Information and news about politics.

congress
With the end of one of its most unproductive sessions in history, the United States Congress began its five-week recess on August 1. The break – mandated by a 1970 law – means that many representatives will be returning to their home states to campaign and meet with locals.

Here are a few ways to take advantage of the next five weeks:

1. Try to Meet Your Congressmen

Today, many congressmen have a portal on their websites where constituents can request a meeting – usually two weeks in advance. It helps to focus on a specific issue and to meet the congressmen on behalf of, or with,  an organized group. Of course, this will be much more difficult if the congressman is up for election.

To maximize their outreach while on recess, politicians are finding other methods of meeting with voters, like Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California who will hold a town hall on August 16, or Congressman Kevin Yoder of Kansas who has held a series of telephone town hall forums.

2. Send an Email 

Depending on the issue, certain activist groups and charities have pre-written emails that require no more than the sender to fill in his or her name and address and click send. Groups like Amnesty International, Bread for the World and  The Borgen Project use the address information to determine the sender’s representatives and automatically connects the user to his/her congressional leaders’ contact information.

Senders can even personalize the message. The entire process can take 30 seconds or less. Send an email with The Borgen Project here.

3. Make a Quick Call

Congressional offices keep track of how many people call in and for what they request of the congressman. A 30-second phone call to an office, explaining you are a constituent and you wish the congressman to support a certain issue, will likely be filed under a call report.

If a congressman receives a high number of calls regarding an issue, he or she is likely to consider this in making a decision. Activists can program the phone number for the office in his or her phone and call on a weekly basis. It helps to know exactly what you plan to say before making the call. Encouraging friends and family to make the same call can increase support for a cause.

4. Advocate on Social Media

Following back-to-back presidential wins for President Barack Obama, many political experts pointed to the emergence of the social media presence as a major factor in the success of his campaigns. While several other factors also help explain his wins, the fact remains that one month out from the 2012 election, Obama led Governor Romney on Twitter by some 19 million followers and Facebook by over 21 million likes.

Similarly, members of Congress are attempting to use social media to their benefit, which provides constituents another venue through which to contact their congressmen. Sharing articles relating to your issue of choice not only informs your friends and followers, but also reminds your leaders to take action.

Even if you are not quite ready to start a movement, a small effort can spur big change.

Erica Lignell

Sources: Time, Facebook 1, Facebook 2, Amnesty USA, Bread for the World, Iowa Food Systems Council, NY Times
Photo: Wikimedia

representative schock
WASHINGTON – As the first member of Congress born in the 1980s, Representative Schock (R-Illinois) has proved that one is never too young to improve the world.

1. Representative Aaron Schock served in the Illinois legislature.

From 2005-2009, Representative Schock was the youngest member of the Illinois House of Representatives, where he was involved with many organizations as well as medical mission trips to Jamaica and Mexico.

2. Schock has set an precedent of young leaders in the Republican Party.

Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009, he has built a name for himself, working tirelessly on bipartisan issues with other young elected officials at the federal, state and local levels.

3. He has become an ally to the world’s poor.

After only six years as representative of the 18th District of Illinois, Representative Schock already seems to be advocating on behalf of the world’s poorest. He has cosponsored Senator Paul Simon’s Water for the World Act of 2013, recently signed onto a resolution to support increasing access to vaccines around the world and cosponsored Betty McCollum’s Global Food Security Act. On the issue of malnutrition, Schock stated, “The United States has a strong history of leadership in providing assistance to developing nations, but a renewed focus and streamlined approach is needed to prevent more children and families from suffering the long-term consequences of malnutrition.”

4. A few months ago, Representative Schock’s congressional team created this video about his dedication to increasing access to water and sanitation.

In the video, he said even though all of our hometowns face challenges with homelessness and poverty, such obstacles are weak in comparison to those of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who do not have access to basic needs such as clean drinking water. He stated that is why he has introduced the Water for the World Act, which will ensure that United States foreign aid will go to the people around the world who need it most.

5. In July, Congressman Schock spoke on the House floor about the importance of nonprofits.

Representative Schock stated that he has worked with many organizations, such as Global Poverty Project, who strive to eradicate extreme poverty, provide developing countries with clean water and healthcare and encourage economic opportunities for women and children. He emphasized the importance of public charities and communities, churches and private foundations that work to alleviate global poverty.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Global Citizen, Wn.com, Congressman Aaron Schock, YouTube
Photo: ABCNews

south-african-miners-end-strike
A four-week strike organized by South African miners came to a close on July 28 after the miners reached an agreement with employers. The strike was led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, and a total of 220,000 workers had gone on strike across the country.

