Infotmation and stories on Obama administration

Iran nuclear dealThe United States’ involvement with the Iran nuclear deal is up in the air, as President Trump has made his fair share of criticism of it. Support for the Iran deal is split down party lines, with most Democrats being in favor of it and most Republicans being against it.

Put into effect in 2015 during the Obama administration, the 100-page Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, mandates Iran to cease nuclear development for the next decade and seeks to take apart nuclear sites in the country. In exchange, Iran will receive sanctions relief on a gradual basis as they follow the agreement. Some of the terms of the agreement include removing two-thirds of Iran’s 19,000 centrifuges and the destruction of Iran’s stockpile of uranium.

According to U.S. officials, European allies and the United Nations, Iran has been following the deal. For the Trump administration, this is not good enough. While not violating any terms in the agreement, Iran has reportedly been testing ballistic missiles and supporting militant groups in Syria and Yemen.

During an interview with Fox News, President Trump stated that the deal was done “out of weakness, when actually we had great strength.” The administration is looking to strengthen the provisions of the deal or back out of it entirely.

For those who support the deal, much of the concern lies with their belief that dropping out of it will hurt the United States’ global governance and influence. In an interview with Kasie Hunt on MSNBC, Senator Al Franken said that with European allies, Russia and China having no intentions of abandoning the Iran deal. It would only isolate the United States and “undercut” our leadership in the world.

“If the United States desires to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran, I say they should remain,” said Desiree Hendrix, a political science graduate from the University of Delaware. Hendrix also believes that leaving the Iran deal could jeopardize the United States’ global influence because of its status as being part of the big five in the U.N., and the U.S. would not be able to just assume further alliances with Europe due to its current fragile state.

The House of Representatives will vote on whether the United States will remain in the Iran nuclear deal next week.

– Blake Chambers

Photo: Google

President Obama's Visit to Greece: Talking Economy and Refugees
As the year comes to a close, President Obama embarks on one last official trip to Europe. One of the stops is Athens, Greece. In his two-day trip, he addresses the future of the country.

President Obama’s visit to Greece sparked a lot of debate about the country’s economic recovery and well as social issues. In the president’s opinion, Greece needs continued debt relief in order to fully stabilize the economy and ensure a prosperous future.

Greece has endured an economic crisis for the past eight years. The crisis began after years of understating the national debt caused the financial markets to deny loan money to the country. By 2010, Greece was moving towards bankruptcy. In order to salvage the economy, Greece received bailouts. As of today, it has been given 274 billion in bailout loans since May 2010. There have also been numerous economic reforms that have caused unrest among the Greek population.

President Obama spoke on the discontent of the Greek people. He argues that other than debt relief, “people need to see hope.” Drawing on the example of Brexit earlier this summer and the recent American election he says, “If people feel that they’re losing control of their future, they will push back.” The “push back” in Greece has been readily present since the beginning of the economic crisis.

The two bailouts given to Greece have come with austerity measures which have been met with anger. The first program included salary cuts of public-sector workers and increase sales tax. The second program increased taxes on certain goods and included pension reforms. As a response, citizens continue to have demonstrations and often clash with law enforcement which has ended in violence.

In anticipation of President Obama’s visit to Greece, a peaceful protest in Athens turned violent when supposed anarchist threw rocks and Molotov cocktails in support of anti-capitalism. “No Hope” was written on buildings.

Nonetheless, President Obama will actively continue to encourage creditors to provide debt relief so Greece can achieve a sustainable economy once again. He also praised Greece for opening up its border to refugees even in the midst of an economic crisis. President Obama said “The Greek people’s generosity towards refugees arriving on your shores has inspired the world. That doesn’t mean that you should be left on your own, and only a truly collective response by Europe and the world can ensure that these desperate people receive the support that they need.”

President Obama’s visit to Greece encouraged continued debt relief to rehabilitate the economy and bring hope to the Greek people.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

Obama Administration to Combat Human Trafficking
Established in March 2012, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF) actively works to alleviate impacts and rates of human trafficking on both domestic and international levels. Initiatives to increase adherence to the rule of law, victim service provisions, analysis of supply and procurement chains and public awareness are central to the mission of the task force.

The task force aims to put an end to human trafficking through coordinated efforts among leaders across the board in dimensions such as academics, religious communities, the private sector and survivors of modern slavery.

In his last address to the PITF during Obama’s administration, Secretary Kerry emphasized the depth of destruction caused by human trafficking’s impact on “every single thing we are trying to accomplish in the field of development.” Kerry also condemned the “multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise” that is human trafficking, while emphasizing the necessity of mobilizing resources to combat illicit activity.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resumes responsibility for another anti-human trafficking initiative called the Blue Campaign created during the Obama administration. It acts as a conduit for collaboration between law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations to enhance public awareness and unify investigative efforts.

