Information and news about politics.

election in afghanistan
On Saturday June 14, Afghanis vote to elect a new president. The event could mark the first peaceful democratic transition of power in the nation’s history. The runoff election, between Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, will determine President Hamid Karzai’s successor.

The outcome of the June 14 election in Afghanistan will be essential for establishing stability. The results will also greatly affect America’s relationship with Afghanistan. This is because future U.S. military presence in the country is highly dependent upon the winner. Therefore, the election is of particular importance for Americans.

Currently, the United States has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan. All combat troops are scheduled to leave the country by December 31, 2014, according to President Barack Obama. But the United Nations as well as the U.S. would like to try and create a security agreement with the new Afghani leader. The U.S. hopes to keep some military presence in the country after the December 31 deadline in order to continue the training of the Afghani military against terrorism threats.

President Karzai refuses to sign the agreement and says that the deal should be made with the new leader. So the U.S. is now left to wait.
But the process of counting the ballots and the time needed for the new president to assume power could take months. This leaves the U.S. with very little time to form an agreement. With the impending December 31 deadline, Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has started planning a “zero option,” which withdraws all U.S. troops by the date if an U.S.-Afghani agreement cannot be made in time.

The “zero option” plan would not only withdraw U.S. troops but also cut billions of dollars in aid. This would likely leave the country vulnerable. And because the Taliban still has strong holds within the country; the absence of aid and military support could leave more parts of the country susceptible to their control.

The Taliban threatened retaliation against all those who voted in the presidential election on June 14. They view the race as invalid because of the presence of U.S. troops in the country. But many Afghanis defied these threats by casting their ballots. In a strong turnout, an estimated 7 million Afghanis voted. There were scattered attacks around the country but no major violence erupted. The election offers a promise of a peaceful future for a nation that has been at war for 13 years.

But claims of fraud and irregularities in the election have come from both candidates. Specifically, instances of ballot stuffing and polling stations running out of ballots taint the legitimacy of the votes cast. The possibility of the losing candidate rejecting the official election results threatens the entire election process. If Afghanistan cannot establish a peaceful democratic transition, then the country risks falling back into instability.

The official preliminary results are not expected before early July. And as the ballots are being counted, both Afghanistan and the U.S. wait anxiously to see the outcome.

— Kathleen Egan

Sources: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NY Times
Photo: CBSNews






congressman
Since its founding in 2003, The Borgen Project has worked with congressional leaders across the country to draw more attention to the extreme poverty that unfortunately exists in our world. Working with these leaders can be challenging yet exciting, and one of the best parts of this organization is that everyone from all walks of life can contribute to this worthy cause by contacting their congressional leaders.

The U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. is made up of two institutions with a total of 535 members. The House of Representatives and the Senate each have distinct yet equal roles in the function of the federal government as they make laws based on the opinions of the voters.

Perhaps the best part of this legislative branch is that the representatives and senators of Congress are chosen by the people. When these members of Congress support or reject a bill or issue, they are giving voters a voice in the federal government. Congressional leaders really do care about the opinions of voters, which is why it is so important to find and contact your congressman.

When a call is made to a congressional leader concerning a specific bill or issue, a staffer creates a ‘Call Report’ based on all the calls received each week. These Call Reports are then sent to the leaders so they can learn about the public’s opinions. It usually only takes a mere seven to 10 people to call about a poverty-reduction bill a week to get that bill noticed by the congressman.

Although communicating with congressional leaders may seem a little daunting at first, it is important to remember that they are there to represent you in Congress. However, they can only fully represent you if they know about the issues that matter to you.

To find your three representatives in Congress, clink on the link below and enter your zip code. It really is that simple!

https://borgenproject.org/leaders/

We can all make a difference in the fight against global poverty, and it only takes 30 seconds of your time. The Borgen Project encourages everyone to find their congressman and make a quick call to bring about the change in the world that is so greatly needed.

 — Meghan Orner

Sources: U.S. Capital Visitor Center, The Borgen Project
Photo: The Borgen Project

hunger_in_pakistan

Hunger in Pakistan has killed many people and affected the lives of many more, especially children. After a drought hit the Tharparkar district of Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province earlier this year, at least 132 young children died, many as a result of malnutrition.

The problem of hunger in Pakistan is not limited to Sindh Province, however. While Sindh certainly has the highest rates of malnutrition and least access to food, Pakistan’s National Nutrition Survey reported that 58 percent of all Pakistani households were food-insecure.

