Infotmation and stories on Obama administration

obama_climate_change
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” – President Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 2013

This past October, only 67% of Americans believed that global warming is affecting the world, according to a pole by Pew Research Center. On a list of 20 world issues that the Congress and president needed to focus on, global warming ranked number 19 according to Americans.

In response to this, President Obama is currently working on a website that will enable Americans to view how the ever-changing climate is affecting their own regions and hometowns. John D. Podesta, Obama’s counselor, believes that “localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs actions. If you’re thinking…how your local community will be affected, it’s likely to change that question of salience.”

Podesta and John P. Holdren, the White House science adviser, formed the idea of climate.data.gov, which strives to illustrate data of calculated wildfires, dangerously rising sea levels and dry spells.

Their website is based on urgency and helping Americans to understand the necessity of focusing on the environment; it is also based on the necessity to prepare Americans for the affect that the damaged climate will have in the future. The Obama administration is currently helping governments to strengthen their methods of transportation, such as bridges, shorelines and roads, so that the local community would be protected from dangerous changes in weather that are more common because of the climate change.

Obama stated that one of the most important steps to alleviating climate change is to reinforce international relations. In doing so the US will work with other countries to find a global solution to this global challenge and spread action through major countries that contribute to pollution emissions.

In the beginning stages, Podesta and Holdren’s website will merely feature information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the United States Geological Survey and the Defense Department. They are expecting the first revealed page to primarily focus on sea levels and eroding and flooding coastal lines.

Most people are aware of Google Maps and Google Earth, Google’s projects in which you can locate most addresses on the globe, and they are considering mixing their ability to map with the government’s information on climate change and risk measurements.

With this website the US population will have a greater chance to understand the imminent danger that climate change is bringing, and they will also have a visual representation of the potential harm it could bring their states and hometowns.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: White House, The New York Times, Climate Action Plan
Photo: Politico

paul_ryan_war_on_poverty
Rep. Paul Ryan published a 204-page report that criticizes the U.S. government’s anti-poverty programs and proposes cuts to welfare expenditures.

Ryan (R-Wis.), who is also the chairman of the House Budget Committee, believes Washington should focus on reforming the welfare program and recommended “a sweeping overhaul of social programs,” according to the Washington Post.

“There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap,” said Ryan. “There is no coordination with these programs, and new ones are frequently being added without much consideration to how they affect other programs.”

Moreover, he continued, “This document is a precursor not only of our budget but of our larger project to introduce poverty reforms over the course of this year. The president may focus on inequality because he can’t talk about growth. We’re focused on upward mobility, speaking directly to people who have fallen through the cracks.”

The following day, however, President Obama unveiled a $3.9 trillion budget for next year. According to Investopedia, Obama’s budget would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help a million Americans get out of poverty.

“Under the new plan workers would get 15.3 cents credit for each dollar earned up to $6,570, for a maximum credit of $1,005,” said Investopedia. “That amount would be set until the worker earned $18,070.”

Unfortunately for Ryan, his report was not well received by many economists. Jared Bernstein said that it is misleading to tell the American people that anti-poverty programs result in even more poverty.

“While much of the commentary suggests that federal antipoverty efforts have failed and are fraught by wasteful duplication, the evidence – some of which is in here and much of which is conspicuously missing [sic] – belies that facile claim,” said Bernstein.

In the meantime, it is uncertain which direction Washington will take to address the growing inequality in America’s biggest cities as well as the poverty that is already present throughout the country. However, many economists who have more experience than Ryan believe that his report is inaccurate.

– Juan Campos

Sources: The Washington Post, Media Matters
Photo: Mother Jones

Drones_usa_covert_war
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released a comprehensive look at the United States’ drone program from 2009 to the present. Sketching its missteps and apparent successes, the United Kingdom-based nonprofit relates the story of the Barack Obama administration’s relationship with drones and brings clarity to an otherwise opaque issue.

Drone strikes began after 9/11, after the passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF.) This law enables the president to “take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the (U.S.).”