Created in 2012, the public-private partnership called the Partnership for Freedom is another program developed during the Obama administration. This initiative offers financial support for innovative victim services as well as grants for tech communities to hinder illicit activity.

When the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking was created in 2015, its establishment emboldened invaluable expertise that human trafficking survivors had attained through their experiences. Composed of 11 survivors, these individuals lend policy advice to the PITF, integrating diversity and personal expertise to the future of anti-human trafficking efforts.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Power Africa Initiative
President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative is looking to solve a monster problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where two out of three people lack access to electricity. Power Africa suggests “ambitious but achievable” goals, including the creation of 60 million new electricity connections and 30,000 megawatts of new and cleaner power.

According to President Barack Obama, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity.” With Power Africa, the U.S. is investing in Africa’s potential. Obama has brought together private and public organizations, political leaders and power generation experts with the goal of improving peoples’ quality of life and stimulating economic growth.

USAID’s goal with the Power Africa Initiative has been “to remove barriers that impede sustainable development.” A recent article in Bloomberg, however, claims that after three years, those barriers are still in place.

Writers Toluse Olorunnipa and Tope Alake cite evidence that Power Africa “has fallen well short of its goals, so far producing less than 5 percent of the new power generation it promised.” They highlight political dysfunction, policy bundling and economic hurdles as major obstacles to progress.

USAID, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, is aiming to implement policy and regulatory reforms, and the Department of Energy has partnered with the Clean Energy Solutions Center in the Power Africa Initiative to “help governments design and adopt policies and programs that support the deployment of clean energy technologies.”

With over 120 public and private partners, the Power Africa Initiative has the potential to make an enormous impact in the African continent, despite the bleak progress reported.

In September 2016, President Obama argued that progress is being made, citing successes involving “solar power and natural gas in Nigeria; off-grid energy in Tanzania; people in rural Rwanda gaining electricity.”

Obama went on to say that the global community must continue to invest in Africa’s youth in order to build upon the progress that has already been made. It may be that maximizing investment in Africa’s young people will “spur Africa’s energy revolution.”

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to assume office, his choice of cabinet members is demonstrating a philosophical shift in foreign policy. It is uncertain at this point whether the incoming U.S. administration will continue to support international development projects such as Power Africa.

As long as funding continues, however, the initiative will continue to make an impact.

Tim Devine

Photo: Flickr

President Obama spoke about the importance of advancing global development at the White House Summit on Global Development this past July. He focused his speech on development as a “key pillar” of his foreign policy and reassured that it would remain so for the next president.

The Obama Administration has funded global projects such as reducing poverty and encouraging global economic growth and stability. These programs add to former President George W. Bush’s efforts to focus on fighting global disease through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

According to the official White House website, Obama’s U.S. Global Development Policy that he issued in 2010 was the first time that “global development was elevated, on par with diplomacy and defense as a core pillar” of U. S. policy. Following Bush, Obama and his administration have continued to focus on solving global issues throughout his time in office.

The Washington Post cites the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future program as one of its successes. The agriculture-based program supported 9 million farmers and increased their sales by more than $800 million. The Global Food Security Act will systematize the program so that its impact extends long past the Obama Administration.

Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, wrote in a Huffington Post article about why it is so important that Obama is dedicated to development. “Development is not a charity – it is a prudent investment in the security and prosperity of us all,” she wrote. Development is an investment that helps to stabilize global conditions and to create opportunities.

Rice wrote that Obama’s White House Summit on Global Development will help to support global economic growth, to improve food security and nutrition, to improve global health, and to invest in leadership. The programs already supporting these causes, like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Feed the Future, will all help to eradicate poverty and secure a prosperous future through the continued support of global leaders and organizations.

Obama’s White House Summit on Global Development will hopefully mobilize already existing aid and development programs of all kinds. With goals to advance development in a variety of ways, the Summit will hopefully help to expedite poverty reduction efforts and stabilize global conditions.

Addie Pazzynski

Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality
President Obama recently penned an article on gender equality, highlighting the strides made over his past two terms.

President Obama’s article appeared in a recent issue of Glamour Magazine. In it, he detailed the upbringing he had (raised by both his single mother and grandmother) that influenced his feminist views. He also discusses his successes and failures as a father, admitting that there were times when the pressures of raising two daughters often fell to his wife while he was off pursuing his career.

He cites the changes that have already been made in the past 50 years: from women gaining the right to vote to the ability to achieve financial independence, or being nominated as a major party’s presidential candidate for the first time.

Still, there is work to be done.

In the past eight years, during his Presidency, Obama has made concrete steps towards promoting equality amongst all genders. According to a White House press release, President Obama has created the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as appointed the White House Advisor on Violence against Women, the Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s issues, and two female Supreme Court justices.