Malnutrition is also widespread; the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey found that 24 percent of Pakistani children under 5 exhibited “severely stunted growth.”

Why is hunger such a prevalent issue in Pakistan? Some of it has to do with past inflation of wheat prices in the late 2000s, as it was more difficult for people to afford domestic grain. Infrastructural difficulty, such as providing electricity to flour mills, also poses a problem.

Still, the largest factor causing food insecurity in Pakistan is the nation’s own government and its policies that hinder food production and distribution.

Take, for example, the deaths from the drought: the government did not work to distribute food until after the crisis. As the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network reports, “the government didn’t act until [it received] reports of children dying” last December, even though animals had been dying since October and rainfall was decreasing. Moreover, government-run hospitals and clinics in the region have been constantly understaffed, making it difficult to get medical care to those who needed it.

Other government policies affect all of Pakistan, not just Sindh. Under the Corporate Farming Ordinance, the Pakistani government leases large tracts of land to foreign investors looking to stockpile crops for their own countries. This takes valuable land away from local farmers while keeping the food away from Pakistani citizens that need it.

The government of Pakistan seems to prioritize profits over its people. During the inflation of wheat prices in 2008, the government increased its wheat exports, depriving many hungry people of food. Even today, much of the wheat that large corporate mills produce leaves the country.

In reality, Pakistan should be capable of providing its citizens with enough food to survive, and there should not be as much food insecurity as there is now. Arif Jabbar Khan, Oxfam’s Pakistan director, affirmed that “missing public policy action and persistent economic inequalities are the main causes of malnutrition,” not droughts or famine.

How can hunger and malnutrition be reduced in Pakistan? Foreign aid providers may be able to earmark funds for the redistribution of grain to poorer areas, and this aid could be cut if the government does not comply.

Nevertheless, political pressure to change food distribution policy must come from within Pakistan itself. The citizens of Pakistan must demand change and hold elected officials responsible for their actions in the polls if the system is to be fixed.

 — Ted Rappleye

Sources: The Guardian, South Asia Masala, Triple Bottom-Line
Photo: Tribune

katra

Two 12 and 15-year-old girls were lynched last week in western Uttar Pradesh in India after being abducted, gang raped and hanged by their attackers. The Indian village, known as Katra in the Badaun district, is one of the world’s most impoverished areas.

Most of its citizens work as tillers or take up small, part-time jobs in order to make a living. With hardly any money, most cannot afford a functioning toilet, so they relieve themselves in nearby fields.

Yet this is exactly what would lead to the death of two young cousins after being abducted by three men in the fields of their village. Their attackers hanged the two girls on a tree in the village, which would be on display for the entire community.

Thought by medical experts to have been hanged alive, many are wondering how and why these gruesome attacks could have taken place in a day and age where feminism is, in most parts of the world, on the rise.

India has had a history of women’s rights problems for years. After the gang rape case of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in 2012, in which four men were all found guilty and given the death penalty, India has been making a concerted effort to tighten their rules regarding violence against women.

Yet this has by no means actually prevented or improved cases of violence against women in the country; in most cases, police insensitivity has been proliferated by patriarchal attitudes of those in governmental power.

The Samajwadi Party is just one example of misogyny’s power in Indian politics. The senior Samajwadi Party leader, Ram Gopal Yadav, spoke of the most recent incident, stating, “[In] many places, when the relationship between girls and boys come out in the open, it is termed as rape.”

Two months ago, party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav claimed that “boys will be boys” and vehemently opposed the death penalty as punishment for acts of rape.

The three men responsible for the two teenage girls’ deaths in Katra have been arrested, and two policemen are being held on suspicion for trying to cover up the crimes.

This is not an uncommon occurrence: while a rape is reported every 21 minutes in India, law enforcement failure often results in crimes not being reported or investigated fully. Yet as the case rises in power, world officials are continuing to speak out against these acts of misogyny.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who stated that he was “appalled” by these recent acts, is just one of many to have spoken out. “We say no to the dismissive, destructive attitude of ‘boys will be boys,’” he said. As the government continues to crack down on these acts, many hope its citizens will listen.

 — Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Diplomat, ODT, Scroll, Times of India 1, Times of India 2
Photo: The Story Exchange

unwanted_migrants

Recently, conflicts in Africa and the Middle East have resulted in an influx of unwanted migrants into Europe. Thousands have found their way into the continent looking for a better life, but after they arrive, they often find themselves unwelcome.

