Information and news about politics.

putin
The Russian Federation’s President, Vladimir Putin, has made a nasty habit of irritating the Western world. When he is not riding through the Siberian wilderness, shirtless and on horseback, Putin has found the time to annex land from a sovereign state, harbor an American whistle-blower and effectively silence most of his opposition.

Surprisingly, the invasion of Ukraine has been largely popular among Russians; recent polling suggests that 71 percent of Russians believe in aiding fellow Russians living in the Crimea. In fact, Putin has seen his approval rating grow to 86 percent—only two percent lower than at its peak in 2008.

Why do the Russian people favor a president with so little regard for human rights? The answer lies within the history of Russia’s economy, and that in the choice between poverty and tyranny, the latter is the lesser of two evils.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy was all but devastated. In an attempt to adjust to capitalism, the government enacted a series of mass privatizations via vouchers divided among the population. However, in a country where at the time a pair of stockings from Finland could afford a weekend of luxury in Moscow, a voucher meant much less to the average citizen than the small price it could fetch in criminal or ex-Soviet elite circles. It was during this period that many of Russia’s current oligarchs gained their vast wealth in buying up vouchers well below their value.

In this time of great despair, President Boris Yeltsin allowed the economy to run wild as he amassed his own fortune. So when then-unknown Putin took power on New Years Eve in 1999 without warning, the impoverished Russian people had little to lose.

Since taking office, Putin has brought some amount of economic stability to the country, confronted oligarchs, and reignited patriotism with the Sochi Olympics and Security Council vetoes of resolutions on Syria. Members of the older generation are quick to remind the youth that even in lieu of democracy, at least there is bread on the table. The $50 billion price tag for the Olympics and the annexation of Crimea inspire new waves of pride among Russians who hope to see Russia reclaim its status as a serious rival to the West.

Regardless of whether Putin’s reputation as a bold enough leader to challenge to West will sustain his popularity, his iron rule has far from solved Russia’s economic woes. With ever-increasing inflation and investors taking their business elsewhere, perhaps it is time for Russians to expect more from their government.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Diplomatic Courier, NPR, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Bloomberg, The New York Times
Photo: Business Insider

rand corporation
RAND corporation mission statement: “We exist to help policymakers make decisions that are based on the best available information.”

The RAND corporation was developed by Henry Arnold in 1946, and became an independent nonprofit organization in 1948 after WWII. He believed that there should be a group to keep America’s technology ahead of the rest of the world. The main idea behind the organization was to connect military planning with research and development decisions. It was initially formed to offer research and analysis to the United States Armed forces. In the 60’s, the organization became known as a think tank. At that time, a think tank was a research institute that came up with new ideas that could influence public policy.

RAND’s vision is “To be the world’s most trusted source for policy ideas and analysis.” Today, RAND does research on more than 1,000 topics a year.

They are reaching for their work to be understood by everyone, not just the experts. Because of this, they make all their research and findings available for download on their webpage.

They are proud that they have been able to remain independent of commercial and political pressures. It is stated on their “History and Mission” page that quality and objectivity are their two core values.

RAND Corporation is commissioned by government agencies, foundations and private firms.

The corporation is made up of 1,700 staff from around the world and is located in 47 different countries. Having this many people allows for RAND to have a diverse professional and educational background. There are 65 different languages spoken throughout RAND, and many of the staff are multilingual. Some of the popular languages are Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Fifty-seven percent of the people working for RAND have one or more doctorate degrees, and another 29 percent have one or more master’s degrees. This shows that RAND’s staff is well rounded, extremely educated and knowledgeable on the topics they are researching.

Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: RAND Corporation, Mental Floss
Photo: Hands off Mother Earth

young political leaders
The American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) focuses on international education exchange programs for young political leaders worldwide. Participants gain more than a standard experience abroad, however. The program provides in-depth exploration of the governance, politics, bilateral relations, geographic diversity, culture and policy-making of the host country. Since their founding in 1966, ACYPL has worked in 113 countries around the world.

ACYPL’s goal is to provide opportunities for the development of future political leaders, allowing them to gain insight into the realm of international relations. The program promotes more than just knowledge, focusing on individual growth and development as well.

