Election campaigns are big business in the U.S. With all the recent attention given to the amount of money being spent on them, it is interesting to look at how the cost of election campaign financing over the last presidential race measures up to current spending on development projects.

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), campaign spending for the 2012 fiscal year totaled nearly $7 billion. The presidential election campaign alone cost approximately $2.6 billion—the remainder having been spent on financing congressional campaigns.

The first presidential race since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling conferred corporations with freedom of speech rights, the 2012 race saw $1.07 billion raised for Barack Obama and $992.5 million for Mitt Romney through their parties and affiliated Super PACs (highly specialized political committees which make no direct contributions to candidates but undertake independent expenditures towards the election campaign).

In comparison, the President’s new Power Africa initiative, which will help fund building electrical infrastructure for Africa is slated to cost the same $7 billion over the next five years. By contrast, however, powering Africa would bring basic access to electricity to the 90 million children who go to primary schools without it; or to the 255 million African patients who are served in health facilities (hospitals, clinics, etc.) in the dark.

It is argued that access to electricity has the greatest positive impact of basic infrastructural development projects. Given that some estimates indicate that for every $1 spent on modernized grids, between $2.80 and $6 is returned to the broader economy, it is no wonder that there is such a large movement seeking to electrify Africa.

This is exactly what the Electrify Africa Act, which is currently working its way through Congress, is meant to ensure. The bill seeks to address some of the shortcomings of the Power Africa initiative. While the President’s initiative is an important start, it represents 5% of the necessary $300 billion needed by 2030 to give electrical access to the 110 million African households currently off the grid.

In Sudan, students were able to improve their pass rate from 57% to 97% in one year with electric lighting. It doesn’t take much to help ensure that cases like these continue to spread across Africa as it is empowered with basic electrical access for all – but it does come at a cost.

The next time you see an election advertisement or hear about the cost of campaign finance on the news, pick up the phone and let your congressmen and women know that you support increased funding for the Power Africa initiative and that you would like to see more support for the Electrify Africa Act. It takes 30 seconds to help improve the lives of millions of Africans.

– Pedram Afshar

Sources: Open Secrets, RT, NY Times, ONE, National Geographic, Solar Aid
Photo: The Guardian

Star Wars
When dignitaries and heads of state meet one another, the inevitable giving of gifts can be expected, and dreaded. While the notion of diplomatic gift exchanges between countries may hold a certain romantic charm, the gifts themselves rarely hold up to their expected allure. Like receiving a present from a distant relative, what one receives is rarely what one wants but unable to refuse without ruffling feathers.

As the reigning monarch of England for the past 61 years, Queen Elizabeth has received her share of useless gifts. The Economist reports that she has received “pineapples, eggs, a box of snail shells, a grove of maple trees, a dozen tins of tuna and 7kg of prawns”. To belabor the point, at her Diamond Jubilee last year, the queen received a sports shirt, 169,000 square miles on Antarctica henceforth known as Queen Elizabeth Land, and a Lego sculpture of the Tower Bridge.

While none of these items necessarily broke the bank, they illustrate the uselessness of mandatory gift giving between countries. For the woman who has everything, giving her perishable goods doesn’t help.

Since his election in 2008, President Obama has also received numerous trinkets including a Hermes golf bag and a “large silver bowl with palm tree design” with an estimated value of $3400.

As an explanation for receiving the gift, next to each listed donation on the Federal Register website is the comment, “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.”

It is high time for refusing gifts out of decorum be reformed.

In contrast to his political successor, President Thomas Jefferson abstained from receiving valuable gifts from foreign dignitaries, save for the occasional book or pamphlet. When he did receive a gift of note, like the several Arabian horses he received from the Tunisian ambassador in 1805, he sold them at a public auction to subsidize the cost of the ambassador’s visit.

When poverty and wealth inequality run rampant throughout the world, it is up to politicians and dignitaries to draw a line and refuse gifts they neither want nor need and instead contribute that wealth towards more noteworthy causes.

Emily Bajet

Sources:, Federal Register, ABC News, Politico

house of representatives budget
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a two-year, bipartisan budget plan that moves onto the Senate next week before going to President Barack Obama.

