Category: politic

Trump’s Threat to Iranian Cultural Sites

Photo by Serkan Turk on

In the aftermath of Qasem Soleimani’s killing, President Trump on Twitter threatened to attack 52 Iranian sites that are important to “the Iranian culture,” a threat that has drawn criticism and condemnation as “cultural cleansing” and an action in violation of international law.

Seema Golestaneh, professor of near Eastern studies at Cornell University, studies the anthropology of Islam and culture of Iran. She says threatening to attack cultural sites shows a lack of understanding of the Iranian peoples’ day-to-day lives.


Golestaneh says:

“The threat to attack Iranian cultural sites is akin to threatening to bomb Notre Dame or the Sistine chapel.  And to make such claims so cavalierly, without any regard for the deep emotional ties that people have with these sites, seems especially cruel.

“Some of these sites are not just tourist destinations but are still in heavy use and are woven into the fabric of their respective cities. For example, the bazaar of the Imam’s Square and the Khaju Bridge of Isfahan, which were built nearly four hundred years ago, are used by hundreds of thousands of people every day. 

“The term ‘cultural heritage sites’ in a way seems to fall short to describe these places and things and their role in the popular imagination. They are ways of life, ways of understanding the self.  The United States is a young country and perhaps it is hard to understand this deep affection. But outside of the loss of life, for Iranians, nothing could be more painful.”AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to Print


Photo by mostafa meraji on

Cultural heritage expert available to discuss threats against Iranian cultural sites

Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, assistant professor of community and regional planning at Iowa State University, is available to comment on threats against Iranian cultural sites. He is an expert on cultural heritage and historic preservation.

Credit: Iowa State University

Grevstad-Nordbrock has drawn parallels between the threats against Iranian cultural sites and the “Baedeker Raids” by Nazi Germany in 1941-2. During these raids, German war planners used popular European travel guides (“Baedekers”) to identify cultural sites in UK cities for aerial bombardment. This was intended to shock and demoralize the British population. It was also a reprisal for the British bombing of historic cities in Germany’s north.

Grevstad-Nordbrock has conducted research of historic sites during times of armed conflict, in particular exploring how Allied governments protected historic sites in Europe from destruction during World War II, focusing on immoveable cultural heritage (historic buildings, archaeological sites) as opposed to moveable art objects (paintings, sculptures, etc.). 

He has a Ph.D. in geography from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University, a master’s degree in art history from the University of Wiconsin-Madison and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW-Madison. He had 25 years professional experience in historic preservation before coming to Iowa State.

For interviews, please contact Chelsea Davis at or 515-294-4778.

Song for our times: War is Hell.

Charly Chiarelli futured on “I’M Italian Magazine

Charly Chiarelli

Post-9/11 wars may have killed twice as many Americans at home as in battle: Analysis

Photo by Anthony Fomin

An analysis by a Vanderbilt economist whose research focuses on fatality risks finds that the post-9/11 wars may have resulted in more than twice as many indirect deaths back home as were lost in battle. These indirect deaths are due to the diversion of war costs from the U.S. economy and the subsequent impact on the nation’s health. 

The Mortality Cost Metric for the Costs of War, by W. Kip Viscusi, University Distinguished Professor of Law, Economics, and Management at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Ph.D. Program in Law and Economics, appears in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy

“When a government spends $100 million on a war, it leaves its citizens $100 million poorer,” Viscusi said. “We know that during a recession, more people die. People have less money to spend on better nutrition, health care, safer products or living in a safer neighborhood. For much the same reason, war spending would have a similar effect by redirecting those dollars away from consumers.” 

To examine the question, Viscusi first had to work out the total cost of war. The U.S. government estimates that the post-9/11 wars, which include military operations in other countries such as Syria and Pakistan in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, have cost about $1.95 trillion. But, Viscusi said, those are just expenditures. To tell the whole story, you need to include the value of the lives lost in battle. 

And in fact, a dollar value for these lives does exist—Viscusi invented it, and the government already uses it in its risk calculations. It’s called the “value of statistical life,” and it’s the average amount you would have to pay a group of 10,000 people to increase their risk of certain death from zero to one. It’s based on the hazard pay workers receive for dangerous jobs, and in the United States, at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the VSL was about $8.9 million. (Today it’s about $10 million.) 