One of ACYPL’s strategic goals is to strengthen participant’s leadership skills and promote an open-minded attitude. Mutual understanding, respect, and friendship are all positive outcomes of the experience. In addition, the program provides an opportunity for networking, allowing people to stay in touch across the globe.

Lasting around 14 days, the program is for mid-level professionals with leadership potential in government, the private sector or civil society. The program requires that participants be between the ages of 25-40 and have current employment related to the legislative and governing process.

As our world becomes increasingly globalized, cooperation is becoming as crucial as ever. The founders of ACYPL understood the importance of promoting understanding across cultures as an imperative ingredient for a progressive future. In 1966, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the Chinese revolution, a group of young Democrat and Republican leaders decided to create an opportunity for the next generation of political leaders to know and understand each other.

With the support from the U.S. government, Spencer Oliver, Peter McPherson, Hodding Carter, Bill Hybl, Charles Manatt and Pat Buchanan created the ACYPL. Young American political leaders began to travel to the Soviet Union and throughout Western Europe. In return, the U.S. welcomed international delegates.

As the program grew in response to political developments, new exchanges were forming at a rapid speed. When President Carter normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China, his special White House advisor at the time was Sarah Weddington—the only person in the administration who had actually been to China. She was on the first ACYPL delegation in 1977 as a young Texas state representative.

The ACYPL conducts multinational programs on topics of global or regional importance including the North American Trade Agreement, clime change and energy security and political activism for minority populations.

According to the ACYPL, the U.S.’s national and international conversations have become increasingly polarized. Thus, the ACYPL works to open a door for respectful dialogue among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all over the U.S. In addition the conversation is shared with numerous political affiliations from countries all around the globe, who despite their differences, desire to solve problems through informed policy making. The ACYPL hopes to enhance delegate’s understanding of international structures, advocating for a well-informed and comprehensive perspectives on issues.

Most recently in 2004, Pakistan joined the partnership. The ACYPL works to continue to establish exchanges with countries on all ends of the spectrum—whether it is a country deemed strategically significant, a developing democracy, or a longtime ally, the ACYPL is constantly looking to extend its network.

While continuing to develop as many political leaders as possible, the ACYPL signifies a beacon of hope for peace. Aiding in a mutual understanding of a country’s culture and the political system in which governs its borders is a crucial first step in this process.

– Caroline Logan

Sources: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Program, American Council of Young Political Leaders
Photo: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Program

ghana
Groups in Ghana are working to draft an affirmative action bill to put more women in government positions. The bill is aimed to help Ghana reach Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Although a draft has been submitted to the Attorney General, workshops are still being held to tweak the bill for Parliament.

A two-day validation workshop was being held in Koforidua, and 21 public servants and representatives of political parties worked, and continue to work, to improve the legislation. The bill is supported by the Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection.

Presently, only 10.9 percent of Parliament consists of female representatives. The affirmative action bill would call for quotas on women representatives. This is not the first time an African country has used this tactic to increase the amount of women in leadership positions.

Liberia recommended that political parties in the 2005 election choose 30 percent female nominees. While not law, the parties that did follow the recommendation had the largest numbers of women in the Legislature for that election. The Legislature consisted of 14 women out of 94 positions, but this number dropped to only nine when the quota was not enforced in 2011.

In Nigeria, the current administration has promised a 35 percent representation of women in government. This has yet to be reached, and at the national convention of the All Progressives Congress, only eight out of 46 positions on the national executive council fell to women. All of these positions involved the title of “women leader.”

Why do women leaders in these countries feel that affirmative action quotas are necessary to put more women in leadership roles?

Bernice Sam, a Ghanaian women’s activist, spoke at the national forum on gender equality and women’s rights, held by the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre in Accra. She believes empowered women are necessary for growth, and that Ghana needs to work to empower women in these roles. She mentions the challenges faced by female politicians, despite legislation designed to allow them to run for office.

Women often do not have as much money as their male opponents, which is a major barrier. They also have higher levels of illiteracy, tied to less educational attainment and opportunity. Sam encourages all women to attain skills for civic leadership. These include public speaking, networking and the ability and confidence to motivate and mobilize others. To find this confidence, women also need more support from their spouses, along with faith in their own abilities.