The budget passed overwhelmingly in a 332 to 94 vote, including 164 Democrats and 169 Republicans. President Obama has expressed his support for the bill. In addition to budget allocation, the bill addresses the sexual assault cases in the military. Military commanders no longer have the ability to overturn sexual assault cases and victims of sexual assault in the military have greater protections.

The bill outlines $1.012 trillion in government spending, reducing the deficit by more than $20 billion. The bill includes more targeted spending cuts in order to balance spending. $63 billion is allocated to temporary sequester relief, and $85 billion worth of programs have been cut from the budget. The plan includes funding for the Affordable Care Act, increased government spending, and increased taxes. Republican say the new deal is moving “in the wrong direction,” but Democrats call the bill “a small positive step forward.”

The budget does not include unemployment benefit extensions for the one million Americans whose benefits are set to expire in January, but White House spokesman Jay Carney urged Congress to take up the issue in 2014.

The 2014 budget does not solve any major problems, but it avoids another period of government shutdown. Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says the budget “reduces the deficit—without raising taxes. And it does so by cutting spending in a smarter way. It doesn’t go as far as I’d like, but it’s a firm step in the right direction. This agreement will stop Washington’s lurch from crisis to crisis. It will bring stability to the budget process and show both parties can work together.” In a year where Congress has only passed 15 bills, many fear bipartisan cooperation is dead.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNN, Slate, House of Representatives

Nelson Mandela, former South African President, was highly regarded by leaders all over the globe. His legacy will live on in South Africa and in the hearts of past and present influential leaders.

Soon after the announcement of Mr. Mandela’s death, President Barack Obama praised the South African leader as an influential and inspiring leader who motivated people all across the globe, including the President himself. President Obama solemnly stated that he could not imagine his life without the example set by Mr. Mandela.

Previous U.S. Presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, also commended Nelson Mandela for his role in the anti-apartheid movement and outspokenness.

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid leader, also commended Nelson Mandela for his willingness to compromise and passion for the betterment of South Africa. De Klerk stated in 1990 that though his relationship with Mr. Mandela was “often stormy” “they were always able to come together at critical moments.”

The Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, recently said that he will “personally miss a dear friend” and that Mr. Mandela’s “spirit will go on” even though he has physically departed.

Though his controversial position in South Africa during the Apartheid, Nelson Mandela has become a world-renowned leader and activist. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes that Mandela’s legacy will continue to motivate people across the globe to work for a better world. The White House flags are set to fly at half-staff through Monday.

– Lienna Feleke-Eshete 

Sources: All Africa, Yahoo
Photo: News Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

For more information and Fast for Families updates, please visit

Daren Gottlieb

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

The G8 Summit provides a golden opportunity for G8 leaders to help inspire a “transparency revolution.” While the U.K. holds the presidency of the G8 this year with Prime Minister David Cameron as its representative, President Obama and the U.S. have the opportunity to make transparency a priority at the G8.

The Obama administration has been a global leader in tax transparency, requiring American citizens to disclose their foreign financial accounts, foreign financial institutions to report their American clients, and pressing other countries to share tax information in an effort to curb tax evasion.

At the G8 Summit, President Obama should work to ensure that developing countries are invited to participate in automatic tax information exchange systems, even if they currently lack the capacity to provide information themselves. The U.S. government should also commit to support foreign tax and revenue authorities in developing countries so that they can effectively use and share tax information in the future.

To both complement its efforts on tax transparency and to curb robbery by “phantom firms,” the Obama administration should also take meaningful steps to take the “anonymous” out of anonymous shell companies, fake corporations that serve as fronts for financing terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering and arms trafficking and that enable corruption and resource exploitation.

President Obama should reiterate his strong support for removing the veil of secrecy that enables phantom firms to operate and encourage other leaders to take bold steps. Greater transparency about who actually owns and controls companies would make it easier for developing countries to crack down on corruption and retain and invest more of their own resources.

The U.S. government has been a leader in transparency for the extractive industries by requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their payments to governments. Measures like this help ensure that citizens of resource-rich countries have access to information necessary for holding their government accountable.

