would experience a tax cut topping $8,000 a year, according to estimates from Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation.
Yet even those stark statistics understate the full impact of the Senate bill on long-term inequality in the United States.
In my own research, I examine the relationship between the tax system and inequality. In my view, there are two significant reasons why the bill’s impact will be even more dramatic – and even more regressive – than the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimates suggest.
First, under a 2010 law known as the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, or PAYGO, the revenue losses resulting from the Senate bill would trigger automatic cuts in federal spending.
The program that would be most affected by the automatic cuts is Medicare, whose budget would be slashed by more than $25 billion a year. Other programs that would experience deep cuts include vocational training for individuals with disabilities, block grants for foster care and Meals on Wheels and federal funding for historically black colleges and universities.
Because lower- and middle-income families rely more heavily on these programs than wealthier Americans, these spending cuts would amplify the regressive consequences of the tax-side changes.
In theory, Congress could forestall these cuts by passing legislation that waives the PAYGO law. But such legislation would require 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, and it is far from clear that the votes in favor of waiver are there.
And in any event, a PAYGO waiver would not change the fact that the tax bill increases the federal deficit by more than $1.4 trillion over the next decade. Spending cuts to social safety net programs would likely have to come at some point, and when they do, lower- and middle-income families are likely to bear the brunt.
Broadly similar legislation passed by the House last month would trigger automatic cuts as well. Because the House bill violates Senate procedural rules, the final legislation is likely to resemble the Senate’s package more closely than the House’s version.
A long-term impact
The second reason why the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimates understate the full impact of the tax bill on inequality is a subtle but significant change made by the Senate bill that would hit lower- and middle-income families hard over the coming decades. Much of the impact would be felt after 2027, while the committee’s forecasts look only 10 years out.
The rather technical change is a shift in the inflation measure that would be used to determine certain deductions and tax bracket thresholds going forward.
Historically, the federal tax code has used a measure known as the fixed-weight consumer price index to calculate inflation. Fixed-weight CPI measures the change in the price of a fixed basket of goods over time. The Senate bill switches to a measure known as chained CPI, which accounts for the fact that as the prices of some goods rise, consumers shift toward cheaper substitutes.
One example often used to illustrate the difference between fixed-weight and chained CPI involves Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples: If the price of Granny Smith apples rises, consumers will buy fewer of those and more of the Red Delicious variety. Fixed-weight CPI would continue to measure inflation based on Granny Smiths; chained CPI accounts for the fact that consumption patterns have changed.
From a practical perspective, the primary difference between fixed-weight CPI and chained CPI is that the former rises faster than the latter. According to the fixed-weight measure currently used by the federal government, prices have increased by 45.7 percent since 2000. According to chained CPI, the increase was 39.7 percent.
The bottom line: For lower- and middle-income families, switching to chained CPI means that the standard deduction and the value of the earned income tax credit, both of which are indexed to inflation, would be smaller than if the fixed-weight measure had been retained. This effect will become more dramatic with each succeeding decade.
To be sure, switching from fixed-weight to chained CPI saves the federal government money. The Senate bill uses this money to offset the long-term costs of corporate tax cuts. But because the change is so subtle, many Americans will not realize that they are – in effect – being asked to pay from their own pockets to pad corporate profits.
Rather than addressing the problem of rising income inequality, the Senate bill manages to speed up that trend while covering its own tracks.
During what was the 2017 Easter weekend for most of the world, North Koreans celebrated the “Day of the Sun”. It was the 105th birthday of the country’s late founding leader and “eternal president” Kim Il-sung (1912-1994).
Thousands of soldiers, military vehicles and, most notably, various ballistic missiles were paraded for the inspection of current supreme leader Kim Jong-Un (Kim Il-sung’s grandson).
But it wasn’t the parade that signalled North Korea’s belligerence; numerous other countries hold military parades to mark some significant occasion or another.
Instead, what was clearly aggressive was the presentation of a mock-up video of the country’s ballistic missiles destroying an American city during a national musical performance.
This video is the most visceral expression yet of Pyongyang’s intentions. Its telecast was likely timed to coincide with the expected arrival of the US Navy’s aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, and its accompanying fleet of warships in Korean waters.
On April 8, US President Donald Trump and other American officials told the media that the Carl Vinson had been ordered to make its way towards the Korean peninsula. The likely plan was to demonstrate American resolve in managing the crisis that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has created.
Subsequent revelations that the warship was actually heading south for exercises with the Australian Navy at the time showed a series of blunders in internal communication. But the fact that the Carl Vinson has arrived off Korean waters two weeks later does not change the prospect of a military conflict between North Korea and the United States.
The key question is whether North Korea does have nuclear weapons that it can readily use against the United States and its regional allies, South Korea and Japan. It’s still unlikely North Korea has the current capability to launch a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile that can destroy an American city.
North Korea’s scientists have yet to master the technology to build missiles that can traverse this distance and to construct warheads that can survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere after space flight.