Leaving their native countries affected by war and violence, they come to Europe in hopes of a better future. For many, their lives end before they are even able to experience the bleak future many migrants find themselves thrown into.

Traffickers and criminal gangs take advantage of migrants by charging exorbitant rates to be shoved and crammed onto boats. Hundreds of migrants lose their lives at sea. The overcrowding on boats combined with dangerous weather often ends in tragedy.

Although the loss of life has been reduced by rescue operations, the U.N. estimates that over 170 people have lost their lives from the beginning of this year to May while attempting to reach Europe.

While the majority of the migrants are men, the increased number of migrants has brought more women and children to Europe. On May 20, Italy rescued approximately 500 migrants, 100 of which were children.

Italy in particular has felt the pressure of migration. Over 62,000 migrants have arrived in Italy this year. Calls for aid from other countries to help manage the situation have largely gone unheeded. Slovenia offered one ship to help last year.

Bureaucrats in European countries receiving all these migrants struggle to process the requests for asylum or refugee status. Almost 435,000 people applied for asylum in Europe last year.

Increasing migrant numbers has caused right-wing political parties to make real gains in European elections and consequently, anti-immigration policies have been put into place and the borders of the European countries have tightened.

Unwanted migrants are left wandering Europe and left wondering if the destruction they left behind is any different from their experiences in Europe. Once discovered huddled in camps, migrants are forced to disband on any number of charges and are forced to find another place to rest.

The European Union’s home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, is pushing for a change in Europe’s approach to the situation. She is calling for a plan to resettle “refugees directly from the camps outside the EU” and to open new legal channels so that refugees can come legally.

Until a larger joint effort is made to handle the migrants, the issue will continue to fester and radicalize politicians in Europe. The increased levels of migration have caused tensions between the European countries and made a larger effort unlikely. Ultimately, as European countries individually attempt to solve the refugee issue, unwanted migrants suffer as they leave one desolate place for another.

— William Ying 

Sources: Aljazeera 1, Aljazeera 2, LA Times, NPR, The New York Times, Reuters, The Verge
Photo: Deutsche Welle

Yuri Kochiyama
Yuri Kochiyama, a prolific civil rights activist, died this past Sunday in Berkeley, Calif. at 93 years old. Known for her friendship with Malcolm X (she held him in her hands as he lay bleeding from gunshot wounds the night of his assassination,) Kochiyama was equally a revered activist in her own right. She, along with her husband, pushed for reparations and a government apology for the many Japanese-American internment camp victims under the Civil Liberties Act, and her legacy and determination has inspired a slew of young activists.

Kochiyama was born in San Pedro, Calif. to Japanese immigrants. After leading a figuratively normal teen life, it would not be until Pearl Harbor in 1941 that she would become involved in political issues after her father was taken into custody by the FBI. Like many other Japanese-Americans, Kochiyama and her family were just one of 120,000 Japanese-American victims who were unjustly sent to internment camps following the attack.

Kochiyama and her husband lived in the housing projects in New York City, where her African American and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Upon meeting Malcolm X, she reportedly challenged his harsh stance on integration — a move causing him to move away from the strict Nation of Islam viewpoint he preached to a more inclusive acceptance of all kinds of people. Upon Malcolm X’s death, Kochiyama continued to fight for the rights of those whose voices needed to be heard. She was constantly fighting.

Her home, which was the permanent “meeting place” for activists in the area, will be forever remembered by Kochiyama’s eldest daughter, Audee Kochiyama-Holman, who described her upbringing as a “24/7” movement. And that it was: until her death, Kochiyama continuously fought for the under-represented voice. Her activism against the discrimination of South Asians, Muslims, Arabs and Sikhs after 9/11 was just one example; her fight toward equality was all-inclusive.

Shailja Patel, poet and activist, is just one of many who remembers Kochiyama in this light. “She made us all larger, reminding us always to think globally and organize locally,” she says. “She emphasized that all struggles for justice are connected — and she lived that truth.”

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: Huffington Post, NPR, The New York Times
Photo: Casa Atabex Ache

ugandan_hiv
Uganda’s president is contemplating signing a law that would criminalize the deliberate transmission of HIV. The law would also require pregnant women to get tested for the virus and allow health officials to disclose the HIV status of certain individuals in order to protect potential sexual partners.

The bill was passed in the Ugandan Parliament in March and is awaiting the signature of President Yoweri Museveni to become law. However, the proposal has been met with considerable criticism, as many believe the initiative will exacerbate Ugandan HIV prevalence.

