Multilateral AgreementThe United States is currently engaged in a multilateral agreement—one of the largest in the world—with Canada and Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has increased trade by 300 percent between its beginning in 1994 to 2009. There are many advantages to multilateral agreements, including tariff reduction and making it easier for businesses to import and export goods.

A multilateral agreement is a commerce treaty between three or more nations. It allows for all of the countries that sign, called signatories, to be on an equal playing field. This agreement means that no signatories can give better or worse trade deals to one country than it does another.

A multilateral agreement increases trade for all the countries involved. Their companies enjoy low tariffs that make exports cheaper. Multilateral agreements also standardize commerce regulations between all businesses in all countries, so that corporations can save legal costs since they all follow the same rules in each country.

These agreements are especially beneficial to the United States, as it already has low trade barriers when it comes to importing goods from other nations. In fact, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that “U.S. goods exports to current free trade agreement partners supported more than 3 million jobs in 2015, an increase of more than 22 percent since 2009.”

However, the other countries the U.S. usually makes multilateral agreements with are countries with high trade regulations. The U.S. has a difficult time facilitating the importation and exportation of goods without multilateral agreements.

These multilateral agreements are not simple, as they have details that can sometimes take years to negotiate. The particulars of each multilateral agreement is specific to the trade and business practices of each country involved.

There is consequently a great deal of debate on the benefits and detriments of the multilateral agreement. The public often misunderstands these agreements because of this detail. As a result, each deal receives a high amount of press, controversy and protesting. Small business cannot compete with the giant multinational corporations that benefit from trade borders disappearing.

With the North American Free Trade Agreement especially, there is a 300 percent increase in a trade up to 2009.  It is clear that it is worth debating the rules and regulations to ensure these agreements continue.

Rilee Pickle

Photo: Flickr

Facts and Figures About Cuba
A Caribbean island with Spanish as its official language, Cuba is a nation rich in tradition and culture. The United States has had a strained relationship with the country since the travel ban of 1962. However, learning about Cuba continues to provide incredible insight about how to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries. Here are 10 facts and figures about Cuba.

  1. Only 6.3 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 1984, which is impressive for a nation with such limited resources.
  2. In 1986, nearly all school-aged children had enrolled in some form of schooling. By 1990, the country reached a 98 percent literacy rate.
  3. Fewer than five percent of Cubans can access the Internet. However, companies like Netflix and Google have made plans to incorporate their systems into the Cuban economy. Netflix made its services available to islanders in February of 2015.
  4. Although the official religion of Cuba is Roman-Catholicism, with 60 to 70 percent of individuals identifying as Roman Catholic, the island is home to great religious diversity. Approximately 5 percent of the population is Protestant, with most identifying as Baptists and Pentecostals. There are also 94,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 30,000 Seventh-Day Adventists and Methodists, 22,000 Anglicans, 15,000 Presbyterians, 300 Quakers, 50 Mormons and 1,500 Jews.
  5. The current population is around 11.2 million, making Cuba 107th on the list of global population density.
  6. Since 2011, 93.8 percent of Cubans have had access to improved drinking water sources, and 92.1 percent have had access to improved sanitation facilities. People living in urban areas largely have better resources than those in rural areas.
  7. Between 1990 and 2012, the under-5 mortality rate in Cuba decreased significantly. This rate was 13 percent in 1990 and is now about six percent.
  8. Cuba’s constitution lists healthcare as a fundamental human right. As a result, the government has implemented things like its vaccination program. The vaccination program began in 1962, and the nation maintains some of the lowest global rates of vaccine-preventable infectious disease.
  9. Cuba emphasizes women’s rights. It is ranked fourth in the world in terms of women in politics and approximately 43 percent of their parliament members identify as female. Women receive 18 weeks of maternity leave with full pay. They also have additional leave, with 60 percent pay for the first year of their children’s lives.
  10. Cuban cities are dedicated to sustainability efforts. As of 2010, for example, organic urban farms provided 100 percent of produce in Havana.