Furthermore, when he signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he ensured that insurance companies could no longer charge higher premiums based solely on sex. More recently, with the help of Vice President Joe Biden, Obama has launched the It’s On Us campaign to help change the conversation and stigma surrounding sexual assault.

Obama’s gender equality policies extend beyond the domestic, however. Abroad, he and the First Lady launched Let Girls Learn in March of 2015, which aims to bridge the disconnect between adolescent girls and access to quality education.

Prior to that, in 2011, he announced Executive Order 13595 and the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. This act aims “to support women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.”

Already, the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals have achieved equality in primary education for girls and boys. The hope is that the new Sustainable Development Goals (launched in 2015) will take this a step further.

On its website, the U.N. explains why gender equality is so important: “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

With nearly 842 million people suffering from chronic hunger, the role of the United States in eradicating global poverty is becoming more important.

President Obama’s Feed the Future program aims to “strengthen food security and nutrition for millions of people by focusing on the smallholder farmers at the foundation of the world’s agriculture system.” USAID reported that targeting the agricultural sector, like the program does, is “at least twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.”

Initiatives similar to Obama’s Feed the Future give the appearance that the United States is doing enough for the poor globally. The Center for Global Development produces an annual report called “The Commitment to Development” Index, which rates a country’s finance, technology, environment, trade, security, migration and overall aid in the past year. The United States was ranked 21 out of 27 developed countries, which puts them in the bottom third based on foreign aid.

While ranked 6th in both trade and security aid, the Center for Global Development rated the United States as 27th and 26th in the finance and environment aid categories. That puts the most prominent developed nation behind countries in economic snafus like Greece and Ireland in those categories. The data analysis blames the low ranking on “improper environmental monitoring and a low score on the Financial Secrecy Index.”

A PhD student from Stanford University named Lauren Prather researched why countries like the United States post such low foreign aid numbers. Her study compared a population’s desire to give with the amount that was actually given. In the end, she found “a clear relationship between citizens’ support for foreign aid and the amount their country gives.”

Does that mean that the average person in the United States is not doing enough for the poor globally? Prather conducted another study measuring an American’s chance of providing aid based on where it is going. Prather a survey of 1000 people and found that “A majority of Americans supported giving both food and money to their conationals, while a majority supported cutting both entirely for foreigners.”

Prather’s research and “The Commitment to Development” Index reveal the United States’ lack of urgency when it comes providing foreign aid. In addition, a Gallup poll released in 2014 shows that African approval of U.S. leadership dropped to a record low of 59 percent.

Research indicates that procrastinating the objective of poverty eradication is a threat to the global political and economic order. “The weaknesses of poor states could destabilize the entire international system,” asserts Vincent Ferraro, author of a Wilson Center report titled “Should Global Poverty be a U.S. National Security Issue?”

The perception that the United States is doing enough for the poor globally via foreign aid is quickly corrected by research and data done by several organizations. Programs supported by USAID like Feed the Future can provide another way forward in the global arena of poverty relief. Ferraro concludes by saying, “A reformulation of the national interest to include global interests is necessary because our world scarcely resembles that of 17th century Europe.”

Jacob Hess

Photo: Flickr

Electrify Africa
President Obama has signed into law the Electrify Africa Act of 2015, which will bring electricity to millions in Africa.

About two-thirds of people in Africa do not have access to reliable power, according to BBC News. The Electrify Africa Act will establish a strategy to help sub-Saharan countries implement power solutions to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.

For people without electricity, simple tasks such as cooking or reading are complicated without a light source at night. Many people in Africa are also unable to use modern technologies, like cell phones or computers, or do basic tasks such as refrigerating food and medicine.

The lack of electricity causes some families in Africa to use fossil fuels or charcoal, which has a negative effect on the environment and health.

According to BBC News, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce stated that this initiative will “improve the lives of millions in sub-Saharan Africa by helping to reduce reliance on charcoal and other toxic fuel sources that produce fumes that kill more than HIV/Aids and malaria combined.”

Electrify Africa
Power Africa was launched by President Obama in 2013. It took nearly two years for it to pass through the Senate and House of Representatives and become the Electrify Africa Act of 2015.

The U.S. initially invested $7 billion in the project but that number has since risen to nearly $43 billion. According to Voice of America, the high cost of energy in sub-Saharan Africa makes producing exports impossible, so it would be beneficial to the U.S. to help Africa become a major trading partner.

In addition to the U.S. government, African governments and private companies are involved in the development of the Power Africa initiative. The Electrify Africa Act provides a framework for companies to invest in African energy solutions.

