Inflammation and stories on congress

YouthBuild International Act
Around the world, over 200 million youth live in extreme poverty, earning less than $2 a day. On February 12, 2020, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, introduced her sponsorship for the YouthBuild International Act. The Act aims to amend and improve upon the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. In doing so, it strives to program educational opportunities and employment training for underprivileged youth in developing countries.

The bill adds a new point to Section 105 of the indispensable Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Following the original Act, the bill adds: “Program to provide disadvantaged youth in developing countries with opportunities to receive education and employment skills.” Following this broad point, the text describes five distinct goals for the bill: economic self-sufficiency, community engagement, leadership development, affordable housing and improvement of facilities.

Goals of the Bill

To begin, the bill states its goal to make higher education and employment skill-training more accessible to underprivileged youth. By providing these opportunities, the bill aims to equip youth with economic self-sufficiency. Secondly, the bill promises to provide poverty-ridden youth with opportunities for “meaningful work and service to their communities.” Thereafter, the bill promises to enhance the development of marketable leadership skills for youth in low-income communities.

Next, the bill proposes the establishment of affordable and permanent housing initiatives for homeless and low-income families. The final section of the bill promises to improve the energy efficiency and overall quality of community facilities. This is meant to benefit nonprofit and public facilities that protect homeless and low-income families. Youth participants in the program will contribute directly to these efforts.

Domestic Success

The potential for the YouthBuild International Act is demonstrated by the successes of the United States YouthBuild program. That program provides educational, employment and leadership opportunities to thousands of young Americans who lack education and employment. As of 2019, 70% of YouthBuild participants earned a certificate or a degree, 62% improved their literacy or mathematical skills and 54% gained earned education or employment.

Next Steps

The positive results of the United States YouthBuild program prove how successful the YouthBuild International Act could be. However, the odds are not in this bill’s favor. Although Congresswoman Omar introduced it nearly six months ago, the bill has neither gained any cosponsors nor moved past the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Act remains stagnant despite its immense potential for change. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3% chance of being enacted into law.

Although domestic poverty legislation is more pressing than ever, these issues must not put foreign aid on the back-burner. It is vital to bring awareness to under-supported aid legislation, especially when it can lead to economic self-sufficiency. Passing the YouthBuild International Act could significantly uplift millions of vulnerable communities and break the cycle of poverty for future generations. This will not happen unless more Americans contact their senators and representatives about the YouthBuild International Act and other under-prioritized aid legislation.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

undervalued foreign aid
If there is one certainty about the process of lawmaking, it is that enacting a bill into law requires persistence. Thousands of bills never pass the House of Representatives, much less receive the Senate or Presidential approval. This is especially true when it comes to the way Congress undervalues foreign aid. Govtrack.org allows anyone to view who cosponsors pending bills and track the bill’s progress through Congress. Even more telling, however, is the website’s indication of the probability that any given bill will be enacted into law.

Nonprofit organizations like The Borgen Project mobilize thousands of Americans to contact their elected officials in support of foreign aid and international relief. Nevertheless, bills regarding foreign assistance commonly have prognoses under 5%. Compared to the prognoses for bills regarding homeland security and domestic business protections, these numbers highlight the lack of urgency for foreign aid at the federal level. In the fiscal year for 2019, foreign assistance comprised less than 1% of the federal budget. Given the growing severity of humanitarian crises amidst the pandemic, why does Congress continue to undervalue foreign aid?

A Bipartisan Call For Support

A common misconception exists that Republicans are the main cause of undervalued foreign aid. Democrat-identifying voters at large typically prioritize foreign aid more than Republicans. However, Congress members in both political parties lend their support and cosponsorship to undervalued foreign aid bills. Over time, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have installed effective foreign aid initiatives. Recently, Congress members from both parties rejected President Trump’s proposal to cut to the International Affairs Budget by one-third.