But years of testing has allowed North Korea to inch closer to getting right the extremely demanding science of building and launching viable intercontinental nuclear weapons. And this is why the United States is against further testing, to the point that the Trump administration seems serious about justifying pre-emptive strikes on the basis of further nuclear and missile tests.
What is of immediate concern is that previous tests have led to North Korea being able to achieve the relatively easier requirements of building workable medium-range ballistic missiles, with small enough warheads, to strike American bases in South Korea and Japan. These have about 80,000 US military personnel in total.
North Korea may already have as many 20 nuclear warheads that are small enough to be carried on its Nodong (or Rodong-1) medium-range missiles that can reach these bases. And the Trump administration seems to not want to risk the lives of American soldiers by assuming that North Korea doesn’t already have this nuclear capability.
The cost of that mistake would be the lives of not just 80,000 American military personnel but also countless South Korean and Japanese lives as well. In fact, a North Korean nuclear attack, which will likely develop into war, can be expected to create a humanitarian, environmental and economic catastrophe that will set back the international community.
But if China and other countries fail to stop North Korea building nuclear weapons, the United States will feel pressured to use military force to destroy whatever nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles sites it can locate by satellite surveillance.
The decision to divert the Carl Vinson to waters near the Korean peninsula may also be driven by new intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear threat. The challenge is that sending an American naval armada towards North Korea risks triggering the very nuclear attack against US bases that the Trump administration is trying to avoid in the first place.
This could explain why the administration said it was sending its naval vessels two weeks ago when it really did so later. It may have been to test North Korea’s attitude without escalating the situation by the actual presence of American naval forces that could trigger military action by Kim Jong-Un’s regime.
A worrying stand-off
Why would North Korea want to use nuclear weapons against American bases in Northeast Asia in the first place? It is helpful to remember that, technically, North and South Korea have been at war since 1950 (the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than peace). And that the United States has chosen to provide military assistance to the South to help protect it from any aggression by the North.
North Korea may have a very large army of about one million soldiers. South Korea effectively has half that number. Although the majority of South Korea’s able-bodied male citizens may contribute to a military reserve of a few million soldiers, mobilising them in time to respond to a conflict is another question and their role is often excluded from analyses.
As such, the American military personnel and the superior equipment, aircraft and ships that they operate provide the South with a better chance of avoiding defeat should war break out.
Pyongyang’s intention in using nuclear weapons would be to destroy these American bases to remove the advantage they give to South Korea’s national defence. This is why the threat of nuclear use, especially by a more brazen regime under Kim Jong-Un, needs to be taken very seriously.
Such is the current quagmire as the world waits to see how the geopolitics of the Korean peninsula will unfold over the next few months. And as strategists and policymakers scramble to find other approaches for halting North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
The first part of the plan is to build new products to curb the spread of fake news stories. Facebook says it’s trying “to make it easier to report a false news story” and find signs of fake news such as “if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it.”
It will then send the story to independent fact checkers. If fake, the story “will get flagged as disputed and there will be a link to a corresponding article explaining why.”
This sounds pretty good, but it won’t work.
If non-experts could tell the difference between real news and fake news (which is doubtful), there would be no fake news problem to begin with.
What’s more, Facebook says: “We cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves — it’s not feasible given our scale, and it’s not our role.” Nonsense.
Facebook is like a megaphone. Normally, if someone says something horrible into the megaphone, it’s not the megaphone company’s fault. But Facebook is a very special kind of megaphone that listens first and then changes the volume.
The company’s algorithms largely determine both the content and order of your newsfeed. So if Facebook’s algorithms spread some neo-Nazi hate speech far and wide, yes, it is the company’s fault.
Worse yet, even if Facebook accurately labels fake news as contested, it will still affect public discourse through “availability cascades.”
These effects are exceptionally robust; they cannot be fixed with weak interventions such as public service announcements, which brings us to the second part of Facebook’s strategy: helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news.
Helping you help yourself
Facebook is releasing public service announcements and funding the “news integrity initiative” to help “people make informed judgments about the news they read and share online”.
This – also – doesn’t work.
A vast body of research in cognitive psychology concerns correcting systematic errors in reasoning such as failing to perceive propaganda and bias. We have known since the 1980s that simply warning people about their biased perceptions doesn’t work.
Similarly, funding a “news integrity” project sounds great until you realise the company is really talking about critical thinking skills.
Funding a few research projects and “meetings with industry experts” doesn’t stand a chance to change anything.
Disrupting economic incentives
The third prong of this non-strategy is cracking down on spammers and fake accounts, and making it harder for them to buy advertisements. While this is a good idea, it’s based on the false premise that most fake news comes from shady con artists rather thanmajornewsoutlets.
You see, “fake news” is Orwellian newspeak — carefully crafted to mean a totally fabricated story from a fringe outlet masquerading as news for financial or political gain. But these stories are the most suspicious and therefore the least worrisome. Bias and lies from public figures, official reports and mainstream news are far more insidious.
