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Obama
President Obama spoke about the importance of advancing global development at the White House Summit on Global Development this past July. He focused his speech on development as a “key pillar” of his foreign policy and reassured that it would remain so for the next president.

The Obama Administration has funded global projects such as reducing poverty and encouraging global economic growth and stability. These programs add to former President George W. Bush’s efforts to focus on fighting global disease through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

According to the official White House website, Obama’s U.S. Global Development Policy that he issued in 2010 was the first time that “global development was elevated, on par with diplomacy and defense as a core pillar” of U. S. policy. Following after Bush, Obama and his administration have continued to focus on solving global issues throughout his time in office.

The Washington Post cites the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future program as one of its successes. The agriculture-based program supported 9 million farmers and increased their sales by more than $800 million. The Global Food Security Act will systematize the program so that its impact extends long past the Obama Administration.

Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, wrote in a Huffington Post article about why it is so important that Obama is dedicated to development. “Development is not a charity – it is a prudent investment in the security and prosperity of us all,” she wrote. Development is an investment that helps to stabilize global conditions and to create opportunities.

Rice wrote that Obama’s White House Summit on Global Development will help to support global economic growth, to improve food security and nutrition, to improve global health, and to invest in leadership. The programs already supporting these causes, like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Feed the Future, will all help to eradicate poverty and secure a prosperous future through the continued support of global leaders and organizations.

Obama’s White House Summit on Global Development will hopefully mobilize already existing aid and development programs of all kinds. With goals to advance development in a variety of ways, the Summit will hopefully help to expedite poverty reduction efforts and stabilize global conditions.

Addie Pazzynski

Photo: Flickr

Sugar_Support_Program
When it comes to the Trans-Pacific Trade partnership (TPP), the United States’ sugar subsidies may not leave a sweet taste.

Touted by the U.S. government as a deal intended to alleviate barriers to fair trade amongst 12 countries lining the pacific rim, the TPP has met considerable backlash in congress this summer.

Many in Washington on both sides of the aisle have alleged that the TPP is full of deals that favor US corporations in lieu of global interests—especially when it comes to the global sugar market.

As the Obama administration was drafting the TPP, which is said to focus on redoing trade barriers such as tariffs and strict market controls between Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand and the US (among others), the sugar lobby was also tightening their hold in Washington.

The sugar support program currently protects the interest of growers in the United States by heavily inflating the costs of domestic sugar. The going world price for sugar is 10.94 cents; the price in the United States is more than double that, at 24.45 cents according to the August 2015 future commodities market.

Logically, this might seem as if it would actually help foreign sugar growers in places such as Mexico. If they are able to sell their cane at a lower price the US should present an readily available market.

Instead, there is a great deal of red tape that surround sugar importation into the United States: less and less foreign sugar is allowed to make it into the United States every year, which can spell catastrophe for the exports of developing countries

“Mexico struck a preliminary deal in October to send less sugar to the U.S.,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. “The U.S. is the world’s fourth-largest sugar consumer and relies on its imports, most of which come from Mexico.”

What does this means of the future of economic development in places like Mexico? As it stands, Mexico produces more sugar than it consumes increasing the necessity of selling the surplus on the global market.

Under the existing agreement, 300,000-to 400,000 tons of sugar sit idly in Mexican storehouses, doing nothing to help spark the Mexican economy. Since the NAFTA regulations were imposed (reaffirming U.S. sugar support) the number of people living in “food poverty in Mexico has grown from 18 million” to 20 million, according to Foreign Policy in Focus.

TPP, in theory, should eliminate the NAFTA tariffs and regulations. In practice, however, the sugar lobby continues to write enormous subsidy-saving checks in Washington.

“We can’t compete with our hands tied,” said mill owner Juan Cortina, who is also the head of Mexico’s sugar chamber. “The United States offers its sector certain benefits and we should have the same. If not there is no level playing field.”

In light of the previous NAFTA agreements, the U.N. has warned that the TPP could “aggravate global poverty” as trade deals worth about $300 billion are negotiated behind closed doors.

Now, in 2015 the doors are open, and the ever-powerful United States sugar lobby is public for everyone to see.

