This year’s Oscars ceremony was a memorable one, with “selfies”, actresses falling and the energetic host, Ellen DeGeneres. It is easy to get wrapped up in the glitz and glam of the night, and one of the most expensive aspects of the 2014 Oscars was the $85,000 gift basket that the Oscar nominees received when they did not win a golden statue. Last year the gift basket was valued at $48,000 dollars.

Included in this year’s basket are quite a few high-end luxury items, including a walking tour of Japan valued at $15,000, 2 vacations: one to Las Vegas, which costs $9,000, and one to Hawaii, and a hair transplant offer for those in need, valued at $16,000.

One may question though, why do these high-paid actors and actresses need a gift basket worth thousands of dollars? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on a philanthropic cause of the actor or actress’s choice?

The money could also be incredibly beneficial by being spent on vaccinations for children in need. Here is a break down of different vaccination costs compared to the $85,000 worth of the gifts in the Oscars basket.

  • One Hepatitis B vaccination in a single dose from the supplier LG Life Sciences Limited costs 38 cents per child. If the $85,000 went towards Hepatitis B vaccinations approximately 223,683 children would be able to be vaccinated.
  • The Bivalent Human Papiloma Virus vaccine in a two-dosage vial from supplier GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals costs $4.60 per child. If the cost of the gift basket went towards that vaccination, approximately 18,477 children would be able to get vaccinated.
  • The Measles vaccine, in a single dose from supplier P.T. Bio Farma, costs 22 cents per child. 386,362 children would be able to be vaccinated if the money for the Oscars gift basket were donated for that cause.
  • An Oral Polio Vaccination costs 11 cents in a 20-vial presentation from supplier P.T. Bio Farma. By donating the money from the basket, 772,726 children would be able to receive the vaccination.

This puts into perspective the extreme amount of money that is involved in nights like the Oscars. If that money could be channeled towards helping a cause, like vaccinations, many children’s lives could be saved.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: CBS, Business Insider, Unite for Children, UNICEF
Photo: Liberty Voice

F-35 Lightning
The F-35 Lightning II is one of the most expensive weapons programs the United States Military has ever conceived.  The Lightning is a nearly $400 billion program and is the subject of much controversy in Washington. It is years behind schedule and 70 percent over budget, according to the Washington Post. There are a myriad of other issues present with the plane as well. The producers of the plane Lockheed Martin spread the development over 45 states, making the reduction of its budget almost impossible.

The amount of that is being spent on the project that is being primarily created to match up against potential enemies such as Iran, China and host of others who may possess anti-aircraft defense capabilities. According to the Washington Post, the country’s 2013 military budget is expected to be around $716 billion; due to budget cuts, that is down from $729 billion.

In contrast, the U.S. foreign aid budget was around $53.3 billion in 2012, according to Reuters. This is an astronomically small number in comparison to the budget for the F-35. A United Nations report from 2008 indicates that solving the problem of world hunger would cost around $30 billion per year, given that the budget for the F-35 Lightning could pay for the world’s hunger problem for over 30 years.

Oxfam recently put out a statement indicating the world’s richest 100 billionaire’s net income of $240 billion could end world poverty four times over. That means the cost of ending global poverty is about $60 billion. Given this startling and hopeful statistic, the cost of the F-35 Lightning II could end world poverty almost seven times over.

The F-35 program is also not being utilized in any current conflict around the world; it is being designed for potential enemies and conflicts. The fight against world hunger and poverty is just as important and has been noted as such by Robert Gates and a host of other defense officials.

The F-35 is a startling technical achievement and is going to be another price of America’s vast arsenal of weapons that perhaps may never be utilized in actual combat. The amount of money that the U.S. government is paying to create this astounding plane however has a host of other and immediate uses that could also make the world a startlingly better place in a very short amount of time.

The Admiral of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said he would be happy to hand over part of his budget to the State Department, “U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military, too dependent on the generals and admirals who lead our major overseas commands and not enough on the State Department.” Admiral Mullen makes a fantastic point and one can only hope that those in Washington here him.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, Washington Post, Washington Post, The Borgen Project, CBS News, New York Times
Photo: Wikimedia

The amount spent on Super Bowl Ads is enough to give 10.5 million people access to clean water.