As of this writing, Facebook doesn’t even have an option to report misleading advertisements.
What is Facebook to do?
Facebook’s strategy is vacuous, evanescent, lip service; a public relations exercise that makes no substantive attempt to address a serious problem.
But the problem is not unassailable. The key to reducing inaccurate perceptions is to redesign technologies to encourage more accurate perception. Facebook can do this by developing a propaganda filter — something like a spam filter for lies.
Nonetheless, Facebook has a point. To avoid accusations of bias, it should not create the propaganda filter itself. It should simply fund researchers in artificial intelligence, software engineering, journalism and design to develop an open-source propaganda filter that anyone can use.
Why should Facebook pay? Because it profits from spreading propaganda, that’s why.
Sure, people will try to game the filter, but it will still work. Spam is frequently riddled with typos, grammatical errors and circumlocution not only because it’s often written by non-native English speakers but also because the weird writing is necessary to bypass spam filters.
If the propaganda filter has a similar effect, weird writing will make the fake news that slips through more obvious. Better yet, an effective propaganda filter would actively encourage journalistic best practices such as citing primary sources.
Developing a such a tool won’t be easy. It could take years and several million dollars to refine. But Facebook made over US$8 billion last quarter, so Mark Zuckerberg can surely afford it.
President Donald Trump threatens people a lot. He menaces, he bullies and then he explains his words away.
As a scholar of American political rhetoric, I have paid close attention to Trump’s use of words. In particular, I’ve focused on something called ad baculum – or threats. Ad baculum is Latin for “appeal to the stick.” Demagogues typically use threats to prevent their opponents from thinking critically. Threats are useful because they are difficult to question or argue against.
As a presidential candidate, Trump frequently used threats in combination with another rhetorical figure of speech – paralipsis. Paralipsis is Greek for “to leave to the side” or, more colloquially, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying.” This combination allowed Trump to threaten and also not threaten at the same time – a threat with a wink that meant that he maybe didn’t mean it and shouldn’t be held accountable.
Candidate Trump was certainly menacing, but it was sometimes difficult to judge whether to take his threats either literally or seriously.
Trump has stopped using the “wink” of paralipsis since he became president. His threats are now more explicit, but just as hard to interpret.
Candidate Trump, a threat with a wink
For an example of candidate Trump using ad baculum threats with the wink of paralipsis, consider the case of Trump’s comments during a campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky in March 2016. Numerous protesters interrupted Trump. In response, Trump menaced, “Get ‘em out of here.” He then looked on as members of the crowd forcibly removed protesters.
The protesters have filed a legal complaint against Trump alleging they were assaulted as a result of his speech. They argue, “Each time he said ‘Get them out,’ Trump intended for his supporters to use unwanted, harmful physical force to remove protesters.”
But, did he?
As the crowd began removing the protesters, Trump said: “And don’t hurt ‘em. If I say ‘Go get ’em,’ I get in trouble with the press, the most dishonest human beings in the world. If I say ‘Don’t hurt ’em,’ then the press says Trump isn’t as tough as he used to be, can you believe? So, you can’t win with these people.”
Trump’s lawyers attempted to take advantage of the plausible deniability of the paralipsis, arguing that “Mr. Trump explicitly said, ‘Don’t hurt them.’ Thus, even if some causal link could be inferred between Mr. Trump’s call to have the protesters removed and the actions of three people in the crowd, Mr. Trump’s directive not to harm anyone severed the connection.”
That’s the wink that made candidate Trump’s words difficult to judge.
A federal judge has ruled that it was “plausible” that Trump either intended to incite riot or did incite riot at the Louisville rally. The judge’s ruling means that the case can now go to trial. At issue, presumably, will be whether or not the rally crowd should have taken Trump’s threat seriously.
President Trump, just the threats
As president, Trump still holds rallies, but he seems to have lost much of the joy that he had as a candidate. His language is less ironic, as befits a president, perhaps, but it is also darker and even more menacing.
One thing that President Trump hasn’t moved away from is his use of ad baculum, or threats, to silence his opposition.
Consider these examples:
In January 2017, President-Elect Trump threatened Toyota with higher taxes:
In February 2017, President Trump threatened to withhold federal funds from U.C. Berkeley:
And, in April 2017, President Trump threatened North Korea:
Now that he has the power to carry out his threats, he uses their coercive power more directly. There’s still some ambiguity about whether he’ll follow through, but the threats themselves are more directly stated.
Understanding Trump’s threats
It’s noteworthy when a political leader uses ad baculum threats because they are themselves a form of violence and anti-democratic.
For example, Adolf Hitler used threats of force strategically to silence opposition. He described his technique in “Mein Kampf”: “It was simply stated that we were the masters of the meeting, that consequently we had the authority, and that everyone who would dare to make only so much as one interrupting shout, would mercilessly be thrown out by the same door by which he had come in. That further we had to reject all responsibility for [the safety of] such a fellow.”
Trump obviously isn’t Hitler, but threats – whether used by totalitarians or by presidents – are always coercion.