By multiplying the number of direct U.S. fatalities in the post-9/11 conflicts—10,371, by conservative government estimates—by the VSL, $8.9 million, Viscusi calculates that these war deaths are worth an additional $95.3 billion, bringing the total cost of these wars to $2.05 trillion. 

War expenditures have an additional impact that causes deaths, Viscusi said, because money spent on war is diverted away from the U.S. economy, including everyday spending on well-being. In previous research, Viscusi has found that Americans spend about 10 cents out of every dollar on health and safety. His analysis shows that dividing the VSL by $0.10 results in what Viscusi calls the “mortality opportunity cost of expenditures.” That is, for every $89 million that we’ve spent on the post-9/11 wars, we would expect to see one additional, indirect death here at home. 

This results in an additional 21,910 indirect deaths since 9/11 due to the diversion of war costs away from U.S. households, bringing the total toll to 32,619—more than three times the official government estimate.  

“Every time we spend money on wars, we’re not spending that money on other things. There are actual costs to society,” Viscusi said. “So we have to ask ourselves, what are we losing because of that?”

Evidence of racism

Photo by jurien huggins

On the morning of July 16, 1996, four employees of the Tardy Furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, were shot in the head, their bodies left sprawled on the floor or slumped over the counter.

Seven months later, Curtis Flowers, an employee who had been fired from the store two weeks before the murders, was arrested and charged with the quadruple homicide. Flowers, 26 at the time, had no criminal record, and no forensic evidence linked him to the killings.

Yet six times over the next 14 years, the Montgomery County prosecutor, Doug Evans, tried Flowers, an African American who had grown up in Winona. The first three trials ended with a conviction and death sentence but were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court because of prosecutorial misconduct or because prospective jurors had been excluded based on their race. The next two were mistrials. In the sixth trial, Flowers was again convicted and sentenced to death.

Flowers wanted to appeal, and two Cornell Law School professors – Sheri Lynn Johnson and Keir Weyble – agreed to take over the case. Working with two students from the Law School’s capital punishment clinic, they took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 21, 2019, in a 7–2 decision, the court overturned the conviction. The justices concluded that Evans had violated the U.S. Constitution by repeatedly excluding African Americans during jury selection, using what is known as peremptory challenges.

While Flowers is still imprisoned and may face a seventh trial in Mississippi, the Supreme Court decision will have a significant impact on future cases dealing with racial bias in the selection of jurors, said John Blume, the Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques and director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. “I think the court,” Blume said, “is trying to send a message: ‘Don’t do this. … Don’t cheat to win.’” 

Johnson, the James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law, is a renowned expert on the interface of race and criminal procedure. And Weyble, clinical professor of law, is a nationally known expert in post-conviction litigation and has represented prisoners in capital cases across the South for more than 20 years.

Both were attracted to the case because of its focus on racial issues in jury selection and the sheer number of trials involved. “I’d never encountered another case that went to trial six times,” Weyble said. “That alone made my ears perk up.”

As they began researching the case, they found overwhelming evidence of racial discrimination: Out of the 43 African Americans in the jury pool for Flowers’ six trials, Evans rejected 41. And in the sixth trial, he struck five of six.

“The numbers are extraordinary,” Johnson said. “For whatever reason, Evans wanted a white jury and did whatever he could to get his white jury.”

They also found Evans used weak evidence in the case. For example, one witness could only identify the perpetrator as being African American and initially named someone else as the suspect, Johnson said.

“He only [identified] Mr. Flowers after there were various suggestive comments made,” Johnson said. “So a variety of factors made this an unreliable identification and in our view should have meant that the identification should not have gone to the jury at all.”

When the Mississippi Supreme Court reaffirmed Flowers’ conviction in his sixth trial, Johnson and Weyble appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the court sent the case back to the lower court. 

As they prepared their second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Johnson and Weyble enlisted Pablo Chapablanco, J.D. ’19, and Sam Macomber, J.D. ’20, students in the school’s capital punishment clinic. During the fall and spring of 2018-19, Chapablanco and Macomber worked late into the night, poring over the jury selection records and preparing a 600-page research document that would become an essential part of the arguments made to the Supreme Court. “They did extraordinary work on behalf of Curtis Flowers,” Johnson said. 

