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What is the House of Representatives?
What is the House of Representatives? The House of Representatives is one of two chambers that make up the United States Congress (the other is the Senate). The House consists of 435 representatives who serve the people of all 50 states. Five delegates represent the District of Columbia and four of the U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands), and a resident commissioner represents Puerto Rico. The number of representatives per state depends on the state’s population size, allowing each state to be proportionately represented in Congress. Alaska, for example, has only one state representative, while California has 53. This is because California’s population is close to 53 times that of Alaska. This population-to-representative ratio does not apply to the District of Columbia or the five U.S. territories; rather, they are allowed one delegate each.

To find out how many representatives there are in any state, visit the United States House of Representatives directory. The United States House of Representatives website assists citizens in finding their district and representative.

Representatives are referred to as congressmen, congresswomen or simply representatives. Constituents, often divided by district, elect representatives to two-year terms. Districts are used to allow the state’s population to be more accurately represented in Congress. The state of Alaska is not split into different congressional districts; therefore, the state only has one representative. California’s 53 representatives each represent one district within the state.

So what exactly does the House of Representatives do? Powers exclusive to the House of Representatives include initiating tax bills, impeaching federal officials and choosing the President in the case of a tie in the electoral college. The House has several other powers; however, these can only be carried out with the inclusion of the Senate. Congress introduces or passes new laws and changes existing laws. Congress can also override a president’s veto under specific conditions.

The House of Representatives is a chamber of Congress made up of representatives who act on behalf of their constituents. Remember that these representatives are in place to serve the people. Asking a member of Congress to support bills that fight global poverty or fund the international affairs budget is as easy as sending an email or making a phone call.

Catherine Ticzon

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Gambia
The Islamic Republic of Gambia is a small West African nation of fewer than two million people and surrounded on almost all sides by Senegal. With an economy built on a small patch of tourism, peanuts, and money sent home from abroad, poverty in the Gambia has had a period of stability for the past two decades.

The authoritarian government of outgoing president Yahya Jammeh has been in power since 1994. As recently as 2006, President Jammeh’s campaign claimed that government aid and continued development would only go to its supporters, while those who supported others should expect nothing.

Hope for Reducing Poverty in The Gambia

Today, more than a third of The Gambia’s population lives below the U.N. poverty line of $1.25 per day. The nation’s poor are mostly in rural areas, and 60 percent of The Gambia relies on agriculture to make a living. Irregular rainfall, economic instability and fluctuating food pricing all contribute to the plight of the Gambian proletariat.

Low productivity persists in the staple area of rice farming, where inefficient technologies and practices lead to less yield during harvests and contribute to worsening soil fertility. Few rural institutions are able to provide basic social services and credit.

In a surprise turn of events, President Jammeh lost this year’s election to a candidate who ran on issues of economic revival, ending human rights violations, and establishing a more earnest democracy. With the end of Jammeh’s presidency comes a potential for The Gambia to begin receiving increased funding from the U.N. and E.U. Ban Ki-moon and Federica Mogherini have stated, on behalf of the U.N. and E.U. respectively, that their institutions are prepared to support The Gambia.

The President-elect, Adama Barrow, is already promising to strengthen relations with Europe and other potential partners in development. Many relationships had been strained by the Jammeh administration, and after 22 years, The Gambia may be in a position to put its most vulnerable at the forefront of its government.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

Health Care In Cuba
Can the death of former Cuban President, Fidel Castro, reinvigorate U.S. – Cuban relations?

Fifty-six years ago, U.S. President Eisenhower placed an economic embargo and severed diplomatic relations with the newly recognized Castro regime, in hopes to “build an open and democratic country.”

Over the subsequent decades, U.S. policy on Cuba is best described as complacent – rarely altered and ineffective. Consequently, the United States faces backlash for the failed policy by other countries in the Latin American sphere – citing “Washington’s isolation of Cuba increasing proved counterproductive.”

Relations remained unfettered until 2014 when President Obama and President Castro simultaneously announced a diplomatic rapprochement.

A fresh slate for U.S. – Cuban relations conjures the prospect of increased benefits for both countries – particularly the isolated health care in Cuba.

Cuba, however, is associated with the appellation, the “Cuban Health Paradox”, which defies the conventional wisdom of associating the health of a country with its overall wealth.

Health care in Cuba is remarkably robust. In 2014, Cuban life expectancy was slightly higher than that of the United States. The centrally-planned government heavily invests in the Cuban Health Paradox, which is exemplified by high childhood vaccination rates and a swath of doctors.