Threats are anti-democratic. As philosopher Hannah Arendt notes, they are force, not persuasion: “to command rather than persuade, were pre-political ways to deal with people.” Arendt wrote that such threats relied upon “uncontested, despotic powers.”
As Trump concludes his first 100 days in office, he struggles with public opinion that sees him as either ineffective or as untrustworthy. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that only 41 percent of Americans think that Trump has the right judgment to serve effectively as president. Only 38 percent of Americans think that he has the right personality and temperament, and just 43 percent of Americans think that Trump can be trusted in a crisis.
Not only are Trump’s threats coercive and anti-democratic, but, as it turns out, they aren’t very effective in helping him to get his agenda passed. Perhaps President Trump might find that he can accomplish more in office if he begins to persuade, rather than threaten, his opposition.
This controversial move was welcomed by commercial rhino breeders, who argue that legalising safe, sustainable horn removal from living animals could prevent wild rhino poaching. But animal preservation groups have warned that any legal trade would have the opposite effect.
Poaching has indeed reached new heights this year. On March 7, a rhinoceros was killed in the Thoiry zoo, near Paris, and its main horn was sawed off and stolen. This is the first time a living rhinoceros in a European zoo has been killed for its horn.
That same week, in South Africa, 13 rhinos were found dead in a single day, decimated by poachers.
Only 62 rhinos were poached across Africa in 2006. The following year this figure shot up to 262 animals, then 1,090 by 2013, 90% of which were killed in South Africa.
Rhinoceros are divided into five separate species. Africa (mainly South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe) is home to white rhino (around 20,400 specimens, 18,500 of which are in South Africa) and the black rhino (5,200 specimens, 1,900 of which are in South Africa). As their names indicate, the Indian rhino (3,500 specimens living in India and Nepal), the Sumatran rhino (250 animals) and the Javan rhino (only 50 animals) are found in Asia.
Depending on its age and species, an adult rhinoceros can have up to a few kilograms worth of horn, the white rhino being the best endowed (up to 6kgs). Indian and Javan rhinos have only one horn, while the other three species have two.
In 2015, a total of 1,342 white and black rhinos were poached across the continent. Over the last few years, as many (or more) rhinoceros have been killed in South Africa than are naturally born in Kruger National Park and on private farms put together.
Bogus medicinal properties
Rhino horn, highly valued in China and Vietnam, is used in traditional Asian medicine to treat fevers and cardiovascular disease. More recently, it has been prescribed as a cancer treatment and an aphrodisiac.
While there is no scientific evidence for such medicinal properties, these unfounded beliefs are feeding soaring Asian demand for powdered rhino horn. Prices are skyrocketing: up to US$60,000 a kilo, which is more expensive than gold.
In truth, rhino horn is simply a formation of keratin, a protein found in human nails and animal claws, with a few amino acids and minerals, phosphorus and calcium.
Controlling a lucrative criminal market
Criminal trade in wild animals constitutes one of the world’s largest illegal markets, according to the UN, along with drugs, counterfeit products and human trafficking. Each year, it affects tens of millions of specimens of animals and plants.
With support from Interpol, Europol, the World Customs Organisation and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), CITES applies the ban on rhinoceros-horn trading. Using a system of permits and certificates delivered under special conditions, CITES regulates the market for rhinos and about 35,000 other wild species, categorised into three groups according to the level of protection required.
The white rhino, which is not necessarily threatened with extinction, is an appendix species II for South Africa and Swaziland, meaning the trade there must be controlled in order not to jeopardise the animal’s survival. For all other African range states, the white rhino is listed on appendix I: all trade of this endangered species is forbidden, except for non-commercial purposes such as scientific research.
Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has sought assistance in controlling their trade.
Prior to the 2000s, and up until 2007, pressure on consumer countries (Yemen, Korea, Taiwan and China) to stop the rhino trade helped reduce poaching activity, leading to an increase in the African rhino population.
Likewise, there is still demand in China and Hong Kong for wealth-signaling objects made of rhino horn, such as libation cups and jewellery.
Where, then, do all these horns come from? According to UNODC, today the major shipments of rhino horn originate primarily in South Africa, followed by Mozambique (where rhinos are gone, but poachers have dipped into stocks at South Africa’s Kruger National Park), Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Both the United Arab Emirates and Europe have served as trading routes. In 2011, the Czech government discovered that some of its citizens were selling trophies they had hunted in South Africa to Vietnamese traders. Some 90 rhino horns were also stolen from museums and auction houses across Europe between January 2011 and June 2012 by the Irish Rathkeale Rovers, a gang since dismantled by Europol.
The import of trophies
Though the international rhino horn trade has been forbidden since 1977, CITES recognises some exceptions. It allows, for instance, limited hunting of Appendix II and I species, including, under exceptional circumstances, of endangered white and black rhinoceros
This allowance recognises that well-managed and sustainable hunting is actually consistent with and contributes to conservation efforts. It provides both livelihood opportunities for rural communities and incentives for habitat conservation. And it generates benefits that can be invested in conservation.