When the team filed its petition to the Supreme Court, it focused on a single issue: whether the prosecutor deliberately used race to exclude prospective jurors in the sixth trial. They pointed to the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, where it ruled that prosecutors may not exclude jurors solely on the basis of race because it violates the 14th Amendment.

They also pointed to another hallmark of racial discrimination in jury selection: questioning potential jurors differently. While Evans asked both African Americans and whites about their relationships to Flowers and witnesses in the case, he asked only prospective African American jurors details about those relationships.

“The prosecutor dug very deep to find those potential biases in the jurors, but he did not ask those probing questions of white potential jurors,” said Macomber. “So the whole point was the prosecutor was striking jurors and giving some reason, and that was a pretext for race.”

On Nov. 2, 2018 – five months after the legal team had filed its petition – the Supreme Court agreed to hear Flowers’ appeal. The team had 40 business days to file the brief on the case.

While they had accumulated a set of written arguments over their six years of work on the case, preparing a brief for the Supreme Court “requires a deeper dive” on the key issues, Weyble said. They started a new brief from scratch. On Dec. 27, 2018, the team filed the brief, and began waiting for its day in court.

On the day of the hearing, Johnson presented her argument, focusing on the issue of racial bias. “The only plausible interpretation of all of the evidence viewed cumulatively is that Doug Evans began jury selection in Flowers VI with an unconstitutional end in mind, to seat as few African American jurors as he could,” she said.

Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked Johnson if she thought she would have a chance of winning the case solely on the basis of the striking of African American jurors in the sixth trial, without the history of the previous trials. 

Over the course of the hourlong hearing, the questions from Kavanaugh and Alito surprised Johnson the most. “They’re very conservative justices, and so I would not have expected them to be sympathetic to any claim of a criminal defendant,” she said.

Before the hearing was over, Weyble said it was apparent that the decision would turn in their favor. “It seemed pretty clear early on in the argument that the court understood what was going on in the case,” he said.

When the decision was announced last June, neither Weyble nor Johnson was surprised that Kavanaugh had written it. In his 31-page decision, he wrote, “In sum, the state’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’ first trial through Flowers’ sixth trial.” He concluded that “we break no new legal ground. We simply enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it to the extraordinary facts of this case.”

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Mississippi Supreme Court for “further proceedings”; the decision of whether to release Flowers or to try him yet again lies with Evans, the prosecutor. Evans hasn’t said whether he will try Flowers again but has stated he remains convinced Flowers is guilty.

If he does try Flowers again, however, he will have fewer witnesses to prove his case. In the past two years, a jailhouse informant who claimed that Flowers had confessed and a woman who claimed that she saw Flowers running from the murder scene have recanted their testimony.

“The case has certainly gotten much weaker in the nine years since it was tried last,” said Weyble, who, like Johnson, believes Flowers is innocent. “If I were a prosecutor, I would think pretty seriously about whether I’m just going to embarrass myself by trying this case again.”

Combating Human Trafficking

Photo by Jordan Whitt

Each year, more than 40 million men, women and children are trafficked worldwide. It manifests in numerous forms and has grown into a multi-billion-dollar illegal enterprise that is difficult to detect, prosecute and examine. Risk analysis is a critical tool for combating human trafficking and is central to informing global policy recommendations and assisting with targeted local and organizational efforts. Several studies will be presented during the Addressing Human Trafficking Risk symposium at the 2019 SRA Annual Meeting at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia.

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work to reduce human trafficking but often fail to understand the context and environment before taking action, resulting in ineffective and sometimes detrimental policies. JD Caddell, U.S. Military Academy, studied how girls were lured and trafficked by reframing the situation as a supply chain and looking at both supply and demand.

Caddell’s study, “Using system dynamics to set strategic priorities to address human trafficking,” revealed that NGO’s actions aimed solely at removing girls from the system yields few long-term benefits and creates more victims in the long run while raid and rescue operations only yields short-term gains.

“Many organizations use raid and rescue models because they provide “results,” in terms of girls saved, which provides validation and a mechanism for future NGO fundraising,” states Caddell. “However, our study showed that focusing on the demand side of the problem is more likely to generate large scale and sustainable progress.”

