Most recently, air pollution has become the single greatest health risk in the world, surpassing smoking, car accidents and diabetes combined.

Figures reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that indoor and outdoor air pollution have been linked to a total of seven million deaths, or one in eight deaths, in 2012. Indoor pollution is the result of wood-burning and coal stoves mostly in rural impoverished communities, while outdoor pollution mainly comes from traffic fumes and coal-burning plants.

The majority of deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution occurred in Southeast Asia, which is now known to be the most polluted region in the world. It is estimated that 3.7 million deaths can be attributed to outdoor air pollution, usually as a result of stroke and hearth disease.

4.3 million deaths are attributed to indoor air pollution, many of which were caused by stroke, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. The vast majority of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

These figures demonstrate the detrimental effect of air pollution on mortality and health across the globe. It is a public health issue that needs to be addressed by all countries. Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Public Health and the Environment Department, states, “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

It is important to note in Neira’s statement that she refers to “the air we all breathe.” Air pollution is an environmental health concern that has no boundaries; what one country emits has a direct impact on countries that are halfway around the world.

So what can we do to reduce our impact on air pollution?

Rural communities and big cities vary in what they can do to reduce their pollution emissions. But, we can all change our behaviors individually to make a difference.

At the local level, we can work on replacing inefficient coal and biomass stoves used in rural communities with electric stoves that are better for the environment. We can reduce our own carbon footprints by walking and bicycling more, instead of using our cars. Planting more trees has also become one way that people are filtering clean air into their neighborhoods.

At the political level, all countries need to reduce their carbon emissions. They need to create sustainable, urban policies that emphasize sharing resources and reducing our energy usage. Examples of this include green architecture and infrastructure, as well as bans on car usage.

One great example of someone who did this was mayor Enrique Penalosa of Bogota, Colombia. In 1998 he pedestrianized large sections of the city, raised the tax on petrol and forced commuters to leave their cars at home at least two days of the week, while making the bus system more accessible. He said, “Urban transport is a political and not a technical issue. The technical benefits are very simple. The difficult decisions relate to who is going to benefit.”

So, do we have the will to change our behaviors and lobby politicians to do the same?

I think so.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, Treehugger, The Guardian

Countries around the world have been observing International Women’s Day for nearly a century now. Every year, on March 8, thousands of events are held globally to celebrate women’s achievements, but also to highlight the challenges women still face in attaining gender equality. This past weekend saw hundreds of activities in honor of International Women’s Day in the United States, which was the first country ever to observe Women’s Day.

Although great strides have been made in pursuit of gender equality, “the unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.”

In honor of International Women’s Day and the positive changes being made in reducing the gender divide, the following list will outline achievements in the top five countries that have made the most progress in bridging the gap. The countries are ranked based on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, which assesses the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities in terms of four dimensions: health, education, economics and politics.

  1. Iceland: Iceland has held the top spot for a consecutive five years, holding the narrowest gender gap in the world. Improvements in economic participation and opportunity and the political empowerment dimensions increased its overall score for 2013.
  2. Finland: Finland has closed both its educational attainment and health and survival gender gaps.
  3. Norway: Norway holds one of the top three spots on the Women in ministerial positions indicator, with 53 percent of women in ministerial positions.
  4. Sweden: Sweden has the highest percentages of women in parliament globally, hailing at 44.7 percent.
  5. Philippines: The Philippines moved up three places on the index due to improvements made in the economic participation and opportunity dimensions. It is also “the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health.”

The report indicates that all of the Nordic countries (except Denmark) have closed “over 80 percent of the gender gap and thus serve as models and useful benchmarks for international comparison.” More interestingly, the study notes that because the economies of these countries have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, female employment is at an all-time high.

While the U.S.’s overall score improved in 2013, it fell to number 23 due to the stronger performance of other countries on the political empowerment dimension. The U.S. has, however, fully closed its gender gap in education and health.

– Rifk Ebeid

Sources: The Eastern Tribune, International Women’s Day, The Globalist, World Economic Forum
Photo: I, me, myself

Politics can be very confusing to follow, especially if one is unaware of the basics, but a quick description of the functions and structure of Congress can help advocates of poverty reduction get a brief overview of the complex size and scope of the United States Congress.

Let’s define Congress. The U.S. Congress makes up the legislative branch of the U.S. government, meaning it has the power to write and make laws. Additionally, it has the ability to approve all government spending, collect taxes, declare war, regulate commerce and provide for the general welfare. Under the American democratic system of checks and balances, it shares governing authority with the executive and judicial branches of the government.