The Communist government has also ensured that health care in Cuba is a fundamental right afforded to all citizens. Moreover, the Cuban health paradox has produced a citizenry that is “more likely to die from the maladies that kill rich people – cancer and heart disease – than the communicable disease that kills in most poor places.

That being said, the Cuban people still contend with grave health risks. Many important medicines are not available and specialized medical care is nearly non-existent. Even basic disinfectants are sparse.

Beyond health care in Cuba, the Cuban economy has demonstrated a rapid decline in standard economic measurements over the last 60 years. The underwhelming performance is highlighted by the reduction of independent newspaper among Latin American countries. Additionally, Cuba is increasingly more dependent on outside sources of funding. In 2013, remittances accounted for $5.1 billion, which was enough to provide every Cuban with $1,000. The figure is striking when compared with the average annual salary of $260.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr

How Many Representatives Are There in Each State?
The United States Congress is divided into two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives allows for no more than 435 officials to be divided among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marina Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Each of the 50 states is guaranteed two senators regardless of population size. However, neither Washington, D.C. nor the U.S. territories have representation in the Senate.

Officials from the House are commonly referred to as congressmen, congresswomen or representatives. How the 435 seats are split is contingent on the population size of the states, and D.C. and the U.S. territories are allowed one seat apiece.

To illustrate how representation is divided, consider New York: The geographical size of New York is hardly a third of the size of Montana, but New York’s population is 19 times greater than Montana’s. This explains why New York (27 representatives) has far more representatives than does Montana (one representative).

Does it matter how many representatives a state has? Yes, for a few important reasons. The first reason is that if a state has a large population and few representatives, then it is likely that not all constituents are being represented fairly. Similarly, if a state with a small population has a disproportionately large number of representatives, then the state will be overrepresented in Congress. The second reason is that the number of representatives plus the two senators in each state is equal to the number of electoral votes the state has in elections. That is to say, the more representatives a state has, the more influence the state can have on the election outcomes. The U.S. House of Representatives website lists the number of officials in each state.

Depending on a state’s population, officials may be assigned congressional districts. For example, Alaska has only one representative for the entire state, while California is split into 53 congressional districts with one representative speaking on behalf of each district. Officials for specific congressional districts can be found here.

The public elects members of Congress to two-year terms to serve in the House of Representatives. It is important to remember that these elected officials are in place to serve their constituents. Asking government officials to support global poverty reduction bills and other important issues is as simple as emailing or calling Congress. It is a representative’s job to listen, so constituents should make their voices heard.

Catherine Ticzon

Photo: Flickr

It Only Takes ONE To Make A Difference
According to Nelson Mandela, overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. The fight against poverty is not solely related to a person’s income, it also involves things such as access to water, health care, education, housing and security, and it only takes one to make a difference.

Over the past decades, numerous organizations have come together to help tackle global poverty. Through joint efforts, the world poverty rate has fallen dramatically in most areas. However, in African countries, the percentage has essentially remained the same.

The continent of Africa consists of many countries which have their own historical contributions to this issue. Many are skeptical when discussing poverty in Africa because they sense the continent’s political corruption has played a significant role in this devastation.

In the sub-Saharan Africa, over 40 percent of people are living in poverty. Though some African countries are able to sustain their society through oil and other trades, others are simply unable to do so. Most African economies are dependent almost entirely on the proceeds from natural resources and commodes that thrive on the patronage of markets in the developed world.

These economic structures are weak and their survival and sustainability are reliant on foreign support. It is believed in order to be successful in diminishing poverty in Africa, there needs to be a joint effort from different parts of society.

One organization which has taken notice of the continent’s problem and has pledged to take a stance against it is ONE. The ONE campaign was co-founded by Bono and other activists. It was created to help diminish extreme poverty and treatable diseases in Africa. The organization believes the fight against poverty is not just about charity and donations, but that it also is related to social justice and gender equality, echoing the idea that it only takes one to make a difference.

Members of the organization come from different walks of life. Members include artists, activists, business leaders, students and more. It is beneficial for the organization to have a diverse group because they will be able to bring varying viewpoints and they will be able to touch those in needs more effectively.

ONE has branches all over the world which include Washington, D.C., New York, London, Johannesburg, Brussels, Berlin and Paris. There are various volunteer opportunities with ONE in which volunteers are able to reach out to governmental officials to ask them to assist them in fighting against “diseases that affect the poor, to expand access to energy and to combat corruption so governments are accountable to their citizens.” Volunteers can also help recruit members by hosting group meetings, planning community events and seminars events.

