Health Security Agenda
On Nov. 4, President Obama signed an executive order advancing the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which the administration started in 2014. As a result, the United States will now prioritize the GHSA on a presidential level.

As part of the GHSA, the United States has joined with 55 different countries, nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies.  The GHSA’s top goals include the improvement of research accountability and outbreak detection, and 22 countries have already begun to evaluate outbreak responses and identify areas to improve upon.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the under-secretary general of the United Nations, suggests that the WHO needs to focus on outbreak response as one of its five main priorities in order to ensure that the global health goals will be met by 2030.

According to USAID, the “GHSA promotes global health security as a national priority through targeted capacity building activities, such as improving laboratory systems, strengthening disease surveillance, improving biosafety and biosecurity, expanding workforce development, and improving emergency management.”

USAID also proposes to support the GHSA initiative by addressing animal health, human health and the environment. USAID’s Bureau for Global Health Assistant Administrator, Dr. Ariel Pablos Mendez, says that USAID’s attention to animal health is particularly important: 70 percent of new infectious disease outbreaks begin in animals.

WaterAid also celebrates the GHSA’s anticipated role in improving the safety of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. WaterAid explains that spread of infectious diseases such as cholera could end with access to safe water.

The GHSA’s intent to combat antimicrobial resistance relates directly to water quality. Access to safe water could prevent up to 60 percent of diarrhea cases. These cases require treatment with antibiotics, and increased use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance among bacteria.

People and diseases travel rapidly due to the spread of globalization. The CDC summarizes, “A disease threat anywhere can mean a threat everywhere.” The GHSA is designed to detect and prevent this spread of disease. “No single nation can be prepared,” the order declares, “if other nations remain unprepared to counter biological threats.”

Madeline Reding

Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaitlyn Arford

Sources: BBC, Christian Science Monitor, Voice of America

Obama’s_Visit_To_Kenya
Although it was not his first trip to Kenya, Barack Obama’s visit was the first ever by a sitting U.S. president. From freestyling on the dancefloor to speaking on serious political and social issues, Obama’s trip was certainly a highlight for the nation, which considers him a long-lost son. Emphasizing his place in history as the first African-American president, Obama went one step further, declaring himself to the masses as a “Kenyan-American” president who takes pride in his ancestral heritage.

The visit was very different from the one he made as a young man, however. This time, Obama was surrounded by the security bubble that comes with the office of Presidency, so Kenyans that clamored to be close to him were kept at a distance. Despite his personal ties to the nation, the trip retained a practical and professional air.

Nevertheless, Obama’s family connections to the nation proved useful in adding sincerity and poignancy to the political messages that he delivered to large, receptive Kenyan crowds. The stories of his father and grandfather, Obama noted, “show the enormous barriers to progress that so many Kenyans faced just one or two generations ago.”

The President went on to declare that “Kenya is at a crossroads” and that it needs to confront “the dark corners” of corruption, ethnic division, and violence that exist within its borders and move toward expanding democracy.

Obama condemned practices of bribery, suggesting that the Kenyan economy could be improved if money from bribes were instead put towards paying people for an “honest day’s work”.

He additionally attacked the treatment of women in Kenya, remarking that treating women as second-class citizens was holding the country back from meeting its true potential.

In direct contrast to comments made by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, calling gay rights a “nonissue” in the country, Obama criticized the Kenyan government for making homosexuality punishable by several years in prison and urged the country to make progress in the area of gay rights.

The condemnations voiced by President Obama are not new criticisms for the nation riddled with controversy. But, perhaps, hearing them from a leader who is so deeply connected to Kenyan culture will help in swaying the country to strive for change.

Katie Pickle

Sources: CNN, New York Times
Photo: Flickr

Helms_Amendment
Many organizations and individuals are becoming more vocal against the Helms Amendment. Passed by a conservative Congress in 1973 as a reactionary measure against the landmark court case, Roe v. Wade, the Helms Amendment denies women in countries receiving U.S. aid the ability to get abortions with government money.

This amendment has received flack from both liberals and conservatives due to the denial of safe abortion options for women who are victims of rape during war. The opposition has grown a lot of steam world wide.

Before President Obama touched down in Kenya last week, the Kenyan government tore down a billboard that seemed to be politically motivated. According to reports, the billboard implored President Obama to utilize his executive action to help women who are victims of rape in developing countries.

After the Kenyan government took the billboard down, many were upset. Perhaps the government wanted Obama’s trip to his father’s country to be pleasurable and void of political dissonance.

Obama is not just receiving pressure to revoke the amendment abroad, but also at home.

Before his trip to Kenya, 70 U.S. non-government organizations called for Obama to visit health clinics in Kenya that attend to womens’ health so that he can see for himself what the amendment is causing.