While bipartisan protection of the existing aid budget is optimistic, senators and representatives are slow to demonstrate support for pending legislation. For example, the Global Fragility Act has gained a modest 20 cosponsors since its introduction in April 2019. Its prognosis, like many similar acts, stands at 3%. In contrast, an act entitled H.R. 1252: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 6531 Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys, California, as the “Marilyn Monroe Post Office” garnered 50 cosponsors and received enactment within a year.  When new bills and initiatives lack attention and cosponsorship, it is difficult for foreign aid to create widespread benefits. This is especially true in an unprecedented time of crisis. Oftentimes, seemingly non-urgent and low-impact acts gain more congressional momentum than urgent and potentially life-changing foreign assistance. This observation indicates a disparity in support of domestic and foreign interests.

Domestic Benefits As An Obstacle

Generally, undervalued foreign aid lacks impetus because of the framework that Congress created around foreign aid as early as World War II. From World War II to the Cold War era, support for foreign aid depended on how much that bill could bring domestic benefits back to the United States. This precedent informs how Congress evaluates foreign aid to this day. Senators and representatives often select foreign aid based on the likelihood of it bringing economic benefits to their particular geographic region.

While it is natural for elected officials to consider the American economy, an empirical question exists as to whether foreign aid realistically compromises American interests. In short, it does not. Foreign aid, specifically when USAID drives it, brings billions of dollars to the American economy each year. This has been the case since the late 20th century.

Combating Domestic Fear

Another notable reason for why Congress undervalues foreign aid is the fear of benefiting autocratic governments. This contributed to the lack of foreign aid during the Cold War, and this fear surged once again in the early 21st century in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Foreign aid bills that grant basic resources to civilians rather than governments lack support from Congress based on these anxieties. However, to generalize about developing countries based on preconceived fears or stereotypes only blocks progress, both domestically and abroad. Congress is more than capable of making informed decisions about foreign aid without compromising the security of their constituents, who call in support of pending aid legislation more often with each international crisis and tragedy.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

John Lewis
John Lewis was an American civil rights leader and activist, a respected representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district for over 30 years and a champion for reducing global inequalities. John Lewis introduced or sponsored at least 23 bills and resolutions that influenced U.S. foreign relations, humanitarian aid and advocacy. While some of his bills did not pass at the time, John Lewis’s globally-minded legislative style set a precedent for advocating for the world’s poor through legislative action.

Timeline of John Lewis’s Foreign Affairs Legislation

1999-2000

Under the Clinton Administration, John Lewis sponsored H.Con.Res.348. This resolution officially declared that Congress condemns the use of children as soldiers in any context. It provided guidelines on addressing the use of child soldiers, reintegration approaches for former child soldiers and incentives for foreign armies or organizations to dismantle exploitative child soldier systems.

2007-2008

Under the Bush Administration, Lewis sponsored H.R.2522, which defined modern-day slavery and enabled the government to better restrict it. Lewis’s bill called for a congressional commission to address the ways global modern-day slavery creeps into economic systems. The bill addressed how modern-day slavery targets vulnerable populations and requires intervention. This legislation would have also affected U.S. trade relations at the time, pressuring the government to halt trade with nations known to endorse modern-day slavery.

In 2008, Lewis introduced H.RES.1169. This resolution pushed the U.S. to advance its stance on eliminating discrimination and all forms of human or civil rights abuses. The resolution had both a domestic and international focus. It proposed to recommit several NGOs and governmental bodies that promoted equity.

2009-2010

Under the Obama Administration, Lewis reintroduced H.RES.1169 with slight wording changes. This resolution continued to advocate for the U.S. to step up as a global human rights leader. That same year, John Lewis also introduced H.R.3328 and H.Res.948. The first resolution called on the Secretary of State to collaborate with India in funding the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative, an educational and professional exchange program. While that bill did not pass, the other resolution officially endorsed the organizers and participants of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence.