They also just need knowledge. In Kenya, a large portion of women in rural areas do not know that the government requires 30 percent of all procurement in public service to be reserved for them. Rachel Ruto, the wife of the Deputy President of Kenya, called on women to pass along knowledge of their rights and powers to other women.

There is also an “old boys” network of political connections that impede women from entering the political sphere. Women tend to be ignored by incumbent male leadership.

Another issue is that women are required to balance their home and political lives. They are expected to take care of their families while also trying to run an underfunded, under-supported campaign.

Across Africa, there is a call for power structures to enable women to step into leadership positions. Simultaneously, there is a call for women to assert themselves into these positions. Despite these movements, parties are not encouraging women to run. Consequently, many women are taught that they are incompetent and unlikely to succeed in government.

Ghanaian leaders believe the affirmative action bill will provide a balance of allowing competent women to fill leadership positions, while  assuring others that  that they too can succeed. Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, assures that the bill does not aim to make women compete with men, but to ensure they have equal opportunity to pursue positions.

To Lithur, the bill is designed to give women and other minorities in the country a voice. It works in tandem with legislation to ban early and forced marriage, witchcraft and genital mutilation to empower women in Ghana.

The bill aims to help women and therefore, the country.

-Monica Roth

Sources: Ghana Web 1, Ghana Web 2, Ghana Web 3, KBC, Leadership, All Africa
Photo: InformGhana

agriculture appropriations bill
The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill which will improve the United States’ international food aid. The amendment, authored by U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA), provides funds for the Local and Regional Purchase Program. This program allows the U.S. to buy food closer to afflicted areas and reduce transit time and costs as a result. Representative Royce’s amendment provides $10 million for the program and reduces fundraising for the Agricultural Marketing Services which utilizes taxpayer money to administer food advertising campaigns. In a statement about the amendment’s passage, Royce stated, “It is crucial that the United States has the tools to respond to humanitarian crises while stretching our food aid dollars further.”

It is estimated that 925 million people globally suffer from malnutrition and hunger. That number is roughly three times the size of the U.S. population and a strong indication that hunger is a global health risk. The World Bank estimates that 44 million people have been impoverished since mid-2010 due to recent increases in food prices. This estimation coincides with shrinking foreign aid budgets among developed countries — a result of both fiscal conservatism and slow recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.

Goal one of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals established in 2000 is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. This goal came after the Food Aid Convention of 1999 which served as a formal agreement among donor countries to contribute to world food security. It also established minimum annual commitments among member countries. The U.S., with an annual commitment of 2,500,000 metric tons, has the largest commitment.

In fiscal year 2009 alone the U.S. provided $2.9 billion in food assistance to developing countries, which included approximately 2.8 million metric tons of food which reached 70 million people.

The recently-passed amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill is a strong indicator that many of the leading political figures in the U.S. are willing to maintain this level of international support. However, as the global economy continues its slow recovery, foreign aid will continue to be a source of contentious debate both at home and abroad.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Food Aid, Bread.org, USAID
Photo: Newsela

LGBT Rights
Senator Edward Markey (D – Mass.) has introduced a new bill, known as the International Human Rights Defense Act, to the Senate that would commit the U.S. to protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community all around the world.

Markey, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, has brought this bill to the floor due to the fact that there are many countries around the world that condemn homosexuality to some degree. This includes more than 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality and the support of LGBT rights, as well as seven countries that punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The vast majority of these countries are located in poorer parts of the world, such as Africa and South Asia.

One country where being gay can land someone in jail is Nigeria. The northern part of the country is governed by strict Sharia law and prohibits homosexuality and anyone who supports it.

Although the government does not invoke the death sentence for this offense, local Islamic law often calls for the public stoning of anyone found guilty of homosexuality. Those who are turned in to officials for suspected homosexuality are often turned in by informants who secretly gather information. This activity is the result of the mindset in Nigeria and other countries that homosexuals and supporters of LGBT rights are a pestilence that society must be cleansed of.