The deal that was reached had a focus on finding an appropriate wage increase for the workers, particularly those that received the lowest amount of pay. Both parties eventually agreed upon a 10 percent three-year, fixed annual wage increase. This saw the lowest level workers getting an increase of R1,000 ($94) each month.

The strike started on July 1 and saw 220,000 people walk out of their jobs. It is estimated that around 12,000 companies were affected, most notably Toyota and General Motors. As a result, it was estimated that the engineering sector lost around R300 million (roughly $28 million) per day. South Africa‘s economy shrunk by 0.6 percent in the first quarter solely from the strike.

Both sides had initially reached a deadlock very early on in the process, forcing the South African Department of Labor and National Mediation Council to step in and assist with the negotiations.

The strike showcases the increasing power of unions in Africa as well as the fact that there are more players in the political scene than the one ruling party, the African National Congress. It also caused a massive rearranging in how various labor unions interact with each other.

Irvin Jim, General Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, said that the end result was “a product of sweat and bitter struggles by our toiling workers for a living wage… and a four-week long resolute battle to do away with colonial apartheid-era wage dispensation in the engineering and metals sector.”

While the result of the strike is clearly a win for South African miners who were earning low wages, it remains to be seen how the strike will effect the political scene in South Africa or if the new wages will significantly increase the standard of living for mine workers.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal
Photo: BBC

venezuelan government
Dressed in traditional red, the color of socialism, President Nicolas Maduro stood in front of the Venezuelan congress and announced the late president Hugo Chavez the “eternal leader” of Venezuela.

Maduro’s ability to capture and maintain control kept the third meeting of congress moving forward, which was impressive considering this was the first meeting without Chavez leading the way.

In recent months, Maduro has faced criticism from Marxists that believe his socialist regime is feeble in comparison to Chavez’s. Supporting criticisms is the fact that Venezuela has the, “highest inflation rate in the continent at 62 percent in the 12 months to June,” according to Reuters.

This inflation rate has caused price distortions and, while it benefits those in the black market, civilians are struggling financially. Cuts in water and energy have Venezuelans up in arms as their needs continue to be ignored. These daily strifes add to the claims that Maduro has failed his nation in improving living standards.

This tension is visible within the government, with parties openly stating their dissent. Jorge Giordani, former planning minister and a close adviser to Chavez, wrote in an open letter address to Maduro that the he “fails to transmit leadership,” which creates “a power vacuum situation” and “clears the way for the reinstatement of financial mechanisms” in Venezuela, as reported by the Buenos Aires Herald.

Throughout the nation, many are waiting to see improvements in daily life. As a former bus driver, Maduro has expansive shoes to fill following Chavez, who served the country prosperously.

The harsh opinions of Maduro led him to address prevalent issues in Venezuela and dispel thoughts that he is not taking any actions to improve conditions at the six-day national congress. Maduro managed to dim the flame and unite everyone to continue stabilizing the Venezuelan government, such as by agreeing on an inflation rate.

Anger continues to build as Venezuelans wait to see improvements and there is a high possibility of a revolt if actions are not taken to eradicate the increasing level of poverty.

Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Stabroek News Buenos Aires Herald
Photo: CNN

anti-human trafficking
The issue of human trafficking has become a keynote subject over the past few decades. Terrorist organizations, like Boko Haram, frequent the news for the trafficking of children. In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a package of anti-human trafficking bills to combat the prominence of this tragedy.

A prior package of bills was also passed in May 2014 as a reaction to the Boko Haram incident. In April, the Islamic Jihadist group kidnapped 276 female students from a government-sponsored school in northeast Nigeria. As of July, the group still has over 200 of the girls, and has made a video which reveals the group’s intention is to sell them.

While human trafficking occurs on a smaller-scale as a domestic phenomenon, it most notably occurs in Africa, Asia and Central America. According to estimates, there are 27 million people living in modern-day slavery – whether it be through forced labor or sex trafficking. Children and women are most often targeted, with roughly two million children exploited by the global sex trade.

The bills passed in the House, however, will cover an array of different implementations that battle human trafficking both domestically and internationally. One part of the package, H.R. 4449, will require new standards of training for diplomatic officials – including ambassadors, embassy officers and mission chiefs. The aim of this program will be to have an increased awareness of the issue among leaders abroad.

More extensive training will also be provided to officials who are part of the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Transportation Security Authority (TSA). This training will include the best methods to identify and prevent human trafficking in situations where it may be unbeknownst to border officials.

Another bill, H.R. 5135, will require an official report to be published by an inter-agency task force designed to combat human trafficking. The report will detail and update the best strategies to prevent children from falling victim to trafficking.

