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The Conversation

conversationThe Conversation US arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse – and recognition of the vital role that academic experts can play in the public arena.

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Was it a coup? No, but siege on US Capitol was the election violence of a fragile democracy

Clayton Besaw, University of Central Florida and Matthew Frank, University of Denver


Did the United States just have a coup attempt?

Supporters of President Donald Trump, following his encouragement, stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Waving Trump banners, hundreds of people broke through barricades and smashed windows to enter the building where Congress convenes. One rioter and one police officer died in the clash and several other police officers were hospitalized. Congress went on lockdown.

While violent and shocking, what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t a coup.

This Trumpist insurrection was election violence, much like the election violence that plagues many fragile democracies.

What is a coup?

While coups do not have a single definition, researchers who study them – like ourselves – agree on the key attributes of what academics call a “coup event.”

Coup experts Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne define a coup d’etat as “an overt attempt by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting head of state using unconstitutional means.”

Essentially, three parameters are used to judge whether an insurrection is a coup event:

1) Are the perpetrators agents of the state, such as military officials or rogue governmental officials?

2) Is the target of the insurrection the chief executive of the government?

3) Do the plotters use illegal and unconstitutional methods to seize executive power?

Coups and coup attempts

A successful coup occurred in Egypt on July 3, 2013, when army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcefully removed the country’s unpopular president, Mohamed Morsi. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, had recently overseen the writing of a new constitution. Al-Sisi suspended that, too. This qualifies as a coup because al-Sisi seized power illegally and introduced his own rule of law in the ashes of the elected government.

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Egyptian protesters celebrate the military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi along with officers of the Egyptian Republican Guard, July 3, 2013, in Cairo.
Ed Giles/Getty Images



Coups don’t always succeed in overthrowing the government.



In 2016, members of the Turkish military attempted to remove Turkey’s strongman president, Reçep Erdogan, from power. Soldiers seized key areas in Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, including the Bosphorus Bridge and two airports. But the coup lacked coordination and widespread support, and it failed quickly after President Erdogan called on his supporters to confront the plotters. Erdogan remains in power today.



What happened at the US Capitol?



The uprising at the Capitol building does not meet all three criteria of a coup.



Trump’s rioting supporters targeted a branch of executive authority – Congress – and they did so illegally, through trespassing and property destruction. Categories #2 and #3, check.



As for category #1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating of their own volition, not state actors. President Trump did incite his followers to march on the Capitol building less than an hour before the crowd invaded the grounds, insisting the election had been stolen and saying “We will not take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unfounded electoral lies and conspiracies that created a perception of government malfeasance in the mind of many Trump supporters.



Whether the president’s motivation in inflaming the anger of his supporters was to assault Congress is not clear, and he tepidly told them to go home as the violence escalated. For now it seems the riot in Washington, D.C., was enacted without the approval, aid or active leadership of government actors like the military, police or sympathetic GOP officials.



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SWAT police try to clear the Capitol building of pro-Trump rioters, Jan. 6, 2021.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images



American political elites are hardly blameless, though.



By spreading conspiracy theories about election fraud, numerous Republican senators, including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, created the conditions for political violence in the United States, and specifically electoral-related violence.



Academics have documented that contentious political rhetoric fuels the risk of election-related violence. Elections are high-stakes; they represent a transfer of political power. When government officials demean and discredit democratic institutions as a simmering political conflict is underway, contested elections can trigger political violence and mob rule.



So what did happen?



The shocking events of Jan. 6 were political violence of the sort that too often mars elections in young or unstable democracies.



Bangladeshi elections suffer from perennial mob violence and political insurrections due to years of government violence and opposition anger. Its 2015 and 2018 elections looked more like war zones than democratic transitions.



In Cameroon, armed dissidents perpetrated violence in the 2020 election, targeting government buildings, opposition figures and innocent bystanders alike. Their aim was to delegitimize the vote in response to sectarian violence and government overreach.