While these facts and figures about Cuba cannot fully encapsulate the country, they certainly paint a vivid picture of the exceptional nation that Cuba continues to be. A hub of diversity and human rights, Cuba’s recent successes support the claim that these things will continue improving in the future.

Emily Chazen

Photo: Flickr

Everyone gets his or her news somewhere, but some sources are more reputable than others. Currently, six corporations control 90 percent of the media. On some of these stations, such as CNN or Fox News, owned by Time Warner and NewsCorp, respectively, there is little to no variety in the political ideologies promoted. However, political podcasts are usually smaller entities that aim to stay independent and provide multiple perspectives. I am an avid listener of several political podcasts and  use them for my news. Here are my top 10 political podcasts.

  1. My History Can Beat Up Your Politics with Bruce Carlson
    Coming in at the top of the list is Carlson’s interesting take on cable news’ relentless portrayal of all news as “BREAKING NEWS.” With terrorist attacks, issues of race, war and more, My History Can Beat Up Your Politics shows that most, if not all, issues are rooted in history. The podcast claims the makers “smash and bash the politics of today with a healthy dose of history.”
  2. The United States of Anxiety
    The presidential election of 2016 was so polarizing, so different and so unprecedented that many podcasts were dedicated to it entirely, and this is one of them. The United States of Anxiety makes it its duty to provide perspective in a time full of shouting, negativity and closed minds. The podcast brought voices from all sides of every debate, from politicians to people on the streets. While the podcast ended with the close of the presidential election, listening to it now provides a retrospective look into the election to figure out what happened and why.
  3. Politico’s Nerdcast
    This is simple, soft and relatively unbiased podcast on the current goings-on in politics by one of the most well-respected publications there is. Politico’s Nerdcast is hosted by individuals who would sit up on a Friday night and dissect political polls. They are heavily invested in politics and geek out about it just for you.
  4. Crooked Media’s Pod Save The World
    American foreign policy is important to The Borgen Project. We need to know all about it, we need to follow it and we fight for the improvement of it. For those who want to follow something that focuses entirely on foreign policy, Crooked Media’s Pod Save The World is just for you. It’s an honest and brash commentary on and analysis of everything foreign policy.
  5. Common Sense with Dan Carlin
    A frustrated, critical, cynical, sharp man is Dan Carlin, and his podcast follows suit. If you find yourself annoyed by the mass media relays, Carlin’s Common Sense may be an oddly pleasant choice for you. A self-anointed “Martian” to politics, Carlin’s independent viewpoint is never lacking. He is unabashedly honest.
  6. Slate’s Political Gabfest
    If you want professionals who have been living politics their whole life to tell you what is going on, Slate’s Political Gabfest is where you need to look. With legendary names like David Plotz, Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson, the podcast has its resumé ready to go.
  7. KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center
    At fourth on my top 10 political podcasts list, KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center is what I always look for: biased but fair commentary and analysis. As the podcast name suggests, it has three hosts, all self-proclaimed to be in one area of the political spectrum, and they tackle the week’s events. It’s arguably one of the best podcasts to listen to if you want reasonable perspectives from any side.
  8. NPR Political
    While I’m all for perspectives, sometimes I need simple, unbiased reporting. NPR Political is just that. The shows can even be around 10 minutes of just reports from the week. If you’re stuck in traffic and need a quick update, this show is for you.
  9. Crooked Media’s Pod Save America
    At second on my top 10 political podcasts and started by four people who have more than enough experience in the White House, Crooked Media’s Pod Save America is all for biased opinions. It feels like a real conversation you would be having with your own friends, except these people are more knowledgeable. Pod Save America promises “a no-bullshit conversation about politics.”
  10. Democracy Now!
    Democracy Now! is number 1 on my top 10 political podcasts for the sheer reason that it is what I believe corporate mass media should be. Democracy Now! is an unbiased news show that is quick, reports the news of the day, brings pundits who provide their own commentary or debate against other pundits and brings focus to grassroots organizations. From focusing on the Occupy movement to covering events overseas, Democracy Now! never misses a beat. However, the most incredible thing about the podcast is that it is run entirely on viewer donations. It owes no allegiance to any corporation or ideology. The makers are completely unsullied by money, so they can report the truth and only the truth.