After the U.N. General Assembly declared July 18 International Nelson Mandela Day, Lewis also introduced H.Res.1518. This resolution expressed the U.S.’s support for the U.N.’s action, which recognized Mandela’s progression of the nonviolent fight for equality under the law. This legislation also called on U.S. citizens to appreciate democracy, discourse and peace domestically.

2011-2016

Throughout the 112th, 113th and into the 114th congressional sessions, Lewis continued to introduce versions of his previous legislation. Lewis reintroduced H.Res.1518, regarding International Nelson Mandela Day, in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In those same years, John Lewis also restructured and then reintroduced what was originally H.RES.1169, regarding the U.S.’s commitment to protecting human rights globally. The new versions of the resolution maintained all components but did not specify to which conventions the U.S. must recommit, leaving room for expansion.

In 2011, 2013 and 2016, Lewis also reintroduced revised conditions for the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative bill. In 2016, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.Con.Res.158, which focuses on the importance of U.S. citizens and government recognizing the 35th annual International Day of Peace.

2017-2018

This time, under the Trump Administration, John Lewis persisted through the 115th congressional session. Despite blockage from other congressional leaders on several bills, he reintroduced legislation centered on humanitarianism. In 2017, Lewis first reinstated recognition of International Nelson Mandela Day, then of the International Day of Peace. He lastly revised the bill intended to strengthen the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative.

2019-2020

In his last year serving, at the age of nearly 80, John Lewis continued to advocate and reintroduce globally-conscious legislation. Lewis again dedicated floor time to the Nelson Mandela International Day resolution, and then again to the International Day of Peace resolution. At the end of 2019, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.R.5517. This bill had the same goals as the previous Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative legislation Lewis introduced. However, Lewis amended the bill to include rhetoric affirming the altruistic intentions of the U.S. in collaboration with India. The 116th congressional session is still unfolding. This is an opportunity for other congressional leaders to pass the initiative Lewis pushed for over a decade.

Aside from his decades of success in public service and activism, John Lewis’s persistence in the congressional fight for global equity has paved the way for future lawmakers. John Lewis thought and acted as a global citizen. Despite setbacks and congressional stalemate, Lewis consistently and creatively committed the U.S. to the advancement of conditions for the world’s poor. Lewis leaves behind a legacy of care and compassion, ready for the next generation of American citizens and politicians to adopt.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Flickr

Global Hope ActCancer is regarded as the leading cause of death in children globally. However, in developing countries, only 20% of cancer cases are cured. In December 2019, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced H.R. 5338 – Global Hope Act of 2019 to create international partnerships to address this issue of global childhood cancer.

The Childhood Cancer Crisis in Developing Countries

Every year, over 300,000 children under the age of 20 are diagnosed with cancer. In most cases, cancer is treatable, and yet, there is an extreme disparity in cancer prevention and treatment services available to children living in high-income nations versus middle and low-income nations. While more than 80% of childhood cancer cases in developed countries are cured, in developing countries only 20% of children diagnosed with cancer recover.

Poverty, ranging from the individual to the national level, creates challenges for acquiring the proper care for children with cancer. The cost of cytotoxics and medical visits may prove to be unaffordable for families that already struggle financially. Clinics and hospitals that offer treatment are sometimes inaccessible to cancer patients that live in rural areas and do not have reliable transportation. Providing lower-cost cancer drugs and services and expanding reach can create more opportunities for overcoming cancer in children in middle and low-income areas.

The Goals of the Global Hope Act of 2019

H.R. 5338 was first introduced on December 6, 2019 and was passed and sent to the Senate within two months. This bill has 20 co-sponsors and authorizes the Secretary of State to develop partnerships in research and finance with international institutions that seek to fight childhood cancer on a global scale. The text of the Global Hope Act of 2019 emphasizes that not only should infectious disease prevention and treatment be a priority for the United States, but also non-communicable diseases including cancer.