At the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice” in June, religious leaders requested that Obama use swift action to revoke the amendment. The support to revoke the amendment is not just from leaders, but from the majority of the American public.

BuzzFeed reported that 81 percent of people support a woman’s right to have access to an abortion in the case of rape or for the safety of the mother. Although this poll shows people’s views domestically, they can translate to the global stage.

Women living in countries rampant with gang and terrorist violence are subject to rape. Because of the lack of protection the perpetrators have, the victims are often times subject to sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

Due to rape being a tool of war, many from both sides express their disdain for the harsh bill. Perhaps the president will one day voice his opposition.

Erin Logan

Sources: The Daily Beast, Buzzfeed 1, Gender Health, Buzzfeed 2
Photo: Woman Under Seige Project

not for profit law

The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, or ICNL, regulates and strengthens the legal environment of nonprofits around the world.

Their objectives include fostering multilateral cooperation and philanthropy in nonprofit institutions. The ICNL has programs on every continent that support philanthropy and sustainability. The ICNL promotes its ethical standards by incentivizing its processes to businesses. The organization also offers tax exemptions for businesses that comply with its regulations.

The ICNL offers various services, including providing transparency and information on international nonprofits. The ICNL reports on over 48 countries worldwide and NGOs.

Some ICNL programs work to strengthen the connections of leaders in civil society throughout countries in the Middle East. Other programs of the ICNL focus on partnering with local nonprofits to establish legitimacy and offer additional resources. For instance, professionals of the ICNL have worked in every country in Central and Eastern Europe in order to provide consulting services. Their consulting work is centered on analyzing the fiscal framework of organizations and drafting legislation in cooperation with the policies of the ICNL.

The organization’s latest research of nonprofit law is based on exploring problems within African civil society. They discuss the impact of funding for HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia and other important topics facing human rights and civil society in Africa. These articles are published in the organization’s journal.

President Barack Obama made a commitment in 2013 to support civil society in programs called Stand For Civil Society. The White House released a press statement discussing the president’s deepened commitment.

The presidential memorandum directs that, “U.S. agencies defend and strengthen civil society abroad by: consulting regularly with civil society organizations to explain the views of the United States, seek their perspectives, utilize their expertise, and build strong partnerships to address joint challenges.”

To date, the United States has given more than $2.7 billion to programs invested in bettering civil society abroad.

– Maxine Gordon

Sources: White House,  International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Photo: Business Administration Information

new strategy against isis
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

On September 10, President Barack Obama announced a new strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. (Here, the group will be referred to as ISIS. Other sources have labeled the organization as IS and ISIL.)

The aim of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, throughout Iraq and Syria. So far, ISIS has claimed control over northern Iraq and the northeastern region of Syria. The extremist group also targets people who follow religions other than Islam, particularly Christians and the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in Iraq.

Until February 2014, ISIS was a part of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Differing strategies in establishing a caliphate in Syria resulted in the division of the groups. Today, both compete for influence over Islamic fundamentalists.

In an effort to reduce the amount of destruction caused by ISIS, the United States staged successful air strikes to keep the group out of Iraqi Kurdistan and limit their attacks on the Yazidi.

The actions of the militant group in Iraq and Syria have displaced thousands and placed many into a state of poverty. In Qaraqosh, a predominately Christian town in Iraq, 50,000 people have little access to food and water because of ISIS’s actions.

In its attempt to create a caliphate, the group is also raping and abducting women in order to use them as slaves. By targeting women and minorities, ISIS is forcing thousands into poverty. Access to basic necessities and human rights are severely limited. Poverty also compels some to join the extremist group, with no alternative to survival, and furthers its control of the region.

Identifying the force as a threat to national security, President Obama has taken action to provide military support for the Iraqi government. This effort will be continued and expanded, according to his most recent statements.

An additional 475 military representatives will be sent to Iraq to help with training, intelligence and attaining resources. The United States will work with international allies to increase intelligence and create a comprehensive strategy to eliminate ISIS. To address the number of people in Iraq and Syria being targeted, the United States will also provide humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the conflict.

In outlining the new strategy, President Obama highlighted the United States’ leadership. He drew focus to America’s, “capacity and will to mobilize the world against terrorists … our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for—timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”

President Obama argued that the capacity and willingness to end a problem created a moral obligation for the United States to act. This obligation is not limited to military action. The new strategy against ISIS includes humanitarian efforts to alleviate the burden of conflict, which is closely related to poverty. Should these types of efforts continue, the United States could act as a role model for poverty-reducing strategies across the globe.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: Vox, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian,

2014_Afghan_Presidential_Election
According to an article by the New York Times, the Independent Election Complaints Commission said that the Afghan presidential election this time around appears to be cleaner than the one in 2009.