James Hardison

Photo: Flickr

Lobbying for a cause is an important part of the political process and a key way all citizens can impact government decisions. There are many ways to advocate for a cause. Here are seven important points to consider when regarding how to lobby for a cause important to you.

7 Ways to Lobby for a Cause

  1. Know background information. Having a holistic picture of an issue and understanding all sides will allow you to have more effective and productive conversations.
  2. Have a clear objective. No matter how broad your cause may be, have specific points to address and keep the focus on a clear goal, such as signing a bill. Refer to bills and pieces of legislation by their specific name and number, and remain up to date on events that could affect your objectives.
  3. Be persistent and personal. A crucial part of lobbying for a cause is building a relationship with members of Congress and their staff. Introduce yourself and tell a story that explains your personal connection to a cause. Bring photos or documents relevant to your story if you have them. These personal touches can make an issue significant for a politician. Similarly, persistence reiterates the importance you place on a cause and is vital for building relationships with your representatives.
  4. Listen. Try and have a conversation with others about your cause rather than doing all of the talking yourself. Pay attention to what questions are asked regarding the cause and your objectives as well as common themes in differing viewpoints. Listening will allow you to better formulate your argument in a way that addresses concerns and dispels misconceptions.
  5. Find allies. Being part of a group not only provides a strong support network that will help you learn how to effectively lobby for a cause, but also shows a Congress member the cause is important and personal to many constituents. Spreading awareness and advocating for a cause is more effective in a group. Beyond other supporters of a cause, also remember the important role staffers play in pushing a cause through. Do not underestimate the importance of your relationships with staffers, and know that they can advocate for you and your cause as well.
  6. Remember the power of positive reinforcement. Do not forget to say thank you and acknowledge tiny positive actions. Whether it is for signing a piece of legislation related to your cause or just taking the time to meet with you, using positive reinforcement in your interactions paves the way for building strong relationships. Collect business cards and contact information from staffers and be sure to follow-up interactions with thank you messages.
  7. Don’t get discouraged. Even if your Congressional offices do not support your cause, remain polite and persistent. There are a myriad of factors influencing political decisions, so do not be discouraged if your objective is not supported immediately or even after years of work. There is no recipe for how to lobby for a cause with 100 percent success. It is important to remain focused on the personal connection you have with this cause and continue to build relationships and find allies to support your work.

Learning how to lobby for a cause takes time and often requires one to re-evaluate their strategies in order to convey their message most effectively. Remaining persistent and listening to all sides of an issue are crucial aspects of lobbying for a cause, and over time can lead to successful results.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

How to Run for Congress
The United States Congress is the singular place where all laws and regulations start, and where constituents have their concerns recognized and addressed. Running for Congress may be many American citizens’ next move in pursuing their political activism and career in leadership.

There is a lot to know about considering a step up into congressional office. Depending on the state a person resides in, as well as whether one is running for the House of Representatives or Senate, the specifics vary. So, how does one run for Congress?


How to Run for Congress Tips


  1. Meet the Qualifications:
    The U.S. Constitution requires anyone running for the House of Representatives to be 25 years of age, a citizen of the U.S. for at least seven years, and a resident of the district they’re campaigning in. For the Senate, the candidate must be 30 years of age, a U.S. citizen for nine years, and a resident of the state they wish to represent.
  2. File the Paperwork:
    Once the candidate reaches $5,000 in campaign contributions, within 15 days they must file a statement with the Federal Election Commission announcing they are running for candidacy. The campaign committee must also submit a Statement of Organization.
  3. Be Known in the Community:
    A highly recommended aspect is being involved with the local office before deciding to take it to the next level, positions such as city commissioner, mayor, or governor. This gives the person an opportunity to be more well known with supporters and a better chance of being elected when running for Congress.
  4. Be Educated:
    Even though candidates are not required to have a degree in political science or law, someone running for Congress should understand how it works, have a grasp of the Constitution, the process of lawmaking, and all that goes into being an elected representative.
  5. Campaign, Campaign, Campaign:
    After passing the objective requirements, one must campaign, and appeal to voters in order to win that seat in office. This involves raising enough money in donations and contributions, as well as having a campaign staff that helps spread the message. The candidate must be able to go out and talk to people in that area in order to be knowledgeable on the issues they’re concerned about.

