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From Our Readers

A Sample Newsletter

April 7, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Tragedy, Overlooked

South Sudan deserves better.

The plight of the world’s newest country – South Sudan gained independence in 2011 – is easy to overlook amid the fallout from the Panama Papers, Donald Trump’s quest for the Republican presidential nomination, and the saga of the Syrian Civil War and the refugees fleeing that violence.

But in many ways, South Sudan is a test case for the international community.

Around 98 percent of its citizens voted for independence, suggesting they are politically engaged. The country is incredibly fertile, so it can feed itself and thrive as the breadbasket of a continent that has struggled with food security for years. The national language is English. The country possesses oil, too.

It has all the ingredients for success.

Yet around 6 million South Sudanese people – half the country’s population – are hungry, the United Nations said this week. Around 2.8 million of those unlucky souls are on the brink of famine.

The problem is threefold, according to the UN. War has led many farmers to abandon their fields. Others who are trying to cultivate are now struggling amid a drought. Lastly, those who have crops to bring to market encounter roadblocks and tolls set up by the various armed groups that control the countryside. The same roadblocks have also stymied humanitarian aid.

It didn’t have to be this way.

In August 2015, after almost two years of civil war, President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement with Riek Machar, his former vice president. Kiir is a Dinka, South Sudan’s largest ethnic group. Machar is a Nuer, the second-largest ethnicity.

Under the peace accord, Machar became vice president again. But he has yet to come to the capital of Juba to assume his position, citing “security concerns.” Kiir, meanwhile, enraged his rival when he redrew the map of South Sudan, creating new governorships and appointing local leader who can be expected to answer to him as he and Machar attempt to govern together.

Foreign Affairs described the posturing between Kiir and Machar’s as “political games.”

These games are deadly serious, however. Last month, human rights groups accused government forces technically under Machar’s control of suffocating 60 men and boys in a shipping container. That was only the latest atrocity in a conflict which has seen widespread mass killings and rape.

Still, the former president of Botswana who has been monitoring South Sudan’s peace process, Festus Mogae, recently told the U.N. Security Council that the two sides were making “notable progress” despite numerous ceasefire violations.

Let’s hope Mogae is right. Let the games end.

WANT TO KNOW

China Ups Pressure on North Korea

For years, observers have been waiting for China to punish North Korea for pursuing its nuclear weapons program.

Now it’s finally happening.

After South Korea said that North Korea could strike China, Russia, Japan and the Korean Peninsula with a nuclear missile Tuesday, China announced a ban on the Hermit Kingdom’s exports of coal, gold, iron, titanium, vanadium and rare earths. All are crucial sources of foreign cash for Pyongyang.

China has long balked at imposing sanctions on North Korea, suggesting they will only harm the country’s already fragile economy, which in the past has failed even to produce enough food for its people. They also don’t want the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to collapse, potentially kicking off a humanitarian disaster and expanding US-ally South Korea’s territory to the Chinese border.

The prospect of the unstable Kim with a nuclear weapon that could reach a Chinese city appears to have changed minds in Beijing, however.

Brazil: Impeach!

Brazilian lawmakers are increasingly piling the pressure on President Dilma Rousseff.

On Wednesday, MPs delivered a congressional report that recommends moving forward with impeachment proceedings against Rousseff.

They argue that there is “sufficient evidence” that the president used illegal financing to hide the extent of Brazil’s budget deficit, according to Bloomberg.

And it could get worse: MP Jovair Arantes, who delivered the report, added that the allegations of graft at state-run oil company Petrobras could also be taken into account in the proceedings to oust Rousseff.

While Rousseff herself hasn’t been accused of accepting kickbacks, investigators are looking into whether her party accepted illegal campaign donations.

It’s a contested issue either way: Rousseff’s supporters have denounced these proceedings as an attempted coup, with the opposition calling for her to go now.

The lower house could vote on impeachment as early as Monday.

Dutch: No to Ukraine Deal

Some say it was a referendum on an arguably insignificant trade agreement.

But actually, when Dutch voters “overwhelmingly rejected” a trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine Wednesday, they also dealt a blow to the pro-Western movement behind Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, their own government and to the European political elite.

Dutch voters shot down the deal 64 to 36, also saying they were voicing their opposition to European policymakers “on matters ranging from the migrant crisis to economic policy” with the referendum, according to Reuters.

While the vote was non-binding, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says it’s now politically impossible for his government to continue supporting the agreement in its current form.

Meanwhile, Geert Wilders, Rutte’s anti-Islam, populist rival, welcomed the results, calling them “the beginning of the end” for Rutte and the EU.

DISCOVERY

Fatal Ambition

From today’s perspective, human sacrifice appears to stem from savage superstition. Priests who murder to praise their pagan gods were misguided, we reason.

But, according to a study published in the journal Nature, researchers have concluded that human sacrifice was a form of religious class warfare designed to enforce the power of elites. As the practice developed, societies moved from their initial egalitarian roots in small groups to more hierarchical societies.

Studying cultures that developed along the Pacific Rim, the researchers found that sacrificial victims were almost always of low socioeconomic status and sacrifices occurred more frequently in highly stratified societies. Sixty-five percent of cultures with strictly enforced inherited class differences committed ritual killings. The killings were also often spectacles of blood and gore that reinforced the power of the elites, the researchers said.

The findings aren’t exactly uplifting. But the researchers note that however grim human sacrifice might have been, humans might not have been able to marshal the resources necessary to create cities, art and all the other advancements that come with civilization without it.

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