The primary objectives of the Global Hope Act of 2019 are to strengthen U.S. political commitment to global childhood cancer efforts. The policy includes supporting the expansion of medical infrastructure, increasing available technologies and medicines for childhood cancer treatment and expanding the number of trained healthcare workers. The passage of the bill would promote collaboration with the United Nations, the World Health Organization and other institutions in order to minimize the childhood cancer mortality rate.

Supporting the mission of the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer, which was launched in 2018, would fall under the enactment of H.R. 5338. The initiative aims to increase the global survival rate of children with cancer to at least 60% by 2030, through raising awareness of the problem and assisting the governments of developing nations with cancer healthcare for their children. The initiative’s target is to aid 12 to 15 countries by the end of the year.

Results in Peru

The Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer has already proven to be effective in Peru. Designated as one of the initiative’s focus countries in 2019, Peru now has a pediatric cancer plan, which seeks to increase efforts to diagnose childhood cancer cases earlier, develop a national pediatric cancer registry, improve treatment services and decrease treatment abandonment rates.

Backing the WHO goals to increase childhood cancer survival rates as laid out in the Global Hope Act of 2019, could help create further progress in the work of the initiative.

The Future of the Global Hope Act of 2019

The Global Hope Act of 2019 is currently under review by the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Senate. Co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) stressed the importance of H.R. 5338 in his statement following the House vote in January: “We have made incredible progress reducing childhood cancer mortality in America. The Global Hope Act will extend that success to developing nations by expanding pediatric medical training, treatments, and technologies to countries that need our help.” Continued movement of the bill in the Senate has the potential to provide significant support to many children battling cancer, especially those in impoverished countries.

– Ilana Issula
Photo: Wikimedia

Impact global poverty
Many non-governmental organizations that work to fight global poverty ask for donations, including The Borgen Project. When someone is living paycheck to paycheck, even donating a dollar can seem like too much. In 2017, about 78% of workers in the United States reported that they are living paycheck to paycheck. What can individuals do if they want to make an impact but don’t feel they have the capital to do so? Here are five ways to impact global poverty without spending money.

Stay Informed

The United Nations published a piece called “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.” One of the organization’s recommendations of something everyone can do from their couch is to stay informed on the issues they want to impact. Unfortunately, misinformation can actually harm global poverty. The UN Foundation reported that many people think global poverty has been increasing when, in actuality, it has been cut in half. Staying informed is important in recognizing the common myths about global poverty and informing others.

Volunteer Time

The Face and Voices of Recovery Organization, the Charities Aid Foundation and the UN recommend volunteering as a way to impact causes without spending money. In 2018, the Charities Aid Foundation reported that 39% of people in the United States volunteered their time. In addition, UN volunteers wrote that volunteering can be formal or informal. People can work directly with an organization to impact global poverty, like offering to create digital media for the cause. Alternatively, they can work informally by putting posters about the cause around their community.

Spread Awareness

Another way to impact global poverty is by spreading awareness. In addition to volunteering, the organizations above suggest sharing information about the cause on social media. Heather Weathers, the director of communications at HopeKids Incorporation, wrote a report about how social media is a place where people can first get involved with supporting a cause. Of those who are social media supporters, 37% use those sites to learn more about the organization and cause they’re supporting.

Call and/or Email Congress

If you speak up, your local legislators will keep track. Every time someone calls or emails about a specific bill, Congress members keep a tally of the number of people who voiced support for or rejected the bill. You can find your representatives by putting your ZIP code into the House of Representatives’s “Find Your Representatives” page. The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote an article providing tips for anyone considering calling Congress. The article reported that reaching out to local representatives, researching the issue first and being concise are some good ways to go about calling Congress. Similarly, there is a wealth of templates online for anyone interested in emailing Congress, including The Borgen Project website.

Inspire Others to Give

There are also ways to impact global poverty by convincing others to donate. One donation strategy, for which Facebook created a platform in 2017, is the concept of donating your birthday. This process includes choosing an organization and asking people to donate through either an online platform or fundraising letters. From 2018 to 2019, Facebook birthday donations raised about $1 billion for charities.