The long-term goal is to double the amount of electricity available to people in sub-Saharan Africa, bringing electricity to 50 million people in the region by 2020.

Kaitlyn Arford

Sources: BBC, Christian Science Monitor, Voice of America

When it comes to the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), the United States’ sugar subsidies may not leave a sweet taste.

Touted by the U.S. government as a deal intended to alleviate barriers to fair trade amongst 12 countries lining the pacific rim, the TPP has met considerable backlash in congress this summer.

Many in Washington on both sides of the aisle have alleged that the TPP is full of deals that favor US corporations in lieu of global interests—especially when it comes to the global sugar market.

As the Obama administration was drafting the TPP, which is said to focus on redoing trade barriers such as tariffs and strict market controls between Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand and the US (among others), the sugar lobby was also tightening their hold in Washington.

The sugar support program currently protects the interest of growers in the United States by heavily inflating the costs of domestic sugar. The going world price for sugar is 10.94 cents; the price in the United States is more than double that, at 24.45 cents according to the August 2015 future commodities market.

Logically, this might seem as if it would actually help foreign sugar growers in places such as Mexico. If they are able to sell their cane at a lower price the US should present an readily available market.

Instead, there is a great deal of red tape that surrounds sugar importation into the United States: less and less foreign sugar is allowed to make it into the United States every year, which can spell catastrophe for the exports of developing countries

“Mexico struck a preliminary deal in October to send less sugar to the U.S.,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. “The U.S. is the world’s fourth-largest sugar consumer and relies on its imports, most of which come from Mexico.”

What does this mean for the future of economic development in places like Mexico? As it stands, Mexico produces more sugar than it consumes increasing the necessity of selling the surplus on the global market.

Under the existing agreement, 300,000-to 400,000 tons of sugar sit idly in Mexican storehouses, doing nothing to help spark the Mexican economy. Since the NAFTA regulations were imposed (reaffirming U.S. sugar support) the number of people living in “food poverty in Mexico has grown from 18 million” to 20 million, according to Foreign Policy in Focus.

TPP, in theory, should eliminate the NAFTA tariffs and regulations. In practice, however, the sugar lobby continues to write enormous subsidy-saving checks in Washington.

“We can’t compete with our hands tied,” said mill owner Juan Cortina, who is also the head of Mexico’s sugar chamber. “The United States offers its sector certain benefits and we should have the same. If not there is no level playing field.”

In light of the previous NAFTA agreements, the U.N. has warned that the TPP could “aggravate global poverty” as trade deals worth about $300 billion are negotiated behind closed doors.

Now, in 2015 the doors are open, and the ever-powerful United States sugar lobby is public for everyone to see.

Emma Betuel

Sources: WSJ, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Herald Tribune, Spartanburg Herald Journal, San Diego News, Foreign Policy In Focus, Washington Post
Photo: MOMA

In 2013, President Barack Obama launched Power Africa, an $8 billion foreign aid program designed to help improve access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. It aimed to provide electricity to the region’s 961 million residents, who currently only use as much electricity as New York City. Two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity.

Power Africa is adding 60 million new electricity connections and is generating up to 30,000 megawatts of power in six countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. The project works with local and U.S. partners to improve regulations, build capacity and provide technical assistance. However, two years in, research has shown that Power Africa still faces major hurdles in its implementation.

In Kenya, for instance, the power grid infrastructure has rapidly expanded, covering most of the countryside. However, only 30 percent of Kenya, including just five percent of rural households, have power. Building a bigger infrastructure was not going to be a solution, researchers realized, because connecting to the power grid was much more expensive than what many households could afford. Moreover, Kenya lacked people who could design and construct electrical wiring. Even when a household bought a connection, it still took months to actually get electricity. When they finally did get power, it was extremely unreliable. Power outages would sometimes last for weeks at a time.

Power Africa has not brought any electricity to Nigeria at all. Bickering between government agencies, private companies and foreign governments has slowed projects down in a country that is not able to provide electricity to half of its population. Officials say there have only been conversations about potential projects in the future. The Obama administration has boasted of a few closed deals, but they had already been in the works before the Power Africa initiative.

In such countries, only the wealthy can afford electricity, which they get through the use of private generators. It has even become a status symbol to own one. However, private generators add to these countries’ worsening environmental problems.

President Barack Obama said, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by; the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs. And it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy. You’ve got to have power.”

The U.N. predicts that sub-Saharan Africans will make up nearly 25 percent of the world’s population by 2060. Ensuring that this generation has access to electricity in order to expand their economy, improve education and enhance living standards is important to mitigate poverty in future generations. Currently, blackouts are costing sub-Saharan Africa 2.1 percent of their GDP every year.

Radhika Singh

Sources: Reuters, USAID, NY Times 1, NY Times 2
Photo: NY Times