“Uganda has taken a giant leap backwards in the struggle against HIV,” Dr. Noreen Kaleeba, executive of the Aids Support Organization, decried in a statement last month.

Critics like Dr. Kaleeba believe the pending law will discourage citizens from being tested in order to skirt any possible criminal liability, and many fear the measure will disproportionately impact Ugandan women. In addition, the text appears to be an abusive invasion of privacy that will intensify the already paralyzing stigmatization suffered by those carrying the virus.

Only 33 percent of the Ugandan population has been tested for HIV. In addition, recent undercover reporting conducted by BBC journalists indicates that many Ugandans are going as far as to procure fake HIV negative tests results in order to mislead employers and avoid stigmatization.

However, most Ugandan politicians disagree with critic’s assessments of this new law, citing the recent increase in HIV infections — a disconcerting trend that suggests many citizens are transmitting the virus willfully. Today, 1.5 million Ugandans are infected.

“The law is not unfairly targeting anybody, but rather it is addressing somebody who has tested for HIV and knows his or her status and, out of malice, intentionally wants to infect others,” stated Chris Baryomunsi, a respected member of Ugandan Parliament.

Despite significant opposition to thwart the bill’s passage, the measure appears destined to pass, as the opposition has voiced recent discouragement over an inability to engage the global community. However, popular protest has yielded positive results in the past, as the President vetoed a radical anti-gay bill earlier this year after significant international pressure demanded Museveni squash the hateful and violent legislation.

President Museveni is expected to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.

– Sam Preston

Sources: All Africa, BBC News, The Globe and Mail
Photo: Cloud Front

Cabral_Development_Africa
In 1973, only a few months before Cape Verde won its independence from Portugal, Amílcar Cabral, activist and leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC,) was assassinated outside of his home. Like many of the world’s greatest leaders he was gone before his time. Now, about 40 years later, film director and producer Val Lopez, a native Cape Verdean and Cabralist, is making a series of three movies dedicated to Cabral, his lasting influence and the ongoing struggles in Cape Verde and Guinea.

Cabral fought in the battlefield for the independence of Guinea and Cape Verde from Portugal, but his efforts were not targeted only on governmental independence. Cabral believed that to truly be a free nation the native Africans had to speak in their own language, not Portuguese, and be celebratory of their own culture rather than be dominated by European art and media. According to Lopez, these ideas of patriotism have taken hold in Cape Verde, but Guinea is a different situation. The school children of Guinea “aren’t learning about Africans, they’re learning about Europeans,” Lopez lamented. “The heroes we have in Africa are not African. They are from Hollywood movies.” Lopez worries that if Africans are not patriotic, they will leave their country and never return to help it prosper.

Another factor of ultimate independence is economic separation from other countries. Cabral, who was influenced by Karl Marx but was not a Marxist, dreamed of African countries that controlled their own banks, energy, communications and other systems. During Cabral’s lifetime, Cape Verde was colonized by the Portuguese and therefore had no control over its own economy, but even now that they are an independent nation everything remains in the hands of various foreign companies. “Cape Verde has chosen to form alliances with European countries where the economic systems are failing,” Lopez explained. “Cape Verde will never develop if this continues.”

Cape Verde currently has a 25 percent unemployment rate, 52 percent literacy rate (as compared to the United States’ 99 percent literacy rate) and about 30 percent of the population is considered to be living in poverty, with 14 percent in extreme poverty. Lopez cites neo-colonialism as extremely detrimental to the country’s growth, claiming that the biggest issue is that because these countries have been colonized, they do not know any other system than relying on other countries.

Lopez described a recent trip he took to Guinea and said that the country “has everything they need to grown their own rice but people aren’t growing rice, they’re importing it.” If Guinea was to grow its own rice the country could only benefit. People would have more work, less rice would need to be imported and some of it could be exported for a profit.

According to Lopez, the reason that Guinea has not advanced yet to this point is because the political party that opposed the PAIGC is now the ruling party, and “people who opposed [Cabral] are still alive.” School children are not taught about Cabral and many younger people have never heard of him. When asked what issues he believes Cabral would be focusing on if he were still alive today, Lopez said that most issues would have already been solved if Cabral had lived longer. “People would be educated,” he said. “Without him people don’t know that there is another way.”