Just earlier this year, the European Parliament approved similar rules, and the Government of Canada announced its intent to follow suit, which is great news. The Obama administration should also encourage other governments – including Australia, Brazil, Japan, and South Africa – to implement similar rules and help set a new global transparency standard for the oil, gas and mining industries.

The Obama administration should further encourage African governments to become transparent in their foreign assistance, extractives, budgets and financial flows. To do this requires real progress on establishing open data standards and teaching citizens’ groups how to use data unleashed by the transparency revolution to hold their leaders accountable.

Finally, the U.S. government should commit to and establish local, multi-sector “transparency partnerships” with developing countries so that citizens and accountability institutions can use data to follow the money flowing in and out of their countries. This can strengthen accountability of the government and deliver improved development results.

Through these policies, the U.S. government can leverage the agenda so that the G8 can put into motion the transparency revolution that we need.

Matthew Jackoski

Sources: ONE, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: The Guardian

More than three-quarters of the 193 UN member countries are represented on Twitter, making the site a valuable communication tool with which leaders can succinctly speak to millions of citizens. Though it is clear that Twitter has become an increasingly important political medium, there has been little analysis of their Twitter activity. Twiplomacy is a global study of world leaders’ Twitter activity that seeks to examine how the site is utilized as a diplomatic tool. Listed below are five interesting facts from Twiplomacy that shed light on the Twitter usage of world leaders.

  1. Though a roughly 25% of world leaders and governments follow President Barack Obama and the White House, @BarackObama and the @WhiteHouse have only established mutual connections with four other world leaders, making them the least connected out of all world leaders.
  2. @CarlBildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, has 44 mutual peer connections – the greatest number out of all world leaders. Next on the list is @eu_eeas, the European External Action Service, which has 36 mutual connections.
  3. @BarackObama is the most followed world leader on Twitter with 35,510,157 followers. The next most followed leader is Pope Francis with approximately 7.2 million followers.
  4. The most active world leader account on Twitter is @PresidencialVen, the Presidency of Venezuela, which averages 41.9 tweets per day. The most conversational leader is @AmamaMbabazi, the Prime Minister of Uganda, who replies to 96 percent of all tweets.
  5. 71 percent of African leaders are represented on Twitter, with ousted Egyptian President @MuhammadMorsi being the most followed leader on the continent. Morsi has 1.6 million followers.

Follow @Twiplomacy on Twitter to learn more about how world leaders connect on Twitter.

– Katie Bandera

Sources: Twiplomacy, Twitter
Photo: The Economist

Over the past two decades, sweeping statements about our ability to end poverty have been common. Lyndon Johnson declared it in 1964. Thabo Mbeki in 2002. Tony Blair in 2005. More recently, Obama and U2 frontman Bono have attempted to inspire action by reiterating our capacity to make an impact and in April press conference, Jim Yong Kim wrote “2030” on a piece of paper, held it up and stated emphatically that this was the deadline to end global poverty.

More common than our leaders’ public displays of confidence, however, is our general inaction towards capitalizing on our ability to use it. This is not necessarily a reflection of the stinginess of those in power; the international response after disasters and during successful charity drives is a testament to the existing desire to aid those in need. Rather, we are grappling with a problem of mismanagement and misconception.

Ending poverty is achievable in the way winning an Olympic medal is achievable. It will take energy, time, luck, effort, money and above all, indomitable will to ensure its success. It has to be properly managed and directed. Currently, what we have is akin to having a potential star athlete without a trainer or equipment.

The Washington Post estimates that if countries were to donate 50 cents of every $100 earned in income, it would drastically decrease poverty – if properly funneled. The cost to end poverty is not, in and of itself, exorbitantly high, especially in comparison to budgets for other programs. Yet the money already used is too often misused – charity, while noble, is often a misguided venture which temporarily alleviates rather than solves problems and too little is directed towards programs that could help because of fear of corruption or siphoning by dishonest governments.