Emma Betuel

Sources: WSJ, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Herald Tribune, Spartanburg Herald Journal, San Diego News, Foreign Policy In Focus, Washington Post
Photo: MOMA

USAID_Fights_Poverty
For over fifty years, USAID has been addressing the needs of those living in extreme poverty overseas, promoting stable, self-sustaining democracies and advancing security and prosperity on a global scale.

Founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, USAID, or United States Agency for International Development, works in over 100 countries to address a wide array of prosperity goals. These include advancing food security and agriculture, improving global health, providing humanitarian assistance and protecting human rights, among other objectives.

Despite its humanitarian efforts, USAID has garnered some criticism over the past few years. First and foremost, critics and watchdogs have claimed that USAID policies and actions are often more focused on advancing U.S. policy interests than global humanitarian interests.

In particular, a 2010 study by two Harvard and Yale economics professors found that the size of U.S. food aid shipments are determined more by the size of U.S. crops than they are by recipient need. Moreover, the study found that about half of the funding for food aid was allocated for shipping, often for American cargo ships.

Additionally, a 2012 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research examined contracts issued by USAID for the 2010 relief effort in Haiti. It found that only .02 percent of these contracts went directly to local Haitian firms, while over 75 percent of the contracts went to American firms. One of these firms has received up to $173.7 million from USAID since the Haitian earthquake. However, the data provided does not track local subcontracting and grant making, which may or may not be significant.

Amidst these and a variety of other allegations against USAID involving wasteful or misplaced spending, the U.S. government has made some concerted efforts in the past few years to reform USAID.

Beginning in 2010, President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched USAID Forward, an ambitious reform effort aiming to increase USAID’s transparency and provide more efficient, effective service.

In particular, USAID Forward incorporates rigorous evaluations for each new program undertaken, investments in new innovations to aid in sustainable development, better risk assessment tools and transparent fiscal reports.

In addition, USAID Forward has significantly increased its public-private partnerships and is working more directly with local governments, the private sector, civil society and academia.

The Agricultural Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, passed in early 2014, also included some major food aid reforms. Specifically, the bill placed greater emphasis on improving the nutritional quality of food aid products, ensured that sales of agricultural commodity donations do not adversely affect local markets and created a new local and regional purchase program, among other reforms.

The Obama Administration has additional food aid reform goals in mind, including reducing the volume of commodities subject to cargo preference legislation, increasing cash donations and “providing greater flexibility in procuring commodities in local and regional markets.”

– Katrina Beedy

Sources: USAID, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, FAS, Reuters 3, Hagstrom Report, CEPR, Business Week, GovTrack
Photo: Flickr

investing enough in africa
Africa represents the globe’s greatest untapped market. It is host to seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies, boasts a projected gross domestic product growth of six percent per year for the next decade and has a population that is expected to double by 2050.

The United States knows from experience that investing in fledgling economies and democracies yields high returns. Eleven of the country’s top 15 trading partners were once on the receiving end of U.S. aid.

Yet the Obama Administration has received criticism for not investing enough in Africa. In 2012, only one percent of all U.S. foreign direct investment went to Africa. This August will see the first U.S.-Africa summit, while, according to the Economist, “Asian and European cities have hosted numerous summits for African leaders, ending with ceremonies to sign agreements worth billions of dollars.”

Power Africa is a program, announced in June 2012, with the aim to double the electricity supply in Africa. It is financed both publicly and privately, and represents the cornerstone to the U.S.’s investment policy in Africa.

The question remains, however, is it enough to secure a partnership with the continent that will be mutually beneficial? The U.S. — with its commitment to transparency, the rule of law, democracy and its history of building up developing economies — and Africa — with all of its market potential — have the makings of a great partnership.

Currently, China has years of investment history over the U.S. After the Cold War, when America’s attention reoriented to the Middle East, China turned to Africa. Since then, China has been heavily involved with building infrastructure in the continent.

Electricity is an industry that has been left open to high-tech and innovative U.S. firms. Obama’s Power Africa initiative could serve the double benefit of providing electricity to sub-Saharan Africa, as well as securing a U.S.-Africa partnership.

Secretary of State John Kerry is aware of all the potential in Africa. “This is a moment of great opportunity for Africans,” he said. “It is also a moment of decision.”