Just being able to resonate with local people and the things they care about is so important, the candidate should make it known that they will vote in the voice of the people if elected. This is how to run for Congress.

Emma Dale

Photo: Flickr

A crucial part of the political process is to engage in dialogue with one’s representatives at the local, state and federal level–this is what it means to lobby politicians. State definitions of the terms “lobbying” and “lobbyist” vary, but the common perception of lobbying is influencing government action through written or verbal communication. As such, compensation does not define the lobbying process. However, it is a necessary component of being a professional lobbyist.

Some state regulations place thresholds on the amount of money and time required to categorize lobbyists properly. Others use reimbursement of any form to classify the activity under statutory laws. Types of compensation may include food, entertainment and other recreational activities furnished to legislators. There are exceptions to lobbying activities in many states such as journalism, written correspondence and testifying.

Often, the term lobbyist carries a negative connotation: big money, special interests and a rigged system. The term may be used to describe those who are employed professionally: corporate advocates who fight for favorable policies. The term is also used to described citizens engaged in the prodding of politicians to improve representation. This article discusses the latter.

So, how does one lobby politicians? Here are 10 tips to effectively lobby for a cause, bill or issue you are passionate about.

  1. Download mobile apps, such as TrackBill or Countable, to monitor the progress of legislation through Congress. Find bills to support or reject and request your representatives to co-sponsor them or vote accordingly.
  2. Write letters to your senators and representatives or email them through The Borgen Project. Another quick and effective tool is to lobby politicians through social media platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook.
  3. Email the White House to inform the president of your views on various regulations, policies and tax issues.
  4. Attend an on-site or virtual town hall event in your congressional district.
  5. Schedule an appointment to meet with a congressional staffer or your representative face-to-face in one of their multiple district offices. These meet-and-greet opportunities may sway a vote on the floor of the house or senate; never underestimate the power of a 30-minute meeting. Prepare beforehand – research the politician, their views, prior votes and legislative positions. Be knowledgeable about counter-arguments to your position and use data whenever possible.
  6. Call your congressional representatives frequently and add their numbers to your phone. At the very least, leave short and concise messages. Staffers compile a weekly legislative report on the number of calls, letters and emails on issues or bills received from engaged citizens. These reports are used by politicians to enhance or redirect their legislative agenda.
  7. Join and donate to nongovernmental organizations, such as The Borgen Project, to support their mission and charitable work. Lobbying efforts on an organizational level carry financial strength, unbridled energy, citizen mobilization, clear legislative agendas and media outreach.
  8. Do not complain about a piece of legislation: offer an amendment to grant exemptions. Take time to develop a viable solution and present it to your leader.
  9. Craft letters to the editor based on interactions with legislative staff and congressional representatives. Such correspondence enriches political discourse and may inspire readers to take action.
  10. Mobilize others to become involved in politics. Call leaders, write articles, organize events and march for a cause. Meet with politicians to bring awareness to issues which matter most to your family, friends, organization or community. Perhaps you are an expert in a particular subject which your representatives are not; lend them your recommendations. If you have an idea for improving policy, make it known.

Citizen advocacy, or personal lobbying, is a vital element of participatory democracies. Individuals who are unaffiliated with a political party, nongovernmental organization or special interest groups may participate in the political process through email, letters, phone calls and congressional meetings on matters of interest. Download legislative apps, track legislation, contact your leaders, mobilize your friends and family, post on social media, utilize personal connections and take action!