Because human trafficking is hidden, illegal and dangerous, it is difficult to gather the data needed to develop effective quantitative models and their response to interventions. Kayse Lee Maass, Ph.D., Northeastern University, has been working with survivors, law enforcement personnel and social scientists to better understand the structure and operations of trafficking networks, how they adapt and the dependencies between their cyber and social networks.

Maass’s study, “Modeling operations of human trafficking networks for effective interdiction,” provides non-profits, service providers, policy makers and other anti-trafficking stakeholders with decision support tools to effectively allocate resources to disrupt networks and ensure survivors have access to support services.

Similarly, Julia Coxen, University of Michigan, has approached the problem by decomposing the risks of human trafficking into the risks to public health, to security and to the community. Coxen’s study, “Risk analysis as a critical tool for human trafficking,” helps decision-makers better understand the complexities of human trafficking. The study also highlights the need for more evidence-based and quantitative risk analysis research to combat this global issue that impacts all levels of society.

** Coxen, Caddell, and Maass are available for media interviews at the 2019 SRA Annual Meeting. Please contact Natalie Judd at for all interview requests.

What’s Behind the Chile Protests?

What’s happening?

Chile has seen several weeks of unrest, including street protests, riots, and vandalism, that has so far killed twenty people and injured more than one thousand others.

The turmoil began on October 18 with student-led protests over a metro fare increase. It soon escalated as rioters burned buses and metro stations, looted businesses, and clashed with security forces. Most demonstrations have been peaceful, though, with one drawing more than a million people—the largest protest in Chilean history.

How has the government responded?

Chile’s conservative president, Sebastian Pinera, initially cracked down, declaring “a state of war” and deploying ten thousand troops to the streets. Security forces unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons on civilians. Human rights groups have alleged abuses by police and soldiers.

Pinera has since softened his stance, reversing the fare hike and unveiling reforms, including a minimum wage increase and higher taxes on the wealthy, that require approval by lawmakers. He also reshuffled his cabinet, saying “Chile changed and the government also has to change.”

What’s driving the protests?

The immediate trigger—the equivalent of a four-cent rise in metro fare—struck a nerve among many Chileans, who say income growth has not kept pace with rising education, housing, and health-care costs.

Chile has been held up as a model for development in the region, with its strong economic growth, falling poverty, and stable political system since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s rule in 1990. But it remains one of the most unequal countries in the world; the United Nations estimates that the richest 1 percent of citizens earn one-third of national wealth.

Experts say middle- and working-class Chileans have many complaints. These include: a low minimum wage and slow wage growth, weak union protections, a privatized pension system, a stratified education system that leaves poorer students in debt, unaffordable housing and health care, a constitution that retains vestiges of military rule, and a political class beset by corruption scandals.

Public frustration over these issues is not new. Chileans have repeatedly protested over the education and pension systems, including in 2006, 2011, and 2016.

What’s the international context?

Chile is an open, trade-based economy that is highly dependent on global commodity prices, especially that of copper. As copper prices have fallen in recent years, Chile’s growth has slowed—a dynamic exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade war.

But some have cast blame further afield, alleging interference by socialist governments after Chilean police identified Venezuelan and Cuban nationals among the rioters. Pinera is a staunch opponent of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has celebrated the protests, though many analysts question how large a role Caracas could realistically play in the mass movement.

The United Nations sent a team to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by security forces, which have sparked memories of brutal practices under the Pinochet dictatorship. The three-person investigative team was sent by former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who is now the UN high commissioner for human rights.

The United States, which backed the Pinochet regime, has remained largely silent. Washington has not had an ambassador to Chile since January.

The ongoing unrest led Pinera to cancel next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, where U.S. President Donald J. Trump was expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss a bilateral trade deal. Pinera also pulled out of hosting the next major UN climate conference, planned for Santiago in December.

What’s next for Chile?

Demonstrators have so far rejected Pinera’s moves. They demand his resignation and broader reforms, and some call for a new constitution. But the decentralized nature of the movement has created confusion about protesters’ demands, which activists worry will weaken their negotiating power.

Observers say that if Pinera survives calls to step down, he faces an uphill battle. His approval rating has fallen to 14 percent and the opposition controls the National Congress, making political gridlock likely, at least until the next national election in 2021.