Over the past decade, the organization has grown and made substantial headway. They have testified before Congress on HIV/AIDS development and poverty. They were also successful in enabling the passage of the Electrify Act, which will help bring electricity to 50 million people in Africa for the first time.

It is essential to remember we are all a part of one race which is the human race and it is commendable that organizations as such can come together for the greater good of humanity. People do not have to wait to be directly affected by an issue before they help with the resolution of it. Just remember you only need ONE to make a difference.

Needum Lekia

Photo: Flickr

The Kurdish Democracy Model
In Northern Syria, the Kurdish communities have established three administrative and autonomous regions. These regions are called cantons and each enjoys their own legislative, administrative and legal bodies. Although these cantons are part of the Syrian territory, the Kurdish communities enjoyed autonomy in the wake of the Syrian crisis and oppression from the Islamic State fighters. These three cantons are named Afrin, Jezira and Kobani.

The Kurdish democracy model is an outcome of the Rojava movement, which seeks autonomy for Kurdish communities in Syria. The model is manifested in the Rojava constitution, which is also known as the social contract. It was approved on Jan. 6, 2016.

The preamble of the constitution reads as: “We the peoples of the democratic autonomous regions…by our free will have announced this contract to establish justice, freedom and democracy … without discrimination on the basis of religion, language, faith sect or gender.”

This Kurdish democracy model does not accept any imposed ideas of nation-state, centralized, military or religious state. It solemnly believes in human rights, democracy, free will and strives to protect those goals no matter what the cost is.

In every canton, there is a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Assembly, a High Election Commission, a Constitutional Assembly and Regional Assemblies. The Rojava Movement resembles historic acts of resistance such as the Algerian war against France and the Warsaw battle against invading Germany.

The Rojava cantons are remarkable examples of beacons of hope emerging from the Syrian civil war. Rojava maintained its independence and created its own democracy. In the Kurdish democracy model, the top three officials have to be from Arab, Kurdish and an Assyrian/Armenian Christian. One of these has to be women. In this phase of the Kurdish struggle, the Kurdish democracy model could start a global movement towards a better implementation of democracy and a cooperative socioeconomic model.

Financial Times describes the Kurdish democratic model as a power to people model. It is a radical experiment in narrow stretches of Northern Syria. In Rojava, which is hard to access due to Turkish blockade, the authority rests in the communal level (the village). In the villages, every social group has a say in decision making. The communities enjoy self-governing measures.

Furthermore, all minorities are included and everyone gets a chance to speak and participate in governing matters. This might seem radical to even the old-established democracies. But for the Kurds, after decades of oppression, this is one thing to look forward upon with eyes full of hope.

Noman Ahmed

Photo: Flickr

How to Become a Senator
How do you become a Senator? For many people in the United States, the steps to becoming a senator may seem mysterious and inaccessible for the common citizen. In reality, there are few requirements insisted on by the Constitution. Being a senator can be challenging and rewarding, especially for one advocating for the world’s poor. During the six-year term after the election, a senator reviews specific bills and votes on whether or not they should become laws. One could even propose global poverty focused bills! Sound fascinating? Here are the requirements and recommendations on how to become a senator, for all of our budding politicians out there who want to help the world.

 

3 Eligibility Requirements in the Constitution:

  1. One must be at least 30 years old before being sworn into office.
  2. One must inhabit the state they want to represent.
  3. One must have U.S. citizenship for 9 years prior to running for Senate.

 

How to Become a Senator

 