Congress is made up of two parts, or chambers. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, has 435 members. The amount of members per state varies by the state’s population, but currently each representative typically represents approximately 700,000 constituents. Each state must have at least one representative who serves two-year terms.

The upper chamber, the Senate, has 100 total members. Each state has two senators, regardless of its population. Senators face re-election every six years; however, elections are rotated so that no more than one senator per state is up for re-election in a single election cycle.

Making Laws

A “Congress” lasts two years and begins on January 3 of odd-numbered years. Each year is considered a “session” of Congress. As of 2014, the 113th Congress is serving its second session. At the end of this year, elections will be held to decide the 114th Congress, which will meet from 2015 to 2017. Unapproved bills remain alive between sessions of Congress but do not carry over into the next two-year congressional term.

After a bill’s introduction in either house, it goes for review to the legislative committee that covers the subject of the bill. The committee may refer the bill to a subcommittee, which may hold hearings on the bill and amend it before recommending it for approval in a new form to the greater committee. Once the bill clears the committee process, it goes to the House or Senate floor for debate.

The House and Senate must each approve the bill in identical form before the President has an opportunity to sign it into law. Therefore, should differences exist between the House and Senate versions, the two chambers of Congress will form a conference committee to hash out any discrepancies. The president then has ten days to sign or veto the bill.

Shared Authority

The Senate and the House of Representatives share identical legislative authority with a couple of exceptions. First, the House of Representatives originates all revenue-raising bills, initiates impeachment proceedings against federal officials and has the final authority to choose the president if no candidate wins in the electoral college.

The Senate has the authority to confirm federal and judicial branch appointments and also the authority to ratify treaties. The senate also conducts impeachment trials after the House of Representatives has initiated them.

Martin Levy

Sources: About, Congress Link, Census Data
Photo: OSG’s AP Gov. and Politics


Learn how to call Congress.


Germany, long the land of chocolate and efficient production, has its own share of problems.  Oddly enough, for being one of the richest countries in the world, poverty in Germany is a major issue.  The country is often seen as the economic center of the European union so it’s surprising to see creeping numbers of unemployed and poor within its borders.

During 2012, Germany saw a rise in the number of people reliant on welfare to survive rose 3.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of poor, those making less than 925 euro (1,260 USD) per month, rose sharply to about 15.5% of the country’s population, outpacing the US numbers at 15.1%.  While this doesn’t put Germany on the same footing as bottom economic tier countries like Sierra Leone (70.2%!), it does show a troubling trend in Germany that, if not addressed, quickly could spiral out of control.

Germany, more than most other European nations, ties academic success to the income and education level of the parents.  This creates a situation where the more individuals fall below the poverty line the more their children suffer at school, creating a vicious cycle that is hard for these families to escape.

UNICEF, the worldwide leader in child focused humanitarianism, has provided some useful guidelines for Germany that will help to curtail the rise in poverty and unemployment.  About twice as many children live below the poverty line in Germany as adults, making UNICEF’s focus on the young extremely valid.  The organization has sent recommendations to German leadership that call for targeted changes in the education system that support disadvantaged children.

Of course, while UNICEF’s recommendations are worth consideration they are in no way binding.  Whether or not the German leadership acts on the recommendations is a matter of politics.

Without going too in depth about those politics, the sitting German leadership will have until 2017 to make a lasting change.  2017 Marks the next batch of elections at which point long serving German chancellor Angela Merkel will have to fight for a fourth term in office.

For now Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, has gained a much larger percentage of the German parliament; the largest since the early 1990’s. What they do with this increase in numbers remains to be seen.

Merkel’s successful third term re-election and the growth in popularity of her party are due in large part to promises made about bolstering the German economy and heading off the rise in poverty.  How successful she and her party have been in stabilizing the German economy will likely play a major role in the next set of elections.  Angela Merkel’s fourth term will certainly depend on Germany’s economic performance both within its own borders and within the European Union.

Dylan Spohn

Sources: World Socialist Web Site, Inequality Watch, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg
Photo: NBC


Chileans are choosing between a former president who aims to increase accessibility to higher education and a right wing politician wanting to keep taxes low are the candidates in the December 2013 presidential election. What is secondary, but notable, about these candidates is that both are also women.