A moment of decision for American leaders. Will the conversation about Africa switch from military strategy and security to bolstering economic growth?

“Our role in Africa goes beyond security assistance. We are working to develop the prosperity that is critical to a better future,” says Kerry.

Not every leader agrees with Kerry. Far-right conservatives criticize certain investment efforts in Africa.

The Export-Import Bank provides loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance international consumers of American goods. The funding for the bank is up for review by Congress, and Tea Party conservatives have called it “corporate welfare.” Obama supports the bank and says that if it is taken away, American firms will lose ground in Africa, giving room for Chinese, German or Indian firms to close the gap.

There are also critics of the Power Africa program. One issue some have pointed out is that the program is focused too much on green power. An African ambassador insists that the entire continent is in need of power to fuel industry, whether that means using coal and huge dams. But, the U.S. has humanitarian and environmental standards that go with the aid it gives.

“The challenges are real,” Kerry is not afraid to admit. But, he continues, “The goal of a prosperous, healthy and stable continent is within reach.”

– Julianne O’Connor

Sources: The Economist, U.S. State Department, Bloomberg
Photo: The Economist

search_for_kony
President Obama has ordered an increase in U.S. involvement in the search for warlord Joseph Kony and members of his organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This course of action follows the 2009 legislation that mandated the “support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.”

Kony is infamous for his years of attacking central African villages, mutilating civilians and abducting children. He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, but has not been sighted for “some time.” He is believed to be in the Central African Republic, where conflict and the absence of an effective government make it easy for him to hide.

The new aid package includes four CV-22 Ospreys, a type of tilt rotor aircraft with short takeoff and landing capabilities. They will be effective in taking quick action should Kony be sighted in central Africa. This marks the first incidence of military aircraft being deployed in the effort to find Kony. About 150 Air Force Special Operations forces will be in charge of flying and maintaining the aircraft.

U.S. officers will be in central Africa to provide “information, advice, and assistance” to the African Union military task force that is already looking for Kony. The search spans across Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo.

As with the troops that Obama sent to support the search for Kony in 2011, the new batch of U.S. personnel will be combat-equipped, but prohibited from engaging LRA forces except in cases of self-defense. The addition of these troops brings the total of all U.S. forces in Uganda to 300.

Although the LRA poses no direct threat to the U.S., the Obama administration sees this mission as a helpful way to build partnerships with African governments in a region that is ripe for the development of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.

— Madisson Barnett

Sources: The Washington Post, USA Today

samantha_power
Growing up in Ireland, Samantha Power would come home after school and 
practice erasing her Dublin accent to speak more “American.” To her, the “the American flag was the symbol of fortune and of freedom”.

Power immigrated to America with her brother and mother, and eventually gradated from Yale University in 1993. After her graduation and before attending Harvard Law School, she covered the Yugoslav Wars as a freelance journalist for several years, experiencing firsthand the horrors of war, and the inaction by the U.S. government.

In 2003, her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. What began as a Harvard law school paper, her book analyzes 20th century genocides and strongly criticizes governments, especially the U.S. government, for failing to recognize and prevent genocides (e.g. Bosnia, Rwanda).

Power joined President Obama as a foreign policy fellow in 2005, when he was still a senator. During his 2008 presidential campaign, she resigned as a senior foreign policy adviser when it was revealed that she referred to Hillary Clinton a “monster” during an interview, which she wrongly believed was off the record. She was in fact directing that comment towards Clinton’s campaign policies.

As part of the National Security Council, she was instrumental in the United States’ decision to intervene militarily in Libya, in expanding President Obama’s human rights approaches, creating the Atrocities Prevention Board in the White House, and drawing the world’s attention to the brutalities in war-torn countries. She supports open government and the doctrine, the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P).

The “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine urges nations to interfere in a country’s internal affairs, potentially with military force, to “thwart genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing.” This doctrine is significant because it places a responsibility on the international community to protect not only their own citizens, but also for individuals around the world. Starting from the war crime trials after World War II, leaders and governments found that they could be held accountable and punished for their actions. The idea of a sovereign country having the power to do whatever they want to do is no longer feasible in the 21st century.

At 43 years old, Power is the youngest US ambassador to the United Nations in history. She has focused on UN reform, women’s rights and human rights, human trafficking, while supporting refugees and promoting democracy.