By raising awareness of the issue, Congress aims to gradually have an impact and hopes to see human trafficking statistics dwindle over coming years.

As the issue of human trafficking is not a partisan one, politicians on both sides of the spectrum hope and expect to see these anti-human trafficking bills passed through Senate quickly.

Conner Goldstein

Sources: CNN World, Human Trafficking Statistics, HS Today
Photo: Mizzouwire

India began to push for a stronger influence in Nepal when it urged the country to greatly increase its production of hydroelectric power. This recent development is motivated by the connections China has made in South Asia.

This is not the first time India has wrapped its hands around a smaller neighboring country. According to Nepalese political scientist Professor Rabindra Khanal, India “always prefers to keep countries like Bhutan and Nepal under its security umbrella,” acknowledging the close history shared within the region. India seems to reject the idea of a Nepal-China partnership and is making moves to quickly integrate itself to a more prevalent position in Nepal’s economy .

For the first time in 17 years, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to travel to Nepal after recently visiting Bhutan after questioning the strength of India’s presence in both nations. However, his visit isn’t welcomed by all. Maoists, a Nepalese opposition party, see the threat that India poses to the country. “The draft impinges on the sovereign right of Nepal to allow investors other than India in the development of hydro-power and renewable energy,” said former Nepali water resources minister, Lakshman Ghimire.

The tentative thoughts shown in the members of government stems from the fear of the possibility that India is attempting to trap them in an agreement that hinders the economic growth of Nepal — a reasonable concern due to the abruptness of the visits and offers.

India offers insight into the benefits of the partnership, claiming that “Nepal is estimated to have the potential to generate 40,000 MW of power, but it has installed capacity of just 600 MW and suffers blackouts for up to 18 hours a day.” With the help of India, the country can surpass their neighbor Bhutan in energy production and become a top producer, which would serve as a huge improvement to the national economy.

Bhutan is only more successful because they have already harnessed hydroelectric power and are projected to have 10,000 megawatts of power by 2020. Nepal has the same option, should they seriously consider the interest expressed by India.

The future of Nepal is in their own hands, but if they partner with India, there is real fear that India will go too far. India could become even more involved with Nepal’s economy, taking away the country’s hard-earned independence.

Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, India.com, TelegraphNepal
Photo: Business Insider

On July 16 the Senate passed an international child abduction bill by voice vote. The bill, inspired by David Goldman’s five year struggle to bring his son Sean back to the United States from Brazil, aims to enhance the federal government’s ability to aid U.S. parents in rescuing their children abducted abroad.

Aptly titled the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the bill is now headed to the House of Representatives for approval. It was first introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Mendez (D-NJ) and ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Commenting on the bill’s Senate approval, Menendez stated, “I encourage my colleagues in the House to act swiftly to protect our children.”

The Sean and David Goldman bill serves to bolster a similar bill passed unanimously by the House in December of 2013. That bill, H.R. 3212, was sponsored by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith. The bill currently headed to the House would provide funds for the training of foreign officials in abduction matters for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. The bill also requires the State Department to produce a comprehensive annual report detailing international parental child abductions.

It is reported that over 1,000 children from the United States are noted missing in international abduction cases annually. This figure, and the impending fissure of families which it entails, is evidence of the urgent problem of kidnapping on the international level. It also raises concern over the communication, or lack thereof, between the U.S. and foreign officials to locate these children and assist in their safe return to their families. The pressure to ensure this process occurs as efficiently as possible is now upon the House.

– Taylor Dow
Sources: APP, Political News, Tennessean
Photo: Hukuk de Ner

biometric voting in ghana
Electoral fraud is a difficulty all democratic nations face. Processing the decisions of entire populations leaves room for deception and inaccuracy. Several African nations – such as Kenya, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – have combated voting errors with electronic, biometric voting. The latest nation to hop on the bandwagon was Ghana in December of 2012. The change was rewarded.

Voters are now required to register with standard biometric information: fingerprints and photographs. Before casting their ballot, they wait for finger scans and facial recognition systems to verify their identity. These are preformed on miniature Biometric Voting Machines, called BMVs.

The Ghanaian government, which has a reputation for stability in a struggling region, made accessibility a priority. During election season, 26,000 polling stations were operated.

Non-verified citizens were prevented from voting, so the stations and BMVs took technological precautions: the machines were run on AA batteries, a power source that could be easily replaced and rechargeable backups were sent out, and in areas with unreliable power sources, the backups were charged on government-procured generators.