The bill that hopes to change this focuses mainly on the discrimination and violence that LGBT men and women face, and imposes new strategies to counteract these, including the following:

· Making prevention and response to violence and discrimination against the LGBT community a priority

· Promoting LGBT rights via private sector, governments, multilateral organizations and local advocacy groups

· Creating a new position within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor that would be known as the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People. This envoy would be responsible for organizing all U.S. involvement with foreign LGBT affairs.

· The continuation of the LGBT rights sector of the annual State Department Report on Human Rights

The bill has already garnered 24 co-sponsors, including Markey’s fellow Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. In addition to congressional co-sponsors, the bill is also being endorsed by many LGBT rights groups, including MassEquality, which is the leading advocacy group in Massachusetts for LGBT rights.

Markey stated that “for the United States to hold true to our commitment to [defend] the human rights of all people around the world, we must stand with the LGBT community,” and if this bill were to pass, it would be a significant step toward equality around the world, as well as a more progressive American stance on LGBT rights.

— Taylor Lovett

Sources: LGBTQ Nation, MassEquality, Mass Live, NY Times
Photo: Frontiers LA

FORTE act
Human trafficking is an inhumane act against fundamental human rights. It is sad but true that people are smuggled and traded like commodities and slaves. According to the report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC,) the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation, which makes up 79 percent of human trafficking instances. The second form of trafficking is labor exploitation. The largest population involved in human trafficking is children. In some parts of Africa and Mekong region, children account for more than 50 percent of trafficking victims.

Due to the urgent situation of human trafficking problem, the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to pass the bipartisan bill called the Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination Act, also known as the FORTE Act.

The FORTE Act would ensure that provision of foreign assistance does not contribute to human trafficking. Instead, it would fight human trafficking by proving better transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers.

This act will make the government provide more transparency when hiring workers abroad, thus cutting down labor trafficking — the second largest exploitation. The act requires employers using foreign labor to notify the Department of Labor of recruiters’ identities annually. It requires the Secretary of Labor to maintain a list of contractors and U.S. consulates to receive complaints from the workers. It also makes requirements of foreign labor contractors who bring laborers into the U.S. to prevent trafficking, such as registration.

In short, the success of this bill means more clarity in labor contracts and more regulations over labor recruiters.

The crime of human trafficking is mostly underreported due to its underground nature. This act will bring the issue to the light, put more transparency in the labor market and effectively decrease labor trafficking. In addition to decreasing human trafficking in foreign countries, this act will also help to regulate the American domestic labor market.

Jing Xu

Sources: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Catholic Relief Services
Photo: Jamaica Observer

eritrean_government

Without any other choice, people are fleeing the country of Eritrea. The Eritrean government has been involved in several forms of human rights violations since 1993, when they broke off from Ethiopia. It is described by Human Rights Watch as “one of the most closed countries” in the world.

Reporters without Borders rank the country last on their freedom index and Amnesty International believes the country has imprisoned more than 10,000 citizens for political reasons since 1993. Despite all these violations, the government claims they have made progress in working to reach six of eight of the U.N.’s anti-poverty goals.

As a result of these rights violations, previous estimates show that Ethiopia had been experiencing a monthly inflow of 2,000 refugees. Italy has experienced an inflow of 13,000 Eritrean refugees since the beginning of the year and Sudan has also seen a rise in those seeking asylum.

More recent estimates by U.N. investigators, however, average the number at 4,000. Investigators describe this 50 percent spike as “shocking” and a sign that the situation has gotten worse since last year’s U.N. report.

Accusations of abuse by the Eritrean government include indefinite service in the country’s army, detainment of citizens without cause, secret imprisonment, torture and forced labor. The government has also enforced guilt by association laws for families of those who flee, resulting in fines or detainment. Many die while in detainment due to appalling living conditions including extreme heat, poor hygiene and very little food.

The path to freedom is a rocky journey often involving the crossing of deserts and seas. Many drown in the sea or die from the extreme heat in the desert, yet their hope and lack of choice drives their journey as they risk life and limb to reach free land.

Poverty provides opportunities for oppression and also creates the conditions necessary for oppression to thrive. When people of the world do not have the resources necessary to retaliate or the power necessary to change policy, they are left with few options. Often, the best choice is to leave, and so they do, often in the face of great danger.

Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: Bloomberg, Voice of America, ABC News
Photo: Cloudfront

LGBT Rights
Hillary Clinton has reportedly gotten into “shouting matches” with top Russian officials regarding LGBT rights. Russia is home to a set of very controversial laws, for which being homosexual, attending pride events or spreading propaganda regarding homosexuality to minors, is punishable by law. Putin’s views regarding gender equality have proved controversial, too: just recently, Putin went on a sexist rant about Hillary Clinton, calling her “weak,” further explaining that it was easier to just “not argue” with women.

Clinton has put up a fight regarding her side of the story. While on tour for her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton recalled the increasing amount of LGBT backlash she came to see, leading her to push and become an ardent activist for the cause. “I began to vigorously protest with governments in many parts of the world,” Clinton said. “Like what Putin’s doing … it’s just a cynical political ploy.” Regardless, without a strong-standing platform, the LGBT movement could go mute.

While LGBT rights are improving in many areas of the world, they are worsening in others. Today, there are around 76 countries in which being gay is a crime; of these 76, there are at least 10 in which being gay is punishable by death. Laws aside, more LGBT hate crimes are continuing to occur throughout the world, where they are often overlooked by the police. In the past year, a study regarding LGBT hate crimes in Europe — a fairly tolerant country on the issue — proved horrific: 17 percent of LGBT citizens have been victimized by a hate crime, and of these victims, 75 percent did not report the incident to law enforcement. 

Clinton has been able to remain relatively tongue-in-cheek, yet vigilant, regarding Putin and the controversial laws he has strictly enforced. When asked if it was hard to maintain relationships for her position as United States Secretary of State, Clinton stated that, at times, it was. “I’m talking about you, Vladimir,” she coyly said. “But it doesn’t mean that you don’t keep trying. You do have to keep trying.”

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: Advocate, Huff Post, Global Eguality, 76 Crimes, Washington Post, Care2
Photo: Mashable

adivasis
A great deal has already been written, discussed and predicted about India’s newly elected leader, Narendra Modi, and his Bahratiya Janata Party. A tremendous amount of implications arise from his election, but one that has slid under the radar has been his and his party’s policies toward the indigenous population — the Adivasi people.

Many of the laws currently in place in India already fall short of international standards regarding human rights and indigenous persons. This problem is only compounded by the nationalist platform adopted by the BJP, and has caused concern for people both inside and outside of India’s borders.

While on the campaign trail, Modi took several opportunities to debunk claims from the opposition Congress party that he would take advantage of the Uniform Civil code to take away rights of Adivasis. Furthermore, Modi went on to claim that BJP rule in states with prominent Adivasi populations has already helped protect their rights and increase their living standards. But as is natural with most political campaigns, what is said on the campaign trail does not always match up with reality.

The indigenous population of India has historically had a negative relationship with the state and companies based in the country. Amnesty International has already called for Modi to bring to justice those who have committed prior crimes against Adivasi population, referencing riots that took place in 2002 and 1984. While there have been acts of violence against the indigenous population, the most common crimes have been committed against the Adivasi’s rights to give businesses the free reign they need to make a profit. This information is particularly frightening considering that one of the central components of Modi’s platform was reinvigorating the Indian economy.

So the question remains — are the Adivasi people about to find themselves in the crosshairs yet again? Recent legislative efforts indicate this might not be the case. However, many of these need to be passed by Parliament in order to be ratified into law.

One recent draft bill proposes that in order to use land on constitutionally protected indigenous territories, you would need the consent of village assemblies. However, this draft bill still needs to get passed before becoming a law. The recent Parliament also passed a temporary law making wrongful possession of Adivasi land a criminal offense. But similar to the draft bill, this law will expire unless it gets passed within six weeks of Parliament reassembling.

While these laws and bills certainly are a step in the right direction, more work still needs to be done. One of the main criticisms lobbied at the bills is that while they protect the Adivasis from private companies, there is very little mention of intervention done on behalf of the state. But before more comprehensive bills can be written and laws can be passed, these important first steps need to survive the political process. It is now Parliament’s turn to take action. With any luck, they will make the right decision and protect India’s indigenous population.

— Andre Gobbo

Sources: Amnesty, Indian Express, The Guardian
Photo: Forbes