It also demonstrates that effective conservation, management and monitoring plans and programs are in place in a number of African range states, meaning that some populations are recovering enough to sustain limited off-takes as trophies.
Though bringing these rhinoceros-hunting trophies (including horns) hunted in South Africa home as personal property is authorised by CITES, their sale is not. Trophies may then be exported to certain African countries under specific conditions (a non-detriment finding by the exporting country is required beforehand).
Between 2006 and 2011, 1,344 hunting trophies, including African rhino horns from both species [were legally exported](https://cites.org/sites/default/files/fra/cop/16/prop/F-CoP16-Prop-10.pdf (page 5) as personal property. They mainly came from South Africa, where just under 75 trophy-hunting expeditions were organised prior to 2006, and to a lesser extent, Namibia. Vietnam was the top importing country, ahead of the US, Spain and Russia.
After a sudden upsurge in requests for hunting permits from Vietnam, where it was discovered that rhino horns had been illegally sold, South African authorities in 2012 put an end to permits for Vietnamese nationals.
Opening the market?
As demonstrated in last week’s South African court case overturning the ban on the rhino trade, some countries are showing signs of restlessness under the current CITES regime.
Swaziland, for instance, would also like to see change. During the last international meeting of CITES signatory parties in late September 2016, this small country submitted a proposal to allow limited regulated trade in white rhino horn. It has a small population of about 75 white rhinos living protected in parks.
Between 1988 and 1992, an intense period of poaching wiped out 80% of Swaziland’s rhino population. This left it with a large stock of horns that it would like to be able to sell. The proposition was voted down by the majority of CITES countries.
Now, South Africa’s legal U-turn could open a new avenues for the rhino trade. Most South African farmers believe that the ban only encourages poaching and that they themselves could fulfil Asian demand by providing horns from living animals.
Farmers know how to cut the horn with a saw so that it will grow back, a painless procedure for the animal that is put under anaesthetic for around 15 minutes. Protecting rhinos on ranches costs them millions of dollars as they face raids from poachers.
The current poaching crisis differs from a prior crisis in the 1990s in two ways. First, the illegal rhino horn trade has been taken over by organised crime groups because it is less severely punished than other illegal trades (although this is changing thanks to new legislation introduced in most countries).
Then there’s the skyrocketing traffic to East Asia, which reveals the region’s ever-growing demand of miscellaneous African animal products for traditional Asian medicine, from rhino horns to elephant ivory and, now, the skin of domestic African donkeys
What can be done?
Conservation groups should remain resolute at this critical juncture.
It is now up to Asian authorities to raise awareness and discourage the use of rhino horn. China has already taken steps in this direction and, in November 2016, Vietnamese authorities burnt a stock of rhino horn.
Still, some say it will take a generation to change attitudes. Can the planet’s remaining 30,000 rhinoceros survive until then?
Late in 2016 Senegal’s Banque Regionale De Marches announced the launch of the eCFA Franc; a cryptocurrency for the countries of the West African Monetary Union – Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Togo and Guinea-Bissau. This and similar innovations mark the coming of age of a new generation of applications – an Internet of Intelligent Things – that could provide a new infrastructure for economic development across Africa.
The Internet of Things is a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items. They are equipped with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity so they can collect and exchange data. There’s wide enthusiasm about spectacular innovations such as Intelligent refrigeratorsand driverless cars. But a quieter revolution is underway in everyday systems and facilities, such as financial services.
More broadly, the new Internet of Things has the potential to compensate for Africa’s legacies of underdevelopment. The key here is the development of the blockchain from a fringe concept into a mainstream digital innovation.
The blockchain and Africa
The blockchain, mostly known as the technology that underpins digital currency Bitcoin, is an almost incorruptible digital ledger of transactions, agreements and contracts that is distributed across thousands of computers, worldwide.
It has the potential to be both foundation and springboard for a new developmental infrastructure.
New blockchain platforms such as Ethereum are supporting the development of distributed applications. These “DApps” can provide accessible ways to use the blockchain. They act like “autonomous agents” – little brains that receive and process information, make decisions and take actions. These new capabilities will have widespread implications when linked to cryptocurrencies through “smart contacts” that are also securely recorded in the blockchain.
DApps provide a practical and affordable means of making Things intelligent and able to interact directly with other Things. They can be programmed to take data-informed actions without human intervention.
These innovations will have particular benefits across Africa. Economic growth is underpinned and enabled by appropriate financial services. Early internet-based innovations such as Kenya’s M-PESA have clearly demonstrated the appetite for accessible, Internet-financial services. But many small and medium businesses are still restricted. Their owners usually can’t access standard loan financing. Banks will not extend credit facilities without traditional title deeds to land and buildings, or a conventional payslip.
Don and Alex Tapscott have shown in their recent book that the new blockchain can be “the ledger of everything”. A house can become an intelligent entity registered on a secure, distributed database once it’s tagged with a geospatial reference and sensors that monitor its continuing existence.