The Chilean election is indicative of a larger trend in Latin America and the Caribbean of the ascension of female political leaders.

Eight of roughly 29 female presidents worldwide since the 1970s have headed countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with half elected in the last eight years.

Quotas for women in government explain part of this progress. Argentina pioneered the quota system in the early 1990s with a law requiring that 30 percent of legislative candidates be women. As of 2006, 50 countries have adopted the quota system, including many in Latin America.

In Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Bolivia, every other candidate on a party’s election list is required to be a woman.

In North and South America, with the noteworthy exception of the United States, women are being elected to the highest offices of government.

In Latin America’s largest nation of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff was elected president in 2010 and will run again in 2014.  She previously held the position of energy minister and was ranked #20 in Forbes’ Most Powerful People list in 2013 and second on its list of Most Powerful Women.

Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is serving her second term as the country’s first elected female president, and Laura Chinchilla is Costa Rica’s first female president.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller is the island nation’s first female Prime Minister and has fought for full rights for LGBT Jamaicans. Time Magazine put her on the 100 World’s Most Influential People List in 2012, and U.S. Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke has said that Simpson-Miller is “inspiring a new generation of women, particularly from the Caribbean diaspora, to get involved in public service and make a difference.”

Also in the Caribbean region is Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Prime Minister.

According to polls, a substantial shift is taking place in the minds of people in Latin America. Roughly 80 percent of people in the region now believe that women should participate in politics.  That figure contrasts sharply to the 30% who believed this in the 1990s.

Progress for women in some parts of Latin American politics has been relatively recent, with El Salvador allowing women to run for office only since 1961 and Paraguay’s constitution giving women the right to vote that same year.

Despite women rising to the highest levels of government, participation in parliaments is still low even in countries with female heads of state.

Latin America nonetheless boasts the second highest average number of women in the lower houses of congress with 24 percent, only less than Scandinavian and Nordic countries, which both have 42 percent.

Rwanda is the only country in the world where more women than men serve in the lower house of parliament, with Andorra coming in second at 50 percent. In Latin America, Nicaragua has the highest number of female politicians in the lower house at 40 percent.

While these numbers are promising, no country in the region has therefore achieved gender parity, and experts worry that progress for women in government could be reversed. Ingrained sexism, income gaps between the sexes and male dominance in corporations still persist.

In Chile, the income gap between men and women has gotten greater in recent years, with men earning $1,172 per month compared to women’s $811.

Each region and country in the world struggles to bring about political, social, and economic equality of the sexes, but Farida Jalalzai, a gender politics scholar at the University of Missouri-St. Louis asserts, “Latin America is really ahead of the pack. This is interesting because it had seemed to stall by the early 2000s, but no more.”

Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: New York Times, Time Magazine, Forbes, The Quota Project, The Guardian
Photo: AARP

A contentious election in Honduras gave ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez 34 percent of the vote in the “eight-party race”, allowing him to claim an early victory with 80 percent of the total vote counted. Former President Manuel Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, has contested the election results. Fraud has been argued as a possible reason for Juan Hernandez’s victory.

Honduras has a long history fraught with violent overthrows and fraud filled elections, with Xiomara Castro’s husband being ousted in a coup in 2009. The coup was in response to Manuel Zelaya attempted referendum on the nations constitution, with brought the ire of many political groups in the nation.

Honduras, according to the New York Times, is one of Latin America’s “poorest and most unequal countries” with a fraught social structure that may not “withstand a new bout of political uncertainty” following the election. This looks like it may be the case.

These two major candidates are both claiming victory in the nation of 7.9 million, arguing they represent the populist mentality in the nation. Xiomara Castro respresents those liberals disillusioned in the post-coup. Hernandez represents the right wing, arguing for a strong military police to help quell the violence and consolidate the government’s power over the lawless nation. Castro posted on her twitter following the election results that she “will defend the will of the people as it was expressed at the polls.”

Perhaps the nation is behind Xiomara Castro. Manuel Zelaya ousted in 2009 led many “teachers, feminists, and young people” to violently protest. The media in Honduras promoted the “changing of the guard”, a huge contrast to what many in the streets felt.

Manuel Zelaya left-leaning beliefs were in deep contrast to the “business and political groups” whose right winged views were deeply ingrained into the nation.