JG Federman

Photo: Flickr

To most, the word “lobbyist” usually inspires images of big corporations influencing politicians. However, this image is not entirely accurate. Lobbying is actually a useful tool that average people can and should use. It is a form of advocacy that focuses on educating or influencing representatives in our government. You do not need money or power to lobby.  You need only a voice, and by following these three steps, you can learn how to be a citizen lobbyist.

Step 1: Know who you are and the power you have.
American citizens ages 18 and older have the power to vote and are essential pieces of the country’s democratic system. However, few know that they are also constituents. Essentially, a constituent is a member of a community or a part of a whole.

Every citizen is a constituent to three individuals in Congress, and it’s paramount to know whose constituent you are. These three individuals are the two senators representing your state and the congressman or congresswoman representing your district. These representatives represent you and your interests in the legislation they vote for, and it’s important to know you have the power to influence their vote.

Members of Congress will listen to their constituents over other citizens because those are the people they are elected by and represent. For example, senators are not too interested in listening to citizens of another state. They would rather like to know what their constituents are thinking and worrying about. You can find out who your three representatives in Congress are on the Borgen Project’s Who Are My Leaders? page.

Step 2: Know what you can do as a constituent.
Members of Congress are voted in by their constituents, and it would be foolish of them not to listen to their constituents. Now that you know you have this power over them, it is helpful to know how to use it. Using this power is easy.

Simply put, it’s all about getting your word out. Representatives are not mind-readers; they are politicians. The best way to get politicians to vote on something you may be passionate about is to talk to them about it. You don’t have to walk into their office and proclaim your dream of a poverty-free world. An email, call or written letter all get the job done, and you can always do all three. You can even write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper discussing a certain bill or use social media to contact your representatives.

If you are the outgoing, adventurous type, try attending events where your representatives will be speaking or schedule a meeting with them. The more you meet with your representatives or attend their town hall meetings, the more they and their staff will get to know you and your cause.

Step 3: Practice.
Now that you know how to be a citizen lobbyist, it is your job to practice being an active citizen.

If you are shy, start out with phone calls or emails. They can be as simple as mentioning you are a constituent, your name and the bill you would like them to support. For the more outgoing, show up at the next town hall meeting.

Once you get a representative to support a piece of legislation, ask them to co-sponsor it as well. Co-sponsoring is like getting your representative to represent the issue to other members of Congress and asking them to support the bill as well.

By following these three easy steps, you too can learn how to be a citizen lobbyist.

James Hardison

Photo: Flickr

Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty has decreased by one billion, and the under-five death rate has been cut in half. Despite these great strides toward ending global poverty, a recent U.N. report by Selim Jahan cites current politics and rising nationalism as “antithetical to human development.”

Exclusion, isolation and intolerance are extremely dangerous globally and domestically. In the United States, citizens have had a small taste of this nationalism, with the proposed refugee ban, the proposed cut of 28.7% to USAID and the literal wall proposed on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

U.S. Representative and Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee Ed Royce said in response to the proposed foreign aid cuts: “I am very concerned by reports of deep cuts that could damage efforts to combat terrorism, save lives and create opportunities for American workers.”.

The Annual Human Development index report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) credits the successes in decreasing poverty worldwide to “global actions” and “collaboration.”

Foreign aid should not be a partisan issue nor a byproduct of intolerant politics and nationalism, as has been the unfortunate case in recent years. President Ronald Reagan was a powerful advocate for foreign assistance programs and is quoted as saying that, “Our national interests are inextricably tied to the security and development of our friends and allies.”

If prosperous nations lose sight of the goal, they could leave millions of people behind worldwide and the results from the last 20 years of humanitarian work could be lost. There remain 800 million people in the world living on less than $1.25 per day. Helping these people will require continued dedication.