Nader Mohseni, the commission’s spokesman, said that fraud was less prevalent in the 2014 elections compared to other elections in the past. Unlike the 2,842 complaints that the commission recorded in 2009, only 1,573 were counted this year.

“Compared with 7.5 million people who voted, that number is very small,” said Mohseni. “That’s what the international observers believe as well.”

Setting the election aside, the year 2014 is an important year for Afghanistan. Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, said that President Obama told Afghan president Hamid Karzai that his refusal to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement gave the U.S. no choice but to withdraw its military from the country.

“Keeping on 5,000 troops and some equipment at a handful of small bases will not be difficult if Karzai’s successor decides to sign the SOFA,” Cole said.

But is it necessary for U.S. troops to keep their presence in Afghanistan after more than a decade of combat in the country?

Around the time Cole made these remarks the Taliban has been involved in several violent campaigns that made Pakistani officials question whether Kabul can ultimately stay in control of the situation and confront the group.

“Whether the Afghanistan National Army can stand up to the Taliban is one question,” Cole said. “Another is, if Afghans still can’t stand up to the Taliban after a decade of US aid, when exactly would the billions poured into the country finally bear fruit?”

According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, the current situation in Afghanistan is not looking good at all.

While visiting Kabul a few years back, Cockburn realized “the main problem in Afghanistan was not the strength of the Taliban but the weakness of the government.”

“It does not matter how many NATO troops are in the country because they are there in support of a government detested by much of the population,” he explained. “Everywhere I went in the capital there were signs of this, even among prosperous people who might be expected to be natural supporters of the status quo.”

Cockburn also believes that this year’s election will not be a success and will be more fraudulent considering Karzai is no longer able to run for a third term.

“The April 2014 election is likely to be worse than anything seen before, with 20.7 million voter cards distributed in a country where half the population of 27 million are under the voting age of 18,” he said.

Cockburn also reveals that election-monitoring institutions, such as the one Mohseni represents, are under the control of the government.

As a result, if the Afghan government controls the Independent Elections Complaints Commission, there is no guarantee that the New York Times article is correct for claiming that the 2014 elections are in fact cleaner.

– Juan Campos

Photo: DW
Sources:
The New York Times, Counterpunch, Z Magazine

russia_exploits_veto_power
Following landmark political shifts in Ukraine during 2014, the scope of international politics has heavily focused its lens upon tension between Ukraine and Russia, and more recently in the eastern Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Popular uprisings in Ukraine have divided the population between western supporters of the European Union and eastern supporters of Russia. Although the majority of Ukraine’s population wants to be in alignment with the European Union, the region of Crimea contains a significant amount of Ukraine’s Russian-supporting population.

Russia has recently received international attention by its military occupation in the region of Crimea. In addition, the parliament of Crimea has even voted to secede from Ukraine. Critics of Russia, such as President Barack Obama of the United States, argue that Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and established international laws.

Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Jan Eliasson stressed that meaningful discourse and dialogue ought to be facilitated within the Security Council in order to reach a resolution to alleviate the problems in Ukraine.

The situation in Russia has consistently been a heavily debated topic in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); however, extensive use of veto power by Russia has hindered the UN Security Council from reaching any substantial resolutions to alleviating the escalating tension between Ukraine and Russia.

The UNSC contains a body of five permanent member states including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France and Russia. The ability for Russia to block actions that are clearly within the goals and intentions of the UN to “pursue diplomacy, and maintain international peace and security,” and “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” provides significant concern for the institutional framework of the UNSC.

Although the United Nations Security Council accounts for the most powerful UN body, Russia’s ability to exploit its status as a permanent member have produced consequences with their violation of international law.

Moreover, while the UNSC remains in suspension of reaching a resolution, the situation in Ukraine is continuing to rapidly escalate. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations pleaded to the UNSC in an emergency session to do everything that is possible to end the violation of national sovereignty and invasion of Crimea by Russian military forces.

Failure to make steps to remedy the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is exemplary of some of the weaknesses inherent to the UNSC. However, it has not been the only case of Russia’s exploitation of its permanent status and veto power in the UNSC. Critics have also argued that failure to resolve the conflict in Syria has also been the result of blocked motions by Russia.

Considering the level of power and influence the UNSC has, problems arise when just one nation has the means to restrict action in addressing pressing international problems. Russia has been quintessential in portraying how special interests can hinder the intentions of international law—which is at the root of why international law may need to be reformed in accommodating 21st century problems.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, ABC News
Photo: Rianovosti

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