Since the act’s passage, both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations have launched hundreds of attacks on foreign soil.

By their count, over 390 covert drone strikes have killed more than 2,400 people thus far since Obama took office. Targeting Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Both civilians and militants have been killed.

Barack Obama first made use of drones just three days after the start of his presidency. While initial reports deemed it a success, information gathered later indicated that at least nine civilians were killed in the strike while the one 14-year-old survivor was blinded.

Instead of hitting a Taliban hideout, as intended, the drone struck a family household, killing a tribal elder and members of his family.

Although Obama was reportedly dismayed by the news, he has continued using drone strikes in much greater excess than his predecessor, although with greater rates of accuracy.

Under Obama, drone strikes have killed “six times as many people” than under Bush, but the casualties per strike has dropped from eight to six. Similarly, the civilian deaths have decreased as well, from three casualties per strike for Bush and only 1.43 casualties for Obama.

Some argue that drones help more than hinder anti-terrorism campaigns. As one Air Force officer expressed in the New York Times, “using them to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.”

Beyond their perceived benefits, mistaken drone strikes still rattle those who consider them immoral. In 2006, CIA drones killed at least 68 children located in a madrassa, or religious school.

Last month, drones attacked a convoy escorting a bride to her wedding. The U.S. has yet to comment on an attack that killed more than 15 civilians.

In September 2013, a law professor’s study found strikes harm global security and encourage other states and terrorist organizations to likewise arm themselves with unmanned weapons. As interest and concern over drones grow and the debate over their moral and unethical merits rage, the U.S. will carefully need to consider the cost of its continued employment.

Emily Bajet

Sources: The New York Times, Justice, The Bureau Investigates, GPO, The Guardian
Photo: RT

obama_state_of_the_union
United States President Barack Obama mentioned extreme poverty during the State of the Union address on January 28 while explaining that America’s leadership is in a better position than any other country to help the world.

The president said that the leadership of the U.S. is defined “by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, [and] to free people from fear and want.”

Obama made these references roughly one hour into the State of the Union address when discussing his administration’s stance on foreign policy. He said that his administration is proud of the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran and that he would not hesitate to use his power to protect America in case anything went wrong.

Although the U.S. is responsible for maintaining order and spreading democracy, according to Obama, the U.S. is also responsible when it comes to helping those in need.

“Across Africa, we’re bringing together business and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty,” said Obama.

But what exactly does this mean? Obama referred to is a USAID program named “Power Africa.”

USAID describes Power Africa as “a U.S. Government initiative that addresses one of the most pressing challenges to sustainable economic growth and development in sub-Saharan Africa – access to electrical power.” Obama announced this program during a visit to South Africa in 2013.

Under the program, the U.S. seeks to cooperate with African governments, the private sector, and international institutions such as the World Bank in order to “add more than 10,000 megawatts (MW) of clean, efficient electricity generation capacity.”

Obama also mentioned extreme poverty in last year’s State of the Union address. He said the U.S. would work to eliminate it within the next 20 years, according to an article by Think Progress.

Although Obama mentioned extreme poverty two years in a row, the contemporary U.S. Congress remains divided on many issues. Citizens may call their congressmen to help Capitol Hill unify and tackle the issue of poverty as well.

– Juan Campos

Sources: CBS News, Think Progress, USAID
Photo: Politico

merchant marines food aid
For some, the U.S. Merchant Marine represents an organization that shuttles American imports and exports around the world during peacetime while becoming a naval auxiliary during wartime. For others, they represent the largest obstacle to food aid reform.

Current food aid regulations stipulate that at least 80% of aid must be shipped by U.S. citizens on U.S. flagged vessels. Critics argue that needless money and time is spent hauling items around the world when food could be purchased locally in a much more timely fashion.

President Obama proposed a food aid overhaul in 2014’s fiscal budget that would reach an estimated 2 to 4 million more people within the year. Specifically, he wished to expand local and regional procurement procedures and food vouchers.