Even when someone is unable to fight against poverty financially, there are other ways to support the cause. Being informed, volunteering, spreading awareness, contacting Congress and inspiring others to give are all ways someone can impact global poverty without spending money.

– Melody Kazel
Photo: Flickr

 Global Poverty ActThe U.S. is heading towards a historically unique presidential election later this year. In the lead up to this November, it’s important to know how Joe Biden has helped fight global poverty. Specifically, Biden’s actions with the Global Poverty Act of 2007 demonstrate his commitment to increasing national security by combating poverty.

Biden’s Political Background

Before he became Vice President in 2009, Biden served in the U.S. Senate for over three decades. During this time, Biden was a ranking member and two-year chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Throughout his political career, Biden has supported foreign aid and implemented U.S. programs to help those in need. 

In the spring of 2007, Representative Adam Smith introduced the Global Poverty Act of 2007 to the U.S. House. The bill passed in September 2007 with bipartisan support and moved onto the Senate. Senator Barack Obama and two other senators introduced the bill in December 2007; Biden co-sponsored the bill and added minor amendments. The official bill saw no further action following its proposal on April 24, 2008.

What was the Global Poverty Act?

The Global Poverty Act aimed to make fighting global poverty the main goal of U.S. foreign policy. The bill itself did not detail a specific plan to combat global poverty. Rather, the bill ordered the President and Secretary of State to draft and implement a plan. The bill stated that the President’s strategy must have detailed goals, reasonable timelines, and include consistent progress reports to Congress.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Global Poverty Act of 2007 would cost less than $1 million per year and would not order new spending, meaning that the plan could be implemented with minor changes to the fiscal budget. As foreign assistance is less than one percent of the federal budget, implementing this plan would have a major impact on the world with minimal monetary changes. 

The bill argued that it is America’s duty to help those in need. Moreover, solving global poverty would help combat terrorism and strengthen national security. This legislation stated that Congress had already taken steps to fight global poverty, but the executive branch could do more. In particular, Congress established goals that cut the number of people who live on less than $1 a day, lack reliable food, drinking water, and sanitation in half.

Wider Impact

The initiatives mentioned above were part of the Millennium Development Goals formed in 2000. These goals were not yet achieved by 2007. Consequently, The House introduced the Global Poverty Act to emphasizing the need to combat global poverty and make progress on these goals. The bill also emphasized the need to invest in U.S. programs that help reduce global poverty. In particular, these programs increase debt relief for poverty-stricken countries, promote sustainable development, and emphasize the need for future action. By putting fighting global poverty at the front of the presidential agenda, it would show other countries that they should do the same.

The 2008 Recession likely contributed to the bill stalling. At that time, Congress was focused on drafting domestic legislation. Although the House never implemented that Global Poverty Act of 2007, Biden’s involvement shows he understands fighting global poverty is an important aspect of U.S. national security. In essence, Biden’s involvement with the Global Poverty Act suggests he will use the executive branch to help combat poverty if elected this coming fall.

Jacquelyn Burrer

Photo: Obama White House Archives

Childhood Cancer in Developing Countries
Although people have made significant progress in treating communicable diseases in childhood, one cannot say the same about reducing childhood cancer in developing countries. In fact, many did not consider it a public health problem in the developing world until recently. The mortality rate is currently an alarming 80 percent in developing countries with 160,000 new cases each year. Tragically, many could receive treatment from generic medications if they receive the right foreign aid according to Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. Children with cancer living in low to middle-income countries are four times as likely to die of their disease as children living in high-income countries. 