Learn about poverty in Honduras


In response to the coup, new political parties formed. The Freedom and Re-foundation was born out of this aggression. Current presidential candidate Xiomara Castro has become the political party’s leader. The organization functions through it’s combination of leftist leaning groups, from intellectuals, gay right activist, and “former liberals who defected” from “centre-right” Liberal Party following the coup.

The real victim of the political instability are not the political parties, but rather the nation itself. In the wake of Manuel Zelaya’s coup, the annual GDP growth for has “been only 3.5 percent” compared to the average GDP growth of “5.7 percent.” Economic inequality has been growing since 2010, with Honduras now having the “most in-equal distribution of income in Latin America” with “100 percent of all income gains” going to the “top 10 percent of Hondurans.”

Average Honduran citizens have been struggling, and the political situation following the election may worsen it. Protests have already begun in retaliation to Hernandez’s claimed victory.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: USA Today, CNN, Al Jazeera, CBS News, BBC, New York Times, Al Jazeera

When the world reaches 2015, the target of halving global poverty will only be partially achieved. With the Millennium Development Goals coming to an incomplete finish, politicians and people are debating, what comes next?

In September 2000, 180 leaders joined together at the world’s largest summit to set these MDGs. Among other things, extreme poverty was to be cut in half by 2015 and access to food, water, education and health care was to be exponentially improved. Unfortunately, according to the World Bank, few of the 24 goals have been reached.

Recently, around 5,000 politicians, scientists and aid workers convened at the European Union’s Development Days in Brussels. However, no concrete agreements have been decided on just yet. “It’s just a discussion forum, a kind of family gathering to mull things over,” said E.U. Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

E.U. Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is beginning to set out a post-2015 development. He claims that the progress that has been made already is undoubtedly encouraging and believe that a world without poverty can be achieved if there is an equally strong enough political will. Europe, he said, will be at the forefront of efforts to fight poverty. “For the first time ever, we have what it takes to eliminate poverty in our lifetimes, and to ensure sustainable prosperity within the boundaries of what our planet can provide,” he told delegates at the Development Days.

While it soon will be the end of one era, another one is coming to light… and quickly. Although the MDG’s will almost certainly not be achieved by 2015, perhaps this is even more motivation to succeed in whatever set of objectives follow them in the future. For now, though, it looks as if the E.U. is committed to take a staunch position on this new set of agreements.

– Sonia Aviv 

Sources: Deutsche Welle

Arnold Schwarzenegger Political Career
The sixty-six year old Austria native, Arnold Schwarzenegger, first began his career in American politics in 1990 when he was appointed Chairman of the President’s Council on Fitness and Sports under the administration of George H. W. Bush. Little did he know that just thirteen years later he’d be serving as Governor of California–a title that would remain his until January of 2011. Listed below are five things that Schwarzenegger’s political career tells us about politics.

1. Anyone can become a politician.

This isn’t meant as an insult, but merely as a hopeful observation. A person doesn’t have to be born into a political background or wealth in order to hold an office.

Schwarzenegger had built a name for himself based on physical education, body-building and acting long before he ever made the decision to run for Governor of California. Upon election, Schwarzenegger went on to lead California politics for eight full years.

2. Celebrities are becoming increasingly involved in politics.

Celebrities holding political positions are becoming a common trend in society. Other entertainers like Schwarzenegger to hold office in California include former actor George Murphy, former singer Sony Bono, and former actor and United States President Ronald Reagan.

Political scientist Darrel M. West comments on celebrities in government, “There are a number of factors that have made it possible for celebrities to run for elective office. One key aspect of celebrity politics in the post-World War II period has been the emergence of television and its enormous ramifications for the political process.”

3. Age is irrelevant.

A person doesn’t have to work their whole life climbing the political ladder to succeed in politics. Schwarzenegger didn’t.

At the age of twenty-two, he was winning the Mr. Universe competition. By thirty-five he was starring on the silver screen as Conan the Barbarian. It wasn’t until he was forty-three years old that his involvement with politics began. This just goes to show that it’s never too late for a person to make their voice heard.

 4. Being goal-oriented will get you far.

Schwarzenegger’s entire career began with a simple dream to be more than ordinary. His parents wanted him to become a police officer, like his father, but he was too ambitious for such a mundane job. Against many people’s wishes, he made a career for himself in body-building and used that as his “ticket to America.”

He later wished to transform himself into an actor, and after much criticism and perseverance, was able to achieve this goal. When he decided that he wanted to get involved in politics, he made yet another transformation. Though he knew that switching to a new career as serious as politics would be difficult, his determination took him all the way to governance.