The United States’ electoral violence differs in cause and context from that seen in Bangladesh and Cameroon, but the action was similar. The U.S. didn’t have a coup, but this Trump-encouraged insurrection is likely to send the country down a politically and socially turbulent road.



This story has been updated to reflect the death toll of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.The Conversation



Clayton Besaw, Research Affiliate and Senior Analyst, University of Central Florida and Matthew Frank, Master's student, International Security, University of Denver



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Why being stuck at home – and unable to hang out in cafes and bars – drains our creativity

Korydon Smith, University at Buffalo; Kelly Hayes McAlonie, University at Buffalo, and Rebecca Rotundo, University at Buffalo

While the pandemic has caused thousands of small businesses to temporarily close or shutter for good, the disappearance of the corner coffee shop means more than lost wages.

It also represents a collective loss of creativity.

Researchers have shown how creative thinking can be cultivated by simple habits like exercise, sleep and reading. But another catalyst is unplanned interactions with close friends, casual acquaintances and complete strangers. With the closure of coffee shops – not to mention places like bars, libraries, gyms and museums – these opportunities vanish.

Of course, not all chance meetings result in brilliant ideas. Yet as we bounce from place to place, each brief social encounter plants a small seed that can gel into a new idea or inspiration.

By missing out on chance meetings and observations that nudge our curiosity and jolt “a-ha!” moments, new ideas, big and small, go undiscovered.

It’s not the caffeine, it’s the people

Famous artists, novelists and scientists are often seen as if their ideas and work come from a singular mind. But this is misleading. The ideas of even the most reclusive of poets, mathematicians or theologians are part of larger conversations among peers, or are reactions and responses to the world.

As author Steven Johnson wrote in “Where Good Ideas Come From,” the “trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts.” Instead, he recommends that we “go for a walk,” “embrace serendipity” and “frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks.”

Just as today’s freelance writers might use coffee shops as a second office, it was the tea- and coffeehouses of London in the 18th century that spurred the Age of Enlightenment. Then, as now, people intuitively knew they were “more productive or more creative when working from coffee shops,” according to David Burkus, author of “The Myths of Creativity.” As research shows, it’s not the caffeine; it’s the people. Simply being around other people who are working can motivate us to do the same.

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Crowded, chaotic – and brimming with inspiration.
Heritage Images via Getty Images

In other words, creativity is social.

It’s also contextual. The built environment plays a hidden but crucial role. Architectural researchers in the U.K., for instance, found that classroom design impacts the speed at which students learn. They found that classroom features, such as furniture and lighting, have as much impact on learning as teachers. Similar aspects of cafe design can enhance creativity.

Designing for creativity

Buildings influence a wide range of human functions. Temperature and humidity, for example, affect our ability to concentrate. Daylighting is positively linked to productivity, stress management and immune functions. And air quality, determined by HVAC systems as well as the chemical composition of furnishings and interior materials like carpet, affects both respiratory and mental health. Architectural design has even been connected to happiness.

Likewise, a well-designed coffee shop can facilitate creativity – where the unplanned friction between people can ignite sparks of innovation.

Two newly completed coffee shops, the Kilogram Coffee Shop in Indonesia and Buckminster’s Cat Cafe in Buffalo, New York, were designed with this kind of interactivity in mind.

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Buckminster’s Cat Cafe in Buffalo, N.Y.
Florian Holzherr, Author provide

Each has open, horizontal layouts that actually encourage congestion, which fosters chance encounters. Lightweight and geometric furniture enables occupants to rearrange seating and accommodate groups of various size, such as when a friend unexpectedly arrives. There are views outside, which promote calmness and offer more opportunities to daydream. And there is a moderate level of ambient noise – not too high or low – which induces cognitive disfluency, a state of deep, reflective thinking.


Restoring the soul of the coffee shop

Of course, not all coffee shops have closed. Many shops have reduced indoor seating capacity, limited patrons to exterior seating or have restricted services to takeout only as a means to stay open. All of them have faced the difficult task of implementing safeguards while retaining the atmosphere of their establishments. Some design elements, like lighting, can easily be retained amidst social distancing and other safety measures. Others, like movable seating for collaboration, are harder to achieve safely.