Challenges Ahead

In order to reduce morbidity rates from childhood cancer in developing countries, people on the ground will face significant challenges. U.S. researchers reported that the median cost for 15 different generic drugs was only $120 in South Africa and $654 in the U.S., yet many people cannot even afford the lowest drug prices. The reason is that the drugs are actually more expensive when compared to per capita GDP (the average person’s total economic output). In Australia, generic drug prices were 8 percent of per capita GDP compared to 33 percent in India. The question of how many people will be unable to receive treatment despite lower drug prices remains. Another challenge is that many children will have already reached the late stages of the disease and perhaps even have comorbid HIV as with the Burkitt lymphoma trial in Malawi. The trial failed to reach two-thirds the cure rate of developing countries despite patients receiving intensive chemotherapy treatment.

New Legislation Passed

Yet there is hope. The U.S. House of Representatives has recently passed a bill to address the issue. McCaul and Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel introduced the Global Hope Act of 2019 and demonstrated that the two parties are still capable of swiftly passing bipartisan legislation despite increased polarization in the country.

The congressmen introduced the bill on December 10, 2019, and the House passed the bill on January 27, 2020. The bill aims to improve the survival rate of children living with cancer in developing countries. It will support the Global Health Organization’s initiative to increase the survival rate of children with cancer to 60 percent by 2030.

How it Works

One of the main focal points of the bill is improving the availability and cost of existing medicines and developing new ones. People have already developed much of the infrastructure from previous aid directed toward communicable diseases, but the bill seeks to enhance infrastructure as well. As outlined by the foreign affairs committee’s press release, the bill will help increase the survival rate of children with cancer by:

  • Supporting efforts to train medical personnel and develop healthcare infrastructure to diagnose, treat, and care for children with cancer
  • Leveraging private sector resources to increase the availability of cancer medicines
  • Improving access to affordable medicines and technology that are essential to cancer treatment
  • Coordinating with international partners to expand research efforts to develop affordable cancer medicines and treatments

Childhood cancer is the second leading cause of death in childhood worldwide, second only to accidents. Though the issue remained in the shadow of communicable diseases for years, people are starting to take notice. The new legislation passed in the house addresses many of the barriers to a high survival rate for childhood cancer in developing countries.

– Caleb Carr
Photo: United Nations

Mobilizing Congress Matters In today’s society, most people think it won’t make a difference when they are asked to vote or contact Congress. However, this is not the case. Congress is “the People’s Branch,” meaning that Congress is supposed to be representative of the people. Every single member of Congress is elected into office by their constituents; therefore, they can be elected out as well. So, they pay close attention to the demands of their citizens. They make frequent trips back home to stay in touch with their constituents. The staff of these representatives dedicates a lot of time to reviewing mail from citizens. Members of Congress keep in touch with local officials and attend meetings with their constituents. The nature of this job ensures that mobilizing Congress matters because a congressperson’s position is entirely dependent on the will of the people.

The Misconception

Recent data indicates that the reason the majority of people don’t vote is that they either don’t care or don’t think their vote matters. In fact, a 2008 survey showed that 13.4 percent of people were not interested in voting. Socioeconomic status and cultural norms have proven to affect whether people believe mobilizing Congress matters. Some are taught that it is expected that they vote in order to make a difference in the country. Other people, however, believe that “politics is a kind of abstract, dirty business. So, a lot of people come to adulthood with a different understanding of their place in the political system.”

Inequalities reinforce themselves throughout every aspect of life. If someone is from a highly affluent community, they are likely to associate with people who believe in voting. This may inspire them to go out and vote. Whereas, those in poorer communities are more apt to believe that their voice doesn’t matter. This creates a pattern in these communities. Members from wealthier communities continue to show up to elections, but members from poorer communities are underrepresented. Conversely, residents from affluent areas see their preferences being represented. However, preferences from struggling areas continue to go ignored.

Past Mobilization Victories

Mobilizing Congress matters, and the historical record shows it. The following are two examples of global poverty reduction movements that succeeded thanks to U.S. citizens rallying together to enforce change.