Some people only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, making a point to vote for the funniest, most compelling and most risqué. A 30 second spot during the prime-time event cost $4 million. Last year, companies shelled out over $220 million to advertise everything from chips to domain name services. Though Super Bowl commercials only last 30 seconds, the impact this money could have on an impoverished community is considerable.

It costs $125,000 to construct a deep bore hole well with a submersible electric pump and diesel-powered generator. This sort of well could serve 6,000 people. With $220 million, NGOs could build 1,760 of these wells. These wells would provide clean drinking water and improve sanitation for over 10.5 million people.

This money could also go towards ending world hunger. In many impoverished areas, about $50 will pay for food for a child for a year. With $220 million, 4.4 million children could be fed for a year.

At $100 per month per child, $220 million could provide a year’s worth of orphanage care for over 183,000 children. This includes education, food, housing, and other services.

A year’s worth of primary school tuition is about $40 to $50 in most impoverished rural areas. The $220 million spent on Super Bowl commercials could send around 4.4 million children to school. The money could also fund the operating costs of 275,000 local schools for a year.

A month worth of baby formula costs $112. In many rural areas, baby formula is hard to find, but crucial to an infant’s health and well-being. In other areas, baby formula is an expense most families cannot afford.  The money from Super Bowl commercials could provide a month’s worth of formula for almost 2 million infants.

It is time for the country to rethink its priorities.  It becomes difficult to justify spending $220 million on a short blip of an advertisement when the same amount of money could pull an entire community out of poverty.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Feed the Children, Global Giving, African Orphanage, African Well Fund, Forbes
Digital Trends

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

Officials across the nation are expressing concern over the latest technology on the internet: virtual currency.

Bitcoins are the one of the most common recognized digital currencies available on the web today. Disguised behind encrypted computer programs, the coins are becoming harder to find since their introduction in 2008. Once a user discovers a coin, they are able to store it in an online account.

The currency and any individual using it are untraceable and are garnering attention from authorities worldwide. Users of the currency remain anonymous through the use of identification numbers. Once a user knows the identification of another user, funds may be transferred to the receiver’s digital “wallet.” There are currently no restrictions on the types of products that may be purchased.

Investigations over the past few weeks have revealed the use of the currency to obtain illegal items including guns and drugs. But representatives of the Bitcoin Foundation argue that the currency is also being used for good.

The foundation currently operates as a self-governing institution that has been declared impenetrable by its creators. They maintain that the organization was founded in order to provide individuals with the ability to utilize their finances away from political oversight and other forms of outside influence.

Despite recent focus on illegal transactions using the currency, Bitcoins are also used for everyday purchases such as plane tickets and groceries. Currently, each coin is worth an estimated $1000 and is accepted at over 200 online retailers. Despite their worth, the number of coins available is severally limited.

Only 21 million coins were created and nearly 11 million have been found so far. If the remaining 10 million coins are found and retain a worth of at least $1000, then at least $10 billion of free money continues to await discovery. The potential impact on world poverty is startling.

The remaining Bitcoins could provide nearly 90 percent of UNICEF’s yearly budget ($11.7 billion.) It could cover the costs of both the World Food Programme ($4 billion) and the United Nation’s Development Programme ($5 billion.)

At its current rate, a third of the $30 billion annual windfall to end world hunger could also be paid.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: ABC News, Huffington Post, Bitcoin Foundation

As the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat dedicated his life to combating Israel for the sake of his nation’s right to self-determination. After decades of activism and leadership, Arafat’s life came to an end on November 11, 2004 after having suffered from a mysterious month-long illness. More puzzling than the onset of Arafat’s undetermined illness was his unexpected death.

Since Arafat had died while undergoing treatment in a French military hospital, no autopsy had been carried out immediately after his death. Under French law only his wife, Shuha, had the legal authority to request an autopsy at that time. Due to the absence of an autopsy, in the years since Arafat’s passing, a spectrum of rumors ranging from HIV to poisoning have been circulated. However, after years of speculation, Arafat’s body was exhumed for an autopsy in 2012.