The Millennium Project has released a report Investing in Development which outlines the numerous ways a small amount can have a huge impact. Malaria nets in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are magic bullets: eliminating disease, potentially lowering birth rates and allowing greater productivity. The provision of obstetric care could save hundreds of lives, while using local healthy foods to provide nutritious school lunches could increase revenues for farmers and improve child health and performance in schools.

Too often, people think of poverty as an unconquerable single problem. In reality, poverty is the result of a confluence of factors, all of which have structural solutions. Although it is complicated and requires long-term planning, a fatalistic view of poverty is solely an excuse for not trying. Estimates put the total cost of the US contribution around 60 billion – a fraction of what the nation spends annually. With so much potential benefit in terms of emerging markets and sound international security, the cost to end poverty seems almost a bargain price.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: The Economist, Washington Post
Photot: Middlesbourgh Diocese

Obama in Senegal
President Obama’s first stop on his trip to Africa was Senegal, a fitting choice for a president who has made agriculture and food security major issues during his presidency. Senegal’s recent progress, which the President mentioned during his speech in Dakar, exemplifies the promise of the President’s approach to agriculture and food security.

In recent years, Senegal has made great strides in improving the standard of living for its citizens. The country has reduced poverty dramatically and is on track to halve the proportion of the population whose income is less than $1.25 per day.

Senegal’s government has also prioritized spending on agriculture. Agriculture expenditures represented 109.6 million, or 9.5% of the government’s total spending for 2011. Between 2003 and 2009, Senegal spent an average of 12.1% of the budget on agriculture. This increased spending has translated into strong growth for the sector.

The United States has played a large role in Senegal’s improvements and will continue to support the country. The U.S. plans to continue supporting programs that improve farmer productivity. With U.S. support, Senegal’s national agriculture plan emphasizes strengthening crop productivity through the distribution of seeds, fertilizers, and tools.

The private sector of the United States can also play a crucial role in the development of the agricultural sector of Senegal. In the President’s remarks in Dakar, he said he looks forward to Senegal joining the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition later this year. The New Alliance’s model combines pro-investment policies committed to by African governments, substantial private sector investments to strengthen agricultural productivity for smallholder farms, and donor government support for country-led plans.

– Matthew Jackoski

Source: ABC News, ONE
Photo: Global Post


Four centuries after the first African slaves were shipped from Africa to the Americas, Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. President, visited one of the major slave shipping points of the triangular trade: Goree Island.

Obama started off his week-long trip through Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania with a private tour of the Goree Island Slave House. Built in 1776 by the Dutch on Goree Island off the Senegal coast, it is contested whether the ‘House of Slaves’ (Maison des Esclaves) was really a major slave-trading point; some historians suggest that the island was more of a merchant port, and the slave house a merchant’s home. However, despite the controversy over its effective role in the slave trade, there is no doubt that slaves walked through the “door of no return,” never to come back.

Now turned into a museum and classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, the House of Slaves reminds all its visitors of the brutality and cruelty inflicted upon other human beings during the slave trade.

“It’s a very powerful moment… to be able to come here and to fully appreciate the magnitude of the slave trade, to get a sense in a very intimate way of the incredible inhumanity and hardship that people faced”, stated Obama, who is believed to have at least one enslaved ancestor. First Lady Michelle Obama, a descendant of slaves, did not wish to comment on their visit to the House of Slaves.

More than just diplomatic, Obama’s visit to the Slave House is highly significant for many, both African and American. It is an acknowledgment of the dark history of slavery of the United States, a reminder of the considerable transformation that American society has undergone in the past decades.

The desegregation of American society and the election of the first African American  President in the history of the U.S. has made Africans very supportive and proud, although there is some disappointment that the President seems less involved with the continent than his predecessors Georges W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Moved by the living testimony of the slave trade evoked by the Goree Island Slave House, Obama emphasized the importance of the defense of human rights and praised the U.S. Supreme Court for the same-sex marriage ruling. He was accompanied by Senegalese President Macky Sall, who paradoxically declared that Senegal was “still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality”.

Obama’s visit to Goree Island and then to South Africa raises the question of the place of aid to Africa in American foreign policy priorities. That question has yet to be answered.

Lauren Yeh

Source: Yahoo! News, PolicyMicLA Times
Photo: Washington Post