The owner of the asset can, through an Ethereum-based smart contract, secure a loan to expand a start-up enterprise. Intermediary arrangements become unnecessary. Economist Hernando de Soto has suggested this could create “a revolution in property rights”.
Water and energy
Property and financing aren’t the only areas where the new Internet of Intelligent Things has the potential to compensate for Africa’s legacies of underdevelopment.
Economic growth also depends on affordable and reliable services like water and energy. Water is an increasingly scarce resource in many parts of Africa. This is particularly true in cities. Rapid population increases are making old precepts of urban planning redundant.
Technology can help. Autonomous agents positioned across all aspects of water reticulation systems can monitor supplies of potable, storm and waste water. These “little brains” can take appropriate actions to detect and report damage and leakage and close off supply lines. Smart devices can also monitor water quality to detect health hazards. They can regulate and charge for water consumption.
Similarly, for the supply of energy, smart devices are already being deployed across conventional and ageing power grids in other parts of the world. In Australia, for instance, intelligent monitors detect when an individual pole is in trouble. They then report the fault and call out a repair crew. They can also communicate with other poles to redirect the supply and preserve the grid’s integrity.
In parallel with conventional supply systems, new digital technologies can enable full integration with renewable sources of energy and the intelligent management of supply at the household level. The new blockchain is designed for secure peer-to-peer transactions combined with incorruptible contracts between multiple parties. Individual households can manage their own supply and demand to incorporate self-generated energy. A house equipped with a simple windmill and a roof made up of photovoltaic tiles could sell surplus power to a neighbour in need. They could also buy from another house to meet a shortfall.
Such microgrids are already in development. The combination of ubiquitous and affordable bandwidth and low cost autonomous agents could bring affordable energy to communities that have never enjoyed reliable electricity supply.
A new infrastructure built up in this way could be a springboard for economic development – from small enterprises that would have the resources to take innovations to scale, to significant household efficiencies and increases in consumer purchasing power. As has been the pattern with previous digital technologies, costs of production will fall dramatically as the global market for intelligent things explodes. That which seems extraordinary today will be everyday tomorrow.
So what’s standing in the way?
It’s not the technology that’s holding Africa back from embracing the Internet of Things. Rather, it’s the established interests in play. These include state enterprises and near-monopolies that are heavily invested in conventional systems, local patronage networks and conventional banks, and the failure of political vision.
What’s needed is effective public policy and business to ensure that the potential of this next wave of digital innovation is realised. Government and civil society innovators need to be directing much of their attention here.
This is why the West African Monetary Union’s cryptocurrency initiative is encouraging. It’s a step towards the future that Don and Alex Tapscott envision; a move towards an Internet that’s driven by the falling costs of bargaining, policing, and enforcing social and commercial agreements.
In this new space integrity, security, collaboration, the privacy of all transactions will be the name of the game. So too will the creation and distribution of value. And that’s great news for Africa.
Editor’s note: In his first week in office, President Donald Trump showed he intends to follow through on his immigration promises. A major focus of his campaign was on removing immigrants who, he said, were increasing crime in American communities.
In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump named victims who were reportedly killed by undocumented immigrants and said:
“They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources…We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.”
Now as president, he has signed executive orders that restrict entry of immigrants from seven countries into the U.S. and authorize the construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He also signed an order to prioritize the removal of “criminal aliens” and withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities.”
But, what does research say about how immigration impacts crime in U.S. communities? We turned to our experts for answers.
Across 200 metropolitan areas
Robert Adelman, University at Buffalo, and Lesley Reid, University of Alabama
Research has shown virtually no support for the enduring assumption that increases in immigration are associated with increases in crime.
Immigration-crime research over the past 20 years has widely corroborated the conclusions of a number of early 20th-century presidential commissions that found no backing for the immigration-crime connection. Although there are always individual exceptions, the literature demonstrates that immigrants commit fewer crimes, on average, than native-born Americans.
Also, large cities with substantial immigrant populations have lower crime rates, on average, than those with minimal immigrant populations.
In a paper published this year in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, we, along with our colleagues Gail Markle, Saskia Weiss and Charles Jaret, investigated the immigration-crime relationship.
We analyzed census data spanning four decades from 1970 to 2010 for 200 randomly selected metropolitan areas, which include center cities and surrounding suburbs. Examining data over time allowed us to assess whether the relationship between immigration and crime changed with the broader U.S. economy and the origin and number of immigrants.
The most striking finding from our research is that for murder, robbery, burglary and larceny, as immigration increased, crime decreased, on average, in American metropolitan areas. The only crime that immigration had no impact on was aggravated assault. These associations are strong and stable evidence that immigration does not cause crime to increase in U.S. metropolitan areas, and may even help reduce it.
There are a number of ideas among scholars that explain why more immigration leads to less crime. The most common explanation is that immigration reduces levels of crime by revitalizing urban neighborhoods, creating vibrant communities and generating economic growth.