U.S. mariners were not amused by this proposal, however. When the food aid amendment attached to the farm bill reached the Congress floor, maritime lobbyists worked strenuously to ensure it wouldn’t pass, and succeeded.

The U.S. merchant marines provide a unique service for the United States. As they are not employed by United States military, they are able to service both the government and private sector.

The duality of their role in regard to the United States is significant for a number of reasons. The Navy League, a special interest group representing the U.S. maritime community, reports that they provide over 33,000 jobs for Americans, account for $1.9 million in economic output and $24 million in household earnings. Although food aid reformists argue that the shift in these numbers would be slight, by only a few hundred, Merchant Marine advocates contend that change would usher in the end of the merchant marines all together.

The Merchant Marine’s ability to transport troops and supplies during wartime, known as sealift, may be severely impacted if reform results in job loss. The U.S. Maritime Service was established by President Roosevelt in 1938 in anticipation of needed shipping vessels to both the European war front and Pacific Theater. The Merchant Marine provided invaluable service during the war, and current mariners argue that their services are still necessary.

Despite the mariners concerns, the Obama Administration has plans to counteract any negative effects the reform may usher in by providing aid directly to the U.S. Merchant Marine.

The administration proposes shifting $25 million of the efficiency savings that will be obtained through the food aid reform to the Department of Transportation’s Maritime administration. According to the White House International Food Aid Fact Sheet, this additional funding will provide a vehicle to support sustainment of militarily-useful vessels and a qualified pool of citizen merchant mariners.

Although this may not be the solution the merchant mariners were hoping for, the strong advocates for food aid reform may ensure that this is the best they can expect.

Emily Bajet

Sources: The Center for Public Integrity, U.S. Merchant Marine FAQ, The Maritime Executive, The White House: International Food Aid Fact Sheet
Photo: Giphy.com

Fast_For_Families
On the 11th day of a hunger strike, Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to a Fast for Families strike tent on the National Mall in Washington. The Vice President then prayed with the group and encouraged their efforts to bring immigration reform.

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill (S.744) in June. However, the House of Representatives has been deadlocked on the issue. Fast for Families supporters have vowed to fast until the House votes on the immigration reform bill that has already passed in the Senate. The Fast for Families effort in Washington is in conjunction with local fasts and events taking place in congressional districts all over the country.

The Vice President’s visit inspired the fasters as he addressed the crowd saying, “[w]e’re going to win this.” Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama have struggled to keep immigration issues in the spotlight since the President made a promise to bring immigration reform in his campaign.

Biden also said during his visit to the Fast for Families tent, that the 11 million undocumented men, women, and children working for citizenship are already Americans. Throughout the first eleven days, Fast for Families has been visited by many public officials including Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Fasters have vowed that they will continue fasting until they can no longer sustain themselves or are “medically prevented” from continuing. Long time immigration reform activists participating in the fast received the Vice President’s visit and message as inspiring. In fact, Biden’s visit, in connection with House Speaker John Boehner’s recent comments at a news conference on November 21 that immigration reform is not dead, has offered hope to immigration reform advocates and a sign that the change they hope for is coming.

For more information and Fast for Families updates, please visit fast4families.org.

Daren Gottlieb

Sources: Time, Los Angeles Times, Fast for Families
Photo: Media Heavy

Military_Intervention_In_Syria
On this past Halloween, Senators of the Committee on Foreign Relations met to address the real horrors faced in Syria with a definitive agenda of calling America to action. Ever since the use of chemical weapons by President Assad’s regime on August 21, 2013 was confirmed, the national and international community have been wondering when and if the Obama administration will act. The use of chemical weapons was Obama’s self-proclaimed “red line” for military action, and senators across party lines last Thursday sought to remind him of that.