  • Get Established in the Community: Many senators recommend participating in local politics first, called “coming up through the chairs,” before going for the big leagues. Run for smaller offices such as a local government committee member or as town mayor. See how the U.S. government processes work on a community level where you can gain a positive reputation and good credentials. Build up to running for higher positions such as your state’s governor. If you are then ready for the challenge, try and get elected as a senator.
  • Educational Background: Though it’s certainly not a requirement, a Bachelor’s degree or higher in law, political science, and/or business has proven to be important for senators. In our current congress, almost 40% of senators are lawyers, and 20% are bankers or businessmen. It’s possible to be elected without a background in these subjects, but the numbers don’t lie.
  • Make Sure to Have Party Backing: Gaining support from a political party is a gigantic help. People from the “party machine” will endorse you and help you to get elected into office in ways that would be challenging to do alone. Consider who will align with your goals of wanting to increase poverty-focused aid, and partner up with them!
  • Don’t Forget the Details: Did you remember to file candidacy with the state’s Secretary of State? In addition, signatures from people in one’s political party will be necessary to get on the ballot. Contact the state government to find out the minimum number needed.
  • Round Up a Campaign Committee and then Campaign: A good campaign can’t run without people working to support it. Campaigning is an expensive and time consuming process. A manager, fundraising person, and public relations professional will all be needed to get your ideas out there and to keep the campaign running smoothly. Advertise, participate in interviews, and give speeches. Inform your possible constituents about the importance of foreign aid, and get them all riled up and wanting to create change with you. All that’s left to do is campaign with all one’s heart!
  • Be Ready to Answer Foreign Aid FAQ’s: Military leaders, business leaders and humanitarian groups all recognize the importance of reducing global poverty. While it’s tempting to speak out against foreign aid while campaigning, many leaders quickly change their stance once confronted by military leaders on the role helping reduce human suffering plays in national security.

Finally, what is the one thing of importance that veterans of the Senate can all agree upon? “What matters… is a willingness to work and learn, to stand up for values, and most important, to earn trust.”

– Caylee Pugh

Sources: NY Times, How Stuff Works, US Senate
Photo: Maid in DC

In 2016, Your Vote Matters More than EverThe results of the recent New Hampshire primary confirmed that the 2016 presidential election promises to be one of the most exciting races in history. The unpredictability of this year’s tumultuous race means that almost anything could happen so each individual vote counts more than ever.

Political pundits have been surprised again and again by the success of Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders – two dark horses who have become serious contenders for their parties’ nominations.

Both Trump and Sanders won double-digit leads over their opponents, indicating that “The Donald” is not going anywhere despite his second-place finish in Iowa — and that Hillary Clinton is in for a much tighter race than anticipated.

Trump garnered 35.3 percent of Republican votes and Governor John Kasich came in as runner-up with 15.8 percent. The winner of the Iowa caucus, Senator Ted Cruz, fell in third place with 12.9 percent of Republican votes.

On the Democratic side, Sanders won 63.1 percent of Democratic votes, leaving Hillary with 36.0 percent. While Sanders’ victory in New Hampshire was expected, as he serves as a Senator for the state just next door, the demographics of Sanders’ supporters were rather unexpected.

According to polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and other media networks, Sanders won a majority of both men and women, with seven in 10 women under 45 casting their votes for him.

When Hillary ran against President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, she won a plurality of women’s votes. In the Iowa caucus just a week before the New Hampshire primary, Hillary received a majority of women’s support.

The South Carolina primaries promise to bring even more excitement. As of Feb. 10, 2016, FiveThirtyEight predicts that Hillary has a 95 percent chance of winning South Carolina and Trump has a 55 percent chance.

However, Jeb Bush came out of the New Hampshire primary with some much-needed momentum, finishing fourth with 11.2 percent of Republican votes. Sanders left New Hampshire with over $6 million more in funding.

The fast-changing nature of this year’s presidential election means that each and every vote carries significant weight. But there are many other reasons to line up at the ballot box this election season.

First, as of Election Day in 2016, there will be Supreme Court justices who are over 80 years old. According to a study by the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the average retirement age for a Supreme Court justice is 78.7. Thus, whoever wins the 2016 presidential election may have the privilege of nominating new Supreme Court justices. New justices have the potential to drastically impact U.S. law and legislation for years to come.

Second, nearly one-quarter of Americans – or 75 million people – will hit retirement age over the next few years. As members of the baby-boom generation retire from their jobs, the U.S. labor force will fall dramatically. Simultaneously, Social Security and Medicare funds will decrease as retirees claim their benefits. The next president will be making some tough but important decisions about retirement policies and the future of Social Security.

Third, during his tenure in office, President Barack Obama has left his mark on a wide range of policy fields, such as health care, education, immigration and gun control. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, has significantly changed the American health care system. Obama’s “Race to the Top” and “Common Core” initiatives have expanded the federal government’s role in American education. Whoever takes office next will have the power to either continue these policies or strike them down.

Voting is an essential part of the democratic process and a privilege; there are many people across the world who still do not have the right to choose their nation’s leader.  Your vote matters.

Clara Wang

Sources: Politico, AP, FiveThirtyEight 1, Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, FiveThirtyEight 2, CNBC
Photo: Flickr

African democratic transition
In 1991, political scientist Samuel Huntington hypothesized three historical waves of democratization across Europe and the Americas. Now, it is the African continent’s turn to create a fourth wave of democratic elections.