In a Huffington Post article, Fred Whelan & Gladys Stone write, “Whatever your opinions are of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s a great example of what happens when you go after goals despite what people (well-intentioned or otherwise) might say.”

 5. All dark secrets will eventually come to light.

Though Schwarzenegger had what most would call a successful political career, he received much backlash after his split with his wife of twenty-five years, Maria Shriver, once it was revealed in May 2011 that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child more than fourteen years earlier with housekeeper Patty Baena. The scandal was the subject of much media attention and had many Americans questioning the morale of the former governor. In politics, nothing stays hidden.

Though Schwarzenegger’s political career has come to a halt, he still continues to be a great subject of learning for American politics.

– Meagan Hurley

Sources: NY Daily News, Huffington Post, Arnold and Celebrity Politics, LA Times

In an article in Dissent magazine, Joanne Barkan observes that big philanthropy “aims to solve the world’s problems–with foundation trustees deciding what is a problem and how to fix it. They may act with good intentions, but they define ‘good.’” For Barkan, the implication of this system is that the powerful and wealthy define the problem and how to solve it with little or no democratic controls. The article raises an interesting question: is big philanthropy democratic? It answers that question with a resounding “No.”

Barkan is quick to dismiss the laws and regulations that purportedly govern philanthropic organizations. These rules include restrictions on self-dealing, lobbying, and endorsing or supporting candidates for political office. Due to a variety of factors such as loopholes, deregulation, and lack of resources, these rules have been rendered ineffective in governing the operation of these organizations. And, of course, what has become something of a mantra in our society, the wealthier are able to get away with more indiscretion.

With little public oversight, these mega-organizations are free to govern themselves and raise tax-exempt funds from other wealthy donors. What is done with the money, of course, is up to the board of trustees that governs the organization. Although there is a 5 percent payout rule, which requires foundations pay out at least 5 percent of their endowment’s value each year, Barkan points out that this payout rule includes all reasonable expenses of administering the foundation, including salaries, trustee’s fees, travel, and receptions.  Salaries for philanthropic-executives can sometimes reach seven figures, allowing for something of a lavish lifestyle.

Another issue is the type of people that trustees choose to hire for their organizations. Traditionally, management consists of “insider” individuals that come from a business background–management consultants, businesspeople, lobbyists or scientists. Kavita Ramdas, Executive Director of the Program on Social Entrepreneurship at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, has pointed out that these hiring decisions are reflective of a metrics-driven and efficiency-seeking approach to social change—an approach that is not effective in handling, “the nuance and inherent humility of the social sciences.”

As government resources continue to shrink, those services once considered public will be controlled by private organizations. Philanthrocapitalism is filling the public void and its proving to be big business. In America today, there are 67 grant-awarding foundations with assets totaling more than $1 billion. Many will argue that these actors are using the money they have earned to fund humane endeavors. Others, like Barkan, see mega-philanthropies as another way for the wealthy to decide how to improve humanity and promote an agenda that serves their interests and ideas.

Daniel Bonasso

Sources: Dissent Magazine, Reuters, Stanford Social Innovation Review
Photo: The Emily Dickinson International Society

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent international institution that was created by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in July of 1998. The ICC investigates genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression in its 122 member states.

The ICC also has jurisdiction to investigate crimes that occur within non-member states if a national of a state party commits the crime or the United Nations Security Council authorizes the investigation. To date, there have only been eight investigations, all of which occurred in Africa. Of these inquiries, four crimes were referred by the states themselves and two were presented by the UN Security Council.

The lack of geographical diversity in the ICC’s investigations has upset African political leaders. This group of leaders, represented by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, have accused the International Criminal Court of selective enforcement, discrimination against Africans and Western imperialism. The International Criminal Court has denied all of the allegations.

President Kenyatta, who was charged by the ICC prior to his election, led Kenya’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the ICC, and is encouraging 34 other African states to renounce their membership as well. Ethiopian Prime Minister and African Union Chairman, Hailemariam Desalegn, stated at the UN General Assembly “the manner in which the ICC has been operating has left a very bad impression in Africa. It is totally unacceptable.”

This issue is to be discussed on October 13, 2013 at an African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. If all 54 states decide to withdraw from the ICC, the Rome Statute will not have any power within Africa and international criminal laws will not be enforced.

– Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: ICC, BBC
Photo: Human Rights Watch