The Committee heard from two panels of speakers who all called for increased US assistance in Syria, given the humanitarian nightmare that has ensued there. Some of the gross figures quoted were 100,000 deaths since the onset of the war, 1,400 dead from the sarin gas attack alone, and over 2 million refugees with 6.8 million still in Syria in need of assistance. While these fatality numbers do reflect higher end estimates, there is no question the affect of war on Syria’s civilian populous has been catastrophic, and the situation is only worsening.

U.S. ambassador to Syria, Thomas Ford, had this to say: “There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. Neither the regime nor the opposition has the wherewithal to militarily defeat the other.” Ford favors a diplomatic solution to ending the conflict that removes Assad from power. Peace talks scheduled to take place in Geneva later this month have already been delayed, and Assad has publicly denounced any claims he might relinquish control. Additionally, with the rife division in ideals and goals within the opposition, known loosely as the Free Syrian Army, a peaceful solution seems to have slim hope.

Republican senators were the harshest critics, acknowledging the grim forecast of the situation and criticizing the aid efforts as being too little. Though there were no direct calls for military intervention, the insistence on creating a clear strategy and claims the current policy is “fleckless” and should be “embarrassed” seemed to imply such action would be appropriate.

Early in September, Congress approved a resolution granting Obama the authority for a military strike although quite limited in scope. No ground troops are to be used, according to the resolution, and military action will have a deadline of no more than 90 days. Given these limitations, analysts think the US would employ cruise missile attacks and air strikes if military intervention was ordered. These limitations, though, could mean very little as Obama has the executive power to act without congressional approval, and it is unlikely Assad and his forces could be removed without a ground presence.

Being embroiled in a situation of military occupation that mirrors Iraq, though, is the last thing the president or many law-makers want. With increasing UN involvement and the threat of chemical weapons virtually neutralized, patience combined with continued humanitarian support seems to be the current strategy – though one must wonder for how long.

– Tyson Watkins
Sources: CNN, ABC News, Yahoo News, United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Huffington Post, Aljazeera America
Photo: New York Times

Drone_Strikes
The U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists are killing innocent civilians and should be regarded as violations of international law, say Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). In separate reports, the organizations use eyewitness accounts of civilian causalities in Yemen and Pakistan to depict the tragic effects of drone strikes.

In Pakistan, Amnesty interviewed 60 families and eyewitnesses in the tribal region of North Waziristan, an area that has been heavily targeted by U.S. airstrikes. One eyewitness was the granddaughter of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi, who was killed by a drone missile while gardening outside her home. The 8-year-old recounted the gruesome details: “[Her body] had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected as many different parts from the field and wrapped them in a cloth.”

HRW’s report studies six attacks that occurred in Yemen—one in 2009 and five in 2012-13. In these six attacks, 57 of the 82 people killed were innocent civilians with no links to terrorism. The innocents included a pregnant woman and several children. Letta Tayler, a senior researcher at HRW and the author of the report, said “Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the U.S. as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

The reports come as the Obama administration continues to downplay the civilian casualties resulting from drone strikes despite mounting evidence to the contrary. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on either of the reports, but did mention a speech the President delivered in May 2013 in which he defended drone attacks as an effective and legal means of killing terrorists.

Both Amnesty and HRW requested that the Obama administration explain its legal and operational rationale behind the drone program and urged more transparency. The administration rarely releases information about or acknowledges responsibility for drone attacks. In such an atmosphere of secrecy, it is difficult to ascertain how the administration selects targets and what efforts, if any, are used to minimize civilian casualties.

In addition to the Amnesty and HRW reports, U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson is also gathering preliminary data for a similar report that he will present to U.N. Human Rights Council. Emmerson said preliminary estimates are that more than 450 civilians have been killed in drone strikes in the past decade, but much works need to be done to confirm these numbers. Alluding to this challenge, Emmerson said, “The single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency, which makes it extremely difficult to assess claims of precision targeting objectively.”