Dustin Jayroe

Photo: Flickr

Lebanon is known around the Middle East and the region of North Africa (MENA) as one of the leaders in progressive values. The country has prided itself on ensuring equal rights for women and men in its national constitution. Despite many accomplishments, women’s political participation in Lebanon remains one of the lowest percentages in the MENA region. What is happening in Lebanon that is keeping women out of politics?

Traditional Lack of Female Participation in Politics

In 1953, women in Lebanon were granted the right to vote and participate in politics. Since then, only 17 women have held positions in politics. As of December 2016, less than three percent of government seats have been held by women.

In 2005, women’s participation in politics reached its peak. Of the 128 seats in parliament, six women held parliamentary positions. This was the highest amount of women holding seats in parliament at the same time in the nation’s history. Today, only one woman holds a parliamentary position.

Changing Laws, Unchanging Culture

Under Article 7 of the Lebanese constitution, gender equality is guaranteed, but personal status laws are not. Instead, personal status laws are in the hands of religious, who are not under the jurisdiction of the government, and therefore, gender equality laws do not apply to them. This type of inequality flows into households, where under family codes and citizen laws, women are still owned by their husband and fathers. This type of second-class citizen culture affects women’s political participation in Lebanon. Many women are unable to take action due to their financial and marital status.

Women in Lebanon who vote do so for their families and not for their preferred candidates. Some women are not allowed to vote for candidates outside of their kinship. Still, women’s political participation in Lebanon is important. Women have the ability to sway votes in their constituencies, but often do not use the full extent of their power. The average amount of women who actually wield their vote is about 16 percent. Out of the 18 constituencies, only five of them see participation from women, between 16 to 50 percent.

Reform on the Horizon

The women’s quota within the Lebanese government has become key for women’s political participation in Lebanon. According to, the women’s quota can be used, “either in the form of reserved seats in parliament, or (preferably) obliging party or electoral lists to contain a certain percentage of women candidates.”

Although this mandate was enforced, women still rely on NGOs to voice their political stances within the government. In Lebanon, there are 18 political parties, but seven dominate. Practically all of these groups are led by males, and most parties led by females have turned into NGOs, which have a network of women working together in order to affect change.

Until women’s voices are allowed to be amplified and actually heard, women will continue fighting.

Maria Rodriguez

Photo: Flickr

Negotiations continue with the White House in determining the fate of the International Affairs Budget. Because the White House’s proposed cuts—nearly six percent for 2017, 31 percent in 2018— are so extensive, an omnibus bill has been proposed in Congress.

The White House’s budget cuts could negatively impact African, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean countries. Cuts in global healthcare measures, food assistance programs and foreign developmental assistance programs, for instance, could potentially result in significant setbacks for developing countries.

In response, Congress has proposed an omnibus bill which, if passed into law, would help protect funds for foreign affairs. The bill also widely rejects many of the budget cuts previously suggested by the White House. The bill proposes that $300 million go toward Food for Peace in Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and South Sudan. Furthermore, the bill provides that $296 million of the International Affairs Budget be set aside for Medicaid in Puerto Rico.

According to the House Appropriations Committee, the fiscal 2017 omnibus bill would contribute international humanitarian relief to countries around the world, including $990 million to prevent and mitigate famine around the world. It also targets funding to “U.S. foreign policy priorities and provides critical humanitarian aid to war-torn and impoverished areas around the globe.“

Countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, such as Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, would also benefit by the omnibus bill’s passage, which reserves $16.5 billion for international programs through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. Other targeted countries that would receive both economic and security benefits include Colombia, Jordan and Egypt, provided that the latter maintains its peace treaty with Israel.

A final decision is anticipated on this bill by the end of May. If passed into law, the Fiscal 2017 International Affairs Budget would survive the drastic budget cuts previously proposed by the White House. In addition to helping those in need, programs funded by the International Affairs Budget create jobs here at home by opening new markets to American businesses and protect our national security by fighting terrorism and preventing conflicts before they start.

Lael Pierce

Photo: Flickr