Since her July confirmation hearing, she has been continuously wearing a simple bracelet on her wrist, engraved with the word “fearlessness.” From her visits to the Central African Republic, to crossing illegally into Darfur, and to her speeches in human rights communities, she has demonstrated continuously that she is fearless.

”When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk, it has a duty to act,” said Power. 

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Washinton Post, Discover the Networks

methane_Emissions
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been identified as having a significant impact on environmental problems through changes in the climate. Although carbon dioxide is the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, United States President Barack Obama’s administration has begun taking steps to decrease methane emissions.

Methane makes up only 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, yet it has 20 times the potency of carbon dioxide. This allows for the gas to have a significant impact on the global climate. Moreover, methane emissions largely come from leaks in oil and natural gas production, various agricultural processes and melting permafrost.

During a 2009 United Nations climate change conference, Obama declared that the U.S. would decrease its GHG emissions 17 percent by 2020. Since then, environmentalists have argued that a substantial reduction of climate change impacts would require methane emissions to be addressed. And although a methane reduction strategy has been around for a while, the natural gas industry has been able to expand rapidly regardless of its connection to methane emissions.

The White House has stated that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to assess methane emissions and develop a strategic plan of action that is proportionate to the severity of impacts.

Reducing methane pollution may require for regulatory actions to be taken towards the oil and natural gas industry. If that is the case, there will be more of a need for U.S. to realize its renewable energy potential. This means the U.S. government would have to take meaningful steps to allow for offshore wind to develop on the Atlantic coast with solar and geothermal energy expansion in the West. It is possible, but political will and coordination on multiple levels of both the public and private sector will be necessary.

A shale-gas revolution has defined contemporary energy policy. Abundance in natural gas seemingly allowed for the heavy-emitting coal industry to be phased out for cleaner energy sources. However, analysis on methane’s impact on the global climate indicates that the effects are still significant and the GHG has to be reduced.

Therefore, with the Obama administration’s announcement of plans to cut methane emissions, it seems as though renewable energy would be the ideal avenue for energy policy.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Reuters, New York Times
Photo: Ars Technica

obama_climate_change
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” – President Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 2013

This past October, only 67% of Americans believed that global warming is affecting the world, according to a pole by Pew Research Center. On a list of 20 world issues that the Congress and president needed to focus on, global warming ranked number 19 according to Americans.

In response to this, President Obama is currently working on a website that will enable Americans to view how the ever-changing climate is affecting their own regions and hometowns. John D. Podesta, Obama’s counselor, believes that “localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs actions. If you’re thinking…how your local community will be affected, it’s likely to change that question of salience.”

Podesta and John P. Holdren, the White House science adviser, formed the idea of climate.data.gov, which strives to illustrate data of calculated wildfires, dangerously rising sea levels and dry spells.

Their website is based on urgency and helping Americans to understand the necessity of focusing on the environment; it is also based on the necessity to prepare Americans for the affect that the damaged climate will have in the future. The Obama administration is currently helping governments to strengthen their methods of transportation, such as bridges, shorelines and roads, so that the local community would be protected from dangerous changes in weather that are more common because of the climate change.

Obama stated that one of the most important steps to alleviating climate change is to reinforce international relations. In doing so the US will work with other countries to find a global solution to this global challenge and spread action through major countries that contribute to pollution emissions.

In the beginning stages, Podesta and Holdren’s website will merely feature information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the United States Geological Survey and the Defense Department. They are expecting the first revealed page to primarily focus on sea levels and eroding and flooding coastal lines.

Most people are aware of Google Maps and Google Earth, Google’s projects in which you can locate most addresses on the globe, and they are considering mixing their ability to map with the government’s information on climate change and risk measurements.

With this website the US population will have a greater chance to understand the imminent danger that climate change is bringing, and they will also have a visual representation of the potential harm it could bring their states and hometowns.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: White House, The New York Times, Climate Action Plan
Photo: Politico

Military_Intervention_In_Syria
On this past Halloween, Senators of the Committee on Foreign Relations met to address the real horrors faced in Syria with a definitive agenda of calling America to action. Ever since the use of chemical weapons by President Assad’s regime on August 21, 2013 was confirmed, the national and international community have been wondering when and if the Obama administration will act. The use of chemical weapons was Obama’s self-proclaimed “red line” for military action, and senators across party lines last Thursday sought to remind him of that.