While these tweaks allow businesses to stay open and ensure the safety of customers, they sap spaces of their souls.

Philosopher Michel de Certeau said that the spaces we occupy are a backdrop on which the “ensemble of possibilities” and “improvisation” of everyday life occur.

When social life fully transitions into the digital realm, these opportunities become limited. Conversations become prearranged, while the side chats that take place before or after a meeting or event have been quashed. In video meetings, participants speak to either the whole room or no one

For cafe owners, employees and customers, the post-pandemic era can’t come soon enough. After all, while customers ostensibly stop by their local coffee shop for a jolt of caffeine, the true draw of the place is in its haptic and hectic spirit.The Conversation

Korydon Smith, Professor of Architecture and Associate Director of Global Health Equity, University at Buffalo; Kelly Hayes McAlonie, Adjunct Instructor of Architecture, University at Buffalo, and Rebecca Rotundo, Associate Director of Instructional Design, University at Buffalo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


What are emergency use authorizations, and do they guarantee that a vaccine or drug is safe?

 Tony Potts, a 69-year-old retiree, removes his face mask for a temperature check just before receiving his first injection in a phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial sponsored by Moderna. Potts is one of 30,000 participants in the Moderna trial.

Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty ImageS


Christopher Robertson, Boston University and Jeremy Greene, Johns Hopkins University


In coming days, the Food and Drug Administration is likely to authorize new COVID-19 vaccines based on applications submitted by two companies. These authorizations have happened very fast in a process called “emergency use authorizations,” or EUAs.



Does this swift action mean that products are proven safe and effective? Not exactly. But it suggests that they may present a reasonable balance of risks and benefits.



We are a physician and a lawyer, and we also study drug development from the perspectives of history and philosophy. The longer view is helpful to understand the differences between full FDA approval and EUAs.



The peculiar nature of medical products



When you decide whether to buy a television, you can tell whether it turns on and you can assess its visual clarity. But for a medical product, without the FDA, it would be impossible for you or even your doctor to discern whether it is safe and effective. For that, the American public needs clinical trials, with thousands of patients randomized to receive the treatment or placebo.



Accordingly, for more than a half-century, the principle guiding access to the pharmaceutical marketplace is: proof before profits. In 1938, Congress required companies to submit proof of safety data to the FDA, and in 1962 it extended the principle to proof of efficacy, or the ability to produce a desired effect. Yet this process of sorting good medical products from bad ones can take five years or more.






A short history of EUAs



Emergency use authorizations are a relatively new pathway that the FDA can utilize when there is a declared public health emergency, like a pandemic or bioterrorism attack.



The first time the FDA issued an EUA was in 2005 for an anthrax vaccine, but just for military personnel. In 2009, the FDA issued the first EUA for civilians, so that Tamiflu could be given to infants during the H1N1 pandemic.



The basic principle behind the EUA, however, originates from an earlier pandemic: HIV/AIDS, which first became visible in North America in 1981. The approval of the first treatment regimens that successfully transformed HIV/AIDS from a uniformly fatal disease into a manageable chronic condition, however, did not occur until the late 1990s. Instead, the first two decades of the HIV/AIDS pandemic were characterized by the urgent need for new drugs on the one hand, and the FDA’s slow pace of evaluating them on the other.



AIDS activist groups staged “die-in” events at the FDA’s headquarters, and they threw fake blood on government officials to protest the delay in access to potentially lifesaving drugs. Their actions made visible the human cost of delay in the middle of an epidemic and fundamentally altered the role of patients in FDA regulatory processes as well.



AIDS activists successfully secured a new “parallel track,” which helped lead to the approval of ddI, or dideoxyinosine, in 1991. This same sense of urgency also led to accelerated approval of another drug, ddC, or zalcitabine, which turned out to be “rotten” in the words of AIDS activist and researcher Mark Harrington. Patients had “no data” that the drug “in fact saved lives,” but it was “expensive, inconvenient and toxic.”