Across 20 years of data
Charis E. Kubrin, University of California, Irvine, and Graham Ousey, College of William and Mary
For the last decade, we have been studying how immigration to an area impacts crime.
Across our studies, one finding remains clear: Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence, all else being equal.
Our research also points to the importance of city context for understanding the immigration-crime relationship. In one study, for example, we found that cities with historically high immigration levels are especially likely to enjoy reduced crime rates as a result of their immigrant populations.
Findings from our most recent study, forthcoming in the inaugural issue of The Annual Review of Criminology, only strengthen these conclusions.
We conducted a meta-analysis, meaning we systematically evaluated available research on the immigration-crime relationship in neighborhoods, cities and metropolitan areas across the U.S. We examined findings from more than 50 studies published between 1994 and 2014, including studies conducted by our copanelists, Adelman and Reid.
Our analysis of the literature reveals that immigration has a weak crime-suppressing effect. In other words, more immigration equals less crime.
There were some individual studies that found that with an increase in immigration, there was an increase in crime. However, there were 2.5 times as many findings that showed immigration was actually correlated with less crime. And, the most common finding was that immigration had no impact on crime.
The upshot? We find no evidence to indicate that immigration leads to more crime and it may, in fact, suppress it.
Homeland Security proposed mass deportations in 11 states in a memo leaked through the Associated Press yesterday, while the Trump administration claims it was rejected as an ‘early draft’
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said there was “no effort at all to utilize the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants” despite the leaked memo from the Department of Homeland Security reaching the media. DHS staffers had said on Thursday that they were told by colleagues in two DHS departments that the proposal was still being considered as recently as Feb. 10. The memo gives insight into what the Trump administration is attempting as part of President Trump’s promise to stop illegal immigration in the United States.
Congressmen on both sides of the aisle have been critical of the White House after Donald Trump’s executive orders regarding illegal immigration in late January and this memo did not do anything to quell the outrage both in congress and from the public. “Regardless of the White House’s response, this document is an absolutely accurate description of the disturbing mindset that pervades the Trump administration when it comes to our nation’s immigrants,” said U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.)
Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said the National Guard did not have the resources to carry out such a task, while two other Republican governors, Gary Herbert of Utah and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, condemned the proposal as “unconstitutional” and “an inappropriate use of guard resources”, respectively. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) called the immigration efforts of the White House “offensive”, saying it’s “inability to manage its own message and policy” was causing chaos.
Spicer’s comments are being called out as a lie by critics of the Trump administration throughout the press and social media with the recognition of Trump’s campaign promise to end illegal immigration by any means necessary, even using terms such as “round up” when being interviewed by 60 Minutes in 2015, saying
“We’re rounding ’em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way. And they’re going to be happy because they want to be legalized. And, by the way, I know it doesn’t sound nice. But not everything is nice.”
The Associate Press said they reached out to Spicer before releasing the document, but had not heard back from him until after the document had been released and caused an uproar.
This wouldn’t be the first time the National Guard was used to enforce immigration law, but would have been the first time it was used so broadly. If implemented, the impact could have been significant. Nearly one-half of the 11.1 million people residing in the U.S. without authorization live in the 11 states, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on 2014 Census data.
President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims and refugees from terrorist prone Middle Eastern nations is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union
The National Legal Director of the ACLU, David Cole, tweeted this morning that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s executive order barring refugees from middle eastern countries to enter the United States.
The move comes after a sweeping ban on all Muslims from countries known to have problems with Islamic extremists dubbed terrorists in the Middle East, including Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen among others, was issued by President Trump via executive order in the first few days on office. Other executive orders included backing out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, removing funding from NGOs who offer abortions in foreign countries, and discontinuing Obama’s government employment program which helped to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the past few years. Trump also issue an executive order to start moving funding into building a wall on the southern border of the United States between itself and Mexico, issuing a 20% tariff Mexican imports which the American people would be liable for.
All but the cancellation of the U.S.’s role in the TPP have set off a firestorm of negative criticism from the Democratic party and liberal media outlets who viewed the TPP as bad for American workers and the rest of Trump’s executive orders as extensions of supposed Republican xenophobia and racism. Most liberals argue that immigration is the very fabric of Americanism and that Donald Trump’s actions set a poor standard of what actually makes America great.
Trump’s decision comes after a year and a half of focusing on immigration during his campaign for presidency and has been well received by the so-called “alt-right” branch of the Republican party. However, such measures were never fully explained throughout the his campaign and executive orders alone cannot fully get the job done, so many analysts have their doubts about whether or not anything will last beyond Trump’s first few months of presidency.
A week after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s “1984” is the best-selling book on Amazon.com.
The hearts of a thousand English teachers must be warmed as people flock to a novel published in 1949 for ways to think about their present moment.
Orwell set his story in Oceania, one of three blocs or mega-states fighting over the globe in 1984. There has been a nuclear exchange, and the blocs seem to have agreed to perpetual conventional war, probably because constant warfare serves their shared interests in domestic control.