The Committee heard from two panels of speakers who all called for increased US assistance in Syria, given the humanitarian nightmare that has ensued there. Some of the gross figures quoted were 100,000 deaths since the onset of the war, 1,400 dead from the sarin gas attack alone, and over 2 million refugees with 6.8 million still in Syria in need of assistance. While these fatality numbers do reflect higher end estimates, there is no question the affect of war on Syria’s civilian populous has been catastrophic, and the situation is only worsening.

U.S. ambassador to Syria, Thomas Ford, had this to say: “There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. Neither the regime nor the opposition has the wherewithal to militarily defeat the other.” Ford favors a diplomatic solution to ending the conflict that removes Assad from power. Peace talks scheduled to take place in Geneva later this month have already been delayed, and Assad has publicly denounced any claims he might relinquish control. Additionally, with the rife division in ideals and goals within the opposition, known loosely as the Free Syrian Army, a peaceful solution seems to have slim hope.

Republican senators were the harshest critics, acknowledging the grim forecast of the situation and criticizing the aid efforts as being too little. Though there were no direct calls for military intervention, the insistence on creating a clear strategy and claims the current policy is “fleckless” and should be “embarrassed” seemed to imply such action would be appropriate.

Early in September, Congress approved a resolution granting Obama the authority for a military strike although quite limited in scope. No ground troops are to be used, according to the resolution, and military action will have a deadline of no more than 90 days. Given these limitations, analysts think the US would employ cruise missile attacks and air strikes if military intervention was ordered. These limitations, though, could mean very little as Obama has the executive power to act without congressional approval, and it is unlikely Assad and his forces could be removed without a ground presence.

Being embroiled in a situation of military occupation that mirrors Iraq, though, is the last thing the president or many law-makers want. With increasing UN involvement and the threat of chemical weapons virtually neutralized, patience combined with continued humanitarian support seems to be the current strategy – though one must wonder for how long.

– Tyson Watkins
Sources: CNN, ABC News, Yahoo News, United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Huffington Post, Aljazeera America
Photo: New York Times

Drone_Strikes
The U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists are killing innocent civilians and should be regarded as violations of international law, say Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). In separate reports, the organizations use eyewitness accounts of civilian causalities in Yemen and Pakistan to depict the tragic effects of drone strikes.

In Pakistan, Amnesty interviewed 60 families and eyewitnesses in the tribal region of North Waziristan, an area that has been heavily targeted by U.S. airstrikes. One eyewitness was the granddaughter of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi, who was killed by a drone missile while gardening outside her home. The 8-year-old recounted the gruesome details: “[Her body] had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected as many different parts from the field and wrapped them in a cloth.”

HRW’s report studies six attacks that occurred in Yemen—one in 2009 and five in 2012-13. In these six attacks, 57 of the 82 people killed were innocent civilians with no links to terrorism. The innocents included a pregnant woman and several children. Letta Tayler, a senior researcher at HRW and the author of the report, said “Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the U.S. as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

The reports come as the Obama administration continues to downplay the civilian casualties resulting from drone strikes despite mounting evidence to the contrary. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on either of the reports, but did mention a speech the President delivered in May 2013 in which he defended drone attacks as an effective and legal means of killing terrorists.

Both Amnesty and HRW requested that the Obama administration explain its legal and operational rationale behind the drone program and urged more transparency. The administration rarely releases information about or acknowledges responsibility for drone attacks. In such an atmosphere of secrecy, it is difficult to ascertain how the administration selects targets and what efforts, if any, are used to minimize civilian casualties.

In addition to the Amnesty and HRW reports, U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson is also gathering preliminary data for a similar report that he will present to U.N. Human Rights Council. Emmerson said preliminary estimates are that more than 450 civilians have been killed in drone strikes in the past decade, but much works need to be done to confirm these numbers. Alluding to this challenge, Emmerson said, “The single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency, which makes it extremely difficult to assess claims of precision targeting objectively.”

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: The Washington Post, Time, Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Saudi Gazzette