Emergency use authorizations can be seen as a form of scaling up these earlier pathways to accelerate approval. Since 2009, the FDA has since issued dozens of EUAs for drugs, devices and diagnostics based on the best available evidence for prevailing public health crises.



Different standards for different times



Once an emergency has been declared for a serious or life-threatening disease, federal law gives the FDA broad discretion in deciding whether to issue an EUA for a particular product. There are three guideposts.



First, “the totality of scientific evidence” must make it “reasonable to believe that the product may be effective.” As for safety, federal law requires a weighing of risks and benefits, taking into account the “material threat” posed by the emergency. Finally, an EUA can be granted only when “there is no adequate, approved, and available alternative to the product.”



In contrast, traditional drug approvals require proof of safety and “substantial evidence” of efficacy, typically based on two well-controlled trials.



In a July 28, 2020 news conference, President Trump stresses his support for hydroxychloroquine, which received an EUA that was later revoked.



Public perceptions matter



An EUA is less reassuring than the standard FDA approval, but at the same time it takes into context the increased risk, during a public health crisis, of not making a given product available for use.



The FDA is a science-based regulatory agency that wields its strongest power not as a gatekeeper but as a standard-bearer. The FDA can persuade scientists, physicians and consumers worldwide because its assessments carry the weight of careful scientific deliberation. This form of power is based on reputation. And with reputation, every present act affects credibility in the future.



The FDA’s reputation has suffered during the pandemic. Americans saw the FDA provide an emergency approval for President Trump’s pet drug hydroxychloroquine, and then withdraw it a couple months later, once efficacy and safety claims had been debunked. Similarly, in August, the FDA revoked an April 2020 EUA for a coronavirus antibodies test, in part because of false test results.



Now only six in 10 Americans say they will take a new vaccine if is authorized by EUA. Of those resisting, those in the largest group say they lack confidence because of the accelerated time line. Indeed, even the word “emergency” can be misread to suggest that the product may be “risky,” “suspicious” and “desperate.”



A trade-off between continued testing and access



EUAs present another problem if they short-circuit the clinical trial process. Why sign up for a 50% chance of receiving a placebo if you can have a 100% chance of receiving the same product through an EUA? Thus, an overly broad EUA can stymie ongoing participation in vaccine trials such that we may never really learn whether the product is safe and effective.



These fears are not new, and can be seen in the earliest debates around parallel-track designations for AIDS drugs. But they weigh more heavily in the scalar logic of pandemic-issued EUAs. Pandemics drive massive shifts in consumer demand that cause enormous supply and logistic problems (remember back when you had a hard time getting toilet paper?). In the short run, we will not have sufficient amounts of vaccine manufactured to support broad access to meet the full demand for new vaccines.



Traditionally, the FDA has restricted its judgments to the evaluation of safety, efficacy and quality, and left broader questions of pricing, allocation and access to other private and public actors, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. But for an EUA, allocation is a critical question for the FDA to consider when weighing the balance of risks and benefits, which vary from person to person.



Accordingly, the FDA could initially issue a narrow EUA, allowing access only to those, like health care workers and nursing home residents, whose elevated risk merits earlier (and riskier) use of a plausible intervention. The FDA could subsequently issue a somewhat broader EUA for older Americans with comorbid conditions and others at elevated risk. For everyone else, trials would continue in the meantime.



The EUA plays an important role in mobilizing COVID-19 vaccines as promising new tools in a rapidly unfolding public crisis, but it is only one step in making a safe and effective vaccine supply available to the broader population. Hopefully by early summer there will be both sufficient knowledge and sufficient supply to support a traditional FDA approval of the vaccines, based on the best available evidence. We are hopeful about the new vaccines, and confident in the FDA’s ability to engender trust in those vaccines, when it is deserved.The Conversation



Christopher Robertson, Professor of Law, Boston University and Jeremy Greene, Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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