  • The Global Security Food Act was signed into law by President Obama on July 20, 2016. The law works to make getting food to the world’s poor as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. The Global Security Food Act faced an uphill battle. However, it was the power of mobilization that turned this bill into law. Thousands of people wrote letters to their congressional officials in support of the bill. More than 270,000 people showed up to the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day Event. In June 2015, 86,000 citizens signed a petition, and more than 34,000 people called their representatives in support of the bill. These voices were heard. The House of Representatives passed the bill in a majority of 369 to 53.
  • The Water for the World Act was signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2014. This law seeks to address the issue of 2.5 million people who do not have access to toilets and more than 750 million people who do not have clean drinking water. The mobilization of Congress played a key role in this act’s passage. Organizations like WaterAid worked tirelessly alongside non-profit and faith-based organizations to get people to lobby Congress. Congress recognized the efforts of these groups and individuals, which culminated in its unanimous passage in both houses of Congress.

Congress Wants to Hear from its Citizens

Politicians have always been aware of the power a constituent’s voice holds. One of America’s first Congressmen, Thomas Jefferson, held that “the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents.” Jefferson believed that the government functioned only by the will of the people.

Furthermore, it is Congress’ job to represent its citizens. Therefore, congressmen need to hear from their constituents to make their preferences known. The conversations congressmen have with their people guide policymaking. Members of Congress also look at letters and e-mails that have personal touches to see what issues citizens are passionate about. Members of Congress want to stay in touch with their people and they are willing to use modern technological innovations to do it.

Mobilizing Congress matters! Congress says it, the historical record indicates it and Congress’ job description requires it. However, it is up to the people of the U.S. to take advantage of it.

Gabriella Gonzalez
Photo: Wikimedia

Corruption Around the World
Corruption, which Transparency International defines as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain,” is one of the most significant roadblocks facing developing countries today. The World Bank points out that corruption disproportionately hurts the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, increasing the cost and reducing access to basic services like health care, justice and education. According to a 2017 survey by Transparency International, 25 percent of respondents worldwide said they had to pay a bribe to access a public service within the last 12 months. According to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, bribery and stolen money drain the global economy of $3.6 billion every year.

This past June 2019, congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN9), along with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, introduced legislation to the House of Representatives designed to crack down on corruption around the world. The bill, titled the Kleptocrat Exposure Act, seeks to expose actors on the international stage who have attempted to undermine democracy or have promoted corruption around the world and to punish those actors with various sanctions. This article will explore the history of U.S. and international efforts to combat corruption around the world, before examining the details of congressman Cohen’s legislation.

The History of Global Anti-Corruption Efforts

In the late 1990s, regional groups of states began to sign anti-corruption treaties. In 1996, a group of Latin American states entered into the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. Since its adoption in 1999, dozens of African countries have signed the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. However, the most comprehensive and far-reaching international anti-corruption treaty is the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which went into force in 2005. One hundred and eighty-six countries around the world have ratified the Convention, which has pressured 86 percent of its signatories to adopt tougher anti-corruption measures.

U.S. efforts to fight corruption around the world started with the Foreign Corrupt Services Act, which it enacted in 1977. The Act prohibits U.S. individuals and firms, as well as certain foreign individuals and firms operating on U.S. soil, from making bribes to foreign officials in order to advance a business deal. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has worked on the ground with foreign governments to strengthen their ability to resist corruption. For instance, the INL worked with the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior to replace the country’s notoriously corrupt police force with 16,000 new patrol police.

The Kleptocrat Exposure Act

Steve Cohen introduced the Kleptocrat Exposure Act to the House of Representatives on June 24, 2019. The Act, which has four Republican and two Democratic co-sponsors, has entered the House Judiciary Committee for debate and has yet to enter to the House as a whole. The Act primarily aims to amend another piece of legislation called the Immigration and Nationality Act. In its current form, the Immigration and Nationality Act generally keeps information about visa refusals confidential, but with certain exceptions, such as when information about an immigrant’s visa status is necessary in cases going before a court.