There were errors that needed working out. Late distribution of BVMs postponed the opening of some polling booths. Malfunctions caused further delays. Some Ghanaians waited for hours, leaving the queue and returning the next morning before they could vote. Even more problematic, the systems were disconnected at first; there was no central database on which to store information. This would have made it possible for a voter to register at two different centers, then vote multiple times.

Still, the voting was carried out and widely considered effective: international observers called it credible. Voter turnout came in at 80.1 percent. BVM implementation has given many Ghanaians peace of mind. Since the pursuit of the program was transparency, the investment could be considered a success.

Splash technology is now leasing the voting system to pubic and private Ghanaian organizations. Anyone who wishes to conduct quick and transparent election, they say, should have the power to do so.

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: TechPresident, Ace, VOA, IT News Africa
Photo: TechPresident

world affairs
Following a methodological review of great transformations in the past 500 years, Professor Nicholas Boyle of Cambridge University advances that we are at the brink of another “great event.” Boyle’s prognosis is the result of establishing a correlation between “great events” that took place in the second decade of each of the last five centuries and our current state of world affairs.

In 1517, it was The Reformation of churches and the rise of Protestantism. 1618 marked the beginning of the 30 years war and decades of religious unrest in Western Europe. In 1715, the Hanoverian and British rule were established. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna took place, and thus began decades of relative peace. In 1914, Wold War I began. Today, the end of one of the worst financial crises to date may mark the beginning of another “great event.”

In light of these events, Boyle claims that “the character of a century becomes very apparent in that second decade,” later adding, “so why should ours be any different?” This argument establishes a strong correlation between chronology and world events. However, is this sufficient enough to make such a drastic claim about world affairs?

According to Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia (1988-1996) and President of the International Crisis Group, there is certainly a wide array of events that point to a breakdown in the international system. However, as bad as things seem, they are not bad enough to warrant a doomsday event.

Evans gives several reasons why we should not lose our sleep over the state of current world affairs. First, we are not really at the brink of another world war. While countries like the U.S., China and Russia are periodically competing and sometimes refuse to cooperate, they are widely integrated and dependent on each other for progress. In regard to each country’s desire for influence, Evans adds, “they want greater influence in international institutions, not to overturn them.”

Second, the decline of U.S. influence is not a matter for concern. In the big picture, great imperial powers are bound to slow down at some point, especially when there are other powerful and developed countries. This brings forth a third reason: the struggle for influence does not have to take a military form. While exercising dominance will continue to be something countries compete for, the way in which this takes place can be as much a matter of cooperation as of coercion.

It is undeniable that stability in the international system is a moving target. However, alarmism only leads to further pessimism. As a society, we have learned from past mistakes, and we must acknowledge the fact that the international system has become much more effective in solving problems.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Project Syndicate, Daily Mail
Photo: Baylor

saudi activist
Walid abu al-Khair, a well-known human rights lawyer and Saudi activist, has received a jail sentence for 15 years for undermining the state of Saudi Arabia and insulting its political system.

The Saudi activist’s charge stems from the apparent violation of a recent anti-terrorism law which prohibits any civil act that, “disturbs public order, shakes the security of society, or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of the state.”

This is not the first time al-Khair has faced the threat of jail time. On multiple occasions, the Saudi activist has been sentenced to varying amounts of time, though it has never reached a degree as intense as that of this most recent conviction. In his statement, al-Khair declares that he will not appeal the sentence because he does not see the legitimacy of the claim, and therefore believes it will fall apart when it comes time to book him.

The international reaction to the jailing of such a prominent voice has been negative thus far, with the Saudi researcher for Human Rights Watch saying, “Walid Abu al-Khair’s harsh sentence shows that Saudi Arabia has no tolerance for those who speak out about human rights and political reform and it will go to any length to silence them.” Saudi Arabia’s reaction simply shows the rest of the closely watching world that freedom of speech is less than valued.

By showing dissent from the Saudi king, al-Khair put himself in the crosshairs of the government. The Saudi activist has brought international attention to Saudi Arabia and this action has upset the government to the point that they believe he has represented them falsely and in a harsh light.

This incarceration demonstrates Saudi Arabia’s fear of the people, and the movement they could start if enough voices show disagreement. Countries that strive for a democratic state should allow the citizens to voice concerns; however, it appears this is not the case in Saudi Arabia. With reason, multiple countries, including the United States, have shown concern for the blatant disregard of human rights in this ongoing debacle with al-Khair, and begin to question the stability of the country.

Elena Lopez

Sources:

Sources: CNN, Reuters, Aljazeera
Photo: Gulf Center for Human Rights