Oceania demands total subservience. It is a police state, with helicopters monitoring people’s activities, even watching through their windows. But Orwell emphasizes it is the “ThinkPol,” the Thought Police, who really monitor the “Proles,” the lowest 85 percent of the population outside the party elite. The ThinkPol move invisibly among society seeking out, even encouraging, thoughtcrimes so they can make the perpetrators disappear for reprogramming.
The other main way the party elite, symbolized in the mustached figurehead Big Brother, encourage and police correct thought is through the technology of the Telescreen. These “metal plaques” transmit things like frightening video of enemy armies and of course the wisdom of Big Brother. But the Telescreen can see you, too. During mandatory morning exercise, the Telescreen not only shows a young, wiry trainer leading cardio, it can see if you are keeping up. Telescreens are everywhere: They are in every room of people’s homes. At the office, people use them to do their jobs.
The story revolves around Winston Smith and Julia, who try to resist their government’s overwhelming control over facts. Their act of rebellion? Trying to discover “unofficial” truth about the past, and recording unauthorized information in a diary. Winston works at the colossal Ministry of Truth, on which is emblazoned IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. His job is to erase politically inconvenient data from the public record. A party member falls out of favor? She never existed. Big Brother made a promise he could not fulfill? It never happened.
Because his job calls on him to research old newspapers and other records for the facts he has to “unfact,” Winston is especially adept at “doublethink.” Winston calls it being “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies… consciously to induce unconsciousness.”
Oceania: The product of Orwell’s experience
Orwell’s setting in “1984” is inspired by the way he foresaw the Cold War – a phrase he coined in 1945 – playing out. He wrote it just a few years after watching Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin carve up the world at the Tehran and Yalta conferences. The book is remarkably prescient about aspects of the Stalinist Soviet Union, East Germany and Maoist China.
Orwell was a socialist. “1984” in part describes his fear that the democratic socialism in which he believed would be hijacked by authoritarian Stalinism. The novel grew out of his sharp observations of his world and the fact that Stalinists tried to kill him.
In 1936, a fascist-supported military coup threatened the democratically elected socialist majority in Spain. Orwell and other committed socialists from around the world, including Ernest Hemingway, volunteered to fight against the rightist rebels. Meanwhile, Hitler lent the rightists his air power while Stalin tried to take over the leftist Republican resistance. When Orwell and other volunteers defied these Stalinists, they moved to crush the opposition. Hunted, Orwell and his wife had to flee for their lives from Spain in 1937.
Back in London during World War II, Orwell saw for himself how a liberal democracy and individuals committed to freedom could find themselves on a path toward Big Brother. He worked for the BBC writing what can only be described as “propaganda” aimed at an Indian audience. What he wrote was not exactly doublethink, but it was news and commentary with a slant to serve a political purpose. Orwell sought to convince Indians that their sons and resources were serving the greater good in the war. Having written things he believed were untrue, he quit the job after two years, disgusted with himself.
Imperialism itself disgusted him. As a young man in the 1920s, Orwell had served as a colonial police officer in Burma. In a distant foreshadowing of Big Brother’s world, Orwell reviled the arbitrary and brutish role he took on in a colonial system. “I hated it bitterly,” he wrote. “In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the gray, cowed faces of the long-term convicts…”
Oceania was a prescient product of a particular biography and particular moment when the Cold War was beginning. Naturally, then, today’s world of “alternative facts” is quite different in ways that Orwell could not have imagined.
Big Brother not required
Orwell described a single-party system in which a tiny core of oligarchs, Oceania’s “inner party,” control all information. This is their chief means of controlling power. In the U.S. today, information is wide open to those who can access the internet, at least 84 percent of Americans. And while the U.S. arguably might be an oligarchy, power exists somewhere in a scrum including the electorate, constitution, the courts, bureaucracies and, inevitably, money. In other words, unlike in Oceania, both information and power are diffuse in 2017 America.
In 2004, a senior White House adviser suggested a reporter belonged to the “reality-based community,” a sort of quaint minority of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.… That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”
Orwell could not have imagined the internet and its role in distributing alternative facts, nor that people would carry around Telescreens in their pockets in the form of smartphones. There is no Ministry of Truth distributing and policing information, and in a way everyone is Big Brother.
It seems less a situation that people are incapable of seeing through Big Brother’s big lies, than they embrace “alternative facts.” Some researchers have found that when some people begin with a certain worldview – for example, that scientific experts and public officials are untrustworthy – they believe their misperceptions more strongly when given accurate conflicting information. In other words, arguing with facts can backfire. Having already decided what is more essentially true than the facts reported by experts or journalists, they seek confirmation in alternative facts and distribute them themselves via Facebook, no Big Brother required.
In Orwell’s Oceania, there is no freedom to speak facts except those that are official. In 2017 America, at least among many of the powerful minority who selected its president, the more official the fact, the more dubious. For Winston, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” For this powerful minority, freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make five.