To the dismay of many, even the autopsy of Arafat yielded inconclusive results. After separate laboratory testing conducted by Al Jareeza, France, and Russia, each result yielded inconsistent findings. According to Russia, an insufficient amount of polonium-210 was found in the remains of Arafat in order to conclusively declare poisoning as the cause of death. However, Al Jareeza ardently maintains the conviction that Arafat had indeed succumbed to poisoning by polonium-210. On the other hand, France stands a slightly neutral stance by concluding that while unusually high levels of polonium had been discovered in Arafat’s system, the cause of death was most likely natural causes in conjunction with a generalized infection.

Although the results and interpretation of Arafat’s autopsy are inconclusive, the staggering price of his exhumation is less bewildering. No official statements regarding the cost of the former Palestinian leader’s exhumation has been issued yet. However, according to The Guardian, a typical exhumation in the UK is priced at approximately £5,000 or $6, 867.

Under the assumption that a family of four needs $146 per week to purchase adequate and healthy groceries, the cost of exhuming Arafat could have bought a family of four living in the United States groceries for 46 weeks. Furthermore, since 50 percent of the world’s population subsides on less than $2.50 a day, Arafat’s exhumation could have also enabled an individual living in a non-industrialized nation to secure shelter, food, and clothing for almost 2,747 days, or roughly 7.5 years.

Although uncovering the truth behind Yasser Arafat’s death holds momentous political implications for Palestine and its international relations, the cost of the exhumation also has enormous political merit- we live in an age in which digging up the past is given more  care than shaping the immediate future. The cost of a single exhumation could also have been utilized to allow an impoverished child to see his or her 7th birthday.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: The Spectator, The Guardian 1, 2, USA Today, World Bank
Photo: The Times

South Africa
In the modern day, everyone wants to have the newest technology. Among new technological devices, the cell phone is the most common device to get upgraded. Cell phone upgrades rose almost nine percent since last year.

Cell phone carriers use cell phone upgrades as a way to retain their customers. Upgrades give users the ability to get new cell phone at a lower cost, but if the subscribers terminate the contract early, they will have to pay for the original prices of the phones.

On the other hand, people upgrade their phone more frequently (from once every two years to twice a year.) The cost of these upgrades is expensive. To upgrade to a new cell phone early, subscribers have to pay in the range of $140 to $200. In addition to the cost of the upgrade, with some cell phone carriers, the users still have to pay activation fees for their new phone, around $40 to $60. Besides, these expenses do not account for accessories for the new phone (e.g. phone cases, bluetooth headset.)

Everyone should stay updated with technology; updating twice a year, however, is unnecessary. The phone capabilities and features do not change much during the year. Most of the changes are made mainly on larger screens, designs, and extra applications which can be obtained through the app markets. These changes do not have any tremendous effect on phone functionality.

Instead of spending money on indulgences, people could put more effort on a more pressing issue: global poverty. There are many people still living on under $1.25 per day. In Africa, if one dollar is invested in clean water supply for poverty-ridden areas, $3 to $34 will be received as return in global economic growth. With $200, the Water Project would be able to work with local water providers to give a traditional family (four persons) access to clean water. The same $200 can be used to feed a family in poverty for half of a year.

Phong Pham

Sources: The Water Project, The Water Project – Poverty, The Wall Street Journal, FOX 31 Denver, Journal Sentinel

The 2013 holiday season has officially begun and Americans are looking for more deals than ever as the economy slowly moves toward recovery.

Online sales are estimated to make up nearly half of the projected $600 billon that will be spent in the next several weeks with many shoppers interested in products by Samsung, Apple and Amazon. In fact, online customers have spent over $1 billion dollars during Black Friday alone.

Traditional shoppers also spent a considerable sum during this year’s black Friday’s sale will an estimated 22 million visitors to Walmart alone. Other top retailers included eBay, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Nordstrom.

The National Retail Federation estimates that the average shopper will spend over $700 during the holidays this year. The period between November 29 and December 31 will mark the time of year when business make their largest profits.