Although Cabral focused extensively on Guinea and Cape Verde, Lopez made it very clear that Cabral does not “belong” to either of these countries, saying that the activist’s inspiration is humanistic and universal. Lopez concluded by saying that Cabralists have every reason to be optimist. “This is the man who Mandela referred to as ‘my master,’” he said proudly. “His ideas transcend time, and we must think ‘Cabral’ until Guinea, Cape Verde… Africa becomes developed.”

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: Cabralista, Worldbank
Photo: Berlinda

Since February 2014, Venezuelan protests against the government have been flaring throughout the country. Two Venezuelan politicians, Daniel Ceballos of San Cristobal and Enzo Scarano of San Diego, were placed in jail due to these protests and their clear defiance of President Nicolas Maduro. A State Department official stated that the arrests of these men solely based on their opposition exemplifies that Maduro’s government “continues to persecute political opponents.”

Maduro won the Presidential election in April 2013, but by a very narrow marigin, seeing as Venezuela is notoriously divided into those in favor of the late Hugo Chavez, whose policies are closely followed by Maduro, and those who strongly oppose him.

The new president has been running the country with the same socialist style that Chavez did, but with an increasingly high inflation rate, power cuts and lack of certain staple foods. As a result, defiance against Maduro and his government have been increasing.

Although the President is attempting to keep the opposition down, the wives of the imprisoned mayors continued the fight by running as mayors in their husbands’ places. On May 25, they both won in a landslide, making their constituents’ support clear.

Daniel Ceballos, former mayor of San Cristobal where the protests began, was given a 12-month sentence for civil rebellion and conspiracy after he did not follow an order to halt the protests going on in the city. His wife, Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos, won the election for mayor with 73 percent of the votes. About the election, the newly elected mayor states:

“They have converted me into mayor and ratified Daniel Ceballos as mayor. And today, San Cristobal has the privilege of having two mayors governing its city.”

She also said that each ballot cast for her represented a sentence of justice and freedom, as well as a blow against “the dictatorship” of Venezuela.

The other imprisoned politician, Enzo Scarano, was placed in jail for a 10-month sentence for his failure to comply with a previous order from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to take down the barricades in San Diego, in the state Carabobo. Rosa Brandonisio de Scarano, wife of Scarano and former City Council Member of San Diego, won about 88 percent of the votes on May 25.

“The people will remain peacefully in the streets, making people listen, so that it echoes throughout the world that Venezuela right now is going through a very difficult time, economically, socially, morally and politically,” she stated after the election.

On the bright side, the fact that these women were clearly a part of the opposition and won with an overwhelming majority of the votes shows that the elections can be impartial and fair.

The concerning portion of all of this is President Maduro’s possible reaction if the protests continue. He has described the protesters as “fascists and extreme-right thugs” who are attempting to destabilize the government for a coup. As far as future action, he states, “If they go crazy and start burning the municipality again, the authorities will act … and elections will be called every three months, until there is peace.”

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: CNN, Huffington Post, BBC
Photo: Panorama

American Jewish World Service
As an organization dedicated to promoting human rights through advocacy, American Jewish World Service aims to “advance the health and human rights of women, girls, and the LGBT community, to promote recovery from conflict and oppression, to defend access to food, land, and livelihood, and to aid communities after disasters.”

The organization endeavors to uphold the Jewish value of “tikkun olam” which literally translates as fixing the world. Much like The Borgen Project, American Jewish World Service understands the enormous impact U.S. legislation can have on the developing world, and therefore, spends much of their efforts on urging representatives to support both economic and social justice in these regions.

American Jewish World Service focuses their work primarily on the Americas, Africa and Asia, and collaborates with other like-minded organizations in order to best promote their cause. Some partners include the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Rights, which provides a rapid response to areas that are experiencing increased violence against women, The Disability Rights Fund, which aims to support people that are disabled, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which helps support rights for the LGBT community and the International Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which supports grassroots organizations by helping facilitate communication between various organizations.

American Jewish World Service’s most recent efforts, however, are aimed at pressuring the Senate to pass IVAWA (the International Violence Against Women Act), S.2307. Passing this act would secure an effective portion of foreign aid toward ending the struggle against gender-based violence. The act itself aims to put programs into action that will do the following: work with women to combat violence while also working to reduce the violence committed against women, stop violence so girls and women can go to school, work and collect food without fear of sexual and all forms of harassment and establishes fighting violence against women as a main concern of U.S. foreign policy.

If you would like to take action in combating violence against women, you can use the following link to email your senator to encourage Congress to pass the IVAWA.

Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: AJWS, Congress, Futures Without Violence, UN Women
Photo: KeyD Media