It started on Dec. 17, 2010, when Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian produce seller, set himself on fire in front of a municipal building.

Bouazizi’s act ignited protests against the oppressive authoritarian regime all over Tunisia. In 2011, the dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, stepped down from power and fled the country.

In the following three years, Tunisia held its first democratic elections, rewrote its Constitution and saw peaceful transitions of power.

In 2011, similar transitions occurred in the North African countries of Egypt, Libya and Morocco. Along with uprisings in the Middle East, this movement is collectively called the Arab Spring.

The changes in government in these countries have yet to resemble the democracies in North America and Western Europe. But while transitioning from long-standing authoritarian rule to full-fledged democracy does not happen overnight, the Arab Spring undoubtedly sent a message rippling all over the African continent.

The message? The voices of the impoverished and oppressed can be heard.

Last May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria and witnessed an incredible hand-off of power after President Goodluck Jonathan lost the general election.

Surprising critics who believed that Jonathan would not resign, Jonathan willfully stepped down and even congratulated his successor. This marked the first peaceful transition of power in Nigeria’s history.

This year, Kerry traveled back to Nigeria to emphasize Nigeria’s increasingly important position to help with security and development in Africa. He also reminded the new government of the precedent and example they set, as this year is becoming a crucial year for democracy in Africa.

Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mauritius, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia are all set to have elections this year.

These elections could turn out to be a critical turning point for countries like Chad, where the same leader has been in power for 24 years.

Some staples of democratic transition include a move to transparent elections, term limits, freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement.

Transparency and term limits are important in the election process because, without both, an authoritarian regime can stay in power for decades. Fraudulent elections are often the main reason why people refrain from voting in the first place.

When authoritarian regimes remain in power for decades, repeated policy mistakes stifle the economic development and empowerment of a country. Change can only come when those in power are committed to the needs of their constituencies.

Freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement are also very important steps for an African democratic transition.

When media is censored or run by the government, speaking out against the incumbent is often illegal and can even lead to dangerous consequences.
This is also a problem because, in many African countries, less than half of eligible voters are registered to vote, and many minority groups do not have the right to vote at all.

When it comes to poverty, these four aspects of democracy are key. When marginalized groups take part in policy-shaping, a country can grow together and mitigate inequality. Furthermore, when every voice is involved in decision making there is less chance for discontentment and violent revolt.

As Kerry points out, “A free, fair and peaceful presidential election does not guarantee a successful democracy, but it is one of the most important measuring sticks for progress in any developing nation.” The coming months’ elections will be a giant leap toward democracy and development in Africa.

Celestina Radogno

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, The Brookings Institute, The Guardian, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Wikimedia

Ending Extreme Poverty: Politics are Weighing Us Down
In November, The United Nations Climate Change Summit will commence in Paris, France, the last of three paired conferences that set to discuss action regarding two great problems of our time: extreme poverty and climate change. Even though extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1980, political systems are making it difficult to envision the end of extreme poverty by 2030.

Since 2000 when the UN adopted the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs), major victories have been made in regard to extreme poverty. Compared to 1990, the number of people in the world living on less than $1.25 per day has dropped from 1.9 billion to 836 million.

Despite the efforts of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implemented in September 2015, politics may be halting the fight to eradicate extreme poverty.

Due to war and climate change, 59.5 million people worldwide have left their homes, a global displacement figure that has not been this high since World War II.

With this high displacement, the European Union (EU) has failed to find homes for a mere 60,000 asylum seekers. Since the EU has a population of over 500 million, political leaders have no excuse for finding homes.

In regards to the UN’s Third Financing for Development Summit this past July in Ethiopia, the goal was to discuss ways to finance the end to extreme poverty in 2030.

One key phrase from the conference linked climate, environment, and development: “All of our actions need to be underpinned by our strong commitment to protect and preserve our planet and natural resources, our biodiversity and our climate.”

Unfortunately, no dates or commitment to the clause ensures physical action, lacking a sense of urgency that should be present.

As the Climate Change summit approaches, world leaders will decide a necessary strategy in regard to the growing problem with climate change and its connection to extreme poverty.

With only 15 years left to solve extreme poverty, world leaders and the general population cannot expect the matter to solve itself. More compromise and effort is needed with all world leaders to solve extreme poverty.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Arab News, Devex, Irish Examiner
Photo: Flickr