But while many retailers will be enjoying a successful holiday season, millions of impoverished individuals will continue to be in want of everyday items such as food, water and shelter.

The Millennium Challenge Account supports organizations around the world that are committed to improving the standard of living for those in poverty ridden areas. The amount of money spent on gifts for Christmas this year could single handedly pay for 2/3 of the Millennium budget.

If every American donated a small portion of their holiday shopping funds, world hunger could be resolved in our lifetime. The yearly shortage to end world hunger is an estimated $30 billion, less than 10% of the amount of money spent in American stores over the next four weeks.

In short, if world hunger and other social problems can be resolved in as little as 30 days, what are we waiting for?

Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: Reuters, USA Today
Photo: NY Mag

In an American tradition lasting a few years short of a century, the day after Thanksgiving has heralded one event above all others: Black Friday. Although not coined as such until the 1960s, the last weekend in November for millions of Americans now represents long lines, cheap goods, and exceptionally surly customer service.

Last year, a reported 247 million shoppers took part in the seasonal shopping extravaganza, spending $423 each, approximately $59.1 billion in total. Not to be outdone, the National Retail Federation projects $602.1 billion in holiday sales this year (From Thanksgiving to Christmas), up from $579.5 billion in 2012.

T.V.s are important, especially when they’re on sale for a limited time only. And the joy of scoring the Big Bang Theory DVD from Wal-Mart at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day cannot be understated.  Unfortunately, Black Friday affects more than just the endorphins of the stalwart shopper. As the truly devoted consumer grits their teeth and fights for every last deal, the plight of Typhoon Haiyan survivors diminishes in the wake of the bustling holiday season.

Although Americans are noted for their generosity when it comes to international disaster relief, the amount of spending achieved on this one day highlights how much more could be done.

According to, in 2012 individuals donated around $223 billion to charities, comprising 72% of the $316.23 billion annual total. An entire year of donations makes up just under 40% of the total spent on Black Friday alone.

Instead of purchasing that ultimate box set collection for dad, Magic Bullet for the college student, or the absolutely essential new PlayStation 3 game for yourself, try diverting that potential spending toward charitable organizations dedicated to aid.

For perspective, as of September, a 25 kilogram bag of locally imported rice was priced by the National Food Authority as 1,880 Philippine Pesos, which converts to less than one U.S. quarter. For the amount of money expected to be spent this year, an astronomical 2.4 trillion bags of rice could be purchased for the Philippines.

For considerably less effort than it takes to brave the crowds this weekend, shoppers could divert funds to a charity of their choice. The Red Cross offers an SMS service where $10 is automatically donated to disaster relief every time someone texts REDCROSS to 90999. Every time you’re waiting in an hour-long line in the next few days, think of the good you could be doing, even from the comfort of your warm couch.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: Red Cross, Statistic Brain,, Charity Navigator
Photo: Fleet Feet Sports

The restaurant business in America has been growing rapidly in the last couple decades.  Total restaurant sales exceed $660 billion. Among all the cuisines, steak dinner is the most popular. However, steak dinner is getting more and more expensive.

There are a wide variety of steak dinners depending on the restaurant and the type of steak. A steak can cost as low as $14 in a regular restaurant such as IHOP, Denny’s or a local restaurant. A steak dinner in an upscale restaurant can cost up to hundreds of dollars. “At the Michael Jordan Steak house in New York, for example, a dinner of shrimp cocktail [$16.50], New York Strip [$38.50], hash browns [$7.50], and creamed spinach [$8.50], plus dessert, wine, tax and tip easily tops $100 per person.” Overall, a cheap steak dinner will cost $28 dollar, and a traditional steak dinner can cost up to a couple hundred dollars.

In the world, 660 million people live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million live on less than $1 a day. Feeding a family in a third world country only costs $8.50. With an average steak dinner, a family will have enough food for almost 3 months. Steak dinners are delicious and fulfilling, but why not save them as treat for a special occasion? With so many people in the world in need, diverting funds  to nonprofits is an easy way to help millions.

Phong Pham

Sources: The AWL, Slate, Restaurant, Global Issues
Photo: The Sun