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: The Washington Post, Time, Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Saudi Gazzette

WFP_food_aid
The Royce-Engel Amendment aims to bring U.S. food aid worldwide to reach more people, more rapidly, at a lower cost. This bill eradicates the inefficient system of monetization, “a process by which the U.S. Government buys agricultural commodities from domestic sources, ships them overseas on U.S.-flagged vessels, and donates them to non-governmental or private voluntary organizations, which then sell the commodities in developing countries and use the proceeds to finance development programs.”

The U.S. is the only donor country that sends food to humanitarian crisis locations, rather than buying food produced locally. The Government Accountability Office reports that monetization is “inefficient and can cause adverse market impacts.” Therefore, abolishing monetization under Title II of the U.S. Food For Peace Program (FFP) is projected to save approximately $30 million a year.

The Royce-Engel Amendment has strong support from various parties, however, more than 60 organizations such as the USA Rice Federation and the American Maritime Congress championed the way the program is currently run, and appealed to the Obama administration to oppose amending it. As a result, Congress failed to pass the amendment. Here is what others who support food and foreign aid reform say:

1.   “At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars … are the right choice.” – National Farmers Union

2.   “Congress should support and expand the reforms directed at improving the efficiency of America’s food aid programs, while rejecting the proposed retention of purchase requirements for U.S. food and subsidies for U.S. shipping.” – The Heritage Foundation

3.   “[I]t is a reform that encourages free market principles, improves government efficiency, saving lives, and lower costs while still providing expanding services to those in need. Opposition to the reforms comes from special interests.” – Andrew Natsios, former USAID administrator (at June 12 Foreign Affairs Committee hearing)

4.   “The bottom line: If we are going to try to help the poor through government programs, let’s make sure those programs are designed to help the poor, not special interest groups.” – Cato Institute

5.   “The proposed reforms can help get food aid to hungry people faster, cheaper, and more efficiently without sacrificing the important benefits U.S. aid provides to people in need–we can save millions more lives, without spending a dime. It’s a no-brainer.” – Oxfam America

6.   “Food aid can help to lift developing nations out of poverty, promote political stability and economic growth. It must be structured efficiently to achieve its objective. … Reforming food aid would enable America to do justice to a large taxpayer outlay–and to save lives.” – Chicago Tribune–Editorial Board

7.   “The United States is the only donor that still gives food rather than cash… Mr. Obama’s proposed reforms will feed more people for the same amount the United States spends now. There is no excuse for not putting them into effect.” – New York Times–Editorial Board

8.   “In failing to pass the Royce-Engel Amendment, Congress rejected a pragmatic approach to food aid that promotes long-term self-sufficiency in poor countries while maintaining a central role for American farmers in helping to feed the world. Failure to pass this measure means that when the next food crisis strikes in Syria, Somalia, or elsewhere, the U.S. will continue to lack the flexibility to respond in the most effective way.” – CARE

9.   “From a taxpayers’ and policy perspective, the food aid program is clearly in need of reform. The only thing getting in the way is politics and special interest.” – Timi Gerson, American Jewish World Service

Flora Khoo

Sources: House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Heritage – The Foundary, The New York Times, CARE, Oxfam
Photo: Reuters

afghan_troops_civilians
The UN reports that Afghan civilian casualties are on the rise as international forces are phase out their military presence. This year, the war has caused 1,319 civilian deaths with 2,533 injured, which is a 23% increase in civilian violence compared to last year. Women and children have been affected disproportionately, with 38% more casualties this year.

The primary cause of civilian casualties continues to be IEDs, which have indiscriminately killed more children than any other demographic – 53% more than last year. Insurgents were responsible for 74% of all casualties this year, who are targeting civilians believed to be working in alignment with the government, and 12% of the casualties were incurred in fighting on the ground with 207 civilians counted dead in crossfire.

Foreign troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan next year, leaving the Afghan army to assume control of the countries security. In places where international troops have withdrawn, insurgent attacks are on the rise. The reported increase in civilian casualties is being weighed by decision makers, who must consider how the Afghan troops can assume control of continuing the fight against extremists while protecting innocents from unnecessary violence.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Al Jazeera, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: Anti War