However, this amendment would allow the Secretary of State to release information to the public regarding visa refusals to foreign individuals who have committed human rights violations or corruption. Under the Kleptocrat Exposure Act, the Secretary of State’s release of information about an individual’s visa refusal would have to be based on credible evidence that:

  • The individual carried out “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” against people trying to promote democracy or expose corruption within their country.
  • The individual acted as an agent for a person described above.
  • The individual himself was a government official in his/her country who participated in some act of corruption, such as “the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, bribery, or the facilitation or transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign jurisdictions.”
  • The individual provided technological, financial or material support for one of the acts of corruption described above.

According to Skopos Labs estimates, the bill only has a three percent chance of becoming reality. However, the fact that this legislation has at least some bipartisan support could be a sign that U.S. lawmakers might be starting to recognize the U.S.’s role in exposing and punishing human rights abusers and kleptocrats. Even if the legislation fails in Congress on its first try, the Kleptocrat Exposure Act could just be the first step towards more sustained policy efforts to get the U.S. more involved in cracking down on corruption around the world.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Kamala Harris's foreign policy

With such a broad field of candidates in the Democratic Primary, twenty in all, it is difficult to identify and to process the political positions of the various candidates. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has spoken on her positions on many topics including a $15 minimum wage and tax-cuts to the middle class. One issue that has not yet been discussed at length is Senator Kamala Harris’ foreign policy platform. Like many of the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, Harris does not have any direct foreign policy experience. As a former district attorney of San Francisco and later the attorney general of California, Harris holds strong experience and policy stances in regards to domestic policy. Harris currently holds opinions on the following issues: U.S. and Israel Relations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, direct U.S. involvement abroad, and North Korea.

U.S. and Israel Relations

Harris is a long-time supporter of strong relations between the U.S. and Israel, a topic that has become contentious within the Democratic Party. In 2017, Harris cosponsored a Senate resolution that challenged an earlier resolution from the U.N. Security Council which called for an end to the expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank region. This particular Senate resolution stated that it felt that the U.N. resolution condemned the state of Israel as a whole and not just the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. In the past, Harris has stated that she believes in a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and that she supports U.S. backed discussion between the two states. It is too early to tell, but Kamala Harris’s foreign policy platform will likely include a continuation of her support for a two-state solution with an emphasis on a continued relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Senator Harris, along with senators from both parties, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP was introduced at the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016 and was promptly withdrawn by President Trump in Jan. 2017. The deal would have connected the U.S. in a formal trade agreement with Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. The agreement had the potential to increase U.S. trade and investment abroad. Harris’ own reasons for voting against the TPP include her belief that the agreement was not as apparent as it should have been to garner the full support and trust of the U.S. and that she found its intended changes to invalidate “California’s landmark climate change and environmental laws.” It is currently unclear if Harris intends to advocate for a re-entry of the U.S. into the TPP under revised conditions.

Direct Involvement Abroad: Syria and Yemen

In February of 2019, Harris voted against a Senate resolution proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that admonished President Trump’s removal of U.S. troops from Syria. Senator Harris did not publically explain her vote but may have been motivated by a desire to remove U.S. troops from Syria or a reluctance to be associated with a military presence that had not been authorized by Congress. Harris has also been vocal in her disapproval of U.S. support of a Saudi-led intervention in Yemen stating that she “believes we must reassert our constitutional authority to authorize war and conduct oversight.”

North Korea

Senator Harris has not made any direct statements regarding her planned approach to the rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea but has declared that she disapproves of President Trump’s current approach to the situation. Along with eighteen other senators, Harris signed a letter to President Trump in 2018 stating that he did not have the legal authority to declare a strike on North Korea. From such a statement alongside her other positions in regard to U.S. foreign involvement in conflict abroad, Senator Harris’ foreign policy platform will likely include an emphasis on the power of Congress.

Though it is still early in the Democratic primary and many of the candidates have not yet discussed their foreign policy platforms, the above descriptions of the history of Senator Harris’ foreign policy positions will certainly guide the debates to follow.

– Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr